This week I begin teaching a six week summer course on conceptual literature. For those of you who might be interested, click through for the reading list I’ve assigned my students.
Film director Steven Soderbergh recently spoke at the 56th annual San Francisco International Film Festival. Before the speech Soderbergh said he would “drop some grenades.” Rarely does that happen. But what Soderbergh did was special – he pierced holes into an industry that is corporatizing and mainstreaming a once beautiful and individualistic art form.
I’m not a student of film nor would I consider myself knowledgeable on the industry. So after I read the full transcript of Soderbergh’s speech I wondered why I was so captivated. The answer was simple: I was reading a speech about the state of film, but as a writer, I was reading a speech about the state of publishing.
Soderbergh’s main sticking points: a bigger film budget yields bigger results, those in charge at the studios don’t watch cinema, artists need to be supported financially long term, ambiguity is toxic to a mainstream audience, and too much emphasis is placed on testing and pre-sales numbers, may sound like sour grapes to some, but I believe he’s accurate. I believe what he says about the state of cinema is in direct correlation to how I, and many, feel about the state of publishing.
Soderbergh loves strangeness and ambiguity in film. The ambiguity in my second novel, published by Penguin, was questioned by my editor. The push to extend the “reality storyline” in the book became a main focus during revisions. There had to be more of a love story. Things had to make sense. Sentences deemed strange and vague were questioned with “I really like this, but what does it mean?” The push for things to “make sense” has resulted in boring movies and boring books. READ MORE >
I AM THE OCEAN.
I am the tide. I am the rise and fall of a wave on a shrub laid in the earth. There are limits to my destruction, but not many. People, they say, “Where have you been? Ain’t seen you in a while?” I am always gone and leaving all the time. This is a mode. I forget what I learned to learn it again, to learn it better than it can.
Do you know what it is to wake from a dream unknowing? You were there and now you are here where do we begin from there. When last you left, it was unexpected and it remains still. I cannot remain still.
The door swings open white cube. There are bodies and objects, differences. Spaces exist between the bodies and objects. Some you can drink and some you can eat. Inside the white cube the cube does a noise. The noise is the bodies and objects coming out of the noise, like cartoons come out of the dark. It’s white in this cube. The noise isn’t white. The noise has no color but the colors come out of it. Noise makes objects emerge to ear, choppings from the body-objects. The nails that hold the room together turn in their sleep and loosen from the wood of walls’ embrace. [ . . . ]
: : : : :
I’m making a report of sorts (explosive sound). Tho certain oaths as it were undone to do so. In an age of new popes certain truths untethered can only be the way, need of the idea of the new. There is no secret no spark that will not in the very eye of night of time not rise as a shifting color from its source to know thru to us as each other. I release an animal day after day recoaxed to form from the wrecked hide & bone rended dissembled by dogs and gathered in a garbage bag, released at our wide edge of woods. Songs unheard unspoken in the sound-film.
The ECCLESIA at the circumference-is-nowhere, we’re a bridge. We’re chaotic, indigenous to blood, and refracting in every direction. The sublime, the grotesque, the liminal and the devotional are constantly excavated, birthing new edges and boundaries to be explored. It’s in this that we, in our research and efforts, render all (other) expression possible.
In armchairs we here in the zenithal crux of the Azonic Lodge map and sigilize with thought the hidden canon, burn up or birth to throw the shapes that find their purchase.
TALL IS MAN
a PALE LIMP CYST
to speak a
TETRIS GRAMMAR TONGUE
AI EIS AI OU PHAR DOU IS EI OU
[ [ [ I have come in great rest in order
that we may give rest to our light in the root ] ] ]
We go down to Chaos to save the whole Light from it,
lighthouses slow rising from the blowholes of great whales
as their mouths no longer sucking lemon open
and the rotating beams as they meet they touch
describe the teeth of the crystalline cogwheels archoniked.
