1. The End
There are six of us staring out from The Chronicles publicity postcards, but in practice there is a seventh, Matthijs Sluiter; artist, Hague-resident, Chronicler of the Chronicles, who draws like other people breathe. In London we somehow fell to talking about entry points into art (maybe Niels was sending out brainwaves regarding the notion of the interface and we were caught in the crossfire) and the fact that you can start looking at an image from any point. A narrative in a photograph or picture is necessarily non-linear because the viewer’s eye can fall anywhere. “Not like books,” I say, “where you have to start at the beginning.” “Oh, do you always start at the beginning?” Matthijs asks. “I often read books from the middle.” This brings me up short. I do read comics in an ad-hoc fashion, picking up issues from the middle of a series, and then maybe never getting the last one. Poetry collections too, I often read out of order. But novels are different. Feeling very old-fashioned, I tell Matthijs, “No, I always start at the beginning.” But in one of those segues provided by the universe, when thinking about what book to take to read while I’m in The Hague I remember the pristine copy of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark sitting on my bookshelf. The subtitle is A Life in Four Books, and it starts with Book Three. So I can start both at the beginning and the middle.
2. Apocalypse whenever
Y dnt yung ppl lke bks? Yesterday we met with a large group of teachers in a symposium that addressed the perceived decline of literature in Dutch education. I enjoy predicting apocalypse as much as the next thrill-seeking pessimist but I’m getting very weary of proclamations about the death of the book, the death of literacy, the death of culture. Things change – I’m making no claims for whether it’s for better or worse. Change is how you know you’re not dead, and the same is true of language and how we communicate. Some were arguing that the Dutch language is losing vocabulary, that younger people have limited words to express a wide range of experience. Similar fears are voiced in the UK. “Turn off the tvs and computers,” suggested one teacher, probably as a joke. “They’ll read if they’re bored.” Is literature really so valueless that it can only thrive in a vacuum? I don’t think so. The book is not dead. The world is not going to end because of text messaging and gaming. Where is my evidence? I don’t have any, other than the world didn’t end when people starting writing things down instead of committing to memory; nor did it end when the printing press ran the monastic scriptorium out of business. Memory shrank so I don’t think it’s feasible for me to memorise Beowulf line by line in Old English unless I decide to become Brian Blessed, and we lost the art of marginalia and calligraphy, but how many people care about that now (apart from me)? If there isn’t a global environmental catastrophe or World War Three, I predict that in a thousand years time people will look back and laugh at our fears. While bemoaning the death of culture in their own time, of course.