Apr/May 2019 Miscellaneous

Pen and Paper

by N.N. Trakakis

Excerpted imagery from photography by Kris Saknussemm

Excerpted imagery from photography by Kris Saknussemm

1. For those who begin writing at midnight, in the middle of winter, as the wind blows fiercely and rain falls heavily, it is necessary to ask: Why do you write? This is not a question about one's audience or readership. It is not a question about contractual arrangements with a publisher. It is not a question about career trajectories and ambitions. It is not even a question about autobiography, the psychological and other causes that might lead one down the writerly path. Rather, it is a question, no less, of life and death. Is it because you can do no other?

1.1 This is precisely the question that Rainer Maria Rilke advises his young interlocutor, Franz Xaver Kappus, and indeed every aspiring poet, to ask about their own work. In Rilke's memorable words:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.1

If only more writers had stopped to pose this question to themselves before embarking upon their prolific careers, they and their readers might have been spared much unnecessary suffering. But the fact that such questions have barely crossed their minds is indicated by the kind of life they have constructed around their peculiar "necessities," a life whose logic stands in need of critique, if not subversion.

2. Writing today is lost—lost in a dense forest where the way out is unclear even to those with keen vision.

2.1 Why lost? Because it remains beholden to a paradigm (of publication and dissemination) that is not only fast becoming obsolete, but even more importantly is undermining the value of writing. But rarely does anyone attempt to create a path out of the impasse. It is easier and more convenient to abide by the status quo, to pretend that everything is in order, or to cynically proclaim that there is no alternative while seeking to benefit from the current regime.

3. An historical perspective is helpful. Books were not always written and disseminated the way they are today, at least if the word "book" is used (as book historians employ it) "in its widest sense, covering virtually any piece of written or printed text that has been multiplied, distributed, or in some way made public."2 Consider the ancestors of the modern book—i.e., prior to the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century—and you will see an extraordinary variety in physical formats that hardly resemble anything we would now recognize as a "book." There was, for instance, an extensive array of writing surfaces in the ancient world. Cuneiform scribes in Mesopotamia (e.g., Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians) wrote on clay tablets; papyrus rolls were common in ancient Egypt and classical Greece and Rome (Plato, for example, wrote on papyrus); information and events were also recorded on wooden tablets coated in wax, on stone and bone, as well as on ivory, linen, and palm leaves. In the first century CE parchment and vellum began to outpace papyrus in popularity. The use of paper around this time in the Far East was to eventually make its way to the West, initially to the Islamic empire, and later replaced parchment as the writing surface of choice throughout western Europe. The book began to take a distinctively modern shape only after the second century CE: mirroring the transition from pagan religions to Christianity, the codex began to make the tablet and scroll redundant. Much like a modern book, a codex consisted of flat sheets lying on top of each other and stitched together along the spine, allowing the book to be closed and opened at the same page. Books also varied and developed in how they were written, in the writing instruments used (e.g., reed pens, fine brushes, quills) and in the styles or scripts employed (e.g., the emergence of uncials at the time of the rise of the codex, later supplanted by Carolingian minuscule and then black-letter Gothic script). This is of course prior to moveable type, and so everything was laboriously handwritten, with teams of scribes spending long and tedious hours meticulously reproducing another text (or what was read to them aloud). Not only did these books of the ancient and medieval worlds look different from books of today, but their homes and audiences were also quite different. Books would be housed in select locations (such as monasteries, universities, and libraries), and given the low literacy levels could be accessed only by a relatively small segment of the population (such as clergy, scholars, and wealthy patrons). The written word was beyond the reach of the general public.3

3.1 The lesson of this historical sketch is that the book, whatever else it is, is not one thing only. That alone implies that the book as it is known now is unlikely to last forever and, moreover, that other forms of the book may well be possible. This has been powerfully reinforced by the advent of digital books, and particularly Amazon's release of the Kindle in 2007, as more people switch from paper to screen. For some, the end of print and conventional publishing is inevitable. As Mike Shatzkin, a specialist in the industry's transition to digital, has observed: "It will get harder and harder to understand why anyone would print something that's heavy, hard to ship and not customizable."4 But even if the future of the written word is (mostly or entirely) digital, publishers will continue to want to oversee and control its production and consumption, and this is where my critique begins.

3.2 Interesting also, for what is to follow, is that antiquity did not know of publishers, at least in the modern sense. There were, to be sure, collectors and sellers of books, but no persons or groups were licensed to produce and disseminate books with the aim of earning an income (for themselves and authors) and controlling the use of the product in a manner akin to copyright. If publishing was not necessary in the past, why must it be necessary in the future?

4. The prestige of the publisher. There is an unquestioned assumption that a book released by a commercial publisher has a degree of authority and credibility it would otherwise lack. But for otherwise highly intelligent authors to make such an assumption, and (even worse) to rarely subject it to scrutiny, seems difficult to explain. For one thing, publishing companies are just that: companies, commercial enterprises seeking to profit from their products. If this were not their principal interest, they could not function. Even state-funded publishers and university presses, which might be prepared at times to run at a loss, would find it difficult to justify their existence if they were always or regularly in the red.

4.1 I have always found it illuminating to ask, when faced with a specific social arrangement, especially one that appears problematic in some respect: Cui bono?—Who profits? Whose interests are being served? If this question were asked about the current system of book publishing, the answer would consist in a disconcertingly dismal picture: a "culture industry" of tame artists and intellectuals serving the materialistic purposes of increasingly affluent and profligate executives in media and publishing.5

4.2 How could a work of science or art carry any credibility insofar as it is produced with the profit-motive in mind? I would not say that the two (scientific/creative quality and economic success) are mutually exclusive. But when the two coincide, it is sheer accident. And, indeed, it is better when the two goals are kept apart as much as possible, for the likelihood of achieving one is proportionate to the likelihood of failing in the other. In any case, why would a business-minded publisher care about the creative value of a novel or poetry collection if it will sell no more than, say, 20 copies? Why do these seemingly obvious matters go unasked and unthought?

4.3 What might be called "traditional" publishers—that is, small and medium sized, independently run businesses, as opposed to those run as subsidiaries of transnational multimedia conglomerates such as News Corporation, CBS and Bertelsmann—may have greater interest and capacity in promoting the cultural significance of books, beyond their commercial or market value. The traditional publisher might be prepared to bear low profit margins for the sake of a quality catalogue that includes short runs and specialized or controversial titles. What often makes this possible are subsidies from other ventures or from a bestseller or two.