: : : : :
The first exoteric face of the ECCLESIA effloresced in Portland, OR about six years ago. This the only assembly as such going back epochs previous, tho still retaining past methods and likewise those existing on the mirrored fold of our future. In this way members are always emerging, realization actualized in the mystery school,
out of focus / triple-exposed
green room monitored and radioed,
shrinking and expanding of the unground
supporting the Fire in Thought.
Here you sense some other metaphysical machines. These constructed in long-standing cloistral projection, beam hatched of past sun-crust wombing swarm to burst forth each fully formed. In the rafters of what was called sky we take up with the echelons.
Hail fellow. Hello sister.
If you’re with it you’ll know, ya know ya know.
Whoa now you get it you feelin’ me.
Ha ha yeah you got it.
Here is your staff and your tablet.
THE TABLET GIVES RISE TO ITS OWN EFFACEMENT
: brilliance is worthy only in the dark :
: : : : :
So I mean yeah come in have a seat. You want anything to eat or drink? It’s only as hard to get comfortable as you make it so they say. But bitterness embarrassment futility doubt regret disappointment is some of the best fuel never talked about. As you can tell we’re talking hear but the words seam funny in this great degree of silence we’ve soared like a box-kite outside.
Anyways I wanna play you this song. Listen to this song. You’re gonna love it.
: : : : :
TIME OUT RUNG ROUND CAGES ORBIT TONSURE SHATTER CUNT FOLDS BLOOMING CREST OF CROWN BOWL PASS IN WELCOME WEB SILK FLAME POUR IN THRU NOSTRIL FACING OWL FACED UPWARD CATCHING DIVING HEART BARB UNDONE ORB EXPANDING US TO THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS MOMENT
Nobody really gives a shit about the history of adveriting. This isn’t a complaint. It’s a thesis.
At the risk of greatly oversimplifying matters, if you want to be a critic, you have two options: to proceed either in good faith or in bad. Both approaches have their limitations.
I was going to go get Subway for lunch today, but then I started thinking about what was more important: eating or social media? I decided eating, but then I remembered that I used to be a social media consultant, so whatever, here’s some thoughts on this Goodreads/Amazon thing that a lot of people (thirty-five, maybe) are really worked up about:
- Amazon isn’t Google, which does a really fantastic job of buying the cutest startups at the pound and then leaving said startups on the side of the road after they get old and ugly and start pissing on the carpet. Jeff Bezos invests and improves his acquisitions–just look at how Audible integrated with Kindle so that users can switch back and forth between listening and reading. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but expect some serious changes in your Goodreads user experience.
- Mashable ran the headline “Amazon Buys Goodreads to Make Reading Experience More Social.” This sounds utterly terrifying, because the last thing I want to do when I’m reading is socialize. But I guess it also sounds gorgeous, because it might create some dystopian world where we see status updates like “Fat Jim checked into His Bathtub, Bitch! (with Georges Bataille and A Diet Coke).“ READ MORE >
Hi, this post was in my drafts. For some reason I was too shy to post it. So it’s old news as of like February 20. So sue me.
Naturally Dennis Johnson has some dreadful things to say about the Penguin Random House merger, calling it “one of the most important publishing and cultural stories of our lifetime.” He points to the lack of coverage in the news as a big downplay, and the scandalous lack of government oversight as something that’s hard not to see as a conspiracy.
The first page of André Schiffrin’s The Business of Books discusses how, when Random House acquired AA Knopf in 1960, the DOJ started looking into the merger—until they realized that the combined companies would be worth only $15 million. Why’d they take an interest? Because it was front page news, which isn’t the case anymore (though the combined value of Penguin Random is $3 billion). Why is this Times article, about the US regulator’s approval of the merger, so short? READ MORE >
a.k.a. “Playing catch up with the stacks .”
Once again I have a heaping pile of awesome-looking unread materials just waiting to be experienced…
I’m never going to write another blog.
I don’t like writing blogs.
