Sunday, August 24, 2014

Democratizing Patronage
A conversation among the editorial group
of LetternetPress/OpenDrawerPublications and SCHISM
(Reid Matko, Annette Decantes, Jean-Pierre Goric, Hans Heinrich-Herber; Interventionist quotations and notes by A.D.)

RM · Let’s start by stating an objective: to begin to address the difficulty of being a writer or artist in this Capitalist society, and most particularly the difficulty of funding your work as a writer or artist. We have to begin with the following statement: any revolution in literature will first of all be a revolution in form.

     “Artistic events are great mutations that almost always bear on the question of what counts, or doesn’t count, as form. The history of art, particularly the history of Western art, is the history of the progressive incorporation within the domain of form of things that were, up until then, considered as unformed, deformed, or foreign to the world of form. The shifts toward abstraction in painting or towards modifications of tonality in music are cases in point. An artistic event is always the accession to form, or the formal promotion of a domain that had been considered extraneous to art. There really is creation of a formal domain that was unperceived or denied up until then. ...The artistic event is signalled by the advent of new forms.”
                                                ––Alain Badiou Philosophy and the Event p 69

     This is important to consider because of the fact that literary form is presently ossified; there is a style that is chosen over all others, that is the ‘style of the realm,’ so-to-speak, because the readers of this society are accustomed to it and it requires no need to determine how meaning is produced in the text, hence it’s easy to market and to consume; readers are not required to question, language is based on communication and its flat reduction to meaning or sense, to its flat reduction of signifier to signified; you might as well be reading journalism, hence the justification in referring to it as ‘plodding reportage.’ This is the prose style we can refer to as Capitalist Realism.

JPG · And we have to add that it’s taken to be perfectly natural, you don’t even question its legitimacy at this point...and, as it’s assumed to be natural, it opens the door for mystifications. Of course, if it’s assumed to be natural it’s already an expression of an ideology. When convention is so firmly entrenched that it seems natural, mystification comes into play. Let me digress momentarily and introduce what I like to refer to as topological analysis. It’s a way of viewing texts that deemphasizes interpretation and seeks to recognize a similar geometrical structuring. For instance a slew of recent films, Aliens, Centurion, and Predators, among others, are in effect the same movie just dressed up differently. They all involve seven principals, one an outsider, another a half-outsider, being chased by a superhuman someone or something. Beginning with the main character in the wilderness, at certain times in both movies the principals are forced to jump or fall from a height into a body of water, encounter someone or something chained or attached to a stele or monolith, are helped by a hermit, the element of betrayal is introduced, all slowly die except for the couple who represent the reconstitution of the family at the end. In my opinion you have to think in terms of topological geometry, for instance they are all the same ‘geometric’ figure, just like a torus is a coffee cup and a doughnut. When I mentioned this to someone he suggested that perhaps seven is a psychological limit, that people can’t hold any more than that in their minds. I consider that to be a form of mystification, an example of how entrenched convention is or can be. These movies are based on the convention begun by Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, which is based on the seven virtues in the Bushido code. So now the question is how do people mystify Capitalist Realism? Would this involve the metaphysics of presence? Assuming that Capitalist Realism is natural is a form of mystification. And this is projected onto what is at stake, what is represented: the ego, or rather the reductive conception of the subject as ego. The convention becomes so natural that you’re willing to entertain notions that it’s somehow part of your make-up, part of your genes or your DNA or “we’re born this way,” which is a representation of the sovereign ego.

“(I use) ideology in the traditional sense of illusory, wrong way of thinking and perceiving reality. Why? Ideology is not simply dreaming about false ideas and so on. Ideology addresses very real problems but it mystifies them. One of the elementary ideological mechanisms I claim is what I call the temptation of meaning.”
                                                                                   ––Salvoj Zizek, from Examined Life
AD · Just like a King is “born this way!” It’s like a contemporary version of divine right. What could be more natural! Sovereign ego indeed!

     “Lacan states the issue like this: what is needed is a way of transmitting the knowledge produced in the space of psychoanalysis that will avoid or prevent any effet de colle, a typically punning formula that rhymes ├ęcole with colle, “glue,” and the school effect with a coagulation, a stickiness, with fixation (effects Lacan identified with the register or axis of the imaginary)....[He attempts to] stir up any sediments of “sense” or meaning (sens)–– a privileged target of Lacan’s, a term he associates at once with religion, philosophy, and hierarchical organization such as the Church or school–– produced in the process of transmitting knowledge... ...Lacan predicts,...that the near future will witness a religious “boom,” a warning that appears directed at those who would want to turn psychoanalysis into either a religion or, implicitly, a philosophy. What philosophy and religion share, Lacan suggests, is a commitment to interpretation. Where psychoanalysis operates only with “the signifier as such,” in its materiality, interpretation moves in the element of“sense.” It is on the basis of this implicit identification of philosophy and religion–in which the real movement of the signifier as such gets stuck in the glue of sense–..."
                                         –– Jason E. Smith, forward to Jacques Lacan, Past and Present

