Returns, Swishtail and the Fool

Friday, March 9th, 2012

So it’s been a huge long time since I wrote one of these. Fact is, I lost money, I lost faith, I damn near lost my sanity these last months. When I say I lost my faith, I mean I became so beleaguered, I ended up wondering what the hell this was all about. Why work so hard? For what? Why be a publisher at all? Why bother, when you’re a writer? Why bother with other people? Why not just gaze at my own navel and forget the damn book industry? How can I win against these giants? Was I just insane to think it would go anywhere? Why drive myself half-mad with debt, impossible-to-access readers and work night after night, trying to edit books and publish books that no one seems to care about. Why?

This was the question that tapped against my poor and wretched soul all this time. I even toyed with the idea of giving it up and being just a writer, whatever the hell that is. And yet I knew. Throughout, like the repeating spasm of garlic in the esophagus, that Revenge Ink would not go away. I knew I would never give up on this, the only baby I will likely give birth to. I owe money still. I am not yet successful. And all the sensible folks tell me I am mad to keep trying. I have never been one for good sense however. I am uncommonly sensible. I am the most sensible person I know. But my sense of good sense seems rarely to match other people’s sense of what good sense should be. You see, theirs depends on one single root notion: security. But good sense can mean many things. It can mean – and should mean – the good sense to know what’s good for your life. Not what’s safe and practical, but what makes sense. To you. Which is entirely bloody different. This is why, when I am sensible, people say I am hard and cynical. But when I am clear, they say I am romantic. Conclusion? Most people are dunces and cowards, rarely to be trusted on what you should do with your life.

The difficulty of course is money. When you have none of it, it is hard to fly in the face of social pressure. It is impossible to be ‘cool’ while being a loser and a parasite. There exists around us a sort of Puritan view, that you should only have a right to your life if you can pay for it. This is sheer barbarism. The best things are done when money is absolutely not involved. When sex is associated with money, we frown at it. And yet, that we associate the very value of our lives, the richness of who we are, the unique talents we have, with money, this is somehow considered perfectly just and correct. Barbaric I tell you. Absolutely barbaric.

My solution to this pennilessness? Nothing. I refuse. I refuse to do anything about it. My view being that the universe will provide, now that I have struggled as hard as I can. I will never go back to ‘work.’ I have chosen this path and I will keep at it, and I say so knowing full well that my creditors might be reading this. I will pay them all back and I know I will. I know I will succeed, because I know I will never give up. Where do I get this determination and confidence from? From the fundamental conviction that if you refuse to give up, you will always, in time, get what you want. How do I know this? Because I hate ‘getting up and going to work’ more than I hate being a loser, a parasite, more than I hate anything else.

The question however continued to plague me. Why? Why was I doing all this? What did I think I was doing, even? Well I just sort of figured it out. Just a few minutes ago, so I thought I’d share.

You see, I just wrote something indefensibly outrageous on Facebook. Not really ‘indefensible.’ But if you know Facebook, you will know that it is the modern electronic version of a polite tea party thrown by what we call ‘aunties’ in India. Everyone is against tyranny of course. And they’re all against religion. And everyone believes in tolerance and democracy. There are a few who tell the truth about who and what they are, but mostly it’s because they get caught out. Sometimes, in a stray comment, they will allow the filthy truth to slither out. But mostly it’s all politeness and perfection. It is an ocean of platitudes and bonhomie. I myself have wallowed in it, so I don’t claim superior status. But one thing I do keep challenging (often in spite of myself) is this: Facebook is a place where you cannot be outrageous. You can defend the most outrageous people, but you can’t come right out and be horrifically tasteless and outrageous. Naturally. Because apparently democracy has come to mean that we must all be well-behaved ‘aunties’ – in the hope that the nice polite government and its genteel friends, the corporations, will give us what we have earned by being polite and well-behaved.

