Digital Barbarism, by Mark Helprin

My adoration for Helprin’s prose is so extreme that I was unable physically to restrain myself from paying full price for the hardcover edition of this work. Ostensibly, Digital Barbarism is an argument for extending copyright protection a few more years, but being by Helprin, it’s also a lyrical and bombastic defense of Western civilization, worth the cover price for its cranky asides on the human condition alone.

If you haven’t read any Helprin, maybe start with Winter’s Tale. My own very favorite of his novels is Memoir from Antproof Case, and I love his story collection The Pacific And Other Stories even more, but all his books are masterpieces.

Here’s the original op-ed by Helprin, that gave rise to the widespread online criticism that encouraged Helprin to write Digital Barbarism. The New York Times did Helprin a disservice by giving the op-ed a headline that implied Helprin wants copyright protection extended in perpetuity, which is not what he actually argues for in the op-ed. Most writers can only wish, incidentally — with regard to that image Helprin uses to evoke their financial plight — that they had the financial security of a seal in the Central Park Zoo,

Digital Barbarism also caricatures and rains scorn on the blogosphere, although in Helprin’s defense, the blogosphere does not seem to have responded very subtly to his op-ed. And he does include one sentence to the effect that some bloggers are okay.

I’m not going to take a position on copyright today, beyond noting that in one sense great literature is everyone’s spiritual inheritance, and in another sense the money made by a particular few works may be the sole actual inheritance of a writer’s descendants. I read most of this book beside the path from the Warming Hut, in the Presidio, up to the Golden Gate Bridge, while my daughter and her friend collected insects. The seals in the bay have even less financial security than those in the zoo.
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