“There’s a TV reality show in the US (Same Name) about people with the same name swapping lives. I feel confident that the producers won’t be calling on me. But a few weeks ago, Google alerted me to the improbable existence of another Ange Mlinko.”
The above was written by Ange Mlinko. (It's from here.) It transpires that Adam Roberts had read an article of hers in Poetry magazine, used her name as a placeholder, and then kept it. (Luckily she seems to like this, or at least not to mind. I wonder if she still won't mind once Google starts alerting her not only to mentions of her work, but also to irrelevant (from her point of view) pieces like this one? Having an unusual name can be quite an advantage in finding mentions of your work, as I well know.) So I in turn read some of Ange Mlinko's poetry. Her poetry is good, with the kind of concision that I can't do and therefore don't try for. See what I did there?
Adam mentioned this on his blog (together with a recommendation of this still-being-written piece: thank you), but I didn't find out about the exchange from there. I found out about it much earlier. Quoted in full:
Just saw this on the LRB blog, and I’m wondering if I might just not be responsible for the connection. I don’t know for sure whether Adam Roberts reads this blog – though I suspect he’s glanced once or twice, perhaps due to SEK’s occasional links. On the other hand, I’ve posted stuff like this about Ange Mlinko… Anyway, funny stuff, who knows…
That's from a post on ads without products, a blog written by one CR (who has pretty much said who he is, but it's polite to use someone's pseudonym.) This kind of thing is heartening. At least to me.
Most people want to be at the center. Not in an overly egotistical way, but in a good, part-of-the-social-web way. “Did you hear that Jim and Thomas got married? Hey, they met at one of my parties.” That kind of thing. Or “Someone named his blog after something I wrote. Not that it's an influential blog, but...” Or “I was Googling my name and found this weird connection.”
Why do I find this heartening? There are theories of people being at the center of their own worldviews, of people looking out for (mentions of) themselves. They usually come down to theories that because we're interested in events that even tangentially involve us, we're selfish, and that's good or at least unavoidable. In economics, this is the rational man looking out for his own self-interest. In politics, it's right-libertarianism, (plain libertarianism to people within the U.S.), which comes down to the rational man not wanting to pay taxes for public goods or to help anyone else in any kind of organized or sufficient way. But there is, or should be, a left social-economic version of people wanting to be at the center, too. Not the left dreaming of a return to the Party and the Great Book of some 19th century worthy. But a left in which most of the action looks like people wanting to be at the center of their own doing-good-connections.
But enough about politics. These exchanges, apparently tangential to the text as a text, should remind us that what writing is really about is sociability of a particular kind. Texts that are not notations to oneself are meant to be read, and every reading of a text is a social exchange between a writer and reader. Perhaps the writer is dead, perhaps they even left the work to be published after their death, but the text was written in the expectation of readers eventually. And a text in any kind of circulation makes its own connections between reader and reader.
That's the real center among all these imagined centers. A text isn't centered on the Earth, on its (physical or electronic) form, or on its aesthetic qualities, on its politics, on the systems that support it, or its genre history. It's a social occasion around which each reader picks out the piece that resonates to them. That's what really looms largest to us, and that's what should.