Book Review: Mark Helprin, ‘Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto’

Book Review: Mark Helprin, ‘Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto’

Spawned by his New York Times op-ed piece on the same topic, Digital Barbarism continues Mark Helprin’s discussion on copyright in a modern technological world. This is obviously an important conversation for writers; and one that Helprin should be congratulated for helping to spark. Or, at the very least, for throwing some gasoline on the […]

Spawned by his New York Times op-ed piece on the same topic, Digital Barbarism continues Mark Helprin’s discussion on copyright in a modern technological world. This is obviously an important conversation for writers; and one that Helprin should be congratulated for helping to spark. Or, at the very least, for throwing some gasoline on the online fire surrounding his original comments.

Digital Barbarism is an analytical defence of the rights of artists in a technological age that is consistently trampling those rights. Helprin, a world-renowned novelist, was lambasted for his 2007 article that suggested copyright terms should be extended. This book continues that discussion by bringing the unfortunate but apparent bias the online collective has against the individual rights of the creative and creators. But while the comments by his detractors are self-serving and often illogical, the same can be said of Helprin’s arguments.

Throughout the book, there is a discussion via analogies on the realities of instituting perpetual copyright – something Helprin consistently maintains he is not trying to suggest. It is, to be frank, rather disconcerting as all of his arguments appear to be leading to that exact conclusion. The disjointed path of the narrative takes a great deal away from the importance of the discussion. It is often hard to tell if the discussion being had is based on researched fact or simply on the author’s opinions on these topics. Simply citing blogs and somewhat less-than-reputable online sources is certainly unacceptable in any institution of higher learning. Why would it be acceptable here?

But make no mistake: this is not a diatribe against technology or the online community as so many have made it out to be. It is an attempt to discuss the intricacies of the rights of the artist versus the right of the social collective. It may not be the best on this topic and it certainly is not the final word, but the addition of Helprin’s voice to the conversation does at least raise some interesting points. It is worth reading simply for a different point of view.