But there are problems that even this form of publishing faces. Unless they are well subsidized from other sources (e.g., other business ventures, government grants), a traditional publisher will be reluctant to take too many risks, and so will tend to favor titles that will allow them to at least break even. This breeds a certain conservatism in publication choices, as homogenization trumps diversity in the range of content, and in language also (consider only the dominance of English in book publishing). In these circumstances a book written in, say, Italian or Korean, or an experimental work written pseudonymously, would struggle to be accepted even by an independent publisher, let alone one of the global conglomerates.

The financially precarious nature of independent publishing means not only that it is often an arduous battle to stay afloat, but also that it is difficult to resist the temptation—for the sake of economic security—to merge with a larger and better resourced corporation. Hence the spate of mergers and acquisitions over the last 50 or so years, where venerable small publishers like Knopf, Viking and Jonathan Cape have been acquired by bigger publishing houses, themselves soon to be bought by giant media conglomerates.

An even more important question concerns the functions that publishers seek to fulfil, if commercial goals are (for the sake of argument) put to the side. Are these functions or goals such that only publishers can fulfil them, or can they be (better?) met in ways that altogether bypass the publishing industry? This returns us to the issue of the prestige of the publisher, and the perceived role it plays in quality-control, a question I will return to later (§§5.3.2—5.3.3).

4.4 It is not only the profit-motive that is problematic. Capitalism in its current, neoliberal, guise is predicated on the premise that human relations are essentially competitive in nature—to bring out the best in people, therefore, individuals and communities must be placed in competition with each other. This competition, furthermore, must be unfettered (savage even), which means that there should be minimum government intervention, so that outcomes are left to the whims and dictates of "the market." It will be the invisible hand of the market that will weed out the inefficient and lackluster, leaving the brilliance of the best to shine under the sun all the more.

4.4.1 Many writers and artists are, of course, perfectly content to play this game, opportunistically carving out a niche for themselves, craving validation from faceless peers and forces, seeking their 15 minutes of fame. But whatever else competition fosters, it will not be creativity, knowledge, understanding and suchlike. Unlike material resources, and like all common or spiritual goods, creative works are non-competitive: there can be no competition for their production or possession between one person and another. Material goods will always be scarce and so potential sources of conflict, but creativity and its products make reference to personal character and way of life, something to be and to do, not something to greedily acquire and hoard. Creativity, in other words, is not a zero-sum game: the creativity of one person enables rather than diminishes the creative abilities of others. Writing and literature, then, cannot be governed by the market without being degraded by it too.

4.4.2 One might object that competition often brings out the best in people, and that is why recent innovations like smart phones could only arise out of a capitalist economy, not one based upon free, shared and non-competitive exchange. Again, there might be some truth to this with respect to material goods and resources, but beyond that the argument loses its force. An artist will create what they do out of an "inner necessity," irrespective of what is being said or done by their peers of past and present. To be sure, one always has influences and mentors, and seeks to climb upon their shoulders and look beyond them, creating a vision that appropriates and transcends that of their predecessors. But, in doing so, the (genuine) artist is not competing for some mythical mantle of "glory and greatness." Rather, they write, paint, sing, etc. only because they can do no other. If writing, for example, is not for you a matter of life and death, literally, then you ought to cease writing.

4.5 A peek at other creative genres reveals a similar picture. The music industry, like the (book) publishing world, is unashamedly run along capitalist lines, where what shifts units counts for more than what shifts perspectives. There is an endless list of musicians with tales of frustration, incompetence and betrayal at the hands of avaricious and amoral record company executives. And yet these same musicians continue to fall for the fallacy of the "record deal" as the ideal, as a sure sign that one is scaling the heights of the music profession, that one has hit the jackpot. Never mind that the musicians themselves (at least those with a modicum of intelligence and integrity) are often left with "hits" they can barely be proud of and with bank accounts emptied or even in arrears. (Perhaps that explains why many musicians produce some of their finest work on obscure B-sides and EPs.) Painters, too, find themselves trapped in an industry controlled by galleries and investors always on the lookout for the next "groundbreaking" artist, which translates as the next Picasso or Warhol to fetch obscene sums of money at Christie's or Sotheby's. The materials are different, but the model is the same.

In this context, consider the response made to the art market by Australian performance artist and painter, Mike Parr, in perhaps his best performance yet. His large-scale prints of red dots were the product of two years' labor and were set to bring him and his gallery a small fortune, with each dot in these prints said to be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Several of the prints had already sold but had not yet been transported to the no-doubt luxurious homes of their new owners. Parr therefore decided to paint over the dots in white, in effect wiping away their exchange value. (Or so it seemed. In an interesting twist, symbolic of capitalist logic, Parr's whitewashing only increased the value of the works and the collectors continued with their purchase.)

4.6 An increasing number of artists in the music world, fed up with the way they and their peers have been treated for so long, have begun to develop alternative modes of production and exchange that bypass the market and the command structures of corporations. This attitude was pioneered by the punk movement, with its do-it-yourself ethic, and later taken further by independent labels and acts (such as Fugazi and its associated label, Dischord Records) which managed on their own the production and distribution of their albums. Musicians of this ilk have been assisted of late by the emergence of greatly improved and relatively inexpensive technologies, so that it is possible now for an album to be recorded, produced and disseminated entirely independently of a record company. And what's more, to be disseminated for free. Record companies—big and small, mainstream and "independent"—have been sent into panic, scrambling for new business models that will help them own and exploit digitized and networked goods that increasingly seem to be slipping through their fingers. But the impossible has become the inevitable. This is not a prophecy of the end of multinational media moguls, such as Vivendi and Access Industries (which own two of the largest music companies: Universal and Warner), as they seem endlessly adaptable. But at least some cracks have appeared in the grand edifice (or was it only ever a house of cards?).

4.6.1 No argument is therefore being advanced for the overhaul of the capitalist economy in favor of some socialist or non-market alternative (though I would certainly not oppose such an overhaul). For one thing, my concern is more circumscribed: to imagine and create alternatives to a capitalist model of artistic creation. Secondly, there is the question of whether it is reasonable or merely quixotic to hope for the end of the capitalist system. Even if such hopes are illusory, it remains imperative to develop methods of creative production that resist and challenge the capitalist regime. Thirdly, and most profoundly, perhaps there is no need in any case for overturning capitalism, as this economic structure seems to have reached a crisis point in recent decades that may cause it to implode from within. This is the bold thesis of Paul Mason's Postcapitalism, which contends that it is not old-style state-sponsored socialism that is threatening capitalism but one of the greatest achievements of capitalism itself: information technology. This is a technology which "has created a new route out," largely due to "its spontaneous tendency to dissolve markets, destroy ownership and break down the relationship between work and wages."6 The example I gave earlier of musicians illustrates Mason's point well. And with writing too, innovative technologies will play an important role in creating "new routes out", disrupting the entrenched monopoly of the publishing industry. But there is no reason why all paths should in future be digital, as I seek to show with some of the scenarios I sketch.