JPG · So the prose that we can refer to as Capitalist Realism could be seen to function as a guarantor of the imaginary consistency of the human subject under Capitalism. All stuck in the glue of sense and interpretation. Capitalist Realism is part of the norming of the subject by mass culture. This ‘standard prose’ is the shape of the meaning that you in essence borrow, the shape you give to meaning, all you have to do is shade or color in the shapes. It’s a way of ‘contracting’ meaning, you lease the space, the form, like renting an empty room you then fill. It’s a way of contracting meaning, a way of leasing meaning or the way that meaning is inscribed.
–to reduce, distill;
–to catch (contract an illness);
–to enter into an legally binding agreement.
You call it standard prose, I call it social conditioning. It’s not prose, it’s a form of social conditioning, it teaches you how to think of yourself and of others, or it conditions you as to how to think of yourself and of others, and relations between the same. I call it social conditioning, the droning that it is, the way it asks nothing of you, it doesn’t ask you to be involved in determining how the text means.

HHH · Literature exists to undo social codes and conventions and it cannot accomplish this if it is codified itself. K-R-A-F-T® teaches this ideological codification. And codification is a kind of nostalgia for an ideal.

AD · And convention, as has been stated, is always already a form of social conditioning. It’s clearly the case that new forms are called for or required, and since almost no one will embrace new forms, there needs to be new ways to fund literature, which it must be said, Capitalist society has turned its back on.

RM · Well then, let’s see if we can address the main problem facing not only writers but artists in general, and that’s the impossibility of funding your labor. When you seek to embody the promise and assertions of literature, that is, if you are dedicated to literature as an active force in the world, not just as a means of entertainment or escape, you’re confronted with a myriad of problems– unwilling publishers, unwilling readers, the blinding ideology of literary forms, etc.

JPG · Right now the vast majority of writers and artists live in a state of economic internal exile; that’s why samizdat is a viable model, a viable starting point for us, self-publishing refuseniks that we are! Living the life of internal exile, hawking our texts, our art from the trunks of our cars!

HHH · At least it seems that the art world is a little different; there’s more materiality and less of the signified, of sense. This seems to allow for looser, or lesser, expectations.

AD · This is important because the vast majority of those involved in the social practice and business of literature clearly adhere to a common model. And that model is sacrosanct because it implicates your sense of your self, it implicates the very way you conceive of yourself.

RM · And that model is a common form, embodying a common conception of the subject and of human subjectivity, in other words, a convention: as presence, as internal presence, as is the legacy of psychology/phenomenology, defined by and as consciousness. Indeed to implicate unconscious word-play the materiality of language is needed. We are presented with an imaginary unity which is left unthought, the center of a thinking, feeling being; in short, ego-centric, pre-Freudian, 19th c model. Keep in mind Ronald Sukenick stating that...

The form of traditional fiction is a metaphor for a society that no longer exists: “Its present function is to sustain a series of comforting illusions, among which might include the feeling that the individual is the significant focus among the phenomena of “reality”(characterization); the sense that clock, or public time is finally the reigning form of duration for consciousness (historical narrative); the notion that the locus of “reality” may be determined by empirical observation (description); the conviction that the world is logical and comprehensible (causal sequence, plot).”

AD · And it’s finally a model and a form of literature related to the commodity, an object of consumption. Literature as an event involves the free play of collaborative reading, the reader is required to become a collaborative party in the text to determine how the text means. This is because of the paradoxical or subversive force of the literary event, subverting how the common, assumed and conventional literary work means. The human subject becomes a kind of subjectivity modeled on its own commodified representation.

JPG · In fact, it’s often been said that the very purpose of literature as event is to undo conventions and codes, not to be based on them. Every form of realism is first and foremost founded on convention, and again, convention is always already a form of social conditioning. Think of Burroughs asking “How do you short-circuit control?” Isn’t he asking, in part, how do you undo code and convention?

HHH · And it goes without saying that there is no support for this approach and practice of literature: the MFA programs that produce so many of the authors embraced by the publishing industry, the writing centers that teach you how to produce the type of prose that editors and publishers want to see, those very editors and publishers themselves all have vested interests in the conventions that they promote; it sells. And the more they can advertise the success of their programs, the more people and hence the more money they can garner.

