Pre-empting the Post-Fact Age, one final time

Tomorrow’s Presidential Inauguration is, perhaps, a fitting fanfare for the Post-Fact age. For in a world awash with fake news here is one, ironic, certainty: tomorrow will not be a false dawn. The show must go on…

Outgoing President – and budding novelist – Barack Obama, interviewed in the NY Times (January 16th, 2017)

Still it is worth noting that the 24-7 prevalence of faux news* has occasional clouds with silver linings. In one puff piece, spied this past week in the NY Times, ‘budding novelist’ Barack Obama reflects on how the past 8 years have been eased by reading books.

It’s the kind of sober, sane, soundbite that has become standard for the outgoing President. And it’s the kind of deceptively simple point that’s all too easy to pass. So let’s pause for thought on what he said: reading [by extension, writing] gives perspective.

So much of life seems obsessed with scale -the sliding kind that signposts superlatives: the biggest, the best… books, of course, are not immune. The bestseller remains the goal for many aspiring writers.

History has its share of prolific storytellers, scribblers and scribes. Either writers who produced multiple stories, like Asimov, or those who doggedly finished a long piece of long form fiction, like Proust (both, notably, writers who produced quality work with rightful legacies). Today scale influences writing – in weird and wonderful ways – from ‘six word stories’ shared on social media to the prize-winning ‘one-sentence novel’ Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.

Scale remains a sought-after currency, skewed to suit changing needs. In today’s money, digital/social gurus and vlogger kingpins of ‘watch time’ declaim that videos are worth a million words. If that sounds like the latest spin on some old ad-speak, it is. The old adage that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ is in fact a faux Chinese proverb – ad industry copy written nearly a century ago in the style of an ancient saying from Asia.

Long story short?

Obama’s simple remark about books is a lasting point. Our human story of reading and writing is about perspective not scale. The deep truths that drive a book and its characters. The wide angle field of view that captures diverse thought, speech, action from cover to cover. The vistas to future horizons beyond which your mind’s eye strays… of course, in the Post-Fact age those horizons might be just heat shimmers.

(*) “Faux news” as in the kind of space filling excuse for news rolled out, 24-7, by the (usually) more respectable end of the mainstream media spectrum, rather than blatant fake news or even the echo chamber churnalism perfected by listicle-crazed online outfits over the past decade or more.


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