4.6.2 My concern, further, is not with academic publishing. This is a large problem and can only be effectively addressed by engaging with government higher education policy and, more broadly, community attitudes and expectations to do with the scholarly and scientific life. The reforms proposed here are, instead, restricted to non-academic, creative works (whether literary or not) and their relations with the corporate sector. Even in the case of literature, I do not wish to appear monolithic. If, for example, one hopes for nothing more than publishing a series of best-sellers, or to make a living out of their writing, then who am I to get in their way? Each to their own, I say. Here I hope merely to propose an alternative.

4.7 Some might suppose that this problem has already been faced and resolved in societies where the arts are funded at least in part by the state. The funding bodies in these cases are freed from the usual economic imperatives underlying capitalist ventures, and so these organizations are capable of supporting interesting and innovative works that might have literary or artistic merit but little or no economic benefits. There is some truth to this, though as anyone familiar with such bodies would recognize, the problem is not thereby solved but only pushed up another level. To begin with, the arts in such an environment become dependent on the good will and understanding of the government of the day, and in a declining political climate such dependency has proven disastrous for the arts. In any case, there is invariably an agenda at play, whether hidden or explicit. There may be no overriding economic motive, but that does not mean that a funding body's decisions are not motivated at all—in the background there is always a charter, if not a creed, influencing the outcomes. Given the fractional amounts of funding that are often available and the usually enormous number of well-qualified applicants, the standards of evaluation will of necessity be relatively conventional and conservative. The safe bet will be someone with an established track-record in publishing with "distinguished" commercial presses, a string of successful grant applications, glowing reviews from peers or "recognized" authorities, etc. Hence, those on the margin are left there, to find their own way or just go away.

4.7.1 Why should creative work be funded by the state, or any other patron for that matter? Isn't there something undignified in that? Such largesse never comes freely; there are always strings attached. Faustian pacts should make one nervous. But there is something more fundamentally amiss here, for why should someone else fund my creative aspirations? The work must be capable of standing on its own, not only in terms of its quality but also in terms of its origins.

5. How would things look in the world of books, if the newfound independent spirit in music (§4.6) were transferred to creative writing? In these contexts I often think of the example set by earlier poets. Emily Dickinson circulated her poems amongst her friends but rarely published them, viewing publication in disparaging terms:

Publication—is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man—
Poverty—be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly—but We—would rather
From Our Garret go
White—unto the White Creator—
Than invest—Our Snow—

Constantine Cavafy, likewise, published very little in his lifetime, reserving his work mainly for friends and sympathetic readers. In philosophy Wittgenstein followed a similar procedure, publishing only one book, all the rest (and this represented the bulk of his output, by far) limited to a very small, hand-picked audience. And what exactly were these fortunate few given? Not, to be sure, lavishly designed books produced by distinguished academic presses, but something far more mundane ("authentic" might be a better word): handwritten papers or notebooks, or texts typed, copied and bound in a makeshift manner, or merely a set of loose sheets and scribbles. Here we have the inklings of a new way of being and writing, the first signs of a "postcapitalist" system aptly characterized by Paul Mason as "a world of zero-priced goods, shared economic space, non-market organizations and non-ownable products."7 Writing as a non-marketized mode of production can finally return to what it is meant to be: wasteful and incalculable.

5.1 But how precisely could this way of "publishing" be put into practice today? Very easily, is the quick answer. But the difficulty is that an unequivocal renunciation of ambition would have to be made—of the ambition to fame and fortune, to celebrity and notoriety, to "making a name," to leaving a legacy for posterity... All these stand in tension with the creative life in any case (and herein I include the life of science). But that has never prevented the solitary prodigy who, with no friends or fortune left, does whatever it takes to win fame instead.

5.1.1 The tragedy (or comedy, I'm never sure which) of the writer, academic or intellectual hoping for "success" with his next book, where success is measured in terms of sales or at least in terms of reception. Even if the work is met with great interest and glowing reviews, from both critics and the wider public, this pales into insignificance when compared with the attention lavished upon true celebrities: Wiz Khalifa posts a meaningless message or photo on Facebook and almost instantly receives over 100,000 "likes." That's why it is tragic, and perhaps comic too, for writers to even want to strive for fame and influence.

But it is understandable, nonetheless. There is much truth in the Marxist dictum that changes in modes of production produce changes in consciousness. In our technological era of production, a self is emerging that exists solely to have "likes" heaped upon it. Previously the mediated self, an identity elaborately fashioned to attract an audience, was the exclusive preserve of a few: movie stars, musicians, politicians, etc. In our day, such an identity is possible, if not mandatory, for anyone living in the world of Web 2.0. That is the scale of the challenge faced by the writer today.

5.2 The extended answer lies in the imagination, as do all roads out of adversity and suffering. This is how the world is opened up to new vistas. But imagination demands courage to break the mould, to experience the dejection and isolation that comes with deviating from the mainstream, to experiment with strange and possibly fruitless ideas, though always with the chance of unexpectedly stumbling upon a path cutting across the dead-ends everyone has been toiling in.

5.2.1 The path is always a deserted path. One must be prepared for the loneliness.

5.3 To give a more concrete answer, it might be useful to illustrate a possibility or two. Let's say I write a poem, and that the poem is the result of many weeks of difficult labor—revising, reframing, deleting, adding... Eventually the work reaches an advanced enough stage to be made public, to be read ("inhabited" would be a better word) by another. The question then arises: Where is the poem written?