I don’t like typing I read I saw or saying my endless opinion of the weird book I read, the thing it was like, a metaphor a simile and I have almost grown to hate the internet after 15 years, how I know all the office workers have 35 tabs open and are watching a video and reading an article at the same time and mentally composing a tweet about it or wondering about how Roxane Gay is going to say it better and Blake Butler is going to say it weirder or if we’re supposed to like or hate Tao Lin right now or whether or not the novel is living or dead or who cares or which author we should interview or if that galley of that novel is worth reading or reviewing and how is it that those publishers still send out all those galleys to all those people who ignore all those galleys, and that’s called work and earning a living, well I’m not going to write any more blogs like that. I’m not going to blog about author news or how publishing houses are hemorrhaging money or how eBooks are stabbing people in dark alleys or about how eBooks are Jesus or how eBooks are just Books with a little ‘e’ hanging on. I’m not going to write another blog after this one. This is my last blog.
I’m not going to write about that piece I read on another blog, another online magazine, that article that essay that story that tweet that video that everyone is talking and how can anyone figure out anything if they still have those 35 tabs open and I suppose that’s called an experience of Life. READ MORE >
Good Work For “Evil” Corporations
During the first five years of my career I lived in total squalor. I had been arrested twice and faced multiple charges in different states. The quarrelsome women I had surrounded myself with had all vanished to the margins of society, a caste I had inhabited for as long as I could remember. Somewhat of a petty criminal and drifter I decided that pure beauty must become my new mantra. The old bohemian ways and derelict charm gave way to sartorial pursuits and exquisite eastern landscapes.
Jon Leon, The Malady of the Century (2012)
At the beginning of the last decade there was a kind of moral fad in parts of the United States that spread almost immediately to the capital cities of Europe. The age old Anglo-European taboo of handling money was shoved offstage by the sheer force of events in the financial world, clearing the way for a new money culture.
Michael Lewis, The Money Culture (1991)
Nobody at my job lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Most people live in Manhattan or New Jersey. I can’t really imagine what they spend on rent, let alone at bars and in restaurants. Nobody pays what I pay for a two bedroom apartment. I pay almost nothing. Everyone at my job lives paycheck to paycheck. I wonder why. They certainly make more money than I do, as I am one of the most junior people at the company. I make almost nothing. Maybe my lifestyle is shitty. Whatever. READ MORE >
|Project Name:||Hipsters of Brooklyn (NY)|
|Project Type:||Reality TV|
|Requesting Submissions From:||New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico|
Role Type: Principal
Gender: Male or Female / 19 to 32 / All Ethnicities
For HIPSTERS ONLY (a Hipster is not “Hip Hop”): They typically live in Williamsburg and are overeducated, snobbish, androgynous, intellectual, liberal, artsy, trust fund kids and dress funky…or at least fit this prototype! We are looking for great CHARACTERS…Hipsters that have HUGE personalities: If you are an obnoxious jerk and curse often please show this. If you are snobbish and mean please show this.
Orwell said, “It hardly needs pointing out that at this moment the prestige of the novel is extremely low, so low that the words ‘I never read novels’, which even a dozen years ago were generally uttered with a hint of apology, are now always uttered in a tone of conscious pride.” This, he says, is because novels are over hyped, due to the commercial aspects of book reviews:
On the face of it, the book-ramp is a quite simple and cynical swindle. Z writes a book which is published by Y and reviewed by X in the Weekly W. If the review is a bad one Y will remove his advertisement, so X has to hand out ‘unforgettable masterpiece’ or get the sack. Essentially that is the position, and novel reviewing has sunk to its present depth largely because every reviewer has some publisher of publishers twisting his tail by proxy.
This was 1936, before the WordPress “Publish” button, otherwise I think he would add to the equation a few other ulterior motives (which we’ve hauled out so much: writing reviews to climb the publishing ladder, writing reviews to boost our pals, to promote our own books or our reading series). Orwell does allow that there is no big conspiracy here, and the bigger problem is that people think all novels even deserve reviewing. In the essay, which is worth another look (turn on Clearly), Orwell talks a lot about blurbs, too, as part of the reason no one takes novels seriously anymore.
