What so many people forget about in the ongoing debates on copyright is that these protective walls have allowed writers and artists to actually create and have a shot at making a living over the last several hundred years. Is copyright broken? Perhaps. But any fix should not be a wholesale destruction, but a mitigation of some of the onerous extensions that major corporations have insisted on in recent years and a strengthening of “fair use” provisions to broaden what can legitimately be borrowed. However, it amazes me that many people no longer believe that artists and writers should have a right to control the sale and distribution of their own work, and it equally amazes me that they don’t see the consequences of such a loss. Unbridled free market economies, essentially libertarian free-for-alls, do not give space for the creation of great and engaging work. Instead, they lead the charge for a lowest common denominator fits all world.
An excellent discussion in today’s New York Times on this, authored by Scott Turow, Paul Aiken and James Shapiro. Here’s an excerpt:
Certainly there’s a place for free creative work online, but that cannot be the end of it. A rich culture demands contributions from authors and artists who devote thousands of hours to a work and a lifetime to their craft. Since the Enlightenment, Western societies have been lulled into a belief that progress is inevitable. It never has been. It’s the result of abiding by rules that were carefully constructed and practices that were begun by people living in the long shadow of the Dark Ages. We tamper with those rules at our peril.
I’ve been dipping into Susan Sontag’s early journals, published by FSG under the title Reborn. Here she is in the raw, sensing her way forward by intuition and sheer force of will, and these entries are sometimes extraordinary — if often fragmentary — especially considering she was a teenager when she wrote much of them. They paint a picture of a questing, determined and very strong-willed mind, searching for sex, searching for ideas, and attempting to remake herself in her own vision.
The editing gets in the way, done by her son, and who knows what he kept hidden. He writes in the introduction that he was reluctant to publish, and only did so after some obscure threat of publication elsewhere, but remains oddly silent on his exact reason. I’m ambivalent about the ethics of publication in this case, as the entries are often deeply personal and revealing and she was a very private person, but I think if I had read them as a 16 year old, I would have been moved and excited. They might have felt necessary at that age.
I’ve never been able to enjoy her novels, but admire her criticism, and I wonder if, as is clear here, it’s her own sense of dogged certainty that gets in the way of her work as a novelist. The critic thrives in known structures. They find their angle of ascent, get their grappling hooks in and climb the edifice of the work of art, to put it considerably more inartfully than SS no doubt would. By contrast, the artist or writer or what have you stands on constantly shifting ground and in often ambiguous relationship to the characters and stories being told. What is clear here is that even as a young woman searching out her first responses to art, she had a bonedeep understanding of the visceral and the erotic and, as importantly, why such an embodied reading of art mattered. There are real pleasures here, and some mess and a lot of pain, and I don’t know if I would have wanted to know the young Sontag, but who cares when you can know her through her words alone.