One could follow the example of Emily Dickinson, who often jotted lines of verse on all sorts of scavenged paper: the flap of an envelope, the back of a letter, on bits of newspaper and on chocolate wrappers. But let's assume a more conservative approach. The poem (that is, the advanced or final draft) is cleanly handwritten with a somewhat ordinary ink pen on an equally plain sheet of paper. Various options for disseminating the poem present themselves. An obvious choice nowadays would be to transfer it to a computer and place it online—perhaps submitting it to an online journal or blog, or pasting it on Facebook, or forwarding it via email to a select group of people. Without wishing to discount the value and effectiveness of these electronic media (particularly their capacity for instantaneous delivery to a wide audience), I want to remain for now with non-electronic methods and specifically with ink and paper. The poem could be photocopied and these copies distributed through various channels. But, again, I want for now to refuse the "replication model" of the consumerist market. So, what options remain? Well, let's say I take my single sheet of paper, with the poem inscribed on it, to a local bookshop and pin the paper on a message board where other poems and community notices are regularly affixed. Or, in the style of Jenny Holzer, the paper could be plastered on any number of public spaces—I could, for example, glue it to a wall or lamppost where pedestrians can read it, or photograph it with their iPhones, or spit at it, or tear it down while waiting to cross the road. The possibilities, once more, are limited only by the imagination. These possibilities, however, are suppressed by an entire edifice of privilege, hierarchy and exclusivity erected by the publication industry, which needs to be contested through local, self-organized, non-hierarchical networks like those indicated here. There is much in this respect to learn from the ways in which the samizdat operated in the Soviet era, where the strict monopoly of the communist government on printing and publication was secretly subverted by carbon-copied typewritten sheets passed by hand from reader to reader. Given the lack of resources, samizdat had none of the professional gloss of government, censor-approved publications, but it was the ragged and blurred pages, the nondescript designs, even the typographical errors that invested this underground literature with credibility and appeal as a symbol of revolt and freedom. A similar grassroots form of subversion is urgently needed today.

5.3.1 Critics will object that, without the overview of the publisher and its team of editors and consultants, there will be no effective way of discerning quality work, of separating the wheat from the chaff. At least one problem with this objection is that it conceals the degree to which commercial interests, rather then cultural imperatives to do with quality, drive much of the publishing industry. Operating like any other commercial enterprise, many of today's publishers (particularly those controlled by global conglomerates) tend to regard the criteria by which a work is standardly evaluated by a writer, scholar or scientist—criteria such as truth, insight, clarity, and understanding—as relevant only insofar as they help improve the balance sheet. Everything becomes subsumed, by necessity (not necessarily malice or philistinism), to economics.

5.3.2 In any case, it is high time that the deception of the publisher as the "gatekeeper" of quality were exposed for the sham it is. How often has a work been accepted by a "prestigious" publisher not so much on its merits as on the (personal and professional) connections of the author (or the author's agent) with the publisher (or its editorial board)? The review process is rarely blind in any substantive sense—and this holds true for both academic and literary works. And when there is an attempt to undertake a blind-review, the generally conservative composition of the editorial and review panel together with the commercial interests of the publisher mean that works that lie decidedly outside the mainstream, or works that are experimental (e.g., stylistically unusual, genre-crossing works), are unlikely to receive a sympathetic hearing. Consider only the difficulties that many works now highly regarded were shunned initially or even for lengthy periods by "reputable" publishers—Wittgenstein's Tractatus comes to mind. (Countless instances of this could be given. Recently I was reminded of another: Schopenhauer offered in 1850 his Parerga and Paralipomena to the leading publishing house in Germany, Brockhaus. The publisher rejected the manuscript, obviously regarding it as unequal to the romantic novels of Schopenhauer's own mother, which it had published years earlier in a collected edition of 24 volumes.) Once more, the status quo is upheld.

5.3.3 Returning to the question of how quality is to be judged, or who will act as the "gatekeeper," in this imagined brave new world without publishers: the answer, again, is relatively simple. Works always stand on their own. There is no need for a publisher, or a select group of "experts" or "specialists," to pronounce a work as of the highest quality, to accord it honors and prizes and so on in order for the work to count as, say, a "classic," a "masterpiece," to enter "the canon." These very notions are fraught with problems, but putting that aside, the point to highlight is that the work—if it is of sufficiently high standard—will speak for itself. There is no need to promote it, to market it, to sell it—indeed, that will only debase it. Even more controversially, there is no need for anyone to notice the quality of the work. For this is something intrinsic to the work itself, and the "eyes" to behold and appreciate its quality may unfortunately never arise—that is always a risk. Or, only a few pairs of eyes may ever notice it—that is the more likely scenario. Again controversially, if virtually everyone, the masses entire, adore and flock to the work, proclaiming it (say) a "national treasure" or a "timeless work," you can be sure it is really meant for the dump.

5.3.4 This is not to deny the crucial importance of a rigorous peer-review process for scientific and scholarly works. My concern, to repeat, is solely with artistic creation, and creative writing more specifically. In this area, it is not unusual for writers to have their work subjected to scrupulous editing and criticism prior to publication—think of what Pound did for Eliot's Waste Land. In any case, a review process like that in scientific and scholarly disciplines would be out of place in the creative sphere—not because any criteria by which to judge a novel or a poem would be purely subjective and arbitrary. Rather, criteria of a reasonable and perhaps intersubjective character can be developed, but they are not the kind of criteria that can be set out and applied in a precise, impartial and mechanical fashion. In fact, it's best not to talk of "criteria" at all in this context, as what is required is a creative hermeneutics, a sensitive and nuanced approach to interpreting and coming to grips with an entire way of life opened up by the text. This is not something that a publisher (with one eye on the profit margin) can supply. And outsourcing the task to a team of reviewers will only be successful to the degree that they possess the requisite credentials, not only technical skills but also the kind of character (spiritual and affective) that will enable a sympathetic understanding and meaningful engagement. In many cases, also, any external review of a creative work would only diminish it. Imagine what would have happened to the works of Beethoven, Dostoyevsky, Proust and Picasso if they had complied with the recommendations of their critics!

5.4 Critics might also complain that distribution will be severely restricted, so that even great works or masterpieces will not be accessible to many people who will therefore be denied the riches and insights of our best writers. The internet has effectively addressed this problem, providing even faster and wider access to audiences than any commercial publisher. (Admittedly this does nothing to satisfy the still-prevalent hankering after the book qua physical product, but I will address this later.) The criticism, however, assumes that audience reach—the capacity of making works of art available to a wide cross-section of the population—is an invaluable service provided by publishers. This and many similar assumptions must finally be brought to light and subjected to scrutiny. Does the artist really need to be heard, seen or read by everyone? Should the artist even want this? What kind of artist has such needs and wants?

