Monday, January 30, 2006

Clive James and the Web

Clive James has been talking to the New York Sun about his website,

"Mr. James has mixed feelings about the shift from page to screen, especially about the concomitant decline in literacy. Earlier this year he published a comically subliterate ode to his Microsoft computer program (“Windows is shutting down, and grammar are / On their last leg,” it began) that reads like a gloss on the text-message babble featured in Mr.Amis’s last novel,“Yellow Dog.” But as I hear him, talking a mile a minute down the telephone line from his home in London, the effervescent 66-year-old sounds upbeat.

While he insists that “nothing quite beats the book as an item of technology” and expresses the ardent wish that at least some of his volumes will always be in print, he notes that the Australian National Library, with a nose to the future, has already asked to archive his Web site. “I’ll effectively be immortalizing everything I’ve done,” he said.

Unlike with books, “there’s no warehouse that’s eventually going to fill up with unsold copies and cause its section of the earth to sink — the thing is weightless. Eventually I hope that bright young people will come into the site and never come out, just wander around forever. I do know that when people hit on the site they tend to stay a long time.Whether it’s because they fall asleep or just die there, I’m not sure...

The part of the “toy” that most excites Mr. James is the “video” section, which currently houses 18 separate interviews with everyone from the American film director Terry Gilliam to the dissident Chinese novelist Jung Chang.The only snag is that, like most such Web endeavors, it’s a money-loser.To have two technicians armed with digi-cams film a half-hour conversation with, say, Cate Blanchett sitting on Mr. James’s living room sofa, costs very little. What costs money, he says, is “to stream the stuff.” Until recently he was paying one thousand pounds a month out of his own pocket merely to send the signal...

Perhaps the most touching aspect of the site is Mr. James’s sincere desire to make it genuinely educational — to bring high culture to the masses, though without a trace of snobbery."

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