He overstates his case, of course, and 77 years later the novel is alive and well—at least among we literates. Set up an account at Zoosk, though, and try to find a match with an interest in books, and things are a bit different. How right was Orwell? Could his concern about reviews be extended to the surfeit of published books? More interesting question: is the recent “swarming” of that new Michael Jackson book, which haters killed with negative Amazon reviews, somehow a continuance of Orwellian fear?
In the comments, please discuss Clearly and Zoosk.
By July I’d completed my yearlong ramble through DeLillo’s oeuvre. It was not one of the hottest summers I remember. I had a room in Crown Heights with a window that faced out to an alley, across which lived a Barbadian family, whom I was awoken by most mornings before biking the six miles, across Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge, through Chinatown, to the parking lot behind the business school next to the library, where I rode the elevator to the tenth floor and worked for eight hours Monday to Friday. I had little idea or direction of what to do next.
I read Wittgenstein’s Mistress in about two sittings, during which I came to vaguely understand the significance of the name William Gaddis. All I knew when I dropped down to the eighth floor one afternoon to pick up the massive copy of The Recognitions was that it included a character who wore a clock as a necklace. The image appeared throughout Markson’s insane novel and recalled Flavor Flav, the refurbished and culturally derided figure of the preceding decade, which seemed enough for me.
It took me three attempts to get through the first ten pages. I’d decided with a friend that we would tackle it simultaneously, but he gave up a quarter way through the first chapter. He explained that he didn’t have any interest in dedicating his respite to a man baptized by Jonathan Franzen as “Mr. Difficult.” As a matter of contention or cultural superiority, or, more likely, personal superiority, I committed to reading the novel to completion and full understanding.
I did so, along the way reveling in what I referred to as the most conscious and hilarious diatribe on art ever penned. I was indoctrinated; by what I read, I found myself deeply shaken and moved.
A month passed. I signed a lease on an apartment with my girlfriend in a neighborhood that used to be a part of Flatbush but is now called Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and enrolled in my penultimate semester of college. I reread Hamlet and Heart of Darkness and The Waste Land. I read for the first time A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses and “Ulysses” and “Prufrock” and Castle Rackrent. I had few conversations about Gaddis. I went out constantly for a few weeks and stopped. There was the hurricane and I walked across the Manhattan Bridge through a city without electricity to Madison Square Garden. I read Ben Gocker’s absurdly funny Content publication The Pisces on a bus from Philadelphia on three hours of sleep. I felt tired of writing. The insanity of the world seemed more sane. I was bored, watched hours of television. I still do. I’m still bored. And I thought, I think about The Recognitions regularly as this masterpiece of social and artistic criticism, the most effort ever poured into something’s message, which stands to say: It’s not worth it.
January 16th, 2013 / 1:11 pm
Wrote about Tao Lin for Hobart.
Exchanged emails with Tao about what I wrote.
Tao cut and pasted part I’d written about Zac Zellers and Marie Calloway and wrote beneath it “this seems funny to me.”
Replied with a paragraph in which I described Zac Zellers as the “Where’s Waldo” of Ann Arbor.
19 mins later got email from Tao saying “you should write something about this and send it to me.”
ON NATHAN’S BIRTHDAY we went up to Olympia to pick up Jason. He’d been traveling. A few months gone I reckon. Nate’d been living in J’s room all heart-broken up in the Nad, watching the entirety of Breaking Bad in the course of a couple weeks. I did as much as I could re-watching with him, loving it, deep-reading the world it meant to be there gangsta-style lonely and for real with my best friend all shitty and suffering, digging the vicarious world of criminal pathos to sovereignty .
So on the day he was born: Nate, Tyann, and I drove up from Portland to pick Jason up with some acid. We found Jason who’d been pretty impressed with the novelty in Washington of whiskey in regular stores, who’d walked for miles drinking only whiskey for days, and crashed wherever in the course of not needing anyone at all.
We got him, drank and figured where we’d drop. Ty’d gone to Evergreen so we figured campus would be the best place to do it. We went ahead and did and as we approached the forest a kid straight out of the 90′s (“You guys like Alice in Chains?’) led us into the woods without a flashlight and we built a fire out of Emo Steve’s negative psych assessment he’d left around the shrine in his trapper keeper.
