OMG! You got banned?! Your book sales are going to skyrocket! Not necessarily, says BookRiot. The occasional book may see a boost, but only if it makes the news, and given the rise in censorship attempts the last few years, that can’t possibly be all of them. Also, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the five or six years, it’s that outrage and liberal resolve are the sort of the soft muscles that tire quickly, and the politics of fatigue will eventually win out.
For one thing, sales of a banned book will only increase if it gets a lot of media coverage. For every scandalous story that makes national news, there are many more that are happening in school board and library board meetings that aren’t being reported on. And even the ones that make the news start to get lost in the sheer volume of these stories. It’s hard to imagine all 850 books on Matt Krause’s list of books to ban from Texas schools saw a big boost to their sales.
There’s a new Sci-Fi genre called… well, abstract-concept-with-punk-attached. Because the human race lost all creative ability in the mid-80s and has been pumping out derivative remakes and hot takes ever since. Though the idea that we’re fantasizing about hope should come as a surprise to no one. Utopias imagine dystopias and dystopias imagine utopias. Of course, all our imagined utopias and dystopias are infected with the actual dystopias and utopias around us. Man, I could really go for a Fruitopia, rn, for some reason.
In the midst of current political, economic and environment uncertainty, many of us may have noticed a tendency to fall into cynicism and pessimism. Could hopepunk be the perfect antidote?
If you feel wary of optimism, you are far from alone. Writers and philosophers across human history have had ambivalent views of hope. These contradictory opinions can be seen in the often opposing interpretations of the Pandora myth, first recorded by Hesiod around 700 BC. In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod describes how Zeus created Pandora as a punishment to humanity, following Prometheus’s theft of fire. She comes to humanity bearing a jar containing “countless plagues” – and, opening the lid, releases its evils to the world. “Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within the rim of the great jar,” Hesiod tells us.
An excellent question. I’m sure some sociologist will make a cushy career out of answering it some day. But for now…. eh. Who knows. Some people are skeptical, others embrace. Not sure I’ve ever sold a book with a Tweet, but I may have made contacts that helped me earn money in other ways. For me, Twitter is more valuable for what I can get from it than what I can give it. I keep it to keep current. And to slowly mindlessly scroll away while trying to forget that I’m slowly disintegrating into old age. So what I’m saying is, I have my reasons.
Twitter terrifies me. Somehow, I’ve equated my lack of popularity on this admired social media platform with my writing ability. Every tweet is posted with a racing pulse and a flood of underarm sweat. Often to be deleted moments later. But I’m told Twitter is the way forward for emerging writers.
On Twitter, everyone wins prizes and gets published. I leave every scrolling session more deflated than I started. Why does it invoke the worst in me? The jealousy, insecurity, the unhealthy comparisons with other writers. Do I need to put myself through this? I figured it was time to go back to my journalistic roots and attempt some nonfiction. It can’t be any worse than my prose.
When I attended a John Hewitt workshop a few years ago, Twitter was hailed as an excellent resource for writers. I resisted for a while, but the fear of missing out made me cave in and sign up. Initially, scout’s honour, I joined to source writing opportunities. However, when I won a few small competitions, I couldn’t help posting news of my success. That was the Twitter way. But then I was filled with a strange sense of self-loathing.
Had I turned into that person? The person whom I rolled my eyes at when they tweeted of being blessed, honoured, thankful, humbled, delighted, stunned, amazed, awed by some sort of writing success. I felt vain and vacuous for jumping on the bandwagon of braggadocio. What was I trying to prove? Why did I feel the need for others to praise me? Am I that insecure? Yes, yes, I am. And I loved the support. But I hated myself for loving it.
It’s like childbirth (I’m told): if you remembered it in detail, you’d never do it again, and that’s why your body makes you forget. A novel seems to be the same. I’ve watched several novels come into being as the partner of writer who makes money and has people read her work (as opposed to my field). It’s messy and painful and full of challenge. I’ve even tried to write a couple. Madness. Why do you people do that to yourselves? Anyway, this piece in Granta talks about the necessity of forgetting and how that clears the slate so you can write again. Happens with poetry too. I spend at LEAST six months after each book just noodling and churning out stupid stuff until I feel like I can get enough distance from the previous text and voice to start again. Been almost a year this time and I’m still walking around in a daze.
There’s a kind of necessary amnesia that sets in after you finish writing a novel. Like childbirth, you must forget; the future requires it of you. If you remembered, really remembered, then surely you wouldn’t do it again. Or perhaps it’s that the experience itself of writing a novel is a kind of sustained forgetting, a controlled fugue.
I am reminded of a John Berger essay, ‘Seker Ahmet and the Forest’, from About Looking. Berger, in his essay, looks again and again at Ahmet’s late nineteenth-century painting, which depicts, in a haunting play of perspective, the forest as both classical landscape – self-contained scene with its edges visible in the distance – and a forest in all of its dark intractability, experienced not from the outside, but from within, by a woodcutter and his donkey passing through it, or as Berger suggests, swallowed by it. ‘The attraction and the terror of the forest,’ Berger writes, ‘is that you see yourself in it as Jonah was in the whale’s belly. Although it has limits, it is closed around you. Now this experience, which is that of anybody familiar with forests, depends upon your seeing yourself in double vision. You make your way through the forest and, simultaneously, you see yourself, as from the outside, swallowed by the forest.’
Remember the Dale Peck years? Sigh. So much outrage to write about. Well, fear not! They’re back, says this guy. I guess it’s finally tiime to crack each other’s heads open and feast on the goo inside. Next book we see, you guys hold the arms, while I work the body.
If the hatchet job ever died, it is — like Gawker — back with a vengeance. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the hatchet job is now the dominant mode of literary criticism for the internet era, tailor-made, as Larissa Pham writes in The Nation, to “make the rounds, dropped in DMs and threaded down Twitter timelines.” The market logic of the contemporary book review, like the rest of journalism today, is the logic of virality: clicks equal revenue. How do you get clicks on a book review, the most marginal of media? You write a shocking critical assassination of a revered author or, depending on your perspective, a long-awaited takedown of an overrated hack. These reviews are retweeted, en masse, with a sarcastic eye roll or a thumbs-up. Either way, engagement is up. If we take the hatchet job seriously, and examine it as a literary-critical genre, we can begin to unpack its critical strategy. This latter consists, essentially, of ad hominem elitism: the hatchet job is a personal attack on the author, and one which espouses highbrow ideals over middlebrow ones. This strategy is so effective, and the hatchet job so central a cultural force, that it has shaped a correlative form of contemporary writing: the literature of painful self-awareness.