So every now and then, I put something on there that creates a bit of a stir. I don’t do it deliberately. I don’t seek to offend. But it appears I am incapable of sucking it in all the time. Of agreeing with the majority. I am incapable of fighting the easy fight. For this abhorrent tastelessness, I have been insulted, confronted and chastised on Facebook. But just as often, not. You can see what people are like, how much personal eccentricity and outrageousness they can take from incidents such as these. I myself come to wonder sometimes why I had to go and put something on there that challenged my usual penchant for sagacity and my aversion to moral turpitude (ahem). But today, this incident brought up the question: why do I do it? What is it about me that loves to bollock it up, most often for myself? What is it about me that loves to upset the apple cart, that refuses to kowtow, that refuses to ‘get it right’ and be careerist, sensible and genteel?

Well, as it happens, I am currently reading Vanity Fair by Thackeray. I am reading some of my author submissions as well as William Makepeace. I am also close to finishing the first draft of a very bizarre and eccentric novel I am working on. My second. I know. About eight people read my first. No matter. We soldier on, my writer self and I.

So anyway. Right now, I am reading Thackeray. I am surprised too. At how much I am enjoying it. I should say enjoying him. Because bless him, Thackeray, like me, like all the writers I love and respect – even adore – writes absolutely and relentlessly as himself. He doesn’t give a crow’s droppings for ‘invisibility’ and ‘ambiguity’ – all that polite literary balls. He doesn’t come up with horrifically contrived sentences about the sun peeking out from this and that and bullrushes and something else. He talks right at you, he chats you up, he makes no bones about the fact that he is writing this story for you at a certain time, in a certain place with its peculiarities of social class. He interrupts himself by telling you his opinion on things like public schools, rack punch hangovers and education. He says he won’t tell you about something but proceeds to tell you anyway. He includes a huge amount of information from the world of his time, references to books, trends, linguistic peculiarities and all manner of background historical detail you have to look up in the notes. I like this because it creates an impression of the raw, chaotic moment. It is just as artificial a technique as any other, but its superiority lies in that it aims not at perfection, but at the imperfection of life. It aims, in other words, at something guttural and primitively theatrical that hits at the core of my own ambition. A something I have been wondering about. A something that defines why, as a writer, I am also and absolutely, a publisher.

Dario Fo once said that the theater must be as an act of violence upon the audience. Tarkovski railed against the dull acquiescent Hollywood-type public that knew the story of the movie they were watching but only wanted slightly to be surprised at the end. Or worse, to be confirmed in their prediction of the inevitable happy ending. Van Gogh tore the flesh out from his paints in an attempt to capture life. Céline puked out the most disgusting aspects of everything he was (and everything his world was) with the tripped-up, insane, jackhammer violence of his language. This is so with all the ancient forms of art. The primitive forms. Chaos – its intrusion into art – is for me, the most charming effect imaginable. I like a man who is honest about his seduction. I like the flamboyant. The undisguised has a talent to it that requires vastly greater courage than the hidden and the genteel. This is why comedy requires bigger balls in performance than tragedy.

To allow the chaos of life, the imperfections of it, the incompleteness of the fleeting moment, to let it burst out of the page, this to me is irresistible magnificence in art. The varying and unpretentious truth of personality. The ferocity of desire out in the open. The claim of mainstream art to ‘truth’ and that ‘invisible authorship’ somehow underpins this ‘truth’ is specious. Truth has nothing to do with art. Or with life for that matter. We write because it feels good. We do stuff in life because we want to. It is moral propaganda and puritanical oppression to speak of ‘truth’ as being superior to desire. When was the last time you did something because it was the ‘truth?’ If there’s one single universal truth to our lives, it’s desire. We are driven by it. Art is all about it. And without personality, there is no desire. There is no art.

What the hell is ‘truth’ anyway? Lies – even false emotions – can feel just as ‘true’ if they’re thought to be ‘shared’ by a majority of people. This is why so much of mainstream art is cliché, histrionics and contrivance. Because ‘art as truth’ can only either be an incredible pretention rendered possible by elite domination, or the crassest kind of appeal to ‘what we all think and feel.’ No, the whole business of ‘truth’ in art is diabolically abstract, and must be avoided as far as possible.

That leaves then, the truth of personality. What is true for me need not be true for you. But this is who I am. And it is my prerogative as an artist to challenge your sense of truth, with mine. Conversely, it is your prerogative as an audience to hate me for it. Or to love me for it. But at any rate, to expect from me, the necessary divagations of outrageous and unique personality.

