This blog’s two weeks old, but I’m still musing on Lance’s first post. Proclamations from the NYT (or anywhere else) about “bests” just provoke me to dig deep enough below the foundations to threaten the structure that makes such proclamations look interesting & credible to so many people. To be honest, I don’t think I’d care which book or author they proclaimed “best.” Art can’t be judged by arithmetical methods. So instead of commenting on the NYT’s arithmetical approach to literature, I’ll explore some of the thoughts I’ve had on reading Lance’s first post.
Now What. Among other things, we could add a question mark to these words and take them as a wide-open question. The discipline of History laid down the tracks for my synaptic connections at an impressionable age, so I’m wired to think that asking such a question implies the demand to see through the murk of what’s going on now and as well as some kind of sense of what’s already been. It could be that it isn’t necessary to attain a vision of either the present or the past in order to move somewhere else, but my entire mental apparatus would short-circuit if someone actually managed to convince me of that.
So, I grope about in the murk. This is especially hard to do since I’ve lately become disoriented by the discovery that a political form that once looked so hard & definite to my naïve eyes—I’m speaking of dictatorship—doesn’t necessarily come with an on/off switch. Those of us living the
Just consider: The US stood at the brink of a constitutional crisis in late 2000, but Congress collaborated with the Supreme Court, & the moment passed. The
I think my most bewildered moment came when I returned home from the Delany Conference in Buffalo at the end of March and saw the Washington Post article reporting that a bill that had been signed by the POTUS had become law even though it hadn’t been passed by both houses of Congress. Even then, I expected a cry out of outrage. My partner said testily, “It’s not a law,” as if the issue were a matter of semantics & my fear that the executive could get away with doing such a thing was absurd. But the truth is, if the Supreme Court, which has been packed by the executive, rules that the bill is nevertheless a law, the two hundred year old definition of legislation will carry as much weight as any of the many “facts” the executive scorns as irrelevant, & the executive branch will know that the process by which a bill becomes law, which children used to have to learn in middle-school civics class, has become merely an option rather than a requirement for binding legislation. The moment passed, however, as of no interest to the political class, with the result that few people are even aware that a law exists that bypassed the required process.
And finally, if any hope for democracy in the
About a week ago, Republican Senator Arlen Specter warned that there “soon might not be a Congress,” because “'we're undergoing a tsunami here with the flood coming from the executive branch on one side and the judicial branch on the other.”
Paul Craig Roberts, an economist who served as an assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration, uses the expression “soft dictatorship” to characterize the current state of government in the
The political landscape of the
The technology of printing, from its orgins in fifteenth-century
As just about everyone living on this planet has by now discovered, postmodern capitalism does not believe in sacrificing profit to love (much less to public good, moral imperative, or even life itself). Business, in the postmodern era, exists to make as much profit as possible. For publishers conglomerated within the three remaining mammoth multinational media corporations, the math is stark: every book is expected to be a source of profit. Obviously this has been bad news for the “alternative” writing that was once associated with certain imprints of major
“We’re living in the Golden Age of the small press.” I’ve heard several editors from big
So is this a Golden Age for the small press? Not from the authors’ point of view, since small presses usually are able to offer only smaller advances and print-runs and its book promotion must be done on the cheap, mostly through the initiative of the author. What about from the small-press publishers’ point of view, though? Granted, some very fine writing—like Gwyneth Jones’s—is now finding its way to the desks of small press editors. But consider what can happen when a small press published an author heretofore associated with mainstream publishers. From the first, the question of print-run size will be an issue, for the publisher can never be certain what a reasonable size for such authors might be. Next, a review in the New York Times (or some other market leader) of a name author will bring in a flood of orders from the big distributors, threatening to exhaust the print-run almost at once. What does the publisher do? Sit tight and wait for the returns to pour in on the assumption that the first print-run will be enough? Or go out on a financial limb, hoping to ride the wave to its peak? Baker & Taylor can take forever to pay, & small presses have sometimes been broken by such success. & yet an optimist might think that although extraordinary success is risky, the overall effect could well be to see some of the larger small presses emerge into a formation resembling that of the many independent established publishers of pre-conglomerate eras, subsidizing less financially-remunerative books with the profits of blockbusters. I myself see this as unlikely, simply because the structural conditions of the industry have changed. But I’ll admit it’s possible.
As they negotiate these shifting circumstances, small presses need to be clear about their own identities. Lance remarks in one of his posts “I know chances are I can trust a book from, say, Coffee House, Chiasmus, or Wordcraft,” and that’s the point. Yes, the small press represents an alternative to mainstream publishing. But as mainstream publishing narrows its focus, excluding many of the books it would in the past have published without question, the range of what is “alternative” necessarily expands. Aqueduct has been in existence for about two years now, and we’ve published five full-sized trade paperbacks and thirteen small trade paperbacks. Although the fiction we’ve published ranges all over the map stylistically, I have a clear sense of what it is that I want to be publishing (even if I seem only able to say what it is that I do not want to publish).When writing our mission statement I chose to use “challenging” to characterize the kind of fiction we intended to publish, I knew that such an adjective would put off some readers. But how, I reminded myself at the time, if one is offering an alternative to the blockbuster, if one is aiming to serve a small rather than least-common-denominator audience, can one not put off some readers? Last month at Andrea Hairston’s reading here in Seattle, one of the people attending the reading said she loved my openly using the word. This stood, she felt, for the character of Aqueduct’s alternative-ness to the mainstream.
If it is not exactly a golden age for the small press, it is a time in the