Thamus (partially) vindicated

If you read yesterday’s post early in the day you may have missed that Richard Powers responded to it. I’m grateful for his very thoughtful reply. But what everyone wants to know is: how did he find the post? You mean, Richard Powers — MacArthur Genius, National Book Award Winner — reads John Tolva’s blog?

In a word, no. I e-mailed him and alerted him to the post. No buzz, no meme, no trackbacks, or digg swarms came to the attention of Mr. Powers. Just an old-fashioned note in his inbox that he graciously acted on.

Actually the story behind the reply is somewhat amusing. Powers initially commented but nothing showed up on the site. Usually that happens when the anti-spam script kicks in. But why would it block a regular comment? I was stymied and more than a little irked that this author had taken the time to respond and my site had black-holed his effort. And then it occurred to me that Powers was likely composing (or speaking) his response into an external application and then pasting it in-bulk into the blog comment form. This is a red flag for the spam script, since that’s exactly how bots dump garbage into blog posts, as a single pre-written chunk. I asked him to paste it in and then type a little at the end. You know, act like an old-fashioned human writer. Type a little. It worked. Congratulations, Mr. Powers. You appear to be human. Your comment shall be accepted. Turing test passed. (If you recall my in-person encounter with Powers you will find this as ironic as I do.)

Truth is, I’m more in awe of Powers’ talent than ever now that he’s erased any doubts I had about his composition-by-dictation (on a keyboardless machine — sheesh). I think my incredulity stems from the way I consider words spatially: objects on a page to be moved, sequenced, and arranged into thought. Almost like the visual arts. That’s a pretty narrow way to think about language, of course, but it has taken this little episode for me to realize just how much the tools of word manipulation I use form what I write. Perhaps even constrain what I write. I guess I need to fire up the speech reco on this MacBook and find out.

Speaking of, so to speak, it might be interesting to listen to The Echo Maker as an audiobook, if it exists. (Yikes, $120. What the hell?) Does it read out loud better because it was composed out loud?

If you are interested, here’s the tablet that Powers references in his reply. Litgeek!

One wonders what jacket-blurber and long-time Powers fan Sven Birkerts (of neo-Luddite Gutenberg Elegies fame) thinks of all this. The fate of writing in the electronic age!

By the way, if you liked The Echo Maker’s exploration of memory (and stories that begin with a mystery-shrouded car crash) you must read Michael Joyce’s seminal hypertext fiction afternoon, a story. A comparison of these two works would be interesting indeed.

Oh, and Prof. Turnbull you should engage Prof. Powers. If anyone can squeeze a publication from this, it’s you. 🙂

Thanks again, Richard!