Saw an author photo in the Times Book Review. Two days ago, and already I’ve forgotten the book and the author’s name. But not the photo. So square-jawed a pose, so perfectly lit.
It’s funny, the efforts that are made, in certain cases, to make writers looks glamorous and sexually potent in their author photos. Money is spent on this either by the authors themselves or, if by the publishers, only for the young and good-looking who have gotten big contracts—contracts of a certain magnitude offered at times because the author is young and good-looking. This is one of the fantasies that keeps literary trade publishing going, when corporate oversight should force its elimination. Glamorous author photos fit into the same category of senselessness where most literary book marketing resides (look at the blurb quotes on the front covers—you wonder, is this supposed to induce someone to buy the book? Do the folks in sales and marketing really believe that, or is the quote placed there in fulfillment of some sort of required literary trade publishing kabuki gesture, as in it’s not a book if there’s no line in that space at that moment?)
These efforts become funny when you know that the whole enterprise is so hopeless, and, more important, that its hopelessness is its most powerful attribute … which is to say, the very best work is written because it must be written, and minimally (or not for long) for other reasons, such as vanity or those of commingled desires for fame, money and sexual conquest.
Anyone (such as I) who has held on to literary magazines and clipped stories and the like, not to mention novels, for decades—gather around you now just a handful of these, say a dozen, and note all the work—and, yes, it’s work—that no one heard of at the time, no one heard of after, and no one ever will hear of. There is an enormous daily flow of pre-forgotten literature in the land—even now when no one, including a good many of the writers, reads more than 350 words at a time. (I wonder how many writers now read, at length and carefully, only themselves?) Still the stuff rides in on every curling wave, ocean-tangled strings of language.
So a sane person might ask why do we do it … That is, why do we continue to produce and try to publish the stuff? As far as I can tell, the answers are, first, for the beauty of it when it’s right. Then, for the flame it might ignite in someone else’s imagination, for the new open space it might make in their language—in a larger sense, as the man once said, to purify the language of the tribe. And for the electric connection. We’re baby Zeus, running around fervent, tossing our toy thunder bolts.
(Unfinished—I will add to these thoughts as I have time and spirit.)