Friday, February 26, 2010


You won't like this; in fact, you will bristle. But it's what I believe. I am not asking anyone else to believe it. It is not an argument. It is only a statement of what I believe to be true.

I honestly believe there is evil in the world. I also believe that book publishing in ALL of its manifestations is permeated with evil.

There are people in publishing who are not evil. They're quite misguided (book lovers mainly) but not evil. I can count them on one hand. There is not six of them in the world.

Book publishing -- the paradigm or structure of the product is irrelevant -- is the darkness. And nearly ALL the people in it are evil.

I would say BURN THE BOOKS but the stink would be overwhelming. This is how I see it.

Tim Barrus

My co-writer, Tim Barrus, is a provocateur. My most cynical response is “why burn the books when we could be burning the publishers?”

But that’s not very nice. (Tim thinks I’m nice and I’d just as soon not dispel that illusion.)

My theory of evil (informed by seminary, etc.) is a combination of situational ethics, which always (in my view) includes some solid non-negotiable principles. The first principle here is that “publishing” is not a THING any more than medicine or law or family or sex are things. They are processes and therefore can be done in a benign way or an evil way. To decide case-by-case is a big nuisance, but in the end I think that lumping a whole category into “evil” or “not evil” is simplistic in the first place and too dominated by the troublesome Manichean dyadic world view in the second place. But people LOVE simplistic Manichean statements and labels. It’s really tough to get them to think a situation through, esp. if they’re drunk or madly in love, which may be the same thing.

So, what if you’re madly in love with “publishing” as a process? Not BOOKS. That’s different. I’ll defend my books. I’ll even defend magazines. I have magazines I’ve saved since 1958. (Wasn’t that the year of the House Beautiful issue that defined “shibui?”) I told Tim that if he showed up at my house and threatened to burn my books, I’d lock him out.

For the purposes of “situation ethics,” I’ll break this down into parts.

1. The writers: when they are touted as celebrities, when they have books written in their name that they did NOT write, that’s evil.

2. The acquiring editors: when they promote their friends, inflate importance, secure big advances, promise things they will not and can not deliver, that’s evil.

3. The publishing owners/managing editors: when they manage for profit, pretend innocence, make secret deals, pursue sensation and promote contention, that’s evil. The present practice of exploiting extreme political positions is tantamount to promoting war both in and out of our country and is satanically evil. It’s costing lives. The same applies to extreme religious positions, which they know little or nothing about and don’t bother to properly investigate. Big Time Evil.

4. The agents who used to be editors and are now making their livings by forcing writers into templates they know the editors want (because they make their money only IF the editors accept the work) and are more concerned about their relationships with the publishers who screwed them and fired them than they are with the writers they pretend to serve, are evil.

5. Writers who genuinely are talented and have a clear vision of what their work ought to be but compromise because they need the money are evil, but in a mild and redeemable way. We ought to set about redeeming them by imagining a far better system, but maybe ebooks, vooks, multi-media, embedded arts will do the job. And what’s the matter with old-fashioned open mics? (Unless you need to eat, of course.) Still, people who merely want to be published or to become celebrities or belong to some elite group ought to be prevented from calling themselves writers. Writers are people who write.

6. Readers who read as though books drop out of heaven or spring up from hell, who read with no discrimination or understanding, who leave trails of discarded books while they scarf up whatever the media throws at them, are evil. Readers who suck up to writers as though they were great (and therefore not in need of support) are evil. Readers who condemn writers because they’ve been told the writer in question was a bad person or politically incorrect -- though they’ve never read the actual book -- are evil. Book clubs who only pretend to read the assigned books are naughty, but not quite evil.

7. I’m trying to think about how to say that political correctness can be evil. I think I’ll go with Jesus: those who go by the letter of the law but ignore the spirit are evil.

Power corrupts. Poverty equals vulnerability. These principles take me perilously close to a soft core kind of Marxism, but without proper care capitalism is just a way of taking from the poor while rewarding the rich, always moving towards violence and suppression.

Luckily, writers are like 7th graders or the water behind a dam, which is to say “irrepressible” and they will constantly be feeling around for a way through or around or over obstructions. This moment in time is a great opportunity for writers -- ask any seventh grader how to take advantage of the new media.

The results may not look like what some are now called a “pbook.” The way to achieve the results may not look like “writing,” but the principles of narrativity will always apply because story is a part of humanness that is beyond good OR evil. It just “is” on its own terms and if it has to scratched out on the wall of a prison or encrypted in a symphony or scrawled on a banner, then that will happen. But often at a great cost which could be defined as Evil. So there’s a second major and immutable principle.


Lance Michael Foster said...

Stories will always be with us..whether around campfires, in books, in vooks, or around campfires again ;-) But that's -my- narrative. I think the Dark Ages are here, we just don't know it yet. Sort of like how once it is noon, it is already becoming evening.

I agree with your points Mary.

It struck me that in the narrative of the Tim-Mary partnership, Tim is supposed to be chaos and Mary order, Mary is light and Tim is darkness.

But here I see Mary want to burn publishers, and Tim grant there may be six people in publishing who are not evil. So there is that spot of yin in Tim's yang, and a spot of yang in Mary's yin ;-)

prairie mary said...

Lance, you and I have never met. Neither have Tim and I ever met. The persons we think we are talking to are entirely constructed, as much as they would be if you read a book and thought you "knew" a character. We are all full of surprises. We are all nothing like you think we are. You have no way to figure out what is irony, what is teasing, what is sarcasm, unless you know us and our separate worlds.

This makes it all so risky and so much more fun.

Prairie Mary

Lance Michael Foster said...

Yeah, I know, Mary, I have no illusions about that. This is just a conversation.

After all, how many people that you DO meet face to face, and know for years, even decades, do you REALLY know ;-)

Art Durkee said...

I dunno. I worked in book and magazine publishing for years, as a graphic artist, designer, typographer, and illustrator, and I'd have to say that the mix of evil vs. non-evil people was about the same as in any other group I've ever gotten to know well. A few saints, a few very loud bad apples, and a lot of folks just trying to get by, just trying to survive, and live to cultivate their own gardens. I cannot view the latter as evil, in themselves, even if by their nonaction they do not interfere with evil. Not everyone is a prophet, who is required to interfere with evil. Most of my friends tend to be prophets, by that definition, but I also have observed that one can often rely on evil to shoot itself down out of sheer rampant self-centered blindness. Sometimes you don't have to DO anything.

I object to absolutist categorizations of all kinds, simply because there are no absolutes in real life. There are principles, and ethics, and beliefs that keep us from acting out what we deem to be evil. But there are no absolute situations or groups or categories which can be defined across the board as absolutely evil. Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party, after all; yet he did good.

I think the works we do define us much more powerfully than what we SAY. This is all just talk, after all.