Foundational Pig Day

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Hockey before revolution: there’s too many goaltenders in the world.

At first I was bitchin’: of course snowmageddon had to hit the day of my birthday. I was bound to be depressed anyway, so why not throw in several tonnes of snow to shovel? As a kid growing up they had these ubiquitous commercials bent on convincing Canadian consumers to buy life insurance as an investment vehicle (!), and then retire early. “Freedom 55” they called it. Today, on the grand and illustrious day known as “Groundhog Day,” I turn 44, and I can’t help but feel I’ve reached the junior version of 55 – without the freedom.

But then I realized it was a snow day…

So I called up my buddies, and sure enough, the schools and universities were all closed, and they were trapped at home with nothing but porno to entertain them. So now I’ll be spending the day drinking and playing hockey on the PS3. There’s a whiff of freedom in that I suppose. Enough to make 44 seem not so bad.

Nothing like getting trashed in the morning.

On the writing front, I’ve been communicating with Insomniac, a small Canadian press, about the possibility of publishing Light, Time, and Gravity this fall. I’ve been rereading the thing, shaking my head and laughing the whole time. Who the fuck do you think you are? has probably been the most consistent thought…

Which makes me think I must be onto something.

I’ve also agreed to teach a creative writing course at my local college this summer – which is the dreaded step in every midlist writer’s career. I realize I’m luckier than most: who gets offered jobs out of the blue?  But when you manage to claw your way into the fiction midlist – an almost impossible feat as it is – the dream is that some miraculous conspiracy of accidents will propel you even higher. Even if you know the odds all along, as I did, you still have that little voice in the back of some lobe whispering, “Yeah, but you’re, like, special, see…”

Getting a straight job is tantamount to tying that voice up and dumping it in the river.

I’ve written and sent out numerous articles on literary culture now and haven’t received not so much as a single reply over the years. The fact that I’ve had some success with the few political articles I’ve sent leads me to believe that form can’t be the issue: it has to do with either the content or the sender. I have my money on the latter, on what you might call the Who is this Fucking Guy? Effect.

Imagine, someone who writes epic fantasy with the temerity to lecture writers of literature… Jeez, Louise.

I know when I sit down with literary types, I seem to make an impact. I typically tell them how my wife, when she worked for Oxford University Press, received this Anthology called  Literature of the Working Class, and how when I looked through it, I found plenty of literature ABOUT the working class, and quite abit of literature BY former members of the working class, but nothing, absolutely nothing, FOR the working class – how it was an anthology about a social group who wouldn’t be caught dead cracking it open.

And I ask, “Isn’t this a problem?”

“Yeah… I guess…”

“So where might I find literature FOR the working class?”

“Um… Good question.”

“Because these are the people you’re primarily ‘for,’ aren’t you? Every time I turn around I seem to bump into a literary writer declaring their support FOR the disenfranchised.”

“Yeesh. I guess so.”

“But you don’t write for them.”

And then I launch into my blah-blah-blah about genre and the way its audiences cut across socioeconomic boundaries, and the crazy-eclectic audience I’ve managed to cobble together over the years.

Even if it isn’t true, I’m convinced my argument is good enough to deserve a hearing at the very least. And yet, nada.

And this really isn’t any surprise. People raise all their projects and aspirations on what comes before, no matter how dysfunctional and polarizing that ‘before’ may be. Members of literary culture need their myths and rationalizations as much – maybe even more – than the members of any other institution. Slogans about ‘change’ or ‘critical self-awareness’ literally have to be empty, if established practices are to continue running down greased grooves. Literary culture, which has made these slogans its existential rationale, really has no choice but to ignore people like me.

Another zinger I use in conversations has to do with ‘Interpretative Literacy.’ I mention the way the scientific establishment typically rallies whenever a problem with scientific literacy becomes apparent: just look at the public battles fought against Creationism.

So I say, “But isn’t Creationism really a problem with Interpretative literacy? Isn’t the problem that literally millions of people think its possible to give univocal interpretations to opaque texts?”

“Huh… I never thought about it that way before.”

“So,” I say with a shrug. “I guess the literary community is all over the problem.”

“I don’t think so. Not so much, no… At least not that I’ve heard.”

“But interpretation is their intellectual purview, isn’t it? Their area of expertise?”

“Sure… But…”

“You guys are too busy talking to each other.”

I’ve had dozens of conversations along these lines, and though I’m sure my brain is spinning things in my favour, I can’t remember any that have been less decisive than these little recapitulations. But for whatever reason, they don’t stick. I’ve bumped into a couple of people months, even years after these little debates, and none of them even remembers a fraction of what I argued. I’m just another clever kook they encountered at a party or book festival or what have you.

The picture I’m painting, that of a pious, ossified, hypocritical, and ultimately culturally destructive institution is one that simply cannot fit on their self-aggrandizing colour wheel. For them, the work of criticism, you see, has already been done. 

Which is why, at 44, I’m convinced I’ll be 88 before I make the merest dent in their collective psyches. Until then, all I can do is keep keying their cars in the parking lot.