Thursday, July 09, 2009

Keeping It In, or a word about publishing

1. There are dichotomies in this world which serve our appetites for learning and classifying.

1.1 On the outside, dichotomies (dualities) serve merely and exclusively the purposes of classifying and learning.

1.2 Formerly (and that’s a good while into the past), we used to speak of duality, as if there was just one. We understand the earlier use of 'duality' as a convenience term, a keyword, a remnant of that old obsession with absolutes. And in those days, opinions used to be iron bricks. (In retrospect, it must be conceded that our predecessors—Kant or Joyce, for instance—did not have as many opportunities as we have for expressing—publishing—change. They simply had no means to connect with the public in real-time: no hypertext. But now, in this age of 'harmless, formless, limitless, publishing'—we seek out the public with our 'changes.')

2. The major contribution of the modern world—postmodern or post-contemporary world, to be precise—is the growing realisation that knowledge is not absolute.

2.1 The general tendency is to freely concede that there are no absolutes whatever, and on that premise build its bulwark of cast-iron theory to support livelihoods. (This we see most commonly in the academia. Remember Derrida and deconstruction, Said and ‘orientalism.’)

3. This has in turn given rise to ‘industries’ in every walk of life. (Mention of some occupations, such as web logging, as industry can have quite amusing consequences.) Industry may be construed as any content packaged as a commodity and mass-produced, with the ‘mould’ being kept for future use (as if it were really necessary; as if it had intrinsic value).

3.1 Mass-produced things have only utility or use-value, and as such, people desire individual value.

3.1.1 So we have books with different covers (front jacket illustrations) and the same content (a special print-run of OV Vijayan’s final novel featured a thousand copies with different paintings on the cover); and thirteen different versions of Sunflowers by van Gogh (of course, he died a pauper), and so on. (So the idea could hardly have been postmodern.)

3.2 Those blatant successes of mass-appeal—like mainstream cinema—are not just about the content, but as much about the presentation, where it is presented, and to whom. Cinema, for example, provides an immense ambience that can in turn be private, communal, cathartic, and comical. A similar expression of communal catharsis, though with only a few options and often performed under duress, would be a public protest march or a solidarity march. (DYFI’s famous ‘human chain’ of 1987 comes to mind. They had much limited success with their later 'human chain', thus underlining the novelty appeal of public displays of solidarity. And by then, materialism had congealed.)

3.2.1 Each success of mass-subscription—such as a bestselling book, a blockbuster movie, or even a successful political rally—portends a change. Some become revolutions, others become trendsetters. But each promises a change, a change that would insure its continued survival, evolution, and final ensconcing.

3.3 When a book—a work—is read by another, it can lay a claim to having been published. Fitzgerald's translation of Rubaiyat sold less than ten copies in his lifetime.

4. It takes so little to publish.

4.1 ‘If you are famous we can publish. If you haven’t, we can publish if it’s new. Preferably, if you have coined the term yourself.’

4.2 Historically, those that have sold the most and forgotten quickly are those that pandered to crass public taste.

4.3 Bestselling books deal in generalities. The cruder and animal-like it gets, the better its chances of big-time success. (‘Gone With the Wind’.)

4.3.1 No wonder then, that no medical guide or engineering manual (even those that saves lives or moves mountains) ever sold by the millions.

4.4 What people need is money, but what they like is mush and fantasy. This they need in bucketfuls.

4.5 The public loves spin doctors, though we might revile them when they appear on TV. We love being pampered, and we love the lies when it’s about us. Moreover, they are ‘a part of us.’

5. There are those who choose to brave the wind and go it alone. They lead a disturbed life because they can see through the lies. Worse still, they teach others to see through the lies.

5.1 They, too, run the risk of being branded. Branding is the ultimate containment mechanism of capitalism. (Recall those ‘Che’ T-shirts and bandannas.)

5.2 They define their lives through their rebellious lives. They might subscribe to the general on many issues, but there are private stings and worries which they will never compromise on. They will resolutely identify and contend with a few or a host of issues. They become advocates of a ‘cause.’ This too, the alert reader would be quick to point out, is a form of branding.

6. Branding is a very ingenious way of saying, ‘we know you’re different and famous, but we don’t want to be like you.’ Branding is a way of exclusion, where we mark up things ('the other') for consumption.

6.1 Branding may or may not be attended by envy. Every woman envies Rebecca Romijn, but not Naomi Klein. (The reasons are obvious: our eyes and our hearts and something...need I say more? Well, at least some would say, ‘What’s she got that I haven’t?’)

6.2 Branding is convenient.

6.3 Brands engender devotion. We attribute godlike qualities to brands, fully knowing that money will buy most (the parallel with god is exact: money in place of faith).

6.4 A brand is what we aspire to be. When we get hooked on a brand (even a celebrity) it is like saying, ‘Brand, I will have you one day.’ That is, ‘some day I’ll strip you of all your novelty and consume your value.’

6.5 Much as we are attracted to the man or woman who shows the least interest in us (but we’re interested in), we prefer expensive, ‘exclusive’ brands. These brands, obviously, play hard-to-get. (Gauloises, for instance—though very few actually like the coarse puffs.)

6.6 The general idea, then, is to become a brand. Because a brand is impersonal, godlike, larger-than-life, everlasting. (At least, that’s the promise. Marilyn Monroe scores a perfect ten.)

7. And then, there are those who keep it in.

7.1 In private circles they shoot out their tentacles, touching some and thrilling some but always adding spice to things, keeping busy most of the time.

7.2 They are the small-time builders who respect the short-order of things. They make some edifices but are quick to see that it’s probably not worth raising them all to the heavens.

7.3 What they express, what they do, have generality, but it does not engage the public as much as the great big successes do.

7.3.1 They speak about specific things, taking care not to trivialize the particular, or generalize the trivial. And they know the 'urn' to be a false one.

7.3.2 They are aware of the contextual nature of facts.

7.4 They write well. They write to an audience, of whom they demand a certain technical proficiency and finesse. You don't need to be technical, or course. But you have to be uncompromising and thoroughgoing. That is, if you’re a very astute observer of life, or someone immersed in life as to enjoy the intricacies rather than waste your time in anticipation of the ‘big intellectual Mardi Gras’, then they expect you to be true to your promise.

7.5 They don’t deal in half-measures. They do not compromise.

7.6 They are not idealists because they know what is possible and what is not possible. They are aware that they represent the locus of the possible.

7.7 They generally don’t publish; even if they do, they publish but a fraction of their thoughts. Even then they are read by a few who notice the nuances, and that the rules have not been flayed.

7.8 What they publish is one great confluence of many divergent streams in an intellectual floodtide of consonant thoughts.

7.8.1 These thoughts are but a result of clever synthesis; reality as such has no such order, nor any need of thoughts.

7.9 Thoughts reflect reality; reality they do not make.

8. You cannot publish thoughts. Thoughts are what you keep in all the time.


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