5.4.1 How would these questions be received if the writer were conceived as one who writes and writes without knowing where the words come from, or how and why they are coming to him, and without claiming that the words belong to him? It would make no sense, on such a conception of the writerly life, for an author to seek or receive critical and commercial success. For the very idea of private ownership—of a work as belonging to its author and publisher, who hold the rights to it and so may earn an income from it and may be praised or blamed for it, etc.—loses its applicability. This is not to reduce the author to an amanuensis, someone merely taking dictation from a higher power or muse. It is rather to call for a different orientation towards the words we write.

6. In particular, a new kind of humility is demanded, one where the author becomes as absent, as invisible and hidden, as the original creator.

Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself...
Try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it.
Be a spot of ground where nothing is growing,
where something might be planted,
a seed, possibly, from the Absolute.

The time is over for "blasting and bombardiering" (Wyndham Lewis). If you wish to live, you have to die first. Maybe many times over. Become destitute, dispossessed. Anonymous and invisible.

The prayerfulness of poesis (in the etymological sense of making or creating) as confession of dispossession, a recognition of the other as giver, enabling release from egocentricity and sufficiency. But this path is "agonic," clearing a way that involves the suffering and wounding of the ego, the shakeup of the self-enclosed subject.

Humility, not fame or celebrity, as the mark of the artist. Humble and understated, a quiet resonance, working unobtrusively, moving gently, not performing pompously, or tastelessly "blowing one's own trumpet," no big-bang works, but exhibiting discernment and discretion, the kind of discretion that we show a word when we enclose it in quotation marks, as if holding something back, communicating without drawing attention to oneself, refusing to position oneself as a panoptic and controlling "I," not showing-off but showing up the "I" as unreliable, uncertain, tentative and whose every declarative statement is provisional and qualified, allusive rather than direct and domineering. "To speak directly of pure things (assuming that there are any), to speak of pity, of saintliness, and of virtue, as if such possibilities were already given in ordinary language, that is, as if they were possibilities of this language, is to speak the most vicious and impious language."9 Blanchot, in saying this, recalls Kierkegaard's method of "indirect communication," where the common but lifeless philosophical style of abstract pronouncements in a single ex cathedra voice is replaced with more engaging albeit confusing and complicated works of a literary, multi-perspectival nature. For Kierkegaard, this involved, as is well known, the use of various pseudonyms—could one imagine a philosopher or novelist today publishing their best work under a pseudonym? How would this help them scale the university rankings ladder or bestseller lists?

Learning to lose. "The greatest lesson in life," one of my great teachers once told me, "is to learn how to lose." Writers have yet to learn this lesson.

Gelassenheit: releasement, letting-be, letting-go. A collectedness, calmness, serenity, detachment. A way of being attuned to the world that consists in a calm mental preparedness to willingly accept fateful dispensations of every kind. To care and not to care. What the Stoics and Epicureans called apatheia and ataraxia. What the Taoists describe as wu-wei, "wu" meaning "not" or "non-," "wei" meaning "action," "making," "doing," "striving," "straining," "busyness." What Meister Eckhart taught as the process of relinquishing one's own will and leaving everything to the will of God, in this way finding inner peace and receiving divine grace.

A releasement-from: self-will.

A releasement-to: the will of God.

The deepest meaning of being is lassen.10

Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. —Luke 17:32-33

The vain self and the lowly other—an impassable gulf manifested in all ages and places. Zissimos Lorenzatos detects it at the dawn of the modern Greek state in the 19th century, in the opposition between the cultured elite and the under-achieving outsiders:

The educated, the learned, always leave behind them writings, masses of papers that are systematically examined, classified, filed, indexed, and studied; as the years go by, these piles of paper proliferate in libraries, studies, and colleges where the final processing of "truth" takes place. But the other people, the obscure ones... leave nothing behind them, or so little that it is easily mislaid if not lost altogether (I am thinking of the "buried tin box" in which Makriyiannis's writings were found); in any case, these scant testimonies are unable to change the official, established point of view to any significant degree... The official point of view always predominates.

But Lorenzatos immediately qualifies this pessimistic outlook:

...yet the other, unofficial voice somehow manages to break through in the end, to make itself heard secretly.11

The scholar, indecently chasing posthumous fame, leaves behind a massive Nachlass. Jesus writes nothing, and it is his word that "breaks through in the end, making itself heard secretly."

Remember Lot's wife?

But it's not all or nothing, either epic production or the occasional fragment. It's necessary only to write with another frame of mind. To become, as Blanchot put it, a figure of infinite reserve.

Discretion is here the guardian power, guardian of a thought that is not content with a simple truth nor even perhaps with the too simple name of truth.12

A little later he explains:

But discretion is not simply politeness, social behavior, a psychological ruse, the adroitness of the one who would like to speak intimately of himself without revealing himself. Discretion—reserve—is the place of literature. The shortest path from one point to another is in literature the diagonal or the asymptote. He who speaks directly does not speak or speaks deceptively, thus consequently, without any direction save the loss of all straightforwardness. The correct relation to the world is the detour, and this detour is right only if it maintains itself, in the deviation and the distance, as the pure movement of its turning away.13

Blanchot's own reserve: few photographs of him, no published accounts of his life, little in his work that would seem to warrant biographical extrapolation.

This reminds me of the following account of F.H. Bradley given by Brand Blanshard:

In 1905 more than 70 of his colleagues asked the privilege of presenting him with his portrait. His formal reply was that his health did not permit it, and his private remark was, "What have I done to be crucified?"14

...because only the unseen is important in the end.15

It has been said of Blanchot that, "From the outset, his journalism was predominantly anonymous: he never became a 'signature' on the Débats [i.e., the Journal des Débats]. Indeed, as he became established, the number of articles bearing his signature dwindled to nought."16

It is a rule of good breeding, says Dante, not to speak of oneself without necessity.
—A.E. Taylor, quoting from Dante's Convivio

Slow writing. Works of reticence that find their voice not in exacerbated individualism but in the sounds of others. A reticence linked to slowness, refusing the predilection for mad haste, mad because it forgets, forgets to look and pay attention, a lack of attentiveness to being, to the weight and meaning of words, of life, to the words of life.

de nobis ipsis silemus (of ourselves we are silent)17

Blanchot's "rule" of life, one handed to him by Kant and Bacon.

A pledge of secrecy.

Kant inherits this from Bacon's Novum Organum (1620) and employs it as an epigraph to his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). For Bacon and Kant, this is intended as an exhortation to objectivity. But it also signifies complete renunciation and loss, the submersion of a life into a work. In this sense, at least, "there is nothing outside the text": all the action, every explosive thought, occurs in the text, in the study, in the library, not outside it—so don't go looking there, outside: in the biography, you will not find anything.

