Monday, May 17, 2010

No Comment

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, said the famous artist whose works — lo, thirty years later — command tens of millions at auction.

In the present, everyone has fifteen opinions on everything, said the not-yet-famous author, though I’m working on it.

Well, maybe I’m not working hard enough on it. And maybe not everyone has fifteen opinions. Just those who inhabit the land of the comment culture.

In the comment culture, writers write things and readers are not content to appreciate another point of view without sharing their own. They post a comment, and sometimes the writer comments back, and sometimes this goes on for a while, and the comment count gets run up.

And part of me feels jealous (being not enough commented upon) and another part of me finds it all meretricious and jejune — two words you don’t see a lot these days, and no wonder, as we seem to have lost all sense of their worthiness.

I’ve noticed that on The Nervous Breakdown, non-fiction garners many more comments than fiction. I can go weeks without a word of feedback on my novel, CADAVER BLUES. But post an essay and — bang! — ten comments in an hour.

Which is not to say I get a lot of comments even for my essays. When people do comment, I feel obligated to respond with something clever, but it’s always pithy, and people don’t really want pithy in the comment culture. They want to see your id pour forth, like a teenage drunk at a late-night party. Then they can offer their fifteen opinions, one at a time (fifteen comments!), and delude themselves into believing that someone cares.

You may now be thinking that no one comments on the fiction because no one is reading it, but the numbers don’t say this is true. And my wife has become a magnet for feedback on CADAVER BLUES, regularly fielding oral comments from people who prove to be conversant with the story.

These comments, by and large, are not meretricious and jejune. They do not come across as someone commenting just to hear themselves speak. And, interestingly enough, they are rarely offered to me directly, as if doing so would put one of us on the spot. Which, of course, it would, because the commenter often expects a comment back and so forth — and one of us is bound eventually to end up saying something meretricious or jejune, which is a lot harder to take when you're looking eye to eye.

Recently, a novelist who is more famous than most, a person with his own fan base, posted an excerpt from his novel on The Nervous Breakdown. It raked in a dozen comments in an hour, which so far as I can tell is nearly a record for fiction. But almost all of these comments came from writers on the site.

These writers are good people all, aspirers who deserve big things for themselves. So why did their spasm of commenting seem as needy as the poor souls who stand out in the rain by Rockefeller Center in the hope that a camera will fall on them not even for ten seconds let alone fifteen minutes, which would be a lifetime for live television?

I’ll tell you why. Because the yearnings of others, glanced only from the corners of one’s eyes, can’t help but come across as meretricious and jejune.

And last I checked, by the way, the famous novelist hadn’t replied to a single comment.