I found this article on Dalkey Archive & the Best Translated Book Award over at Writers No One Reads really interesting. While it’s an interesting case study in its own capacity, it really had me thinking about the issue of how so many books are published, yet, from what it seems, not that many books are being read.
The fact that even a “major” publisher of “smaller” works, such as Dalkey, doesn’t seem to have any idea how to advertise, has me really concerned– almost 13 years into the 21st century, where advertising has almost literally been the singular thing every human being has been and is repeatedly exposed to, why are we–as writers, publishers–so bad at it?
At one point in life it seemed a huge thing to get work published; it was certainly more difficult in the past, yet every day, with more and more journals & presses popping up almost daily, as well as the new affordable modes of large-scale self-publishing, being published seems to be incredibly easy–if you can write a book, you can probably publish it. But, if you can publish a book, that doesn’t mean that anybody is going to read it.
A little while ago, Mike posted that “social media isn’t a very good way to promote your book”. I don’t necessarily agree with him in any capacity, but it’s interesting to consider, because, really, what else do we have? I’m convinced that even when books are reviewed, very few people read the reviews. I know that often I won’t read a review of a book I haven’t read unless one of three things occurs: 1) I’ve heard of the book already and am interested in it, 2) The title or the cover is appealing & 3) I’ve heard the author mentioned somewhere else. So, I guess book reviews at least, to support an authors egotism, support the idea that their book has actually been read, but unless it’s a review that pops up in a very large venue, I can’t imagine they’re helping to sell books much. It’d be pretty awesome if someone were to prove me wrong.
But I’m just wondering, what the hell is the best way to sustainably advertise books? Reading tours? Book trailers? Posting your shit on Tumblr? Linking your books to your friends and family? I don’t know.
All of this seems related to another thing that I’ve been thinking about: How many small press books have staying power? We post links to shit that’s new, we review books right when they come out, but three years, one year, hell even six months later, do we think about these books at all? What can we do, in small press world (and I think there’s some sort of development happening in the world, thanks to the decentralizing nature of the internet [cough-the literary establishment no longer has any reason to remain in NYC-cough], that small press can eclipse big press, at least it should be able to, in terms of generating interest; with the internet we can and should be able to push our words past the realm of small press book readers; we should be able to appeal to any number of individuals of–fuck it, i’ll say it–markets, and demonstrate that we have something people are looking for. Whether or not any of this is true, well, I guess we’ll find out in years to come.
They’re going to make the National Book Awards dinner a flashy thing, like the Oscars/Man Booker: The goal is to add more sex appeal to an industry that’s not exactly known for it — but not, the organizers insist, just for its own sake. “It’s not about being glitzy,” said David Steinberger, the chief executive of Perseus Books and chairman of the foundation. “It’s about increasing the impact great books have on the culture.”
a.k.a. “Playing catch up with the stacks .”
In this series, I share with you a stack of my recently acquired and most anticipated reading materials.
Once again I have a heaping pile of awesome-looking unread materials just waiting to be experienced…
So a little over a month ago I posted a short polemic entitled “Everything is fucked and why do we bother.” Two days later the internet service at my apartment went out and I was sans computer-internet for almost a month. Within this month of being internetless, I read this book and remembered why we bother.
Both Rachel Hyman & Roxane Gay wrote what I took to be either direct or oblique responses to my post. Because I wrote my post while I was angry and broke and frustrated I failed to actually articulate what it was that I was actually driving at, which is often the case with blog writing & my incapacity to see beyond the short-sighted desire to bring up a point.