This for me clinches it. It answers the question Why? Why I am both a writer and a publisher. As a writer, I feel obligated to expose the purely (insanely) unpredictable and outrageous spaces of my own personality. And as a publisher, I feel obligated to put forward this challenge to the mainstream insistence on ‘invisible authorship’ and ‘truth in art.’ Of course, some of my authors will write in the ‘invisible’ style. Style is not so much the point. After all, I am no tyrant (ahem), and sometimes, a book will appeal to me for reasons I cannot quite comprehend. But in my very passion for first-time authors, I would say I am underlining my preference for chaos, for a rambunctiousness, an incompleteness, a personality in the writing, because this to me is everything in art. Without it, with the artificial bloodless sheen that the elitist notion of art imposes on artistic products, art becomes dead. It loses its heart and its grip on the hearts of people. It becomes an elite commodity, while the slop people are made to watch and consume is called ‘entertainment.’

No indeed. To bring back the magic of the book, you must bring back the magic of personality as it shows through the book. Lack of personality has all but destroyed the pleasure of reading, by making it the dowdy sister of entertainment. The artist-writer must be the Fool of the modern age. The Fool is a phenomenal character in the culture of medieval Europe. He challenges power and entertains, usually by affecting an idiot outrageousness, a blithe sort of ignorance of convention and the layers of domination which envelop and strangle those around him. He pretends to be a nincompoop but in doing so, takes enormous risks. He leaves ‘truth’ to the church and the priests, and adopts the far more dangerous path of scandalous, scabrous personal authorship. He challenges truth with personality. Above all, he rejects high seriousness. As does the earliest ‘modern novel,’ which is the very soul of personality. The earliest novels are outrageous and have authors who speak directly to the reader as Thackeray does. As I like all authors to do. The Fool is who I am, who I see myself as. His chaos, his outrageousness, his rejection of high seriousness and ‘truth’ which are relegated to the sphere of religion, this is what I aspire to.

But damn, who would have thought it? That I would figure this all out, thanks to Facebook and Thackeray?! (mumble grumble mumble…) Pfft…

Keener Radiance

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Well I got over that anger thing. Yes, anger is an energy but for that very reason you want to use it as fuel and no more. Anger can never be an end in itself. Of course I’m often angry. I have no problem with anger. I don’t see it as a negative energy. All energies and emotions must be creative, that’s the cornerstone of the artist’s purpose and action. Turning emotion into vital force which in turns fuels creative work. When I exhaust myself writing, I don’t get tired, I become depressed. Which is to say, I exhaust my emotional energies, depression then being the emotional equivalent of physical or mental fatigue.

But enough about me for a second. I’d like to say a few words about my authors here. They’re f*cking awesome, every single one of them. My authors are brave people, they’re unusual, spirited (each in their own way), massively creative and talented, and are taking a chance publishing with me and I find that absolutely incredible. I feel proud of all of them a bit like a mother would be proud of her offspring, except that I had nothing to do with any of them before this moment and have the luxury of being totally independent of their creative and life processes before and after Revenge Ink. Ironically I feel proud of them because they chose to publish with Revenge Ink. Sounds ridiculous and egotistical I know, but I’ll explain. One of them told me today he was proud to be associated with what I’m trying to do with Revenge Ink. Well, I’d like to say I’m proud to be associated with people like him and in fact all my authors (and readers). I’m proud I have been able to attract this kind of talent and the kind of people who have the same desire as me to provide a counterpoint to the big-guy publishers. The vision contained within Revenge Ink is not uniquely mine, I created Revenge Ink with the hope (and something of a gamble) that this vision would one day be recognized as being universal, that the desire to return to authentic, risky, truly open-ended Art and away from a constant obsession with totally predictable profit-based outcomes would be supported not only by authors but by readers as well.

So a thousand huzzahs to each of my authors. And now to the readers who must do their part.

Reading is not a passive activity. Just like buying, loving or being part of a citizenry should not be passive activities. Life must be an act of war, a vital struggle, which is why the great heroes of all the world’s epics were warriors. Why even the most sacred text of India, the Bhagavad Gita is a conversation between two warriors.

