Your appliances are spying on you. Colluding in the kitchen and living room, relying on pure stealth. Hidden microphones listening in on your preferences and predilections. Your morning prayers and the sounds you make on the toilet. Mumbling your passwords out loud as you tap them into your devices. Who do you think is on the receiving end, who’s monitoring your every syllable and breath with the professional diligence of an ICU nurse? Mining you for information, consumer tendencies, part of a focus group of unsuspecting millions. So much of what you say and do and buy is data, recorded and commodified. You are unaware, compliant, oblivious of the lurking peril. The conceit is thinking yourself somehow unique, rather than a mere unit. A number on a spreadsheet, more fine-tuning for the algorithms. Your tastes readily deduced, your opinions aired on every platform, available for all to see. The appropriate marketing campaign already being custom-designed and personalized. You have mistaken freedom of choice for liberty and things for necessities. In your little silo, safe from the outside world. Comforted by illusion, impervious to anyone you might find disagreeable. Superficially happy, but completely alienated. Part of you aware something’s wrong, a sickness eating your soul. Desire for the most part abating, except those rare, terrible days when you’d absolutely kill for a kiss.
I’m posting the Table of Contents below, just to illustrate the breadth and diversity of the subject matter.
In the meantime, I urge you to pop over to a site that has recently posted one of the most personal essays from Mouth, a warts-and-all overview of my three-decade long writing career, with the promising title “Man of Constant Failure”. Click here to read it.
I also posted one of my favorite bits, a takedown of stupid comic book movies and the critics who laud them, over at my film site, Cinema Arete. Click here to read it.
And don’t forget the live performance of some of the essays from Mouth I recorded in my living room before a very appreciative audience. I loaded it on to Bandcamp for free listening. Click here to tune in.
And now, the aforementioned Table of Contents. The roll call of infamy:
The Attractions of Misanthropy
This movie sucks (and so do you)
Paris is Burning
Coming Soon to Your Hometown
I’ve Seen the Future, Baby, and It’s Boring
God, A Concept
Bad At Sex
Agents of Control
Who are you? (I)
Good, Honest Hatred
Man to Man
Christians & Taliban
Foot in Mouth Disease
Who are you? (II)
Stupid People: A Case For Eugenics?
I Don’t Care
Get Out Your Hankies
Who are you? (III)
Man of Constant Failure
People Who Take Signs to Public Events
Between the Idea and the Reality
In Praise of Book Burning
I Hate White People
* * * * *
Mouth: Rants & Routines is currently being prepped for publication as an e-book/Kindle and will be available for sale and downloading by the last week of May.
Check back here in the coming days for further updates.
Merry Christmas, one and all.
Sorry for yet another lengthy interval of silence—but, as you should know by now, inactivity on my blog means that I am usually writing and creating like a madman and this is no exception.
I’ve typed 150 pages in the past month, all new stuff, all of it a complete departure from the rest of my body of work (and, let’s face it, it was a weird oeuvre to begin with).
To sum up the mindset behind this latest project: I’ve been increasingly bugged by our inability to have meaningful dialogue these days, the way certain subjects or issues seem to shut down reasoned discourse, like an iron curtain descending with a thud.
I despise censorship, whether it comes from the Right or Left, reject any attempt to control or delineate terms of debate. You don’t like what you’re hearing, piss off somewhere else.
I started writing down a series of blackly comic rants about everything getting on my nerves at this present moment…and quickly filled an entire notebook (and then some) with furious jottings. I discovered a previously unknown well-spring of repressed frustration and rage.
Not sure what I’ll do with this collection of routines and spleen, once I’ve edited it into some kind of shape. There are so many “hot buttons” these days, everyone shouting to have their cause heard, whining and pleading for special consideration.
Comedians and satirists are taking it in the neck for introducing controversial subjects, making their audience feel (gasp!) uncomfortable. Many top-flight comics refuse to perform at colleges and universities—once hotbeds of free speech—because they’re worried about getting pilloried for crossing the line into bad taste or controversy. Is that fucked or what?
How will my oddball book of rants fare in such an environment?
They crucified Lenny Bruce for using certain words, vilified Ricky Gervais for calling them on their hypocrisy and bullshit and turfed Kevin Hart as Oscar host because he failed their political correctness litmus test.
Fuck these people—have you ever asked yourself why their skin is so paper thin?
Are they really so perfect, so holier than thou…or does their heightened sensitivity mask deeper sins, a darkness they claim to see only in others?
Why do they live in such small, cramped rooms, with all the mirrors covered?
Yesterday, after spending most of the afternoon cleaning and re-arranging our garage (onerous task), I settled myself on the back deck with a glass of scotch, a small cigar, my notebook and a volume of The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert.
Herbert was a Polish writer who, despite growing up in an authoritarian environment, managed to compose magnificent, soul-rending verse.