One thing that’s important, I think, is that at this point, specifically within the micro-realms of “Alt-Lit” (which is even more enclosed than the containing category of “Indie Lit” (and yeah, this sort of insistence upon naming this shit while we’re in the midst of it is both historicizing and annoying, really, but at this point it’s an easy short-cut to meaning)), starting a lit journal or publishing in a lit journal is not inherently ‘exposing your work to more people.’ It might be, I mean I suppose there’s truth to the, but the inclusive nature of this sort of environment almost presupposes that–and this is perhaps more specific to Alt Lit than Indie Lit–you couldn’t just put the work up on your own blog or tumblr & link it on facebook and have any more or fewer readers than having it published on a small tumblr or blogspot based lit journal. Functionally, this is the same. And if the rallying cry behind all of this is “we’re tired of gatekeepers!” then why deal with gatekeepers in any capacity?
I think the idea of the potentiality offered by our current technology should go beyond that. This quote from the aforementioned book really blew my mind:
This is beautiful. The idea of self-publishing not as a vanity, but as a freedom, is really, I think, the key to understanding what’s been happening, and I think, potentially, an awareness of this can lead us forward. But then again, one might ask, if you’re putting your own work out into a void, what’s the utility in that?
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what’s important because I’m constantly racked by poverty, constantly struggling to figure out a way to pay my rent, buy my bus pass, pay for food–because I spend an excessive amount of time working on writing, design, photography, art shit. I like to read. I don’t want to pour my life into a job I hate so I can stop worrying about money. I’ve more or less come to terms with the fact that I will most likely remain poor for my entire life, but this doesn’t stop me from really wondering if it would ever be possible to make money writing and making the things I write and make.
But, that’s a detour: I think the important thing that comes from lit journals, group blogs, commenting on one another’s work–when it works out like it should and could–is the development of community. We’re so far past the point of viewing the internet as an imagined community (at least, most people are, thank god), that the community one builds virtually can be just as helpful and reassuring and comforting and enlivening as a community built in the flesh. I, personally, like to maintain both, and find myself most satisfied with my life when I can commune in and out of both, but I know–because I used to live in the middle of nowhere–that sometimes the virtual communities are the only communities we have.
The idea of the lit journal as a community builder is, I think, a far more utilitarian one than anything else. We are writers and artists and readers and lovers and we want to share what we have to offer and take in what others have to offer. Instead of offering advice to writers to only submit to magazines that they’re familiar with and think their work would fit, perhaps it’d be better to offer the advice in a re-contextualized manner: find a writing community that you’d like to be a part of and see if you can make it work.
The community I’ve found myself in both via the internet and the flesh-world over the last few years has repeatedly astounding me with how warm it is.
I’m still concerned with art meaning something, with my own art meaning something, because art, as I’ve said before, means more to me than anything else does. Life without art is fucking nihilistic. So do we need to ascribe meaning to art? Yes. I think we do. Art doesn’t have to mean the same thing to everyone, but it should mean something. If we refuse to admit that art has meaning, we risk reducing it to something unnecessary, which is what’s leading to the abolishment of arts funding in public schools at an elementary & secondary level. The way literature is taught, often, is that a work of writing has a specific meaning, and this is how we read this meaning, and this is specifically what this allegory or metaphor means, etc. This is a closed system of reading. It establishes art as a code that needs to be deciphered. It leads to a passive mode of critique when it comes to all forms of art throughout all popular culture.
In a brilliantly expansive article on the documentary film Room 237, Jonathan Rosenbaum says the following:
“One way of removing the threat and challenge of art is reducing it to a form of problem-solving that believes in single, Eureka-style solutions. If works of art are perceived as safes to be cracked or as locks that open only to skeleton keys, their expressive powers are virtually limited to banal pronouncements of overt or covert meanings -– the notion that art is supposed to say something as opposed to do something.”
The idea that art is supposed to say something as opposed to do something is sort of the cornerstone of my approach to art, though I often address this using terms like “affect” and “experiential”. There are many words that can aim toward the same ideas. This is what’s often great about language, and how after years and years of communication, we haven’t run out of things to say. Building a community is something that art can do, and it verifies a noble cause. It belies anti-meaning. Art is and can be and should be everything. Communication is a cornerstone of art.
If you are not actively working to make the world a more beautiful place in some capacity, then you have no room in my reality.