prayers for sanity

Alternate titles for Denis Lehane’s books if they were chapters in an autobiography:

  • No Blog Before the War
  • Celebrity, Don’t Take My Hand
  • Sacred: My Privacy
  • Write, Baby, Write
  • Prayers for Time to Do it Right

I’m not sure which item in Ali Karim’s interview with Dennis Lehane made me happier: that bringing Angie and Patrick back wasn’t a hangover-induced rash promise made to fans at the Muskego Public Library, or that Denis Lehane has no website, no blog, no Facebook page, no presence on Twitter, and no desire to spend his time promoting himself. He wants to write. That’s his job. Being Denis Lehane the Famous Author is neither his job nor his ambition. All that focus on creating and maintaining a public persona gets in the way of what he wants to, which is write.

Thank god for a breath of sanity.

I was thinking about this the other day after watching a documentary on a punk record store in London that began to distribute DIY albums that nobody else would have produced or distributed, then became a label, and ultimately another corporation. But in the beginning there was the idea of a DIY alternative, one that spoke truth to power and created radical music totally, radically outside the power structure of commercial entertainment.

While some small publishers are doing that, I haven’t seen a similar motive behind most of the self-publishing wave. Most people who self-publish are doing so in the hopes that they will make it just like the celebrity authors – that they will skirt around the barriers and go straight to readers who will find these books just as good or better than books from major houses and then, if things really go well, they’ll get a huge advance from one of the big houses. DIY is everywhere these days – but most of it’s not alternative the way zines were/are – because there’s still near-total buy-in to the commercial fever-dream that corporate entertainment hath wrought. In fact, most of social networking is essentially a form of self-advertising. Marketing, identity, and creativity have morphed into creative self-advertising.

What is up with this?

People build stuff on Second Life so that they can get into real estate that isn’t real. Real money, totally unreal goods. It’s weirdly inverse to the DIY punk ethos and yet a perfect metaphor for our times. Can’t afford all the shit you’re supposed to want because other people have it and you’re told you should have it to be a real, live person? Let’s pretend with credit cards. Can’t be a famous author? Make you sure you have the website, the blog, the book trailer, the twitter account, and it’s just like being famous. Cut out the middleman and become your own corporate shill.

I think it’s terrific that people have such an urge to be creative that they write, they make films, they make music, and they share it. But there’s a strange unwillingness to examine the consumerist definition of success and all the unhealthy self-fashioning that surrounds our current wave of creativity. And somehow our alternative channels that enable sharing of creative work are all designed around the same exhausted idea that marketing is ultimately what human communication is for.  And if we have nothing to sell, we can always sell ourselves.

2 Responses to prayers for sanity

  1. bernadetteinoz says:

    Part of me clapped my hands too when I read that interview. But I also thought it was a bit diingenuous. Lehane is a well established athour and therefore has someone to do all that on his behalf. And they do – there IS a website for him whether he wants it or not – presumably his publisher does it – and someone is busy doing deals to sell the rights to his books to be made into award-winning films that I’m sure he makes a buck or three from, and when THE GIVEN DAY was published you couldn’t move too far without tripping over some form of promotion for it. The reality is Lehane is now comfortable enough in terms of income that he can pay someone to do all that while he does what he loves. So he’s not in the same boat as someone who wants to write, doesn’t have a known name and would also like to eat occasionally.

    I hate what consumerism has done to our world and do not get me started on the lunacy of a world where you can get famous for being famous without having even the spark of a talent or an intelligence or any kind of gift that you would once have needed to get somewhere in life. But I also don’t think that every time someone waves their hand and says “hey look here …I made/wrote/filmed this…wanna buy it?” they are automatically a sellout to their creative spirit. I think there are genuine people among the fame-seekers and what’s interesting me about the ‘new marketing’ is that without the middleman of the advertising gurus it’s much easier to spot the real from the fake.

  2. Barbara says:

    Lehane was pretty obscure for many years – but that was before the promotion-mania took over, so he wasn’t faced with that challenge. He also had an unusually patient publisher, willing to give him time to find an audience. Ironically, it was their faith in giving him a big push with Prayers for Rain that led to one of his least satisfying novels.

    I thought the promotional material for The Given Day was over the top and distasteful.

    There’s such a fine line between connecting with an audience in an honest way and using the web to make your work available versus the weird mania for self-promotion that … huh, I just realized what it feels like to me … corruption. Back-scratching, self-aggrandizement, sockpuppetry, influence-peddling. All that jazz. Seems to be endemic to the book scene in the US.

    What I’m mulling over is the fact that Web 2.0 and the ability to engage in read/write culture hasn’t led to a more wholesale critique of the system. Just an urge to break in differently.

    I think I’ve just been around too many authors who are desperate for recognition. And the DIY record company, Rough Trade, changed its practices because so many of their artists were using them as a springboard and signing with major labels as soon as they had an audience. So Rough Trade more or less became the same kind of label themselves (or so I gathered from the documentary).

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