Welcome again to my little wholly independent corner of the writing, and therefore reading, world.
On this really sunny day here in Ireland, I re-read this illuminating interview with the amazing Margaret Randall and was compelled to share it with friends, readers, fellow writers, website visitors and (later) students.
In my view, the print books business here in Ireland often short-changes many of it’s customers or ‘real life readers‘ by really pushing and promoting that whole ’emerging’ and ‘up and coming’ writers paradigm, it feels like it may often be more about securing and promoting contracted (owned) talent than actually curating careers or offering genuine diversity to a reading public.
Current commercial strategies also sell these fixed agendas within an industry of cultural gatekeepers to the aspirants facing the very barriers to entry that industry erected. As I write here often, (or did for 20 years before the site got spammed out of existence) the book publishing and distribution industry is simply not ‘the writing life’ it is only (with a few rare and valuable exceptions) about commerce, money, and profit.
I don’t want to offer spoilers here to Margaret’s interview so the links here should be enough for now, suffice to say I will be including some of Margaret’s work in my up and coming playshop sessions and I will be asking participants to read this interview as part of our discussions around memoir and technology, and the contemporary writer’s online life.
Stuffafizing should be up and running soon.. thanks to those who have already signed up.
I created the hashtag and neologism ‘#blibloading’. There was no word to describe the act of downloading other people’s pictures of their books, allowing for checking them out and deciding whether any of them are must reads.
Perhaps only writers or true bibliophiles will understand that urge, (or sentence) and ‘my word’ blibloading could itself not be invented before 1996 prior to the www. Yes the phenomena of @bookshelfporn obviously exists but that’s a lot more impersonal and concerns a lusty aesthetics for book filled shelves, rather than a singularly gawking online snapshot into other people’s photographed reading or book buying habits.
‘My word’ was always a gentle expression of surprise I associated with English upper and middle class friends.
Not that I actually have any.
The word on the interwebs was that it promised improvements in information and communication democratization, long and longer tails of niche pursuits and some heretofore sharing of interests, however obscure, as not merely possible but crucial for ‘a web based newer form of communication’.
The early friendlier net already did remediated letters, scrolls, epistles, notes, memos, etc, in various electronic formats via listservs, bulletin boards, etc, but social media platforms of today better facilitate speedy synchronous exchange either night or day, or yes, even at dawn for that matter.. but only if we embrace such new purposes and altered uses.
Yes questions arise; If you can’t judge a book by its cover could you judge it by a social media account or a couple of its tweets ? Traditional or mainstream interests have swamped social media such that much of its true human value potential appears lost in impure pursuits of profit and profile. I mostly use social media to connect with writers and coders, artists, etc whom I want to learn from or more about. After an initial flourish I culled my FB connections down from 4K to 1K or so, I’ve kept my linkedin at around 1.5K but as @cleverelt I follow almost 4K people on twitter and will probably continue to follow more as I encounter them. I don’t use any of my social media as marketing tools as I to date have had nothing to market… or promote….
Others certainly do, and like Laurence O’Bryan (@LPOBryan – @SeeNewBooks ) appear to be making a fantastic job of it. However some wonderfully talented writers have come relatively late to these social media parties and as a consequence have had to sit back with small follower numbers while watching other strategy savvy social media makers stride center stage, brand in hand, selling books, raising their profile and the profiles of others, while others stuff schedules and scatter content, garnering and gathering large follower numbers proffering a valuable blend of virtue signalling and semi-soft sell. To them too I sincerely say ‘fair play’.
Work not promoted by the mainstream publishing houses and their controlled promotional arms may not reach these long tailed parts a friendly personal social media can. Irrespective of their various accounts, money, media, people, and brand guises, most of my own book purchases come from recommendations from fellow writers and friends across social media, those with whom I am (& feel) connected.
I am not sure that it’s still there, but there was a notice backstage in the lyric theatre Belfast that spoke to me about relationships between writers, artists, actors, creators, performers and their supporters and friends:
I recently followed the writer @andrewhankinson over on twitter and bought two of his books which are next up in my reading pile (see the image below). As you do, I flicked through the newly purchased books, basically because Bibliosmia always beats unboxing . Unlike flicking through older shelved books which may hold earlier secretly stashed cash from another era (We wish).
