“Who the F*** Are You?”

kunderaRecently, Milan Kundera raised a few hackles in the Czech Republic by refusing to return to his home and native land to attend a conference devoted to his work.  Mr. Kundera stated that he did not wish to contribute to a “necrophile party” made up of academics and scholars, discussing and debating his work.

He also said, even more provocatively, that he considers himself a French writer and writes exclusively in that language.

Take that ye cultural nationalists!

It has long been my belief that a writer is a stateless citizen, an individual who inhabits no country and is beholden to no particular culture, gender, creed or race.  To identify oneself as an “American author”, “Czech author” or what have you, is to fly in the face of the kind of universality true authors seek to achieve through the power and originality of their work.

audienceWhen I make my rare public appearances I often have to provide a short bio so I can be introduced to an audience or gathering and I struggle mightily to compose something that isn’t embarrassing or misleading.  Earlier this year my wife adapted a couple of my short stories into theater pieces that were performed at a function here in the small city where we live.  I think the M.C. at one point called me a “local author” and I shrank down in my seat.  Is that all I am?  A local author?  A Saskatchewan author?  Even a Canadian author?

Christ, I hope not.  After twenty-five years of beating my brains out and destroying my fingers and shoulders and lower back, I’d like to think  I have higher aspirations for myself than that.

Nossir, I want to be read not only locally, not only nationally but around the entire fucking world.  I want my books and stories and essays to be devoured and enjoyed by future inhabitants of the Martian colony.  I want my collected works taken on the first flight to Alpha Centauri.  I want my prose to survive long after places like “Saskatchewan” and “Canada” cease to exist.

Isn’t that what all artists of worth strive for?  Immortality, an appeal that persists centuries after their bones have turned to dust.  And that is also why I struggle so hard to preserve the integrity of my work, not allowing some bowdlerized or aesthetically gutted version to supersede and supplant the real thing.

knoxI honestly wouldn’t change places with the likes of James Patterson or Stephanie Meyer for all the filthy lucre in the vaults of Fort Knox.  Their work won’t survive the next twenty years, let alone the uncounted eons that lie ahead.  No, let them choke on their money and watch as their books go out of print in their own lifetime.

It’s funny:  this past week I commented on the on-line site for CBC (our national broadcaster), responding to a short feature devoted to Robert Charles Wilson.  Mr. Wilson has managed to secure something of a reputation for himself as a SF writer, even snagged a Hugo Award for one of his novels.  Frankly, I find his prose merely workmanlike; he is yet another SF scribbler (like Jack McDevitt and Robert Sawyer) who has cashed in on a modest talent for stretching neat ideas into over-long novels and, in the process, made a tidy living for himself.   It’s a situation that’s pretty much endemic in SF but those guys are more guilty of that particular sin than most.

The folks who responded to my initial post comported themselves like typical, moronic SF fans.  They made all sorts of assumptions about me and indulged in numerous pointed, personal, ad hominem attacks, opining that I was merely jealous of Mr. Wilson’s commercial success.

pittWelcome to the Western world, where we equate achievement with how much money we make and how often our picture appears in the news (and our names show up on the ballot of worthless genre awards).

Jesus Christ.

I made the mistake of trying to debate with these “minions of fan-dumb” and earned more vitriolic attacks for those efforts.  Fuck it, I thought, and signed off without posting the really nasty parting shot I had composed.  It would have been a waste of time.  These are the same vacuous shitheads who are lining up in droves to see “Star Trek XXIV: The Quest For Profit” and the latest comic book adaptation, wearing out their thumbs on their game consoles.  The only heads they have on their shoulders are blackheads from all the junk food they cram into their maws so they can stay up all night watching the “Lord of the Rings” movies back to back and wrapping “Fallout 3″.  Fuck them.  No way I’ll lie down with those pigs.

No, I’m bound for the stars.  I write for posterity and to preserve a literary legacy that I hope will last as long as there’s a single, discerning reader out there who longs for something off the beaten track, a work that reminds them what it means to be human, the attendant hopes and accompanying foibles.  A man or woman lonely, isolated, seeking the companionship of a long-dead author whose devotion to the printed word transcends time and vast distances and alien, hostile farscapes.

Keep your trophies, baubles and bullion.

I serve a higher calling…and make no allowances for those whose lack of courage and faith causes them to choose low roads and demean the gifts they have been so generously granted.

space

3 comments

  1. Tee Jay

    Saying something like “No way I’ll lie down with those pigs” in reference to someone who engages in a cultural activity like watching Star Trek or playing Fallout 3 is certainly attention grabbing, but what will you do with the attention? It is honourable to laud the printed word as a superior cultural artifact, but by insulting current or potential readers (perhaps even fans) of your work does an injustice to Literature on a grander scale because it sets up a barrier, an “us and them” mentality, that is actually more harmful to your cause—if you do, in fact, have a cause.
    I like Fallout 3, Comic Books, and Don Quixote. So what? I like stories, and I like being engaged with the culture in which I live. You can’t just write off a whole fucking segment of the population just because they watch a show or play a game. In large part it is this same demographic that makes up a large portion of your readership.
    Wait a minute…maybe you did just write them off, right off of your writing.

  2. driftlessareareview

    In the words of Jesus, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” I’m in the last stages of my science fiction novel, if you choose to call it that. I’ll let the stockers at Barnes & Noble worry about genre designations. That’s not my problem.

    Given sections of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, wouldn’t the science fiction equivalent of Jimmy Joyce be Jimmy Joyce? Finnegans Wake seems to anticipate the muddled nonsensical dream-logic of the Interwebs and the cacophony of idiot-voices struggling to find some sense in the place.

    Sci fi writing groups accentuate all the bad habits of sci fi writers. They also slavishly follow the idiotic notion of “more sales = better writer,” since they are too easy to become cheerleaders for “invisible style” (= beige prose). My experience with a Minnesota sci fi group was an experience of creative castration and the blind leading the stupid. Everyone groveling to make their work “more publishable.” Dude, fuck that shit! Apparently Beckett disdained writing groups. Once it descended into group therapy (“We’re about positive support, etc.”) and giving mad propz to such scribblers like Robert Jordan (“But he has books on the New York Times bestseller list. You don’t, so don’t make fun of him!”) and Dean Koontz, I knew my days with that cabal of literary charlatans were numbered.

    And here’s a relevant poem from Aussie polymath Clive James:

    ‘The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered’

    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I am pleased.
    In vast quantities it has been remaindered
    Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
    And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
    My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in piles
    In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
    Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
    One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
    Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
    Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book —
    For behold, here is that book
    Among these ranks and banks of duds,
    These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
    Of complete stiffs.

    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I rejoice.
    It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
    Beneath the yoke.
    What avail him now his awards and prizes,
    The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
    His individual new voice?
    Knocked into the middle of next week
    His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
    The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
    The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
    The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
    The unbudgeable turkeys.

    Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
    Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
    His unmistakably individual new voice
    Shares the same scrapyart with a forlorn skyscraper
    Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
    His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
    His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
    Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots–
    One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
    And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
    His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
    His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
    With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
    A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
    “My boobs will give everyone hours of fun”.

    Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
    Though not to the monumental extent
    In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
    To the book of my enemy,
    Since in the case of my own book it will be due
    To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error–
    Nothing to do with merit.
    But just supposing that such an event should hold
    Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
    By the memory of this sweet moment.
    Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
    The book of my enemy has been remaindered
    And I am glad.

    Clive James

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