Kay Glans used to edit the literary pages of Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden’s main conservative* newspaper, and Axess Magasin, a conservative Swedish arts & social sciences mag that also has a TV channel. The latter’s standard is high, and I’ve been particularly pleased to find repeated staunch rebuttals of post-modernism there. What I don’t like much in Glans’s oeuvre is a tendency for aesthetic idealism and aesthetic conservatism, of the canon-stroking sort. His writers tend to believe that there are classics that every educated person should read. I’m an aesthetic relativist and accept no canon of literature.
Glans has moved on and now edits Respons, a mag whose entire contents consist of book reviews – think The New York Review of Books or The Times Literary Supplement. In the current issue of Respons, the canonical perspective reappears. In fact, Glans is now mourning the loss not only of an agreed-upon literary canon, but of a canonical Swedish public conversation. In his editorial, he writes (and I translate):
“The image of people who walk around town, each absorbed by their own little device, is a sign that we are losing both our inner space and our collective space and increasingly live in a kind of gap. … The absorption in a virtual world also changes public space. The distinction between the private and the public is eroding, and so is the distinction between the important and the trivial. … A functioning public conversation is characterised by a hierarchy of attention.
[Lately young people] are well educated and competent within their fields but they do not take part in any public discourse [!], preferring to follow their own paths through life. … It is a consequence of the digital environment that you can dig your own tunnel through the information flow and avoid contact with other information. The great contribution of daily newspapers was that people were exposed to others’ opinions and to events and problems that they were not aware of.”
To this I would reply that I have never enjoyed the selective one-way public discourse offered by newspaper pundits. I was 23 when I got access to the World Wide Web, and I took a morning newspaper for at least ten years after that age, so I am quite familiar with the thing. In the main, the literature pages were full of the opinions of people I had no interest in, about books I had no interest in. I am largely a non-fic and genre reader. Rare indeed was the essay about Tolkien, Lovecraft or LeGuin in Svenska Dagbladet. The Nobel Prize for literature has so far proved a reliable criterion to identify writers that bore me silly. And so I have little respect for canonical literature.
Glans complains about people concentrating on a selective digital environment, and erroneously assumes that on-line discourse is somehow narrower than that published in newspapers. The advantage of on-line public discourse over national newspapers are in fact many.
- Global instead of parochial/national
- Democratic, two-way – no pundits
- Specialised – interest groups come together and talk about what they care about instead of reading general newspapers about stuff in which they have no interest
This is of course part of why blogging is one of my favourite hobbies.
* US readers: what we call “conservative”, you would call “progressive Democrat”. What you currently call “conservative”, we call “crazy right-wing fringe”.