This is not to say that the life does not inform the work: it can, does and should. Indeed, any division between life and work is arbitrary and artificial. That's why if the work is no good, the life will not make it any better. Today, however, the opposite is the case: even if the work is poor, the life—if interesting enough—can redeem it, even raise it to the status of a classic. Consider how awful music is often turned into a chart-topping album only because it is the product of a "pop" star; or, similarly, "celebrity" writers whose books become highly regarded, at least within certain circles, even though they are bland and uninspiring, if not downright unreadable.

The author in his works should be like God in the universe:
always present, but nowhere visible.
—Gustave Flaubert18

The artist withdraws from his creation, and lets it speak for itself.

The example set by David Hammons: "Over the past five decades, during which his explorations of race and urban experience have made him one of the most consistently provocative and influential of American artists, he's conducted only a handful of press interviews—this reticence being merely one facet of a famed elusiveness that has reached almost mythic proportions. He rarely makes public appearances, refuses to communicate by telephone, doesn't turn up to his own openings—doesn't, for that matter, even have permanent commercial gallery representation. Together, this avoidance of the limelight and determinedly independent stance towards the art market have turned him into something of a cult figure—particularly for those of us dismayed by contemporary culture's ceaseless, vapid manufacturing of celebrity."19

The present-day pre-requisite for artists: a circus-master's talent for promotion, the kind Leopold Mozart taught his son, Wolfgang.

The true artist, by contrast, shuns self-aggrandizing self-exposure in order to affirm the value of distance and silence, by so doing preserving (what Blanchot called) "the right to the unexpected word" (le droit à la parole inattendue). This is a right had only by those who have died: the death of the author. Effacement, disappearance from view, loss of self. How foreign this appears in view of the "cult of power and personality" manufactured by the economic and entertainment industries of capitalism and neoliberalism. Contesting such industries, and inviting their wrath or ridicule, Blanchot looks for non-power:

To write is, at the limit, what of itself cannot (be done), therefore always in search of a non-power, refusing mastery, order, and first of all the established order, preferring silence to a word of absolute truth, thus contesting and contesting ceaselessly.20

To speak at the level of weakness and of destitution—at the level of affliction—is perhaps to challenge force, but also to attract force by refusing it.21

How then does one arrive at this anonymity whose sole mode of approach is a haunting, an uncertain obsession that always dispossesses?22

That is the 64-thousand dollar question.

An ethos of humility: a form of "the good life" founded upon anonymity, invisibility, fragility, vulnerability, softly spoken, naturally and unforced, without violence, without will or will-to-power.

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it.
— John O'Donohue, "In Praise of Water," Benedictus

Water: colorless, odorless and transparent, also life-giving—in the same way a work works: unseen, invisible, anonymous, but also regenerating, rising from the dead.

Such an ethos is eminently expressed in the work of the 20th-century Greek poet, Tasos Leivaditis: those who knew him personally testify that he would always seek to change the subject whenever the conversation turned to his poems; he never accepted any of the literary awards bestowed upon him (in his office he did not hang any degrees or awards on the walls, but only had a portrait of his mother); he would never pass a negative judgment, orally or in print, on any fellow poet—a complete lack of combativeness or competitiveness is evident in his many reviews of poetry books; and above all he entirely refused interviews: "Everything can be found in the work," would be his regular reply.

Leivaditis: a poet of the margins, the "guardian angel" of the marginal, the outcasts of society: the blind, the forgotten, beggars, anarchists, prostitutes, drunkards, the mentally ill—"those poor and mad souls who imagined themselves to be birds, ladders or trees," as he wonderfully put it. Only such anonymous souls, he writes elsewhere, "comprehend the mystery of being a nobody."

"People have defiled us, but we will be kept pristine by the anonymity of history."

No attempt here to "make a mark," to rise to "greatness."

Authenticity is found in anonymity. The marginal is that which cannot be placed under the rule of the conventional and the socially acceptable, and so it resists falsification, dishonesty and dissembling. The real critics of the establishment are therefore the marginal, not those "professional skeptics" (e.g., academic philosophers) who invariably turn out to be the system's co-conspirators.

"What else is anonymity but to live in purity and to depart even purer."

"At times mother would ask me with tears in her eyes, 'Why do you like to humble yourself?' 'I want to understand, mother.'"

But anonymity may only provoke inordinate curiosity. Consider the case of the Italian novelist writing under the nom de plume of Elena Ferrante, and the investigative attempts made to uncover her true identity.

The point of anonymity is not, in self-defeating fashion, to incite curiosity and pave the way towards celebrity, but to open up another way of being and writing.

Anonymity as not merely a matter of going underground, but as emerging on to new ground.

To write without ulterior motives, to write disinterestedly, soliciting no favors, to write only for the other without seeking advantage.

Dying to the self: the only way to overcome death and participate in eternal life, in the life of God.

The only aim: to become light, or at least lighter—to become unobtrusive, like light, remaining invisible so as to make it possible for the other to be seen.

Remember Paracelsus? His quest for total knowledge, an ambition never satisfied despite the brilliant accomplishments made, despite the celebrity attained throughout Europe, this absorbing Promethean aspiration mirrored still in the lives of so many writers, scholars and scientists. Seeking to be great and original, self-originating and history-transcending, to succeed completely: to bring time to a stop. The lesson has not been learned, or it's learned too late: such hubris never goes unpunished, resulting ineluctably in defeat, disillusion, decay, landing one in ruin, like Paracelsus, in a miserable grave.

The continuing obsession with originality: to live and write without relation or mediation, without dependence, without connection to others—to community, to tradition, to love.

The eventual awakening of Paracelsus: we are all one community
of failure.

An appreciation, an art, of failure. Not so much people who fail, as works that fail—fail to uphold standards of innovation and interestingness, of what makes sense and sales.

Fail again. Fail better.

The highest good, summum bonum, is described by Schopenhauer as

...the complete self-effacement and denial of the will, true will-lessness, which alone stills and silences for ever the craving of the will; which alone gives that contentment that cannot again be disturbed; which alone is world-redeeming... and we may regard it as the only radical cure for the disease against which all other good things, such as all fulfilled wishes and all attained happiness, are only palliatives, anodynes.23

A kenotic ("self-emptying") way of writing, modeled after the kenosis of God.

