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Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto Paperback
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About the Author
Mark Helprin was educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford and served in the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force, and British Merchant Navy. He is the author of, among other titles, A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner’s Fire, Winter’s Tale, and A Soldier of the Great War. He lives in Virginia.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Noted novelist and journalist Helprin (Winter's Tale) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in 2007 arguing for an extension of the term of copyright. In response, he received 750,000 caustic, often vulgar e-mails from those he calls the anticopyright movement—a mostly vague cabal led, apparently, by law professor Lawrence Lessig, and whose house organ is the œChronicle of [Supposedly] Higher Education. Now Helprin gets his revenge with a splenetic riposte that veers from a passionate defense of authors' rights and the power of the individual voice to a misanthropic attack on a debased America populated by œSlurpee-sucking geeks, œbeer-drinking dufuses and œmouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down. We're treated to his views on everything from tax policy and airport security to the self-regard of academic literary critics. Drowning in this ocean of bile is a defense of authors' right to control their work and defend its integrity against appropriation and distortion by others, and an examination of the historical and legal basis of copyright offered in elegant prose and with a rapier-sharp wit. But Helprin's pugnacity may repel even those who agree that
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
by: Mark Helprin
Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2009, 232 Pages
by: Samuel A. Nigro, M.D.
Mark Helprin is worried about the impact of low standards of discourse, especially the loss of “copyright” on our culture due to the demonic stealing of minds by the increasing misuse of computer based electronocelluloidprint technology.
It [psychotheft or digital barbarism] produces mouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down; Slurpee-sucking geeks who seldom see daylight; pretentious and earnest hipsters who want you to wear bamboo socks so the world won’t end; women who have lizard tattoos winding from the naval to the nape of the neck; beer-drinking dufuses who pay to watch noisy cars driving around in a circle for 8 hours at a stretch; and an entire race of females, now entering middle age that speak in North American chipmunk and seldom makes a statement without, like, a question mark at the end? (Pg. 57).
Such is the entertaining erudition in this book, as the author makes the case for support of copyright laws of all things! I cannot believe I read a book about such a boring and esoteric topic and was so royally entertained.
To make his case that copyrights should be maintained and extended for the benefit of authors, readers, and the culture itself, Helprin inserts many vignettes each worthy of long lasting preservation. For example, his prized professor at Harvard, who selected him for individual tutoring from hundreds of applicants, stopped the one-on-one dogmatic teaching when Helprin interrupted the professor in mid-sentence saying, “Look, I don’t claim to be intelligent, it is not my strength.” Astonished, the professor asked “What is your strength?” And Helprin said, “I am loyal to what I love, at any cost, and sometimes I can put together a decent sentence.” The Honors tutorial thus became conversational, no longer didactic. Shortly thereafter, the professor told of an army experience during WWII where he was isolated to the extent that he made “friends with a pig”, and commented “pigs are very intelligent” then, perhaps remembering Helprin’s denial, “turned scarlet” (pages 89-90). The book is not sparse in these delightful copyright deserving personal incidents which not only elevate consciousness of human nature but, each, in its own way, proves that such writings MUST be copyrighted for at least 100 years because they belong to a deserving author.
Just so, all writing labors should remain protected and not denigrated by dissolution in feigned-collaboration or altered by the digital claims of others. To allow such today because it is possible by computer machines is “digital barbarism” without a doubt. The author is thoroughly convincing that no one has the right to plagiarize, rewrite, distort or claim as their own any phrase of this or any writing ever, because the true author deserves credit for his work forever. All arguments for the power to do otherwise are detailed, seen to be metastasizing deflections from the natural flow of the universe, and rebutted with cogent force. Indeed, copyright Laws are necessary to prevent the Lord of the Rings (illicit power) from ruling and ruining the world.
Truly, a civil culture of truth, oneness, good and beauty requires the protection of individual literary accomplishments and especially scientific publications, otherwise the computer shrinkage of communication, the immediate profusion of impulsivity, the potential for global intrusion, and the massive scale for the illicit power to steal, will collectively destroy the honor and integrity of the individual (both writer and reader) in civilization—and non-being will reign. Get this book, read it, savor it, it is a unique experience. And protect copyright laws.
Foremost there, though, and quite clear here is the passion for truth and justice, and the belief that these will prevail if we stay true to our core beliefs. We may not finish an important issue we are working on or with, but our integrity in starting it with a good foundation and staying with our purpose will give our lives significance.
Regarding Digital Barbarism, most Americans living here believe their home is their castle and that creating something on one's own creates property rights: a house, a bike, a tool, or a leisure item like a quilt. However, intellectual property's abstract qualities make it harder to pin down. Few consider snagging a Renoir flower or a Rembrandt guardsman in their day to day lives, nor taking part of a Calder to present a personal view of life, yet in the print world, these are often done as any teacher can testify. All of these are intellectual property, but the internet has creeated more problems for ownership rights when writing is concerned.
Just as the math is changing for funding Social Security and Medicare due to the longer lives we live, copyright law needs to be adjusted to recognize ownership's extended nature for those who create products of the mind. If a seemingly similar product can be acquired for cents on the dollar, freely and without consequence, why would most care who got paid or if the creator and owner was short changed.
Helprin goes into historical contexts and mingles these with his personal growth as a writer. As he deftly notes, you can substitute any tangible item (like car or chair) for writing and immediately agree. As you read though, imagine your days are consumed with research, reflection, and editing to create the right word and right phrase and right story. If the time you put in in your factory of office was given away with no recognition, you would be hurt.
He has been, and every writer has been. This read will give you an idea of how and why.
There is nothing wrong with iPads, dictionary apps, or email. But when they are used exclusively, something of the human experience is lost. With it we lose some of our, in Mr. Helprin's parlance, "individual voice," and with that we lose some of our freedom. I think that is the point of this book - to remind us not to lose things that are important.
Did I need to read a couple of hundred pages more or less devoted to copyright law? Not at all; how many do, really. Normally I might have even passed over the original editorial that sparked the controversy with little more than a glance.
But this book is about much more than its ostensible topic; it's a meditation on human freedom and creation and also on our limitations. Along the way, seemingly out-of-the-blue observations of great wit and perception pepper the text. Add to that a great many thrusts of the dagger and, well, I need to go back with a pencil the second time around.
Recommended for readers predisposed toward the tragic view of life.