In some senses blibloading is Twitter meeting Tsundoku I suppose, but serendipity and synchronicity are wonderful aspects of modern creative life. For someone like me who has spent much time and energy with technology and creativity mostly framed formally, theoretically, academically, or seen through some sort of pristine professional practice lens, in a pandemic world, honest human connection and the hairy edges of existence blend better into authenticity when the elements of luck or chance intrude.
I have been working on a couple of commissions lately and I am looking forward to writing about those and other activities. Like so many others I lost someone close to me during the Covid 19 pandemic, and normal service has simply not been resumed, I doubt it ever will. I want to write something about the incredible connections between two of the books above in the respective images of six covers and the seven in a pile, I will do that if I ever get the time to.
Finally do feel free to comment, I get lots of comments, mostly Spam, which now has it’s own uses for me, but I do enjoy genuine comments.
I’d like to thank those of you who have kindly already signed up to my (ir)regular newsletter that’s about all sorts of stuff…. It is something that I am finally getting around to working on alongside all the other abnormal creative stuff, I’ve called the newsletter:
Two fingers to this year 2020
When my loving mother passed
And all that economic talk of plenty
was exposed as rich men’s lies at last
our fifth world war, after drugs and terrorism,
became a virus of normal people’s frontline heroism
politicians proved their lack of worth, dumb death
disinformed, cerebral malnutrition from a spin filled
we the people look to each other and our burning
earth around us
that us, this we, these common people, locked down,
look up only to see
that double digit trouble becomes our starting price
of being frank and free
fingered fear and trepidation visited upon each nation
as a global planning spree
of dumbing down, rising prices, complex processes
reducing critical capacity
inconvenient truths dismissed, slandered silenced
theories of silly conspiracy
don’t fall for them vote for me, vote, vote often,
believe you have a voice, a choice
between the corporations and my mini me,
the nanny state supported on all fours
by those who set the ceilings and the floors, of wealth,
access, and growing successful fear
that keeps you near, believing friends or enemies
among their economic rubble
but when you burst that bubble,
only then begins their real double digit trouble
I am starting to write a regular newsletter which is (hard to believe I know) more opinionated, considers more topics than presented here, in hopefully more detail with additional links of interest and references, that is if enough people sign up to it.. its about all sorts of stuff.. so I’ve called it:
In Ireland, we have culture night similar to how fortunate children have Christmas. One day per year when we are allowed what our imaginations may (or may not) have desired.
Government appointed quangos decide what constitutes our national culture, and therefore which precise presents are officially available. The commodification of Culture in Ireland has become a successful thriving industry in itself. Brand Ireland sells. Brand managers and various administrative layers have become self proliferating, perpetuating.
Artists, Writers, Musicians, Performers are invited to participate in this very special night and consequentially further endorse this destructive commodification that entirely reinforces the market society Ireland has become in recent decades.
As others have observed once we begin to put a price on various community and social activities, we convert public good to public goods. Our greedy rooms of economic experts can then begin their projections of worth, value, and profits in these ‘markets’.
As we put a price on any commodity we also ensure that access to it is then governed by wealth levels. Markets are also fundamentally about competition. Participants become consumers. Money becomes central.
But it’s Free…. ??
In Ireland wealth can be directly linked to political access, in a country who’s cronyism and nepotism have always at very least bubbled about in the background, to be connected is really everything for some. Surely there is no deliberate irony in Culture Night’s tagline: Connect through culture.
As someone who has been independently creative and creatively engaged with the arts and technologies, within and outside commerce/business for about forty years, I really do understand the dilemmas and dichotomies facing any artist offered either a crust or the promise of wider exposure, having paid the price of being both broke and hungry as a result of my own (foolish ?) artistic ( & Life) choices, is it then ironically rich of me to suggest to any struggling artist they consider not uncritically taking part in this constituted culture market (the culture night ritual itself is now 15 years old).
‘Free’ today has become more marketing terminology than any kind of liberation, loss leaders and free downloads are hooks and flytraps for the less aware consumer, terms and conditions apply, as always.
