Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Compartmentalization of Desire

I've found the comments by Simon Lipskar in the discussion on Book Pricing for Literary Fiction (Lev Asher's LitKicks)
both enlightening, and more than a little troubling. No question that he understands the reality of marketing books, and for questions that arise within that context, I'm convinced we have to accept his expertise. As long as we limit our activities to the ideology of the market, these seemingly autonomous forces determine what we can and cannot do, and for that matter, what we can and cannot think; what is the point, after all, of wasting our time in fantasies? Reality is reality.

Or is it?

I wouldn't bother to raise the question if I had more faith in our power to compartmentalize, to judge the value of a book as a commodity, and as... whatever else it is: art, literature, a cultural artifact, without leakage, without contamination from one compartment to the other. I would assume that an agent or publisher who admitted a book's "intrinsic" value into commercial considerations would not see leakage from that side as "contamination;" more likely, this would be an argument against the totalizing ideological influence of the market. But this would be true only to the degree that the membrane is permeable only in on direction.

Is it?

Here we are, subject to an ideology which informs us what is,and is not real, informs us that we are at best, instruments governed by that reality, that we cannot operate outside of it, that our freedom, such as it is, consists in understanding the operational forces (as Simon does), and choosing after the fact, what those forces have determined for us. Because what is "real," is the market, we all know perfectly well, that no value can exist apart from it, no value that is not fully quantifiable and subservient to its Laws. How then, to return to my question about compartmentalization, are we to formulate ideas or make judgments that are not thoroughly contaminated by the governing ideology? The problem is--how do you separate forms of desire? And when we talk about 'values,' that's what we mean--forms of desire. Take reviews, as just one example--one area where we express (and consume) public judgments on the value of books. No matter the intelligence, the integrity of the reviewer--book reviews, on one or more levels, become reviews of a salable object, or more precisely, of how the book will effect the desire to purchase and own.

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