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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"Our Absolutely Deplorable Literary Situation" & Other Thoughts of a Man of Letters

"In saying that our literature must separate itself from the book and magazine industry of the metropolitan Northeast, what I mean is that it has got to be able to function on terms that do not require it to compete with the commercial mass market expectations of the entertainment industry, centered as the latter are on the television audience. The only way to arrange that is to operate independently of it. And that cannot be done as things now stand, because the two industries, publishing and showbiz-TV, are too massively and intricately tied together up and down the line.

"To state the proposition in book-business terms, obviously considerably more money is to be made from promoting a book so that it will sell 100,000 copies instead of 25,000, than from promoting a book so that it will sell 10,000 copies instead of 5,000. No publishing house, especially if owned by a conglomerate, is going to try to do both. That is why the deck is now so cruelly stacked against literary publishing. What the future welfare of our literature depends upon is the kind of book publishing that will concentrate on doing the latter rather than the former.

"It comes down, then, simply to this: so-called print culture must be removed from the auspices of the TV-centered mass entertainment industry. It is too valuable to be allowed to go by default--which is what seems to be happening now. We are letting it dwindle away toward oblivion. It does not follow, either logically or practically, that because many more people regularly watch Geraldo than read Annie Dillard or Mark Helprin, literature is therefore doomed. But when we allow the same industry to preside over the promulgation, distribution, and critical evaluation of all three, as if they were equally engaged in showbiz, how much chance do the latter two have?

"We have therefore got to sever the financial bands that have connected contemporary letters with the popular entertainment industry and let literature flourish on its own, as the product of literary folk writing for a literary audience."

--Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: On Writers and Writing (Columbia: University of Missouri, October 2005)

On matters of writing or publishing or writers-and-academia, it's always good to listen to Louis Rubin. He's the founder of the writing program at Hollins, the University Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Chapel Hill, mentor of many Southern writers, and the founder and former president of Algonquin Books. He is the author of some fifty books, including his recent My Father's People: A Family of Southern Jews, and he has received many, many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle.

The book is elegant, with a reproduction of Carroll Cloar's Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog opposite the title page and on the jacket. And I am thrilled, tickled, and all-around surprised and abashed to be on the dedication page...

Table of Contents

1 The Ordeal of Unconstant Moose
2 On the Literary Uses of Memory
3 Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: A Time, A Place, A Painting
4 Thoughts on Fictional Places
5 Questions of Intent: Some Thoughts on Author-ship
6 Bloom's Leap: Or, How Firm a Foundation
7 What Are All Those Writers Doing on Campus?
8 The Progress of Poetry:
Or, a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bookstore
9 Slugging It Out with Dempsey and Others
10 Polemical Coda: Our Absolutely Deplorable Literary Situation--
and Some Thoughts on How to Fix It Good


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Desiring neither glycerin soap in the shape of popular manga figures, nor amethyst crystals to enchant my world to violet, nor algecides for my imaginary pool, nor any of the other curious items on offer via ingenious blog spammers, I have turned on word verification. So just type in those funny little letters...

    And ratzbzk to you, too!

  3. Congrats on making the dedication page. Your reputation continues to amaze, for Rubin is a giant. Speaking of Algonquin, Shannon Ravennel is pretty swell, too. I met her at a CLMP fest a few years back -- such a wonderful editor and friend to writers Southern and otherwise.


  4. Ackbffta. These word verification 'words' seem inspired by cats with hairballs...

    Rubin & Ravenel: It must be fun to see them together. And yes, Louis has achieved that gigantic stature, the Grand Old Man of Letters. But a wonderfully entertaining and funny GOML. He keeps getting awards but can't hear the accolades.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.