JPG · All ‘effets de colle’. They’re speaking and acting in defense of convention, I just wish they would admit it.

RM · We need to begin to think of new ways for writers and artists in this society to support themselves. Clearly the model that proved useful in the past was patronage: without patrons would Dante, Shakespeare, Joyce, would they have been able to produce what they did? The answer is their patrons made it possible for them to produce the revolutions in literature that they did. The idea I’ve been toying with for some time now, and which the internet seems to be threatening to enable, is to democratize patronage, make it possible for small patrons to help support writers and artists. For instance, if I could find one hundred people who would be willing to each pay me ten dollars a month, that would be one thousand dollars per month that would go a long way towards supporting my efforts. What is needed it seems, is something akin to a ‘dating site’ for potential patrons and writers/artists to get acquainted.

JPG · An interesting idea, considering that publication is no longer a viable option, even if you’re published there’s no money in it. Publishers seem intent and content to publish names, because names sell. There are maybe 5,000-6,000 readers of serious literature in this society, a society which, as the American way of life is being globalized, is spreading. We need new options– self-publishing, performance, micro-patronage, use of new technologies, like writers of samizdat needed mimeograph machines!

RM · And drawers!

HHH · Or something like a subscription service. Even some kind of ‘art co-op’ where everyone is paid a certain amount of money and the work is funded and then presented, not edited and shaped by the pressures and demands of Capitalism, of the market.

RM · If freedom is to mean anything it must mean freedom from the immense weight and pressure of Capitalist influence, the way it distorts everything by shaping it according to the marketplace and its demands.

AD · Of course, you still have to first establish your name to make yourself attractive to potential patrons.

JPG · Just as Malcolm McLaren stated: First establish the name!

RM · My ideal would be the ability to never sell anything, to give the work away, to subvert the Capitalist economy which, for all intents and purposes, is anti-literature. There’s just no money in it. So I would like to see patronage reinvented, rendered in a micro-manner.

AD · Like Kickstarter, or Indiegogo, or Rocket Hub, or StartSomeGood, or Pozible...

RM · Yes and no. This would have to be somewhat different than, say, Kickstarter, or the other services like it, because it would involve an ongoing commitment, not just a one-time investment. You could reward your patrons with exclusive access to your work, your manuscripts, and other artifacts of your process. Yes, to smaller donors, but not a one-time donation or investment, although I wouldn’t turn it down, but an ongoing commitment to supporting a writer. I could see providing exclusive publications to my donors, special work, etc. By-passing completely the marketplace as it exists today. As well as for the most part the grant scene, with its emphasis on writing programs which are in my opinion part of the problem, they work hand in hand with publishers to produce stunted, morbid prose that serves certain purposes, helping you to produce marketable prose when the marketplace needs to be subverted, if not destroyed. I say we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and in the meantime we must create an alternate or many alternate, economies, recognizing that the Capitalist marketplace is the place of the money-changers, and that it inherently involves limitations. Revolution is always excised, the Capitalist marketplace is always reactionary. always dealing in established form and received thought. We can say that education exists in learning existing practices, the rest, the remainder, the leftover part is transgressive creativity. We haven’t even mentioned the phenomenon of the ‘bestseller’ and the marketing of the author as ‘voice’ or presence. It’s funny, Will Self talks about the novel as a dying form, no longer with the social charge or impact that it once had, but why continue to write novels, why not create new reading experiences? Why cling to this morbid form as though there were nothing beyond it? Is it a fetish object? A representation of the ego? What do you have invested in this form? An identity and a need to identify? If the novel is an antiquated form then why write novels? What’s your attachment to this form? Personally I suspect that it’s narcissistic in nature and functions as a form of defense against the shock or upsetting blow that the literary event can, and indeed, should be.

HHH · Because publishers know how to market novels and people know how to read them, so no real thinking is involved.

JPG · An identity and a sense of self are invested in this antiquated form that is the novel.

RM · Why not create a new experience, ask the reader to go along with a new experience, to be open, to be Barthesian. Of course you have to find readers willing to undergo new experiences. I remember hearing a seemingly intelligent and cultured person say that he didn’t want to read another Ulysses, that he had had enough earth-shaking experiences. And there seems to be a general resistance, a kind of concretization, to the literary experience, the kind that can shake your symbolic unity and imaginary stability. Keep in mind that fluidity creates anxiety and that Capitalism doesn’t want psychotic subjects; psychosis might possess a logic but it is discontinuous and incoherent in a social context.

