American publishing, the vast archipelago of fiction, poetry novels and short stories is mostly a land of shades. I mean that with the exception of a handful of small, independent presses that publish work that hardly anyone reads, and fewer people review, American publishing is a cul de sac of useless, dead on arrival, technically proficient collaborationist shit.
The rot set in when the bigger magazines exchanged space devoted to long-form work (think Hunter S. Thompson, Mailer, etc) for shorter pieces that were designed to accommodate advertising. It goes back further of course and was inherent in the original design; inevitable from the beginning because kapital will have its slaves.
Years after the initial infection took hold, The Ink had a conversation with an agent representing a Nobel Laureate. The agent said: Look, I’m not selling literature, I’m selling Coke and Pepsi. When I talk to someone at The New Yorker or Harpers all they care about is the size of the piece. They don’t ever ask me about content. All that matters is how does the piece fit in-between the adds.
Let’s stop here and give the establishment a moment to offer a rebuttal:
That’s not true!
Ok, so as we were saying – the fact is that the publishing houses were colonized years ago and now are little more than wholly owned subsidiaries of the entertainment empires and the sad reality of this is so banal that it was once fodder for an episode of Sex and the City in which some walking cock of the week who was a writer lost his book deal because a sociopathic bean-counter from Europe (i.e. Bertelsmann AG) had flown in to New York and had walked through the office (i.e. at Harpercollins) and fired people because the sales numbers were low.
You know things are bad when something as trite and establishment as Sex and the City has got your number.
Being risk adverse is contrary to art and the art of writing is no different.
Of course the people inside the palace will sniff dismissively and point to the reams of elegant and important novels that have come along over the past few decades and while many of them are technically proficient the fact is…they are almost all irrelevant.
We mean this by relation to the only criteria that matters – the extent to which they reflect and comment on the times in which we are living.
And here we refer you back to our comments on Philip Roth and Aleksander Hemon.
Hemon’s argument, that you would be hard pressed to find a novel written in the period after 9/11 that deals with the world post 9/11 – that speaks of and to mass surveillance, the economic gulag, the endless wars, etc is, technically correct but, as we pointed out, Hemon’s amnesiac view is more than a little suspicious. It is not a question of the books not being written but a question of why they haven’t been published and if published why they haven’t been reviewed.
Not that the mainstream media will address that.
Anymore than the fox will honestly address the security at the henhouse.
And of course this is no different than the controlled atmosphere anywhere else within the empire – after all just spend some time video-hopping on youtube and you can watch the chat show hosts ask the same scripted questions of the same celebrities repeating the same answers and telling the same stories from one Jimmy to the next and so on all the way across the pond to England and back again.
Every now and then honesty escapes but it’s quickly rounded up, sedated and put back in its box.
and so it goes…
But, curiously, in all of this Brave New World of lies, distortions and shallow commercials, one group* has emerged as the heirs to The Beats as strange truth tellers.
While they too live and breath within the confines of the system (in the same sense that Kerouac went on the Tonight Show or Ginsberg sat down to chat with the Torquemada of our times William F. Buckley) a few of them have consistently been truth tellers.
You are free to make your own list but The Ink is speaking specifically of Louis CK and Chris Rock.
There are others and omission is not intended to mean they don’t exist or don’t count but the focus is specifically here on CK. He is of course, as with all comedians an heir to Carlin, Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Chaplain and ultimately Twain.
But I am speaking here of CK.
The persona is of an everyman, half schlub half worn out existential detective beset by a world that is inherently false, hostile, corrupt, and depressed, except when it is desperate and then it’s desperate, false, corrupt, and hostile. And bewildering.
But in spite of all of this, like Marlow walking down the mean streets, but unlike Chandler’s knight errant, both tarnished and usually afraid, CK endures while consistently failing. And in failing, in being you and me and everyone else, he is paradoxically, a success. Thus, he is Beat.
And yes, The Ink understands that appearing in films or on chat shows suggests a non Beat attachment to the material world and yet, we need not here detail Ginsberg’s life amid the money changers but can leave off this part of our discussion with a reference to his portion of The Yage Letters in which he discusses his fears about the cult of his own personality.
But, as to CK and being Beat…he hates hypocrisy but recognizes it in himself, and he hates dishonesty but sees himself as inherently dishonest but, unlike those bastards, his shield is that he is honest about his failures and is in a near constant stream of expression about the anxiety produced by being a hypocrite and a dishonest man struggling to do the right thing.
He hates the system for imposing its bullshit on him and everyone else –
This is subversive because it is honest and the honesty reflects contradictions.
As the utterly obnoxious and brilliant Baudelaire said: “A man must be allowed to contradict himself…”
And: “Brother hypocrite, I salute you…”
If there is an American novelist producing work this brutally honest, subversive and confrontational, we are unaware of it. That does not mean it doesn’t exist it’s just that we haven’t seen it.
Try to imagine a writer workshopping something even remotely similar or a publisher printing it. It won’t happen. Censorship, specifically the corporate censorship imposed by lawyers and the febrile outrage machine won’t allow it and yet, mysteriously, the same machine (the same lawyers) allow it, even encourage it in comedy and to a certain extent cable based shows (e.g., shameless, Curb your Enthusiasm, etc). The New yorker (yes, the New Yorker) has some interesting thoughts on this:
And while it is curious, mysterious even this should of course still come as no surprise. Truth, information in a particular form, always finds a way to spread.
And notice that in that routine linked above CK says: “I don’t care, someone will probably kick my ass…”
The mantra of the existentially depressed detective in search of the truth. Down these mean streets he must go, tarnished, usually afraid, he’s telling his truth, your truth, the truth of our times as we watch the seas rise and the lights fade.
*The Ink will discuss contemporary music in another post.