I do my utmost to obtain emptiness;
I hold firmly to stillness.
Tao Te Ching

Even when Scripture describes the divine in terms evoking majesty and loftiness, this is often followed or preceded by images of God bending down to not only look at human misery but also to inhabit and identify with it. The divine height is paired with the saving divine descent. The divestment of divinity: the death of God.

God's power is not like raw human power, but is instead a love that takes the form of weakness, a power expressed most dramatically on the cross. It is seemingly weak, insignificant and hidden, and yet this power of love works inexorably to vanquish all evil.

God's creation of the world was not an act of power and control. Rather, in the granting of radical freedom to the other, the essence of divinity is seen as renunciation of possessiveness, a renunciation of the desire to control.

My power is made perfect in weakness.
—2 Cor. 12:9

The world is saved from the power of evil not by might and strength, humanly defined, but by brokenness, suffering and vulnerability. Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering... only a suffering God can help.24

On one account of the trinitarian relation of "begotteness" (that of Hans Urs von Balthasar), the Father gives away (or gives up) his divinity to his Son: a primal kenosis.

I heard an aged Hegel scholar recently say: "The three persons of the Trinity are not related linearly: the Father first begets the Son, and then the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. No! None of that clap-trap! It doesn't work that way at all! Relations overlap, spiraling concentrically, spiraling out of control! There is a trinity within a trinity within a trinity, Father within Son within Spirit. And the same could be said of human persons!"25

Recall Hegel's lectures on philosophy of religion, where he says: "Ethical life, love, means precisely the giving up of particularity, of particular personality, and its extension to universality... The truth of personality is found precisely in winning it back through this immersion, this being immersed in the other."

Substitution: the one for the other. (Levinas)

The life of the writer, likewise, is sacrificial, the giving or offering of a gift, always at a loss. The writer: always at a loss. Always at sea.

But always needing to return to land. To the landscape, to place, for to be is to be in place. And to be human is to return to the place where one came from: the earth—hence human is derived from humus, "earth," just as in the Old Testament Adam ("man") is created by God from adamah ("ground," "earth"). The starting-point for philosophy therefore is not death, as Heidegger thought—that remains too abstract; rather, it is corpses, bodies buried in the earth, lying under the ground, those who live underground, perhaps shaking and subverting the foundations above, yet remaining unknown and insignificant—the humble. Humanhumushumility: the triangulation of the writer. Always angular, standing like Cavafy "at a slight angle to the universe."

7. In line with the model of writing and publishing proposed here, new ways of thinking about and relating to books will need to be developed. The book—as a physical object, professionally designed and illustrated, printed and distributed globally in the thousands or millions, bound in cloth or as a paperback, identified with a barcode and price tag, gaining over time a commercial pedigree that might turn it into a sought-after collector's item (e.g., signed first editions), shelved as an item amongst others in a bookstore—must undergo a radical reevaluation and reconceptualization. Books, in this sense, are inextricably part of a market that treats writing as a very specific kind of product—primarily an economic one that helps people (authors, publishers, bookstores) to earn an income. Any other goods that books bring in their wake—pleasure, knowledge, entertainment, etc.—are welcomed and promoted, but only as secondary and subservient to the economic benefits.

7.1 A sense of history is vital here. If, as indicated in §3, books historically have never been one thing, there is no reason to think or want that they should remain as they are today.

7.2 If we wish to extricate writing from the commercial forces it is currently entangled in, we must reconceive the nature of the book. It has been argued, plausibly I think, that the book—in its familiar printed form, in which it is manufactured, stored and sold by publishers, librarians and retailers—is unlikely to completely disappear despite the threat of obsolescence posed by new digital platforms. But that, I would add, is beside the point. The book, in what has become its traditional guise, needs to be creatively reenvisioned. The printed format can be retained, but only as a plaything of the masses, not a concern of serious writers and readers.

7.2.1 It is time to give up our nostalgic longing for books: the bibliophile as one who not only reads voraciously but loves the scent, texture and appearance of the pages and print. It is time, likewise, to wean ourselves from our consumerist addiction to books: the bibliophile as one who amasses an extensive home library, exhibiting his old and rare books behind glass cases.26

7.3 What form will the book take? The form need not be single, though it may well be distinct and unique. "Let a thousand flowers bloom": once the publishers' straightjacket has been removed, a plethora of possibilities will be born, recalling in some cases the forms and technologies that existed prior to the printing press. Poems might be inscribed on stone or scroll, a sonnet might be handwritten and delivered on a postcard, a collection of interactive short stories released in installments on mobile phones, while a 600-page loosely bound novel is produced with a print run as small as one. The increasing demand for diverse and unorthodox media is an expression of the profound disillusionment many writers and readers have with the prevailing paradigm. Do we wish to continue with publishers market-testing titles in the hope of landing a bestseller? With authors similarly pandering to the market in the hope of securing a lucrative deal that will finally catapult them to stardom? Are we to continue being beguiled by such ruses?

7.4 The foregoing entails a new publication ethos. The emphasis will no longer fall on mass produced works but on limited releases, perhaps even "one-offs." Grass-roots relationships and forms of communication will attain greater prominence, so that work need not be made available worldwide (though this too is not foreclosed, due to network technology) but could be distributed in the first instance only to a small group of people in one's local area. These measures will combine with a general refusal of polished production, slick marketing and big budgets: work will retain, indeed glory in, its rough edges and fragile aesthetics—reproducing in some ways the vulnerability and reticence of the author.

7.5 I do not wish these proposals to be confused with sentiments often expressed by publishers and industry experts. Jason Epstein, for example, conceded in his 2002 work, Book Business, that "the book business as I have known it is already obsolete."27 The alternative he has championed is one that seeks to take advantage of new technologies in allowing digitized books to be economically printed and bound on demand within minutes by widely available "Espresso Book Machines." This, however, is merely another clever capitalist ploy at adapting to and appropriating changed circumstances. Specifically, Epstein's proposal is a way of reasserting the dominance of the publisher, this time by eliminating the middleman: the retail bookseller. By selling directly to the consumer, and without the costs associated with housing and shipping large quantities of physical books, publishers are provided with a new way to increase their margins. This might be a sign of things to come, but it leaves unaffected the relationship between writer and buyer that I am seeking to dismantle.

