The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Well, here're two opposing points of view:
Interviewer: You have been a public relations man and an advertising man— Vonnegut: Oh, I imagine.
Interviewer: Was this painful? I mean—did you feel your talent was being wasted, being crippled?
Vonnegut: No. That's romance—that work of that sort damages a writer's soul. At Iowa, Dick Yates and I used to give a lecture each year on the writer and the free-enterprise system. The students hated it. We would talk about all the hack jobs writers could take in case they found themselves starving to death, or in case they wanted to accumulate enough capital to finance the writing of a book. Since publishers aren't putting money into first novels anymore, and since the magazines have died, and since television isn't buying from young freelancers anymore, and since the foundations give grants only to old poops like me, young writers are going to have to support themselves as shameless hacks. Otherwise, we are soon going to find ourselves without a contemporary literature. There is only one genuinely ghastly thing hack jobs do to writers, and that is to waste their precious time.
The above from the Paris Review interview with Kurt Vonnegut. Volume I of the selected Paris Review interviews has (fairly) recently been published by Canongate.

Then this:
Doctorow, like Roth, came of age in the 1950s and belongs to what Joan Didion calls "the last generation to identify with adults", well-behaved, sternly educated young people who looked down on the hype and trivialisation of the publishing business because they believed in high culture, high principles and the moral authority of literature.
...not to mention clearly in need of a doobie. From Al Alvarez's introduction to the Penguin edition of Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.

Of course, both are right.


I read Vonnegut's Man Without a Country, which I enjoyed, a wonderful slice of Vonnegutania, that inimitable, humane, wry despairing voice, but £7.99 for just over 100 pages of wide-spaced text is pretty steep. It is basically a pamphlet, like Gore Vidal's Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War and Imperial America, the first two of which I've read and enjoyed and recommend, but which come in at £9.99 apiece.

About the worst offender for this practice is Verso, which publishes a lot of good leftist stuff, but at eye-watering prices - I finished one of these recently, Sara Paretsky's Writing in an Age of Silence - at £12.99 (hardback) for 136 pages it can hardly be described as being for the common man, which is a tremendous shame because it's excellent, and certainly written for the common man, and especially the common woman. Also, she's the only person I've come across citing Irina Ratushinskaya as a source of hope and inspiration.

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