Saturday, October 27, 2018


Books are the dominating form of narration in our society in terms of prestige.  We think books will make you famous though the mystique that made religions claim they were based on books is over -- whether scrolls kept and memorized over time, pamphlets approved by a committee of experts, purported biographies, or found golden plaques now buried in the desert.  Books are now cheap, rarely memorized, written in, pages torn out, hollowed out to hide things, and finally pulped.  But people keep writing them.  Finding volumes that "changed their life." Hoarding them in stacks and on shelves.

Authors are assumed to be brilliant, rich, and admired.  Film, video, online print are all still considered temporary in some sense: tinsel.  But a new form of story conveyance has developed to accommodate and sort pieces whether of testimony, demonstration, epistle, or image, moving or not.  Music is prominent and vital in them.  Today the two most potent forces powering the people's computerized narrative are music vids and porn.  Both are young people's art forms, natural as breathing.

Shatzkin, an expert on producing and selling books, used to concern himself with bookstores, publishers and the integument jobs: editors, warehousemen, clerks, advertisers, inventory experts.  As the readers and the producers changed through the decades, he watched and thought about it.  Most recently he notes that "books" are cheap and fast to make, in best-seller volume or one-by-one.  You can write one on your keyboard, add illustration off the internet, and print copies on your kitchen table.

But the best ones are extremely expensive to buy again if they are specialized or technical and if you know they exist at all.  There are no "dirty books" accessed by an initiated clerk drawing them from under the counter in Paris.  You can see it all on a "tablet" -- maybe your neighbors, even family making a few bucks, confident no one will mind their appendicitis surgery scars, not are that they are kids.

Shatzkin suggests that books have gone from being well-made objects to enjoy, value and keep, to reread again and again, until now they are doors opening into a special world, a context where people share ideas, vocabulary, proposals, and projected futures.  Mostly written as ebooks because things are moving so quickly that today's book may be irrelevant tomorrow, one can merely delete the obsolete without burdening the bookshelves.  The model may be science or technology, hurtling along like yesterday's locomotive and tomorrow's rocket shoot.  

Convocation conventions are pass√©, conversations are on Skype, all locations are in the City of On-Line.  You can buy anything there.  But people will look you up on a search engine and make records of you on a web-crawler. Some have taken advantage of all this to seem more wicked and deprived than they are. Then there is the fun of "unmasking" them.

So why couldn't the boys in Paris, uninvited, unacknowledged, unappreciated boys at risk, join forces to create material?  Don't people want to know reality?  At first the boys themselves were divided.  Invisibility had kept them safe.  They were used to being ghosts, shadows, whispering.

Tim's way of working was loosely based on books but struggling to escape by opening windows to all arts that would translate, including dance.  He began with a title that captured an aspect of life, then began to montage with short pieces.  This made it easy to slide in pieces by any one of them that sort of fit the title.  "The Fallen and the Flight."   More like portfolios than books.  The boys were participants but Tim had the final say because he had control of the money.  They, of course, could also post on social media, but weren't as good at safeguards offered by being part of a community.

Books have always been part of sexwork.  Sexwork is partly biological, but mostly work of the imagination.  The art of it is learning what is a channel to assumptions and how to exploit them, creating an alternative reality that might only endure for an hour or might extend through a weekend.  Sex is in the brain, a truism so obvious that everyone ignores it, even while doing telephone sex where only the voice connects two people.  Books are also in the brain.

Sexwork is a means more than a goal.  Maybe some people want to exploit the niche and become known for it, and that's perfectly possible.  There are famous true whores besides those who pretend in order to seem more exciting.  But for young boys sexwork is a feat of survival undermined by their own sense of humiliation, of having no one to care for them otherwise.  Still they manage to make marks on whatever surface they find with whatever means are at hand.  Someone like Banksy reframes graffiti into social comment and a force for change in a fossilized world of art sales, simply by turning assumptions on their heads, by using innocent images and revealing destruction. 

Beyond that, every face is a book.  Every new day is a clean page.  Lakoff manages to enliven that principle into a life-force, a near-religion.  Metaphor is how our brains work and every sexworker uses metaphor, even the ones that are very low on the hierarchy, merely sucking off someone cheap and in a hurry.  At the high end of concubines and king's favorites, metaphors become palaces and it's possible to marry a president in a country that is not supposed to have kings.

Boys wishing to join the group in Paris used to provide portfolios in the conventional sense.  Quality was various but not usually surprising.  Tim went by his gut rather than any art school standard.  He valued potential and saw it where no one else did, partly because of a lifetime of working with atypical kids in what were meant to be typical classrooms, expecting little.  The boys, treated this  expectant and optimistic way, expanded, grew talents, saw the world as for the first time, and otherwise justified every investment in them. They began to find meaning.

Some didn't.  Some died.  In the 19th century tuberculosis murdered far too many important and valued young people. Keats, Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Chopin, Kafka, Chekov,  In the 21st century tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in people with HIV/AIDS, in spite of all the remarkable drugs.  The realm of those who address, investigate, survive, and push for a cure is expanding, sharing ideas, and creating a new world.  But can be bound by hard covers etched with images of poverty.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Thoreau, yes; Emerson, no. He lived into his 80s and fell silent from dementia in his last years.

Stay warm!