Culture and Banks
The books on the right in the image above are (some of) the great writer Iain M. Banks science fiction ‘Culture series’ novels, ones I’ve already read, the pile on the left are the ones I have yet to read. I am not going to offer any spoilers here, except to say that ‘The Culture’ are an advanced amalgam of races which contain advanced technologies, higher intelligence and a lot of mind. A sophisticated Utopian civilization one in so many respects often counterpointing the vast swath of dystopian visions offered elsewhere in science fiction and other future focused fiction, it can be highly dense imaginative optimistic writing.
Culture (without reference to Iain M Banks or the likes of Joseph Campbell or Edward Burnett Tylor) is also fundamentally concerned with shared Values, Beliefs, and Rituals.
The great societal pause created by Covid 19 remains a (tragic) opportunity to find ways to assess and reassess these shared values, beliefs, and rituals. Surely our leaders would agree, now is a time to open our minds as much as our hearts ?
Imagine a vital debate making decisions about what all this arts stuff actually is, and to whom is it important? How and why any of this is called Culture, what that might really mean beyond the superficial, what effects arise out of these decisions long term ?
Imagine specifically questioning promoted and funded varieties easily found ‘free’ on culture night, yes the endorsed and officially rubber stamped varieties, the specific brand of ‘culture’ which on September 18th will seep out through our screens and devices, that agreed upon type of arts, endorsed and asymmetrically shared by what is ultimately a hegemonic few, Again what is it really ? and what is it’s actual purpose, is there any alternative view ? Well it is a debate that simply won’t happen in Ireland.
Such a debate isn’t happening because our entire arts and culture industries, the culture markets in Ireland, are currently decimated by Covid 19, the response for the most part has been vested and established interests clambering with begging bowls to government.
Plenty of people who get up in the morning and many many others state their cases for support and special treatment to survive in today’s highly competitive marketplace they actually helped create, continue to endorse, and help preserve, albeit perhaps unwittingly.
The temporary reduction in our national VAT rate is interesting because it should serve to remind all of us that anyone who pays for commodities, also pays tax, and thus participates in our various markets (or market segments) whether they happen to get up early or not.
Even when the Irish exchequer is borrowing money, it is all the people’s money if not our children’s money they are borrowing, the continued use of that money to impose a market ideology through the arts should also reside at the heart of any potential debate about how that money is spent. I’d like to write here about the GAA and my admiration for it and what it does at community level, however that would make this piece far too long, so another day perhaps..
What exactly constitutes our contemporary ‘culture’ and what effect does it have on the future direction of our arts ? No one I have seen or read in the media has ever questioned this aspect of policy in this specific manner ? We get lots of commentary in the organ of record but little actual informed analysis as to the longer term detrimental effect on various parts of our broader society.
It seems shouting about diversity or inclusion, droning on about access, counts as sufficient critical analysis of strategy. In business culture eats strategy for breakfast yet these efficient government agencies produce only focused ‘strategic’ plans, to which everyone and their mother are often invited to contribute, diluting the very concept of focused strategy. We love commissioned reports in Ireland, almost as much as we love the cans we kick down the road.
I am obviously aware that writing on this topic like this at this time may myopically characterize me as some kind of begrudging curmudgeon, ‘oh come on allow people to enjoy themselves and their arts in whatever manner they wish’. But to argue that is to miss the point of seeing culture commodified and economically mined to the detriment of those who probably most need the greatest access to it, the poorer in our society.
To consider this uninvited open contribution to culture night worthy of critical appraisal or rebuttal is to accord me more influence or attention than I want, merit or deserve, while my website in its previous form had hundreds of thousands of visits, I never promoted it outside my relatively small circle of friends, friends from across a broad spectrum.
Are there already enough middle class minds, or refusenic working class nogins like mine, wallowing in these cultural wastelands we create as we emulate our own personal hero or heroin ? I would like to imagine that if prompted the current gatekeepers and purse-holders could recognize the longer term value of reform to all parts of our society, or perhaps I am confused and really being Utopian ? Or should I just accept that as with all markets, there will be winners and their most certainly will be losers and it’s not my job to point that out to anyone.
Yet part of the joy of Arts and Culture is learning, education, exchange, participation is a broadening or deepening experience, it is absolutely vital that the poorer in our society have access to the arts. Will culture night offer them that access ? I very much doubt it, will culture night offer anything other than a back slapping celebration of the status quo, of the status of those arts sectors as a primarily promoted activity that strategically supports the continuance of a market society more interested in profits than participants, I again very much doubt that also.
