Much of the foundation of my life was the impulse to write, which came largely from reading. I did not have a remarkable childhood and Portland in those days was not weird. By now WEIRD means "Western. educated, industrialized, rich and democratic," (That's a small "d" for democratic.) This acronym controls much of our lives, even the standardization of medicines and the theories of psychology. More prominently it establishes the idea of social hierarchy and defines who's at the top. It controls our public institutions, like the major universities and the legislations, and until recently had our understanding of writing gripped by the throat.
About three o'clock PM in Montana there are "cold" phone calls that come in, sometimes begging for money and others making surveys. Yesterday one of them purported to represent a mysterious entity that offered to "publish" one of my books. (My books are mostly aggregations of my blog posts, grouped by subject and free for anyone to download.) This rather stumbling woman who offered "brilliant" agents was transparently fake and I deleted her.
Two more professional entities who have discovered that writers will pay for "success" are "Academia" and Researchgate". One posts a PDF of one's work, which is listed, and people make contact through the website to get copies. It's possible to begin a dialogue with the requestor. It's also possible to get a nicely designed website and other perqs -- for a monthly fee. This responds to a perceived need because the traditional curated journals are now clumsy, slow, and sometimes corrupt, aside from being badly done imitations.
Such grassroots attempts to merchandize literary and academic work are pretty useless. I doubt anyone takes them seriously, though there is evidently some Chinese man who has an insatiable need to learn about Blackfeet through what I write. But it may evolve into something effective. In the meantime, consider the WEIRD story of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Thanks to newspapers and magazines, this is a marker for the uninitiated. The impressiveness comes from the splendour of ceremony, the inaccessibility of the writing (foreign languages, Derridan thought, content of perverse sexuality, craving for power), and now corruption so deep that too many of the people on the committee have resigned for there to be a quorum for renewal by adding new members.
This remarkable set of events is lined out in an article from The Guardian, an English newspaper originally located in Manchester, a place of working class ferment. For Montana people the local echo is the Montana Festival of the Books and the Humanities programs, which purport to be based on virtue and popularity, but are at heart commercial.
A key paragraph: "The scandal has elements of a tragedy, in which people who set out to serve literature and culture discovered they were only pandering to writers and the people who hang around with them. The pursuit of excellence in art was entangled with the pursuit of social prestige. The academy behaved as if the meals in its clubhouse were as much an accomplishment as the work that got people elected there.
The academy had thought it stood for the culture of TS Eliot: somewhat masculine and unashamedly elitist, in which power is channelled in the service of tradition. It turns out to be much more like the culture of an ageing rock star: smug, macho, with its cool self-importance armoured by money and fame. The destruction of the academy’s reputation is not just damaging to an old, odd, Swedish institution, but also to the ideals it upheld, and to the dream of a global high culture that the Nobel prize represents."
This understanding of success, both the old glamorous entitlements and the new elevation of transgression which has included not only the writing, but also the writers, and those who peripherally connect themselves to writers in the belief that they are proving themselves wickedly powerful.
At the moment the Nobel Prize for Literature is at a standstill and may just fade out of existence. The pattern, however, lingers and gets in the way of much deeper and truer notions of what writing and other narratives can be. Taking as a guide this idea of WEIRD or its opposite, which is the same acceptance of an artificial template (brown, unschooled, post- or pre-industrial, poor, and socialist -- well, at least feminist) turns out to be very popular at the moment, capable of knocking out the President of Harvard and the infrastructure of the UUA. That is, overturning the hallmarks of the Enlightenment, which is a definitely WEIRD context. Writing by dark women in marginal countries is now what sells.
Is this because so many are disenchanted by WEIRD descending into chaotic corruptions? Or does it just not work anymore? We're asking this question at the highest levels of democratic self-governance. We discover that WEIRD makes us vulnerable to the envious and scheming peoples of the high plateau of Eurasia, who began as horseback plunderers and never quite managed to impress Europe, though their descendant writers and composers have produced grand novels and symphonies, so that we recognize their long names, even if we have a hard time spelling them. Size, complexity and a dour attitude in a suffering world have become indicators of value. Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky. A high school teacher in Cut Bank taught Christian pessimism in these books and was respected for it, as "one who knows."
I've been saved by the rez. Oral culture, daily life quite apart from business, a wild sense of humour (the last thing to be "civilized") and lives too poor to use much technology have taught me to be suspicious. I left Portland with their motto of "Keeping Portland WEIRD" and I'm not sure they realize the double meaning.
So what does that mean about my writing? It's not for money. It's not for awards. It's not for public recognition or for festivals and readings. It's for a few cherished people and for them I do it as well as I can. If they save it and share it, that's fine.