Thursday, August 5, 2010

writing and technology - what have we given away?

This morning, as I lay abed, contemplating this and that, I thought of a friend of mine who used to have a job at a hospital in Halifax. Her job was to draw body parts, specifically organs of reproduction. I'm not sure why, but I do know that this is one job that has become redundant. It was redundant when she was doing it but they hadn't caught up to their technology yet.
Artists, in days of yore, had to work from life or often death in order to study how the human body looked. Canada sent war artists to at least two wars in order to record what was happening. Henry the Eighth had Holbein draw the
'Flemish Mare', as he so kindly called his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. He felt he had been hoodwinked but clever Anne survived the marriage and the divorce.
Sweet Patootie is reading an account of a voyage that took place in the 1600's, by one of the adventurers. The descriptions are hair-raising as they battle death on many occasions. The descriptions are ALL anyone would have after their trip (besides their lives). The only record of what was seen was in words, is what I'm saying.
Now, as many of you know, I love photography. I feel completely at home with a camera in front of my face, with my legs resting slightly wide on the ground, the event, the view, the Queen, the octegenarian and the sea cadets, the whale setting a bubble net - whatever it might be. And sometimes I feel bereft that I have forgotten to bring my camera or I can't take my 'good' camera because we're in the canoe, etc...
Do composers now feel terrible if they didn't get a good recording of the concert? Do dancers feel seen enough by the audience or must they also have their performances videoed to know that they exist?
Twice in the past couple of weeks I've read blogs where someone wanted to take a picture or did take a picture of something in nature - both times the technology failed but their words did not. In fact, I dare say, we might not need the pictures as much as we need the interpretation by the writer. Listen to this, " The next day being the 11 of October, we saw the cape on the south shore. This cape being within two leagues to leeward off us, our master greatly doubted that we could not double the same: wherupon the captain told him: you see there is no remedy, either we must double it, or before noon we must die: therefore loose your sails, and let us put it to God's mercy." This is an account called 'Last voyage of Thomas Cavendish'  written by Mr. John Jane, 'a man of good observation' and recorded in the book 'Voyages and Discoveries'  - Richard Hakluyt, Penguin, England - 1972.  In it is a compression of the over a million words collected by Hakluyt on voyages made in the 1600's.
If it were today - it would be a series of videos on youtube. Which isn't a bad thing but the language - the language that arises when that is the only tool one has to delight, fright or ignite the reader!
It is impossible to not be of our own time - how could we avoid it? How would we even know it? And - we must remember, as writers, we have chosen how we want to package the world we see, invent or even distort and that is through the word. The lovely, lovely word!
This is a cautionary tale for anyone who wishes to listen. Our tools aren't the technology available - just as a painter's tools aren't really the easel or the photograph or even the live or dead model but the stroke. Our tools are the word, the sentence, the paragraph or verse, the novel, poem or play. The word.


Gwen Buchanan said...

yes indeed, you are so absolutely right..

Jemi Fraser said...

Such a lovely reminder - you're completely right :)

Words A Day said...

I really like this post, what would I have if all the digitally saved jpegs of my life were lost? Words, words, words - you said it.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Wise words, Jan. There are many ways to record an experience, whether it be through pictures, dance, music or words. Just because another medium is used, doesn't make the experience any less rich.

Jan Morrison said...

Thanks Gwen and hi! Long time no hear...
Jemi - thank you deario...

I'm glad you like this, Niamh.

Elspeth, yes and aren't we glad we have a tool that is so portable? I have a friend who plays the tuba. Professionally. yikes.

Michele Emrath said...

Too true, Jan. So easy to get wrapped up in what we DON'T have or canNOT do at a time. And so easy to become dependent on technology!

Thanks for the reminder.

Beat Generation on SouthernCityMysteries

Anonymous said...

If I were stuck on a desert island and had to decide bwtween books and TV, and music I'd choose books. And wine. Give me the power of words any day.

Stephen Tremp

Hart Johnson said...

I definitely prefer the media that allow for some interpretation. That is not to say photography doesn't count, as a good photo takes a lot into account besides what is there, but the writing or the drawing... I love those versions. I like them because they add a layer of ethnography to the event... what is important enough to notice. (then, the greedy me wants to compare the interpretation to the real thing.)

Jan Morrison said...

Michele - glad you find it helpful!

Stephen - I'm with you - because reading is so collaborative - I could read some books again and again and get something I missed or needed to add as a reader each time...and wine only perhaps for me it would be a bottle of Dahlwinnie!

Tartlette - this is a very interesting thing you've said - 'a layer of ethnography'. I will follow this thought of yours with some researching and thinking...later dear Hart!