If there’s been any easily identifiable shift in my attitude toward life in the last couple of years, it is one that has also left me feeling much better off in the world: the shift from feeling sorry for those who, if they are mentioned at all in footnotes in someone else’s memoirs, are simply forgotten as soon as they die, to pitying those who think it’s a shame not even to make it into a footnote.
Striking to observe how difficult the idea of “waste” has become. Whatever “wasting something” really means isn’t obvious.
If you can use it again, keep it.
If you have no use for it anymore but it could be absorbed by another process, you’re recycling.
If you accidentally spilled it, take a picture and call it art.
It could sound like I’m being facetious but I’m not. There’s a moralistic, patronizing element to the condemnation of wastage. When the cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral was announced, one of the saner common responses to the announcement was the simple question of where else that money could have gone. In other words: What a waste.
It’s not that by being anti-Thatcher you are necessarily smarter about wasting things. Yes, a deeply conservative antagonism to some perceived decline in cultural standards suggests the regret that so much of worth in what has shaped one’s culture should “go to waste” amid the rabble and the babble; but the revolutionary spirit itself, especially when animated by the desire for bloodshed (or the terribly sorry necessity of it) brings with it another standard of wastage. Can human life be wasted? My ideologically inflected answer is: sure. But what kind of waste is impermissible? The genocidal? The plotted? An unfulfilled life? An unexamined one? A godless, hedonistic fall into hell?
Online culture, home of the new utopians, is one of the best examples of the trouble with waste as a concept. Whether it’s Clay Shirky with his “cognitive surplus” or Chris Anderson with his “long tail,” there seems to be a (perhaps imaginary, but too easily imagined) consensus on the matter: waste is difficult. Remixing and resampling is easy, and sharing is easy, so whatever old material you find, you can reuse artistically. No waste. Or: It costs little to store enormous collections of music in the cloud, so even if, out of all the available music, only a fraction of it actually generates real money on its own, the sales from the rest will also be significant taken together. No waste.
Thus, abruptly, ends my catechism.
Let me link you to one of the best, most bizarre articles I’ve read in months.
It’s a long one. I don’t want to ruin it, because its effect comes, partly, from the author’s deft suspense-building.
The world is full of crazies. Remember how pleased I was just from a bit of internet trolling? I hate having to admit I’ve been surpassed like this.
Yeah, fine, it’s already halfway into the month and I should have advertised it two weeks ago, but I’ve been busy neglecting to do that, so I didn’t get a chance to do it.
Praise of Motherhood is just $0.99 as a Kindle ebook this month. It’s been nominated for ForeWord’s Book of the Year award, and it’s got lots of nice reviews from people on blogs, magazines, and Goodreads. If that doesn’t sell it, it… has… a foreword from Caleb J Ross, who is nice, and… doesn’t… feature…
… vampires. I think.
Please buy my book. Please. Please.
Look at the goddamned cat. It’s frickin’ adorable. Buy the damned book.
Hegel’s Ladder by HS Harris is an incredible book for those who want to get to grips with Hegel’s Phenomenology. It’s also one of those stupidly expensive academic books — the first volume (there are two in total), even with Amazon’s discount, is $140. Yes, academic books are more expensive, and geared at a different readership, and will be purchased, very often, by institutions rather than by little folks. But it’s still a huge amount to pay for a single book. It isn’t like there’s a “Look Inside” function. There’s no ebook.
And there’s the collection of critical evaluations of Lacan that you can buy, right now, for a measly $1500.
I’m certainly very aware that almost nobody is going to want to buy those books anyway. But when you type in the name of a book like Hegel’s Ladder on Google, it automatically suggests “hegel’s ladder pdf”, which is telling. And anyway, the very existence of sites like aaaaarg.org is evidence, as if anyone needed it, that people DO want access to expensive academic books. They’ll share them illegally if they must.
Hey, even at Zero we have titles that I think are priced too highly (though I would say the one I just linked is worth it). Sometimes you don’t feel you’re going to recoup the costs by releasing a book, and in fact you’re pretty sure you’re heroic for even taking it on.
But a grand and a half for a book, when it’s listed on Amazon, is depressing. I’ve been talking to others in my company for a few months now about trying to do something that would make certain kinds of academic books (credible ones) cheaper to buy, easier to sell. No obvious solutions, even with the obvious problems, but it’s one of those things that sticks out in my mind as “worthy of tackling.”
My faithful friend and reader, the novelist Sarah Martinez, suggested I write a blog post on whether I think men can be feminists.
The short answer is that I think the question frames things in an unhelpful, group-narcissistic way. A serious commitment to change, of the sort that is not safe and perfectly within the coordinates of what’s acceptable at almost any level, is accessible to all and accessed by very few.
One of the first things you learn when as an undergraduate was that any ism, from atheism to anarchism to seemingly more narrowly defined things like Trotskyism, is going to be open to continual and sometimes violent reinterpretation. This is especially clear when you’re a nineteen-year-old student and you see your professors — people who have been at it much longer than you have — disagreeing on even some of the most basic things that would seem to unite them in a political or academic cause.
