Friday, September 02, 2016


The trouble with writing about publishing is that publishing doesn’t exist and never did.  It is an invented concept that has become connected to books and writing so as to improve their value.  

It has become like sainthood, but there’s no such thing as sainthood. There are praiseworthy lives of people we call “saints” to indicate that some institutional body, quite worldly, sees an advantage in claiming that saints have supernatural powers (thus miracles are required) and then using that claim to make money and prove their value for the institution, maybe by promoting relics or selling indulgences.

So “publishing” when converting content to distributed print was expensive, because of the cost of paper/leather/ink and its handling and transporting, what it said was “we of this ‘church’ feel that this content is saint-level. Therefore buy it.” The bulk of the money goes to the “church” though they are NOT capable of producing content/becoming saints.  

When the church controlled the production of copies hand-written by monks, their value was much higher.  The importance of the printing press was that books became much cheaper, so the business of “publishing” brought back some of the costliness.  This was connected to the newly forming “middle class” of moderately prosperous people. 

Now that content can be put into print and sent out to the world with the push of a button, it might still be saint-quality, but people have become confused and want money to change hands as proof. It’s clear that print on screens is even cheaper, but what economic “class” is forming?

But wait — there’s more. Once printing is removed, “publishing” becomes advertising. Anyone can pay for advertising. In fact, the church pays for advertising to make the machinery of creating a saint successful.  They lobby, just as movie studios lobby for their films to receive Academy Awards. If a rich person wants his wife to be “published”, he doesn’t need anything but access to “Oprah,” cleverly placed billboards, air-time adverts, endorsements from saintly people attached to churches, and a proper election campaign. We know this in America.

Don’t waste time with “publishing houses” when it is notoriety that works. THAT’s the supernatural element. it would help if the wife were scandalous or had a fatal disease.

There’s plenty more to say. The biggest part is about audience. Sainthood is useless unless there are believers in that “church,” people who think that a publishing house is an imprint of quality. (Some are.) To write without readers means not even needing readers — at least not for money. But a writer cannot escape the readers in his or her head. Those wishing to read are very much shaped by the times. There’s no use in being Gandhi when the British Empire has collapsed. Now who writes for the internal oppressors?

Part of the skill of writing (and sainthood) is simply who WANTS your message, which cannot be controlled beyond advertising. The great failure of the moment is that the publishing houses simply don’t know what people will buy. (Neither do the churches.) “Tell us what you want,” both demand, sending out endless questionnaires invented by people who have no idea what’s out there, so that their questionnaires are like asking a horse how much milk it gives in a day. Possible but irrelevant. (I love the quip about milking cats that’s going around — there won’t be much product and you’ll get hurt in the process.)

India is a particularly apt locus for stories about culture because the place has been so multiple, so complex, so tolerant and so deadly. The terrain is what the Silk Roads once crossed and possibly where Jesus got his best ideas. Indians have been inventors and enforcers of class/caste. In the Sixties and Seventies everyone thought they were near-supernatural with adepts who could hold their breath and walk on fire and sleep on nails. 

At the same time they were seen as notorious tricksters — just like writers. Color is thrown in your face, shit goes up your nose. Water is full of dead bodies. Yet somehow that engages more of our brains; it is a sort of cultural S/M where the temple friezes show how and where to apply your tongue. They give permission. There’s no such thing as tantric Anglicanism, though many wish there were. 

Yet quietly those who wish to help others, go about their business. If they write something that strikes a chord in others — “does it hurt here?” — they may become famous, sainted, promoted by others, even out of control.

To think in narrative images that progress without even the author knowing where they will go is to access something deep and meaningful. Writer and readers may touch the Sacred. They may be burned. I suppose that agents are like priests in that they try to recognize what is Holy and to support it, but they are often mistaken. They don’t get out much, for one thing, and some went into the church to hide, for another. So what do they know about the world that thrusts us up against torture and oblivion? It’s easy for them to become perverted because they don’t take the Holy seriously enough. If it is not their heart’s passion after all, they are just there for the costumes and theme music.

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