AD · That is an important aspect to consider. Hopefully such attempts at true literary events can begin to destabilize the ‘rotting’ marketplace, the market place that celebrates ‘processed literature’ that the writing programs help design; an ideology of literature has been produced based on sense and interpretation. Prose is an ideology as well, isn’t convention always ideology, and most people can’t see beyond their ideological blinders–they need to see persons, they need to see something for their ego to identify with. And the expression of that ideology is called convention. You’re ideologically incapable of seeing anything else, you have to have a character in the text or you just can’t see it, you just don’t get it (you need this empty place holder, that character, this grammatical position/figure to represent your (bourgeois) ego, or someplace to put your ego). You have to have something for your ego to identify with or you just can’t comprehend it.

HHH · When you engage in a true literary event, not just some identificatory game to shore up your ego, you can be shocked. In fact, it should rock you out of the safe world of your ego-identifications. It’s just too traumatic for most people in this society, with the demands that it makes upon you. Your life can be totally ruined, turned upside-down. People in this society are too narcissistic to risk any kind of shock to the illusory stability of their egos and their ego-identifications. In fact, we can say that we live in such a narcissistic social economy that we need educators, editors, writers and critics to protect us from the trauma and the scandal that is literature. People look to strengthen their egos, not to shock them. So naturally they’re going to turn to books that do just that, in effect, literature-lite, just like alcohol-free beer or decaffeinated coffee. The literary event is seen as a threat to the stability of the self in our narcissistic, solipsistic culture. To undergo disruptions to your symbolic identity is to undergo a visionary or even psychotic experience. In a sense, you have to be a professional artist to typically and repeatedly undergo the trauma of art. Art it seems, is not for the masses, it threatens their precarious stability which they must maintain in order to remain productive members of the economy. Hence the preponderance of popular forms. This has to change.

JPG · It may be for another conversation, but can we use the concept of suture as it is used in film studies here? Is there any comparable concept here, the way the reader or consumer sutures himself to the text, to grammatical figures? Using identification to fill a 0 in, the lack that we all are as desiring subjects structured by the signifier, becoming a 1?

HHH · I think that there is a comparable intersection available to us here. We have to become aware of how the reader uses his or her identifications to establish or to stabilize an inherently unstable identity. The grammatical figures given to the reader for identification are standard and standardized and are used to fill in an emptiness or lack inherent to the desiring subject. I think that, at the very least, can be stated. The illusory identity that is thought to be stabilized is nothing more nor less than the ego.

JPG · This country is run on egotism, on ego-centrism, Capitalism is run on ego-centrism. this is one way that Capitalism twists and perverts everything. And of course processed literature, literature that has gone through the corridors of power presents a stultifying and ossified image and conception of the mind and of human subjectivity– you can say, as does Matko, that it’s an image and conception of the mind useful to Capitalism. There is another way of being and thinking than that offered by the merchants of K-R-A-F-T® processed literature, the style they produce is like food that’s pre-digested or pre-chewed for you. I mean, most people can recognize processed food but can they recognize processed literature? Literary expression in this society has become incredibly codified, indicating a severe conformity of consciousness. People think of themselves in a way that’s modeled on what we can call, with Matko, Capitalist Realism. A way that’s modeled on the shapes of fiction and is understood conventionally or ideologically. It doesn’t matter if it’s queer, feminist, etc, identarian of any stripe, it’s still all the same codified expression of the sovereign ego and literally involves opening Capitalism to more markets, creating markets and marketing possibilities. Let’s look at it head on–how can we advance literature in this our neo-liberal Capitalist culture? Is there a next step beyond the dramatic form given the subject by narrative? Is it to be an awareness of emptiness? Of the nothingness behind the subject? Right now we have a bunch of ideologically blind ego-maniacs teaching ego-based fiction in a society that demands the inscription of your ego. The ego, the form of the ego necessitated by the lived exigencies of the reality of Capitalist America. The American experiment has consisted of the creation of a certain kind of subjectivity, just ask Ayn Rand! And has produced an ideology to go along with it.

HHH · The sovereign ego and the metaphysics of presence, is it nothingness, that fundamental nothingness, that 0, our being as lack, behind subjectivity, that combats this?

JPG · So perhaps we need a new place where writers and prospective patrons can meet, like you say, a kind of dating site.

RM · That would be one solution, each writer would still need to establish themselves, which means their name. It’s been said that writers live on their legends, that means we bank on the scandal of our existence. We need a new way of funding literature that allows for the creation of new forms, things that may not be economically viable but are important to the species and its social and subjective future. Artists, writers, are always a scandal in this puritanical culture, their work is considered to be non-productive expenditures, which is another example of the norming of the subject by mass society. This norming is what Capitalist Realism seeks or attempts to achieve, and what literature seeks to combat.

JPG · So let’s let a thousand scandals bloom!