I dreamed about you again last night.
I guess it will pass.
I dreamed about you again last night.
I guess it will pass.
As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.
Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.
To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.
The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)
Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.
Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”
In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.
The results are summarized in the table below.
|Old Great Expectations||New Great Expectations|
|On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes.||n/a|
|The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart.||Guy on girl|
|Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing.||Girl on girl (multiple entries)|
|Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts.||Guy on guy|
|Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common.||Two girls, one guy|
|Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert.||Dragons|
|Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her.||Wizards|
|One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered.||Explosions|
|Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison.||Gunfights|
|Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella.||Fistfights|
|Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together.||Anal|
A friend’s young son had just used the toilet and wiped himself for the first time.
She congratulated him on being a big boy.
To which he replied:
“Mother. Surely you don’t expect me to do this for the rest of my life.”
I dreamed that my friend R__ turned into a giant, invisible duck.
His only hope lay with a mystical lady doctor.
While she worked on a magical cure, he stayed hidden in a small safe house. A matched group of wooden advertising collectibles from the 1930s—curly-haired girls and kittens with bows in their fur—decorated the front parlor. The figurines had once been bright red, but the red had faded to pink over the decades, and the paint was peeling.
The giant, invisible duck waited and waited for the mystical lady doctor to effect a cure.
One day, the invisible duck left the safe house and found himself waddling toward a grand part of town that seemed oddly familiar.
His mind was going, becoming a duck-brain.
As he waddled, he thought, I put my foot here, I put my foot there, I put my foot here, I put my foot there.
Meanwhile, not far from where the duck found himself heading, the mystical lady doctor was inside one of R___’s beautiful houses, exploring the place with the pleased attitude of a potential inheritor.
Her male assistant was with her. He wore Operating Room scrubs and an expression of gravest concern.
“What are we doing here?” said the assistant. “We shouldn’t be here, this is R__’s house. We should be back in the lab, working on that cure.”
“Oh, there is no cure,” said the mystical lady doctor. “He’s going to stay a duck. Eventually he’ll become visible, and he’ll forget that he was a man.”
“What? How long have you known this?”
“I’ve always known it,” said the doctor, examining the china.
“Then why are we taking his money? Why are we leading him on?”
“We’re not leading him on,” she said. “We’re giving him hope.”
And she began quietly counting the spoons.
A few blocks away, the throng of pedestrians had come to a standstill, awed by the rich neighborhood’s architecture. Here tall apartment buildings rose nearly to the sun. They were made of red brick and the giant Roman arches at their bases were carefully matched, creating the effect of a planned environment.
A standing crowd was bad news for a giant, invisible duck, so R__ left the mobbed crossroads and waddled down a small side street that soon became a garden path. There was something familiar about the path, something he ought to remember, but his man-mind was fading. I put my foot here, I put my foot there, I put my foot here, I put my foot there.
Suddenly, around the corner of a large, beautiful house, two human beings appeared and bumped into him.
Everyone, including the duck, screamed in terror and surprise.
The duck recovered first.
“Doctor,” he said, “it’s me, R__. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you gave me such a start! It’s dangerous for you to be out of the safe house. Come back with me.”
“But, where are we? What are you doing here?”
“Nowhere, nothing, come.”
The duck looked at the assistant, whose face was a mask of poorly concealed guilt. And suddenly he knew where he was.
“This is his house,” the duck said. “My house,” he corrected himself. “This is my house.”
“Your house? Of course it’s your house. We were watering the plants and checking your mail,” the doctor said, recovering. “We’ve been paying your bills, so when you resume your human life, you won’t have angry creditors at the door.” And she smiled with brilliant kindness.
Her words made the duck feel warm and safe, but then he looked again at the assistant, and suddenly he knew everything.
“You’ve been lying to me,” the duck said. “You’re not even trying to help me. You want my property! I won’t stand for this.”
But it came out quack, quack, quack.
It’s hard to listen to this recording and realize it came from a human throat.
How sick am I today? This sick.
THE DEATHS of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)
Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.
Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?
The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.
Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.
Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.
Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.
Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.
(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)
A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.
A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.
The change you experienced last night at midnight is available to you every moment of every day.
1 January 2010
Ten years ago, my girlfriend flew home to celebrate new year’s eve in San Francisco, but I had to stay in New York to work, so we spent the turn of the millennium apart.
A friend of a friend threw a party. I attended, grumpily, as shown here.
Ten years ago, but it may as well have been a thousand. Everything is different now. Everything except that I am once again separated from those with whom I would most wish to mark the falling away of old things and the luminous beauty of new beginnings.