From context to context, you’ll find that what feminism “is” changes on a profound level. In one school of thought, gender identity is socially constructed, and has no essence of its own; it doesn’t actually exist in a meaningful way, and may be modified or at least subverted. In another school of thought, there is an essential difference between women and men, a difference that goes beyond anatomical differences, and the major political issue is identifying and correcting, as much as possible, the points at which those differences lead to oppression or inequality. There are other basic perspectives, some extremely abstract and beyond the grasp of the uninitiated, others annoyingly lazy and simplistic.
If there’s no agreement on what feminism is, then the definition of membership is also left open. My feeling is that the very idea of membership is a problem, and that whether someone “is” or “is not” a feminist hardly matters outside of the context in which that discussion takes place. We can all agree to be feminists, but only some of us are really going to go out there and do things that bring change. For that, yes, I think men and women can both be feminists, because action is tough and potentially socially isolating.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the question of whether one should espouse feminist values is not important. It is. My own understanding of the differences in how men and women are treated and treat themselves has only been sharpened by my being chided by feminists here, repulsed by male sexism there. Being called out on a dumb opinion or behavior has helped me, not just in that moment, but later, when, having thought about the criticism (sometimes indignantly), I observed the validity of that criticism in other people’s behavior.
A deep and difficult commitment to a cause is, I think, the only useful test. If I’m a feminist and you’re a feminist, but you’re the one who is very actively trying to redress the balance, in whichever way you deem the most effective (protesting, dressing differently, creating unexpected female characters in art, questioning academic givens, ignoring the warnings and actually going for a top position in an industry dominated by men), then I need to concede that, however aligned our interests may be, you are the one helping move things forward.
I put the emphasis on real-life action, and serious commitment, for two main reasons.
- It’s easy to identify publicly as something, anything: concerned with the “starving kids in Africa”, upset about people in North Korea, heroically anti-capitalist or anti-whatever else. Such identifications are, depressingly often, meaningless. Especially in a culture of self-promotion madness and social media-constructed alter egos, what people tell you they are is always going to be dubious until you see that part of their identity in action.
- If feminism were simply a matter of dogma, and you could just verify that someone’s actions were in line with the explicitly stated intentions and guidelines of the group, things would be pretty easy to sort out. But like any loose-knit group of tenets and ideals, feminism will be most powerfully defined by the actions of those who take it seriously, even without having figured it all out.
First, my book Praise of Motherhood gets nominated for the ForeWord Book of the Year award in the autobiography category.
Then my band’s album Reading Journals get a “best concept album” nomination at the Independent Music Awards — which, I assume, means not very much in terms of my chances of winning, since you need fans to vote, and I don’t know where my fans really are. It’s still gratifying.
It brings up a question I’ve been struggling with consistently. I have people listening to my music here, people reading my books over there, people who are aware of my columns way over the horizon, but I don’t know how to make these things work together.
Do I really need to obsess about being a “brand”? To I need to “position” myself in the marketplace? Is my platform really meant to be my priority?
At the moment, I haven’t got much of an idea about merging (in people’s minds) Phil the musician with Phil the author and Phil the guy running a press.
Maybe awards are a good way to do it, in that they seem to legitimize what you’ve tried to accomplish. At the least, it’s a bit of recognition from people who profess to care about these things. And I’d certainly prefer to be recognized than not to be recognized for what I do.
I keep resisting the idea of “branding” myself too much. It annoys me when people have a very obvious and calculated “brand”. It’s hard to explain why — a sense of inauthenticity? or they’re just more aggressive than I am about it, so they annoy me automatically and it’s my problem?
Actually, it’s very often just my problem. So PLEASE VOTE FOR MY ALBUM GUYS IT’S RIGHT THERE HOLD ON I’LL JUST SHARE IT AGAIN
Here we have it, then, another song confused about which team it bats for: the open-minded “let’s laugh at things because we’re all one!” community, or the basically regressive and unaware of it group.
This time it’s the obliviously see-through title “My Boyfriend is Gay” and it’s by Hailey Rowe.
Not much to say about it, except: note how the lyrics subtly play off the expectations of the LOL-typing 20-something ideal listener. Like “gay” is something you should just be able to “see through”:
My boyfriend is gay
I know it sounds cliché
That everybody saw right through this guy but me
My boyfriend is gay
Should’ve known by the way
He tivoed every episode of RHOC
My boyfriend is gay
He was really such a great guy, but I saw him with another guy
His favorite color was turquoise and he always drank chocolatinis through a straw
My boyfriend is gay
I didn’t really mean to spy, but I saw him with another guy
You should’ve seen his place and he cried more than me at every chick flick that we saw
(say) la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la
Rely on cliches about gay dudes? Check.
Bring in the whole “cheating” thing so that it kind of sounds like a casual pop breakup song? Check.
Acknowledge the lack of originality of your song in its very lyrics? Check.
I’m a straight guy in his twenties, and I’m very bored with the things that I’d be sure to love.
Yeah, I did a cover of Call Me Maybe, last year’s most successful pop song or something.
Sure, I made it dark and creepy and miserable, but it’s still hell-worthy. Enjoy.