08 Management


Challenges for the writer in the 21st century

Jorge Carrión

A writer should devote most of their time to reading and writing. Only by systematically reading and constantly writing can a writer find their voice, to shape their world, to publish texts of some significance. What is less clear is that this reading and writing should be exclusively literary. In the 21st century writing and literature are complementary but not always convergent concepts. A trend that was already very important in the last century has been accentuated: the training of the writer’s viewpoint and technique involves not only reading books and writing poems or stories, but is also shaped by their own school in film, radio, painting or comics. To give solely Argentine examples: Julio Cortazar found the model for his prose in jazz and the formula for some of his most important books in collage; Manuel Puig’s main source of inspiration was the radio drama; and Ricardo Piglia tuned his taste and his method of reading both in the film archive and library. What for them were more or less recent languages, to us are now authentic traditions. Both our parents and our grandparents learned codes of seduction and sentiment in the cinema. We have had televisions in our homes for sixty years. Graphic and audio-visual media have brought the Prado Museum and MOMA into our dining rooms. It is impossible for a person today to solely think in literary terms. A writer must act accordingly.

To do this, he/she should not only be interested in everything around him/her (that was precisely what Susan Sontag understood as a writer) as a reader, but also as a producer of speech. If one traces the history of literature, it is hard to find authors that only wrote literary books. The vast majority of the great authors either had the economic protection of a patron or devoted themselves to journalism, teaching or other kinds of work. The great Catalan poet J.V. Foix, without going any further, was a pastry chef. But there are many cases of writers who earned a salary thanks precisely to modern ways of working with language, such as the screenplay (William Faulkner), the television script (Emmanuel Carrère) or advertising (Gabriel García Márquez Fogwill). It is therefore not unreasonable to imagine that the writers of the near future make a living writing for websites, blogs, video games, social networks and transmedia projects.

During the last century a clear division of labour still worked in the cultural world. The role of each employee was very well defined in the media or editorial structures. In our age of new crises and multiple screens, however, the figure that Eloy Fernandez Porta called “homo sampler” is imposed. We all write, we all take pictures and videos, we all use editing and remix programs. We are millions of producers of speech. Competition is fierce. We have to manage our image, our projection, as well as being ever better readers and writers. We even have to find our own strategies to obtain a community of readers. We don’t just write on Facebook or Twitter, we also self-edit or manage a diary: nobody can do it for us. The better we understand how the publishing and media world works; the better we understand the mechanisms for the cultural and informative world; the better we know how to use the technological tools, the better we can position ourselves in this new context. And we may find more time to read and write which is what defines our vocation (our desired place in the world).

Jorge Carrión

Jorge Carrión

Head of the Master in Literary Creation, UPF-IDEC


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