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Literature Is About Taking Time
Rick Moody is a postmodern novelist, who has published four novels and a number of non-fiction books and short story collection. Best known for his book "The Ice Storm," which was adapted into a hit movie in 1997, his other books include "Demonology," "Purple America," "The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven," and "Garden State." He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. His latest novel, "The Four Fingers of Death," was published in July, 2010.
Question: Why do you think digital culture is unfriendly toward literature?
Rick Moody: Well there’s one reason above all others and that it that I think literature is about taking its time. I mean the book as a form not only requires you to engage with it over a period of days or even weeks. And I give an example; it’s canted in the direction of history as a form. What’s interesting about Gutenberg’s Bibles, for example, that they’re still around 500 years later. And when you compare that with digital storage mediums, paper and books just looks like the better deal in terms of history. So on the one hand you have a foreign digital culture that’s really about haste and about getting to the meat of the subject as quickly as possible and then moving onto the next thing. And on the other hand, with literary objects, literary cultural artifacts, you have a form that’s about taking its time and doing what it needs to do in a really prolonged and almost lazy way. So, the two seem inimical to one another.
Question: With the rise of the Internet, people read more text every day than before. How does this affect the way fiction is written?
Rick Moody: I think it remains to be seen how it affects the way people are writing, but that it’s beginning to become clear. And on the one hand, that’s evident with blogs. A lot of writing in blogs is superficial and it’s not revised and so it’s got a lot of carelessness about it. So that’s one example of how it happens.
How it affects writers of literary fiction is sort of coming into view, but one way that I notice it is that books that were written primarily on a screen and never printed out and worked with by hand are now more numerous than they used to be. And I imagine sometimes that I can kind of tell. There are certain writers who work really quickly and the project goes straight from their screen to the editor to the copy editor to the printer—and it never got dealt with the way people used to deal with prose, which was to patiently revise. And that period of time in which one patiently revises is a period of time in which you can make important decisions about whether that particular passage, or that entire idea, or even the book itself is really worthy or not. And if you’re just sort of working fast and hitting "send," you miss out on that opportunity to think about what you’re doing.
I think if people feel this pressure to sort of be instantaneous, we lose the kind of "longers" of thinking about what we’re doing and it may not be immediately apparent, but that’s happened. But at some point we may wake up one day and realize that reflection has gone out of thinking entirely.
Question: Is the format of the story changing to fit our shorter attention spans?
Rick Moody: The format of the story is changing if you think of online media as being a big part of the project now. And a lot of literary magazines are online and that was never the case, but it’s a lot cheaper to do it that way. And so now, especially poetry magazines and so forth, are as often online as they are in print form. And I think insofar as work appears there, indeed it’s getting shorter. I mean if you’re going to go pick a site that I like, like Fictionaut.com is a really good literary website right now. You know, it’s a lot easier to write a story for Fictionaut that’s six pages than a story that’s 15 or 25 pages. People are just less likely to read the 25-page story on the screen. So the form itself selects for shorter stories.
I think books that are being published in the old fashioned way, which is to say on paper, can still be kind of long. My new book is longish, actually, but people are still willing to be patient with the old-fashioned kinds of books. The problem starts to become evident when we’re pressured in the direction of publishing online.
Question: Do young people read differently than they used to?
Rick Moody: I’ve been asking around a lot and particularly paying attention to the sort of under-12 set, and trying to figure out how they read and what they think about reading. I mean they’re all playing the little video games all day long and so forth—and yet, in my engagement with younger people, the kids are reading still and they aren’t afraid of books on paper. You know, we hear all this sort of conventional wisdom about college-age students and so on just being online, online, online all the time, and I think they are online a lot. But I also think that the book, the old fashioned book, still has a lot to recommend it, and that many of these young people are still finding that there are things between covers that are seductive to them and so they’re still going there for those kinds of stories.
And so I’m not willing to sign on to the idea that the book is dead and we should bury it now and move on to the next form. I think there’s still the likelihood that a lot of people will go to the book for something they can’t get elsewhere.
Question: We consume many more stories today than people did in the past. Is that changing what is being written?
Rick Moody: What I suspect, I mean, on the one hand, that strikes me as a really good thing... I’m glad there’s a lot of stories around. I think that psychologically, emotionally, there’s a need for what story can do and by that I mean a narrative that begins at point A and goes to point B that really travels somewhere and contains some kind of earthly wisdom in the fact that its transit. That kind of story I think we’re sort of hardwired to find it valuable in a certain way. And I’m sure that the proliferation of those stories has to do with the fact that we do find them valuable.
That strikes me as great, the problem comes if the shape and manner of all those stories is identical. If every time we read a story we know exactly where the epiphany of the story is going to happen and what the payoff’s going to be and how we’re gonna feel. In that circumstance they all become sentimental, or they all become melodramatic. They become degraded in a way. What I imagine might happen and what would be most exciting to me is if that then suggested new ways of telling stories and a need to try to go further and to develop new story structures rather than relying on the tried-and-true in the same ways.
I find that some of contemporary fiction, as it’s iterated in the slick magazines and so forth, does just what I’m saying. It hits the same moments, the same points, we react in the same ways, the prose feels identical not matter the writer. And to me that’s tiring, but it also makes possible a lot of experimental approaches to thinking about story and that’s something to be optimistic about. And it’s especially possible to be optimistic I think if we’re then also saying, "How can we use the abbreviated attention spans that adhere to the Web to our advantage, and try to come up with unusual story structures that thrive in that environment?"
Recorded July 28, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Digital culture is about getting to the meat of a subject as quickly as possible and then moving onto the next thing. Literature, on the other hand, is about doing what it needs to do in a prolonged—almost lazy—way.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.