Jonathan Lethem on Thomas Edison and the legacies of early cinema:
[T]he truth of film’s origins as a series of devices enabling various public and private diversions persistently lurked in the goal of widening or multiplying its screen, or in the sport of enlisting other sensory apparatuses, with gimmicks like 3-D, Sensurround, and Smell-o- Vision. And this lurking truth explodes into relevance again in the era that began with the introduction of the VCR, and persists in a presently unfolding future that includes YouTube and handheld viewing devices, with episodic serials beamed into portable telephones already commonplace. As David Thomson points out in The Whole Equation, Edison’s Kinetoscope may just now be having its day.
Edison’s own last great contribution was, perversely, in driving the industry westward, out of the grasp of his copyrights and patents. Squatting toadlike on his rights, indeed, employing a private force of roving bully-enforcers, Edison more or less accidentally routed the fugitive innovators to California, beyond his reach. So the activities that began flourishing there, at that coastal brink of American self-invention, were branded as permanently expedient and on the run, piratically bold, and driven by a geographically renewable innocence, like the nation itself.
That’s from A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollers – “a cultural history of the United States in a self-consciously literary voice” (Scott Eric Kaufman), “neither reference nor criticism, neither history nor treatise, but a genre-defying, transcendent fusion of them all. It sounds impossible, but the result seems both inevitable and necessary and profoundly welcome, too” (Laura Miller).