You might laugh, but I don’t see reading as just sitting down with a book. As a writer and the creator of Revenge Ink, I believe reading is, must be, a potent revolutionary act. A nod to the royal ‘I’. To art as subjective experience and discernment, not as consumption of a heavily advertised, totally forgettable product.

Reading is (should be) a potent, subjective, creative act in response to another subjective, creative act, that of writing, daringly undertaken by the author. In ancient artistic traditions, which survive in Europe only among the gypsies and to some degree in India, audiences show their artistic discernment and appreciation through gestures and shouts of approval. The only modern version of this is the rock concert, marred as the phenomenon is by the presence of massive machines of advertising, promotion and the overall manufacture of taste. The traditional Indian musician/poet presents his or art before an informed audience and the latter in an exchange requiring mutual respect, a sense of personal sacrifice (on both sides) and tremendous sophistication, appreciates, approves, understands. Unfortunately, for us, art and reading are such pre-fabricated acts, so closely related to taste as a factor of social class and education, that we cannot truly consider ourselves an ‘audience’ anymore. Just as we can’t be called ‘citizens’ in a climate of opinion-cloning. We are idiots caught up in a phony  duel between publisher and critic, art dealer and art appraiser, always someone else, someone ‘qualified’ who deigns to like, dislike, evaluate and judge on our behalf.

There is no space in the Western capitalist non-culture where the audience might be given its due, where it might express its knowledge and approval. The meaning, value and significance of a ‘work’ are pre-digested and ‘taught’ instead to this ‘audience’ by a bunch of tight-assed pedantic gits we call critics. Their political equivalent being the so-called journalist. But critics are to individual subjectivity what the Pope is to a sexual fantasy. A cold shower in other words (unless you’re quite specially sick!).

We think of reading as leisure, pleasure, fun, education, all kinds of crap, but we don’t think of it as an act of vital force. Subjectivity has become inconsequential and distrusted in this shitty modern world we live in, and without subjectivity, reading has no meaning (and becomes no more than the buying of a product). The ancient world is all about individuality. The legendary Celtic warriors who never ‘united’ with each other, the great Chiefs of Native America, they were all members of a culture that put subjectivity above all else. Sure, these warriors may have been eventually defeated by the Romans, the Americans and finally, the modern-day worship of Kapital, but so what? The force of de-individualized objectivity (the horde, the herd, the mob) to me is no proof of the pointlessness or inutility of subjectivity. Subjectivity, no matter how high the price you pay for it, is the only thing that makes us human. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey says it better than I do. And it is THIS assertion of the power of unique (and universal) subjectivity that more than anything is the fundamental ideal behind the creation of Revenge Ink. I demand that authors be unique individuals. And I demand this of readers as well.

Reading must cease to become consumption. Life, thought, citizenship, all these things must cease to be consumption. We must assert our creative individuality in our lives and reading should be an essential aspect of such an assertion. Reading is a mystical act, and mystical acts are counter-intuitive. While intuitive causality says one plus one makes two, counter-intuitive causality says one plus one equals zero. This is why, to read someone else is to return to yourself, to be alone with a book is to be connected deeply with other beings, absorbing someone else’s thoughts is to learn to think for yourself. Subjectivity as universality: the revolutionary message of Revenge Ink. But only if you do it for yourself, not because some dipshit critic said you had to do it in your local paper (and that includes me!).

So readers, I look to you. You must once again become worthy of being called an audience (as opposed to being a vast sludge-pool of passive, ad-swallowing birdlings). Your tastes and opinions must be your own. Your reading must move me as my authors move you, your strong support acting as counterpoint to their fiercely independent creativity.

Genuine democracy cannot but be built on a prickly but radiant grouping of individuals, thinkers, readers, passionately fired judges of the powerful. In ancient Greece and India, kings were required to dismember themselves every eight years (as part of a ritual sacrifice) in deference to their people. Their power was a literal construct of popular support and as such could be questioned by anybody, from anywhere. Kapitalism requires the dismemberment of our individuality. Democracy is thus a braindead, heartless, soulless pabulum. We have the power to change that.

So read our books and get on it now!