As we at the Atlantic Wire know well, there's a dictum in Web publishing that goes something like: let no word go to waste. On blogs and Twitter, it's a virtue to put out every thought to the reader, no matter how small, raw, and misshapen. But as Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, sensitively argues, that push to make every word public is changing writers' relationship with their words and thoughts, not only for the good.
His primary concern is that by thinking too much about what readers want, writers stop aiming to give their words "freestanding value" apart from the needs and demands of the market.
There is too much talk about the literary marketplace, the cultural marketplace, and the marketplace of ideas. We need to remember that a book--or a painting or a piece of music--begins as the product of an individual imagination, and can retain its power even when largely or even entirely ignored.
Perl qualifies that he doesn't want writers to disappear completely, but that they should believe "that they are alone with their own words." He cites the case of James Schuyler, a poet whose writings were published posthumously, possibly against his wishes. Defending the poet's right to silence, Perl concludes:
if there are risks involved in resisting the public, there are also dangers involved in running after the public. Nobody talks about those dangers anymore.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.