A brief history of the asterisk

This is the sort of article I find deeply interesting, if a little brief. I will probably buy this damn book now. Friggers really know how to draw you in. But probably any one of the many eccentric typographical symbols in this book could have its own book, especially the asterisk. And my fascination is not just because the asterisk is the primary imagery on my own new book cover, but because I like to speculate about all the eyes this symbol has passed under over the years.

In the medieval period the asterisk continued to be employed in the copying of Bibles to flag up text from other sources. It also was increasingly used as a signe de renvoi (sign of return)—a graphic symbol which indicates where a correction or insertion should be made, with a corresponding mark in the margin with the correct text inserted. The asterisk is also found in medieval texts as a sign of omission. The use of the asterisk by scribes copying the Bible continued with the advent of the printing press; early printed Bibles, such as Robert Estienne’s 1532 Latin Bible, make use of an asterisk. Scribes did not always use the modern asterisk shape, some instead adopting a hooked cross with dots between each arm. However, when the asterisk was cut into type it was rendered as the five- or six-pointed star, and this is the form that has largely endured.


Conservative-only publishing houses spreading like slime mold

So, the further we look into our collective consciousness, the more rot we find holding us back from growing as humans. This rot (hate, bigotry, racism, misogyny, nationalism, fascism, etc.) is currently trying to take over the title of “conservatism”, dragging the dumber of the “team conservative” robots along for the ride. And frankly, it’s been doing a pretty decent job of it.

But the rest of us (the MAJORITY) of people (statistically, speaking, not counting the shouted volume of comments sections and bombastic news segments as “data”), oppose these viewpoints.

Enter publishing: a business sector that (like film, music, etc.) has always chosen its content based on market trends (memoirs are huge! let’s publish a bunch! oop! now back to fiction, preferably with pink high heels on the cover! oop! now it’s …. etc.). Publishing has decided it doesn’t pay to promote hate (make no mistake, if it did, they’d publish it), and so many conservative books (which because of the rot taking over are mostly filled with the above aspects of rot, along with easily verifiable lies) are having a hard time finding a respectable house to publish with.

Where can these poor, hate-pedaling snowflakes go to escape what they call “cancel culture” but what is really a combo of market forces and “consequence culture”? A new era of conservative only publishing houses. Yep, orgs like the Klan have always had their own places to hold meetings, so I suppose this is just the next step in the ongoing Civil War of America. Gross.

The last 18 months have seen numerous upheavals in traditional corporate publishing as more and more Big 5 (are we saying Big 4 yet?) employees call out their employer’s editorial decisions, making the case that former Trump Administration officials should not be able to profit from their deeply destructive time in power. Regardless of where you think “book deal” lands on the free speech continuum, you’d have to concede this internal moral accounting is causing at least some publishers to hesitate on the seven-figure deals with amoral profiteers.

Saul Bellow on literary criticism (spoiler: not a fan)

Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, who would be something like 1m years old this year, interviewed on some of his thoughts on what academia has done to literature. He’s certainly erudite in his convictions. I myself learned to loathe French criticism when it was being served to me, Pablum-style on a spoon, during my undergrad.

BRANS: You’ve been very critical of academics. Isn’t there a contradiction [Bellow was a professor]?

BELLOW: I’m critical of academics who take masterpieces and turn them into discourse in the modern intellectual style. I’m against that, of course. I am not for the redescription of Moby-Dick by Marxists and existentialists and Christian symbolists, respectively. What does that do for Moby-Dick or for me. It doesn’t do anything. It only results in the making of more books . . .

There’s no reason why people shouldn’t talk about books. There is a prerequisite, though, which is that they should be deeply stirred by the books. They should love them or hate them. But not try to convert them into . . .

BRANS: Theory?

BELLOW: Yes. Or chatter. There’s no need to babble about these things. They can be talked about. But so much of literary criticism is babbling.

BRANS: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you mean by babbling. Do you mean using special terminology? Or talking about little things and ignoring big ones?

