Gordon Burn, in Born Yesterday, writing about the erstwhile Eastenders actress Susan Tully:
A colleague had logged her onto YouTube for the first time that very afternoon, and the fact that just tapping the words ‘Michelle Fowler’ into the thing could back so many moment of the past crowding back – a pandemonium of fragments (an aggregation of fragments is the only kind of whole we have now)…
Isn’t this exactly what services like Friendfeed leave us with – just an aggregation of fragments? And how well does this represent us – are we more than the sum of our parts?
Very helpful post. The nature of media always has been to leave a scattering of fragments.
Google or friendfeed throw these together into that pandemonium so beautifully described above. It’s the digital equivalent of a press cuttings book.
But I don’t look at the feeds and think they represent the people I know any more than I would think googling a friend who has never been mentioned on the web and finding nothing represents them.
As and afterthought: there may be a small group of people springing up who’s egos seem t be driving them to live their life on the web. They are as credible to me as people who try to live their lives through the pages of Hello.
So what did you make of Born Yesterday, Dave? I loved it at the time I was reading it, but by the time I came to write about it (see my blog), it had declined a little in my estimation. Still very interesting but not his best, I think – I reserve that for Best and Edwards still.
I thought Born Yesterday was great: interesting and written at an important time. Not a perfect book, but then it was never going to be after that 6 week writing period. I think the importance is possibly yet to be realised but with debates going on all over the place in terms of the future of news: the rise of citizen journalism, the lack of trust people have in traditional news organisations, the civic role that news media has in society; it’s really timely.
By writing about news events at a distance Burn draws together threads and parallels which aren’t spotted at the time because of a lack of perspective. Some of those coincidences don’t really hit the mark (Madeleine McCann and Marilyn Monroe having the same initials, say) but the drawing together of news strands is a really interesting exercise. Perhaps this is the role of the professional journalist in the future: the citizen journalists collect the fragments and the journalist sticks them together into the whole.
I thought there were some interesting parallels in terms of form with BS Johnson – ie the novel as something other than fiction. None of Johnson’s book really worked, of course, but as experiments they are fascinating. Strange that as a journalist himself Johnson didn’t have a similar idea himself. Maybe he would have gotten around to it eventually.
The other great value in the book is Burn’s sympathetic writing about celebrity and media, which is excellent – his coverage of the McCann disappearance is thoughtful and balanced.
Oh, and I kind of assumed the bits about Thatcher in the park were made up, but maybe I am wrong.
(Posted this at your blog too, John)