.. but let me make an introductory note, to put this first.
I put 8 years into writing my first novel (working title, The Magic Slate). I'm still trying to sell it. Where agent or publisher have responded, it's been consistently of the, this-is-a-fine-beautifully-written-and-engaging-work, unfortunately-we-don't- think-there's-a market-for-this-kind-of-thing-But-good-luck-anyway! sort of thing. I had one agent who told me to let her know when I published it--so she could be sure to buy a copy.
What is one to think?
I'm neither discouraged nor optimistic. Yes, I want to publish my books. But the effort is the obligation I feel I owe them, not what drives me to write. What interests me in this experience is what it illustrates about publishing today. Until I set up my blog, I felt isolated, as though this were a problem peculiar to myself. But I've come to see that there are readers and writers, reviewers and critics who seem to represent a similar, semi-disenfranchised community.
This has been a revelation. A nascent movement with a common medium but as yet no common name. Read the LitKicks hardback/paper back exchange... on the surface, there's the business as usual rhetoric, as though it were primarily a marketing problem. How convenient. If you have to reduce the problem to marketing terms, the real subject, the real difference , the naked reality is covered over with fig leafs in the shape of dollar bills.
Making money and the market come first is escapist, an excuse to avoid confronting the issues: we don't have to think--it's merely a matter of understanding the automatic process, of following the rules--as though they were equivalent of the Laws of Physics.
Or like Pinker... it's genetic. Science is not bound to making the world look the way we want it too--it's the obligation of scientific thought to upset our expectations--Good Fred, he wrote a book on this--thinking dangerous thoughts or some such! But writers and artists are there to provide genetically programmed comfort. What business do we have concerning ourselves with "reality" beyond semblance?
There is an ideological bias here that needs to be confronted, torn open, exposed for all its poverty... exposed in its role in supporting the insupportable status quo of Empire.
I would like to see a lot more open discussion on the literary blogs, more confrontation, more argument. We have editorial power to control the spam, the polarized rhetoric. Let's make more of engagement, explore and expand the dialogical potential of blogs on literature and arts.
post rant: here's Tata
In spite of its genteel self-image, publishing is a business. Though writers fight for meager institutional patronage to buy themselves time to write, book publishing itself, unlike the performing arts, is unsubsidized. (University presses may be subsidized, but they are a part of the same reputation-gilding apparatus as campus-affiliated "literary" magazines.) This is actually an advantageous condition, as commercial rough and tumble is an inoculant against the snobbery of an art treated by the wealthy as yet another item of their conspicuous consumption. Blaming mainstream writers and the journalistic book press for the comparative homogeneity of what the publishing houses produce is not only wrongheaded but in the long run self-defeating. It is often mentioned with chagrin that, due to the writing programs, there are more writers than ever, as if a multitude of sophisticated writers and readers were a bane rather than a blessing. Instead, imagine how many of those obscure writers might be producing work of high quality that does not fit into the mode of conventional realism and the narrow milieu that the publishing houses--and the complacent portion of the readership--believe is the only way that American writers can write. As that cadre of obscure writers continues to become as ethnically eclectic as America itself, the stories and novels and poems they produce will rival any national literature for variety, whether it is narrative, linguistic, experiential, political, social, or any other literary element imaginable. There are more subjects to write about in 21st century America than comic books, cruise ships, high school hijinks, and the victimhood detailed in too many "personal memoirs."
Discursive narratives of foreign origin, film or literary, are allowed greater leeway by American publishing houses, film distributors, critics, and audiences than are discursive narratives by American writers and filmmakers. Not for a minute do I believe that American artists do not produce challenging formalist narratives, only that such work is not afforded the same enthusiasm given similar work by artists working abroad. That these various American audiences are ready to engage with challenging work, provided it is foreign, appears to reside in an identification of "difficulty" with the exoticism of other cultures rather than as a characteristic of narrative art, regardless of its origin. It's as if American audiences think American culture is straightforward enough to warrant only linear narratives, as if complicated, contradictory lives are only lived by people in unfamiliar cultures. This is a perverse state of affairs, one that has radically narrowed our collective idea of contemporary American fiction in both subject matter and style. The vitality of our national literature demands that serious readers, writers, and critics put the New York publishing houses under the same fire for complacency that audiences and artists subject the Hollywood studios and the recording industry to.