8. What becomes of employment? To make a living or career out of writing is out of the question. That can only lead to the deformation of the work—and if that doesn't happen, then it is merely a matter of good fortune. As Schopenhauer noted in a section entitled "On Books and Writing" in his Parerga and Paralipomena: "Payment and reserved copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature. Only he who writes entirely for the sake of what he has to say writes anything worth writing. It is as if there were a curse on money: every writer writes badly as soon as he starts writing for gain."28 Even with the best of intentions, the pressures of earning an income—especially if one has debts to repay or a family to feed—seep into the very pen and paper one is holding, as Australian novelist James Bradley acknowledges:

...there's a real phenomenon where you get into writing because you love it and you want—you need—to do it, but if you're good and you're lucky then at some point you start to become professionalized so you are doing it for money, and then you think, I need to make money from it in order to do it. And you end up writing what you think you should be writing.29

The solution was advanced by the likes of Kafka and Eliot, who did not depend on their writing for an income. But it is of little use to enlist, like Kafka and Eliot did, in soul-destroying occupations—they, fortunately, had the means and talent to overcome such deleterious effects, but lesser souls will be hampered or even sunk by these limitations (the influence of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company on Wallace Stevens' poetry is worth exploring in this connection). The ideal, I would think, is to be involved in some way in the "workforce," not only for the sake of financial independence, but also in order to retain a footing in the everyday (as a resource, as always, for one's thinking and writing). The ideal, further, would be to work hard and diligently at one's chosen occupation without taking it too seriously and without staying there too long, but moving every few years to other and wholly unrelated occupations (as a resource, again, for one's writing).

8.1 Related to the question of employment is the matter of income and wealth. In the Gospels, Jesus states that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:24). Something similar applies in the case of writing. The artistic life (at its best) is not compatible with wealth and celebrity. This is not to glorify poverty, but to redirect attention to the reasons for taking up the creative life in the first place. Artists generally set out with high-minded intentions that have little to do with fame and fortune. Success, however, quickly and drastically changes this, especially wild success that ushers in extravagant riches and popularity. This is why earlier works (novels, albums, paintings, etc.), emanating from intense struggle and suffering, more regularly achieve excellence and longevity in comparison with ephemeral works produced by the same artists complacently luxuriating in wealth and fame.

8.2 The life of the artist, as envisioned here, lies worlds away from the bourgeois existence of wife, children and mortgage. And this, despite the fact that only someone with the attributes of an artist has what it takes to build a happy marriage and flourishing family life. As Schopenhauer put it, "Only a philosopher could be happy in marriage, and philosophers don't marry."



1Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: The Modern Library, 2001), p.6.

2Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose (eds), A Companion to the History of the Book (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), p.2.

3This statement is meant to apply to much of the pre-Gutenberg era, though not all, as significant changes in book ownership and readership were afoot in prior centuries. M.T. Clanchy observes that "a vigorous book-using culture was the precursor to the invention of printing rather than its consequence... In the centuries between 1100 and 1500 books of many sorts, religious and secular, made their way from churches to palaces, town houses, and manor houses, where they were domesticated—as it were—by the lady of the house. In bed chambers and private oratories, books had begun to furnish a room a century or more before the invention of printing... Certainly by 1500, and probably as early as 1200, writing had become familiar to the whole medieval population." ("Parchment and Paper: Manuscript Culture 100-1500," in Eliot and Rose (eds), A Companion to the History of the Book, pp.195, 204, 205.)

4Quoted in Rachel Nuwer, "Are Paper Books Really Disappearing?" BBC Future (online), 25 January 2016.

5How lucrative culture has become is indicated by a comment recently made by the Australian novelist Alison Croggon, to the effect that "culture [in Australia] is a bigger industry than agriculture, and employs many more people than the mining sector." (Croggon, "Culture Crisis: Critical Failure and the Australian Malaise," The Monthly, October 2016, p.33) Croggon's essay is concerned with (as she puts it) "the cultural devastation that is occurring across Australia," (p.31) evidenced by recent cuts in government funding to arts organizations. Typically, however, it never occurs to the author that the crisis is one that is internal to the workings of a culture industry, and so the way out might be to cease regarding culture as a commodity like coal.

6Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), p.xiv.

7Mason, Postcapitalism, p.164.

8From The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (London: Penguin Books, 1995), pp.13,15.

9Maurice Blanchot, "The Laughter of the Gods," in Friendship, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p.175.

10Heidegger, "Seminar in Le Thor, 1969," in Four Seminars, trans. Andrew Mitchell and François Raffoul (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), p.59.

11Lorenzatos, The Lost Center and Other Essays in Greek Poetry, trans. Kay Cicellis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp.115-16.

12Blanchot, "The Laughter of the Gods," p.169.

13Blanchot, "The Laughter of the Gods," p.171.

14Blanshard, "Bradley: Some Memories and Impressions," in Richard Ingardia (ed.), Bradley: A Research Bibliography (Bowling Green: Philosophy Documentation Centre, 1991), pp.10-11.

15Blanchot, "The Ease of Dying," in Friendship, p.149.

16Michael Holland, Introduction to The Blanchot Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p.4.

17See Blanchot, "Our Clandestine Companion," in Richard A. Cohen (ed.), Face to Face with Levinas (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1986), p.41.

18Flaubert, Correspondance (1852), 2:155.

19Gabriel Coxhead, "Vanishment," ArtReview, vol. 68, no. 4, May 2016, p.73.

20Interview with Catherine David in La Nouvelle Observateur, 1981.

21The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p.62.

22The Step Not Beyond, trans. Lycette Nelson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992), p.36, translation modified.

23Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. 1, trans. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), p.362.

24Bonhoeffer, letter of 16 July 1944 to Eberhard Bethge, published in Letters and Papers from Prison: The Enlarged Edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge (London: SCM Press, 1971), pp.360-61.

25Adapted from Peter C. Hodgson, "Hegel's Philosophy of Religion," in Frederick C. Beiser (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p.247.

26In an early diagnosis of this trend, the English bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote in his Bibliomania (1809) of the obsession with the materiality of books: "There is, first, a passion for Large Paper Copies; secondly, for Uncut Copies; thirdly, for Illustrated Copies; fourthly, for Unique Copies; fifthly, for Copies printed upon Vellum; sixthly, for First Editions; seventhly, for True Editions; and eighthly, for Books printed in the Black-Letter." (quoted in Eugene Thacker, Cosmic Pessimism, Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2015, p.60)

27Jason Epstein, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), p.xviii.

28Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p.199.

29Quoted in Charlotte Wood, The Writer's Room: Conversations About Writing (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2016), p.61, emphasis in original.

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