BELLOW: Critics often translate important books—write them again, as they were, in the fashionable intellectual jargon. And then the books are no longer themselves. They have been borrowed by Culture, with a capital C. There are two things here that we must clearly distinguish. One is the work of art with its direct effect on people. The other is a work of art as a cultural commodity, as a piece of society’s property in Culture. In the second form, art becomes a fertilizer for the cultivation of languages, vocabularies, intellectual styles, ornaments, degrees, honors, prizes, and all the rest of that. That’s Culture with a capital C. That’s what I’m talking about. And this is what always happens. Our model for it is the Christian religion, which started with faith and ended with churches.

On AI-nxiety: Will machines write our books for us in the near future?

This guy got an AI to write some of his book. His fear isn’t that it did a better job than him, but rather that the job it did WASN’T THAT MUCH WORSE. I personally doubt the possibility of true sentience outside the biological kingdom, but we don’t need true sentience to die on the end of robot arm outfitted with a table saw blade. Even partial sentience would be enough to tell a system based on logic and rules that we’re the problem and eliminating us would make everything better. That said, if someone wants to create an AI to write a George Murray poem, let me know. I’ll just sit over here sipping margaritas and collecting the flood of cash sure to come in.

GPT-3 is a natural language processor, which means it’s trained to try to complete any prompt that it’s given. Its training data is basically the entire internet, so given a prompt, like a few paragraphs of text, it will make a guess as to what comes next. These guesses show that GPT-3 can really write. It can write in all sorts of styles, oftentimes as convincingly as a real human author. Like a medium, it can even channel the dead. The anxiety I feel toward it is different than toward any writer that once lived and breathed. I think it represents the first warning shots of an impending man vs. machine agon of language.

Hachette releases their diversity update

Hachette releases some charts and graphs and some finely-crafted PR copy about diversity. But seriously, there are some good things, but more work needs done. Where is everyone else’s version of this? PRHC updated in Feb. Anyone else?

“We made progress in 2020 in all of the D&I initiatives we put in place — initiatives that our employees’ feedback and insights helped us shape,” said Michael Pietsch. “It has been very encouraging to see the level of engagement, urgency, and collaboration throughout HBG, and the improvement we have seen in the past year. At the same time, we recognize that there is still a huge amount of work ahead. We are committed to making meaningful progress toward our goals and working together to create a workplace and publishing programs that reflect the diversity of the nation of readers we want to publish for. The energy and the focus to achieve those goals is in place, thanks to the deep commitment of our employees and our senior management.”

Laura Miller on the difference between what a character believes and what an author believes

I find it surprising that this keeps needing pointed out, but I suppose I shouldn’t be given the state of things — especially education. Just because a character says something in a book that is offensive, even if the character is “the good one”, doesn’t mean the author believes or supports it.

Back in the 90s when I was still writing fiction, I wrote an entire book of short stories about awful men (abusers, murders, pedos, rapists, etc) AND their male friends who enable them. I chickened out on publishing it, even though it had been accepted., because I didn’t want THAT book to be my intro to the world of publishing. Now I’m glad I didn’t, in many ways. They weren’t very nuanced. But the book was really about good people who made bad choices based on love, loyalty, obligation, etc.

Sometimes there are shitty things done/said by good people — as we witness daily. I mean, if an author writes four more books, all of which glorify the same offensive things, then you can say you’re on to something. But I support the idea that a good author can create sympathetic people who might say awful thing/make awful choices within the scope of their character.

There’s even a term for it: “drama”.

Why do silly things like this happen? I know some will consider Hilderbrand’s and McQuiston’s obeisance to be a sign that the “toxic drama” that prevails on YA Twitter—in which ambitious reviewers-cum-influencers revile authors for failing to toe extremely fine and perpetually changing lines on race, gender, and other sensitive issues—has spread to the world of commercial adult fiction. It’s not uncommon in those disputes for the critics to make the rookie’s mistake of confusing the statements and feelings of fictional characters with the author herself. This, of course, is nonsense; were fictional characters required to pass purity tests to exist, we’d be left with some pretty bland fiction.