Thursday, October 14, 2010
There is no reason to buy my books
There is no reason to buy my books. Really. I have made such a large quantity of my work available online that books containing it have no real value except to a handful of souls who see a relationship between books as objects and the imagination that gives them spirit and life. Also, I am alive — both in the electronic sense of the Web, and as breath and flesh and blood. It’s all so easy: as long as the disease of existence is gnawing at my body and mind, I will seek a cure through my work, and part of that cure is sharing what I do. Bury me, though, or reduce my sinews and bones to a nickel’s worth of ash — cure me, in other words — and suddenly the system breaks down: no more William, no more work, nothing new to share — no hunger, no revelation, no failure, no despair. Maybe the books will have some value then. Maybe I need to die, so that my spirit, or imagination, or whatever it is, can more fully inhabit their pages. Many times, in fact, I have asked myself if my death would not be a good thing for my work, if it would not, in a very real sense, set it free; for it is true, and not necessarily a contradiction, that the same force that brings it about also weighs it down, like a parent who is unable, or who refuses, or who is afraid to see that his child must be free to stand on his own. I want or expect more of it, perhaps, than it is able to give. I place on it unreasonable demands. I expect it to save me from myself, to lift me up, and give me a sense of worth that I have possibly yet to earn, when all it needs is to live its own life and die naturally of its own accord, today, tomorrow, or several hundred years from now.
And yes, I know this assumes a value in my work that might simply not be there. Its relative unimportance is a possibility I recognize, a likelihood that embarrasses me, and something I live with every day. And all that proves, really, is what an egotistical wretch I am.
Ironically, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve received several messages from people who have no desire to know me, telling me that I should buy or promote their work. This happens every day. And so I ask: if an artist has no interest in communicating, if he doesn’t want to understand, listen to, and walk as far as possible in the shoes of those to whom he wants to sell his work, why on earth is he here? Is he an artist at all, or only one more self-centered, greedy, failed human being?
This Web we are participating in, this grand electronic experiment, will not outlast the stars. It will not put an end to myth or legend, or to our needs and fears. I don’t know what it will mean for the future of publishing, or the future of books. All I know is that it allows us the chance to meet and converse. The technology is new, but the model is old. We cannot be other than ourselves, forever hungry and in need of shelter, clinging to what little we know. There was a time when books didn’t exist. Maybe that time will come again. And as for “progress,” we have, over time, forgotten how to do a great many wonderful things, proudly and foolishly unlearning ancient crafts in favor of convenience, so that we might be more easily entertained.
Between the lines, I carve my epitaph. I scratch my name in stone to show that I was here, even as the stone itself erodes. Wireless signals whiz past my ear; I hear my fingers on lettered keys, imitating the birds outside.