From The New York Times:
What’s the point of a literary magazine today? That’s a question I heard a lot five years ago, when my colleagues and I decided to relaunch The Paris Review.
At the time print quarterlies didn’t exactly look like a going concern. The journals we’d grown up on had folded or seemed to be on life support. Every month brought word that another bookstore had closed. Social media was held up as the new literary community, and the Kindle was king. Print, we heard again and again, was dead.
Worse, if you talked to editors, writers and teachers off the record, you encountered a consensus — or at least a prevalent view — that American literature itself was in decline. Short stories especially: Nobody actually wanted to read them. Nobody was learning how to write them. The savviest M.F.A. students were pouring their energies into fat historical novels — and their Facebook pages.
. . . .
Five years later I won’t say all that has changed. But things look slightly different. We spend more time than ever on our devices, but it seems fair to say we like them less, especially when it comes to reading.
. . . .
Turning off your phone has become a prized luxury. Over these last few years all of us, readers and writers alike, have developed a growing appreciation for what the Internet wants to take away: our time alone with the written word.
As the poet Nick Laird recently observed, “the Internet — with its endless choice, its banner ads, its I.M.s and GIFs and Vines — is a disastrous locale” for most poetry. “Does anything less than the immediately shocking or charming get attention? . . . Trying to hear the tonally complex voice of a complicated poem is like trying to hear a moth in a hurricane — and all the time the hurricane is screaming that there are a billion other things you could be doing.”
. . . .
Method actors like to talk about something called “public solitude” — that is, the ability to seem alone onstage. Really, to be alone, without wondering how you look to the audience. They will tell you this is the basis of naturalistic acting: to forget about the audience. Only then can you build a character, pay attention to others onstage and act out a scene.
To write a story also requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying how you sound. You can’t wonder whether you or your characters are likable or smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene — the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight — attending to your characters, people who exist for you in nonvirtual reality. This takes weird brain chemistry. (A surprising number of novelists hear voice, and not metaphorically. They hear voice in their heads.) It also takes years of reading — solitary reading.
For all these reasons, writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed.
. . . .
By writing offline, literally and metaphorically, this new generation of writers gives us the intimacy, the assurance of their solitude.
Link to the rest at The New York Times