As I was reading poems like “Mama” and “Chord”, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it wold be like to live as an artist in a society where personal and aesthetic freedoms are strictly curtailed, the regime relentless in its pursuit of any kind of opposition, the smallest display of rebellion.
It was someone’s job to
scrutinize every syllable,
search each metaphor
and allusion for
significance, a deeper
meaning that might
subvert the apparatus,
throw a monkey
wrench into the works,
or cast the slightest
aspersion against the
omnipotence of the
…but artists like Herbert and Vasily Grossman and Andrei Tarkovsky managed, somehow, to frustrate their ideological masters, producing works of lasting genius. What was it that made them so strong, so immune to the powers of the state, when so many of their colleagues caved in to pressure, conformed, compromised their visions? Was it some form of faith? Pride? Strength of will?
My God, the courage it would take to stand your ground, refuse to dilute or skew your art. Would I be that strong under similar circumstances? Could I resist the blandishments and threats? Choose exile and disgrace over safety and security?
Which somehow led me around to:
I cannot see the
My faith is
not so simple,
I ask for proofs
and the universe
spasms of hilarity.
God is laughing
but I, stubborn
fail to crack
© 2017 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
― Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451
Okay, here’s the situation:
You know I don’t like publishers, I’ve pulled no punches on that front. You’ve read the blog, maybe zipped over to my Redroom author site, seen what I have to say there. A lot of it isn’t nice but all of it is true.
Some people don’t like that. One publisher has gone so far as to have their legal beagles contact the Redroom administrators and threaten them into removing one of my posts. They didn’t like it when I quoted one of their editors; they thought the quote made her look bad.
What did she say exactly?
About eight years ago, I was shopping around a novel of mine called Lost. I sent out copies of the manuscript to a couple of dozen publishers and got nowhere. After holding on to Lost for more than a year, this editor finally took it upon herself to call (guilty conscience?) and give me the bad news. I held the phone out so my wife could listen in on the conversation and we both heard this editor quip, right after saying thanks but no thanks:
“It’s too bad you’re not an East Indian writer, they’re really hot right now.” Those exact words. Sherron said I turned pale when I heard that.
“You mean that would make a difference if you were considering my novel?” I inquired, trying to stay calm and measured, despite the fact I was seething.
She quickly realized what a ridiculous statement she had uttered and tried to backtrack. “Um, actually forget I said that.”
She hung up soon afterward.
I reported this conversation in a short blog entry on Redroom a couple of days ago, naming the editor and the publisher.
That’s when the shit hit the fan.
The publisher’s lawyer contacted Redroom, who immediately yanked the post. Redroom’s legal representative then e-mailed me, informing me what they’d done.
My response was: where’s the actionable offense? I related what she said, literally word for word and even if worst came to worst and the publisher did sue, it would be the editor’s word against me (and my wife). But clearly the Redroom folks were nervous.
I’m not blaming them; we live in litigious times. And sometimes the threat of litigation is used to stymie free expression and intimidate people from telling the truth. This is a perfect example. And because the publisher has far deeper pockets than either Redroom or I, they can get away with shitting on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to protect an editor who made a dumb and telling statement that, let’s face it, reveals attitudes that are endemic in Canadian publishing.
Let me ask you something: if those sentiments had been uttered toward a writer who happened to be a visible minority, what do you think would have been the result?
“It’s too bad you’re not a Caucasian writer, they’re really hot right now.”
Can you imagine the explosion of outrage, the howls of “Racism!” that would have bounced from coast to coast to coast?
But it’s okay to say such things to someone like me, Mister white, middle-aged male.
So if you pop by Redroom, looking for the original post, good luck–you won’t find it.
The publisher and their lawyers have closed ranks and they know neither Redroom nor I has the resources to fight them. The rich and powerful win again and anyone who steps out of line, anyone who calls them on their stupidity and dishonesty will pay the price.
It’s an object lesson in power.
One I won’t soon forget.
A tip of the hat to Mediabistro for printing excerpts of my most inflammatory statements re: publishers (you think there was a connection between that and the arrival of the Men in Black?).
Their staff writer opined that thanks to such statements I was burning my bridges–unaware that those bridges had been burned long ago, thanks to conversations like the one I quoted above and nearly a quarter century of dealing with publishers, editors and agents on all levels.
One thing I do take issue with–I’ve had hundreds of downloads of my novel So Dark the Night and when I said that in Canada hundreds of downloads in a month represented a bestseller, she scoffed. Not the same thing as a book sold.
Why not? In order to read So Dark the Night someone has to go to the effort of finding my site, clicking on the novel and either saving it to their hard drive or printing almost 470 pages. That shows real interest and commitment on the part of those readers, just as much interest as if they’d walked into a physical store and bought the book.
She’s selling my novel short and casting aspersions on the credibility of e-books in general. Dead tree editions aren’t the sole criteria here. Hundreds of people around the world are reading So Dark the Night. Does it matter if it only exists in virtual form? Not to my readers.
And, in the end, they’re the ones who really count.