I was lucky that the community arts I experienced were to me nothing to do with culture or organizations nor endorsements nor conformance, they were created by the community that enjoyed them, very very little if any funding was ever received and they were created with a view to allowing my then working class community to experience themselves as others may see them/us/me. I have made many friends through the arts… I have learned a lot from and through the arts, I have an enormous respect for artists and practitioners, and recognize that communities of practice tend to share certain values, perspectives, beliefs, they are a form of sub-culture in and of themselves..
But as Terence McKenna wisely said: Culture is not your friend….
So led by the least among us, until we ask for this debate, inform ourselves, share information, there will be no change and market forces will continue to erode the public good in favor of public goods, competition will continue to create Darwinian conditions and arts and culture will become fully and only elitist pursuits.
However I see a brighter future, perhaps not one so entirely different to what Banks himself wrote so extensively about, a future that imagines enlightenment, de-commodification, fairness, understanding, appreciation, where the most reported pandemic in history became a catalyst for positive, genuine, authentic societal change on Culture Night..
Again, Imagine that…
If you got this far, sincere thanks for reading, please feel free to share or leave a comment..
William Goldman famously informed Hollywood of this fact in his autobiographical guide to the movie business “Adventures in the Screen Trade“. Every writer is aware of that fact even if it serves only as an emotional rejection safety net. Scientists know this also…
which is perhaps why there is such emphasis on reproducibility of results when it comes to theories, theorems, where proofs are essential for truth. The need to know is the need to have proof. I have proven, on many occasions that knowing a lot, however large that specific lot may initially seem to some, even relative to other smaller lots, is still infinitesimal if not entirely negligible when compared to what might be known. This being just one true reason why I’m often surprised and shocked at the lack of genuine humility shown by ‘homo humbleless’ i.e. certain academics, writers, business people, and artists. Human ego certainly appears to be one of the most destructive and unforgiving forces on our planet, fueled with these little pools of individual knowledge it’s an utter disaster for those unfortunate to encounter them.
“A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing”
Alexander Pope.. An essay on criticism..
As children our imagination and curiosity drive us to discover more about the world, in my own case it was taking all sorts of things apart, making stages, sets, and theaters from cardboard boxes, using such bits and pieces to create shows and epic linoleum kitchen floor performances for the captive audience of two older grandaunts and a very proud mother. When we grow up so many of us lose that ability to openly experiment in a non self aware way. Our society, despite what social media tries to say, does not suffer such fools gladly, and often being foolish is a true route to creative discovery and imagination.
When someone tells us new truths old books contain, that childish sagacity we once possessed can be driven from us by such convention.
‘Imagination is more powerful than knowledge’ is a quote attributed to Einstein, in my own limited view imagination is an under investigated human phenomenon, some years ago I read Anne Balsamo’s Designing Culture: the technological imagination at work, my own wip print book could quite easily be sub tilted / log lined as ‘the technical imagination at play’.
The difficulty with reaching an end with life long formal education, having experienced it’s primary versions reject me in my earlier life, is the actual perceived worth and value of that formal, formalized and institutional variety of education, learning by earning (or paying for) bits of exclusive institutional paper loses it’s sheen and relevance, particularly when so many of it’s corporatized advocates themselves belong to ‘homo humbleless.’
I lost my thinking, writing out loud (Louth) space when my old website was wiped, I am only reviving my mechanism of public meandering and web rumination. I am looking forward to getting back to making some art, digital art and all sorts of stuff I can only imagine.
Anything really changed in these last twelve or twenty years ?
Losing all those words, hours, days, was compounded further by the loss of so many original images and artworks, coded stuff, etc, I created. I have always been entirely independent thus my work wasn’t really stored anywhere else. That was my choice.
Thankfully the wayback machine did start storing flash data approximately five years after i originally made the clevercelt website (1996). But that site was under constant spam attacks and I rebuilt it (before losing it) at least eight times in those 25+years.
I will continue to search through older retired and replaced hard drives and see if I can find some of that older work of mine. My old website’s creative technology, technological creativity log line preceded the recognition of the role of a ‘creative technologist’, and just as with save and save often, or comment your code, creative basics got lost in those must and should do moments. Taking our own advice is often something overlooked.