Corona Diary: 1

So, the world changes, irrevocably.

I keep refreshing the news and Twitter until I feel slightly nauseous, my own sense of unease and powerlessness building.  Leah Finnegan’s writing at The Outline seems to be to unusual perceptive and her piece, “The internet is making me sick” was a great read that I recommend you make time for.  There was, quite obviously, something very unusual before this global pandemic about our relationship with the internet, with ‘new’ media, with the social networks.  Much has been written, amongst the chattering classes and by theorists trying to work out what exactly the substance of these changes is.  But now that state of unusual behaviour and its pathology in mental and physical illnesses is in overdrive, with every second a chancee to lever in an update, a hot take, a command or perform some moral piety via a tweet.  The idea that two ideas could exist in the same space is steamrollered by a binary brinkmanship.  The American Id, Donald Trump, rides the wave.

I bought a box of beer online, being as all the pubs are now shut.  I have been working my way through them and trying to review them, and I’ll try to update here.  I checking in to ‘Untappd’ of course, but somehow that isn’t enough.  I need to laboriously detail the drinks in overwritten prose.  I need space to talk about the resinous tastes and bitter hops, the sweet and sour ‘mariage parfait’ of the lambic sour.  I’ll post artful pictures alongside them in the hope that my social cachet and intellectual standing will increase – which of course, it won’t.

I started with an IPA – it was called something or other, I forget.  It tasted fine and wasn’t worth what I paid for it. I can’t really do this can I, in the face of such a huge moment in human history?  Write a beer blog or update people on my DIY projects?  Should I write purple prose, or carve out a novel that tries to synthesize the ‘lessons’ that I am learning?  Is it okay to accept that this is perhaps beyond comprehension, and that the ordinary response is a sort of half-numbness, a slowness and heaviness in thought and action as the genuinely epoch-making actions of lockdown and quarantine bend an entire generation out of shape – perhaps permanently?  I am sure that Frantzen and McEwan are hard at work writing the Great Q-Tine Novel, and there will be an explosion of literature out of this.  But I am not sure I … care?  I feel like we’re getting closer to the truth when I can be honest with myself about this.  But the more truths that are uncovered, the more work that is done here, the harder it will be to row back.

 

New Politics

New order of events, it appears. New way of thinking. In the dark twilight of the Western world, as the sun sets on the traditional superpowers, people cling to strongmen.

They do this despite the hurt it does their neighbours, their friends, their exotic friends from down the road. People need surety. They want Security.

So, we continue and we descend. This is the new normal, a spasmodic reaction to the falling living standards that are intolerable to those sold on the promise of eternal growth, sold on the promise of the sunlit uplands. Others, on their way to a comfortable middle class existence, won’t be told by the Western powers that their goals are unrealistic, dangerous, planet-destroying. After all, it’s bare faced hypocrisy, although quite plainly true that we can not have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have our planet and burn what we dig out of it.

And then throw into the mix a global pandemic.

Now the Bloc Party

Having tweaked the U-Sanz recipe it now works and smells fine so I can move on to the next task in hand, making sure that I drink at least once a day during this Covid times and don’t run out of whisky. I also slowly prepare my manuscript, Corona Poems, and work out if its okay to listen to that slabfaced racist Morrissey. Also, why did Bloc Party only make one good album and the rest were average to bad, why not space out the hits guys?

Today’s #DiversityInPublishing panel brought to you by Hodder Books

U-Sanz

We sit and the world has changed. So I brew me up some weird concoctions to deal with the realness (to borrow from the Novelist). Even television shows just beam the past in to the house – a past that has ceased to exist, that never happened. This is my home made sanitizer, which I have called “U-Sanz”. All rights reserved.

Weather

The weather is very changeable today.  We woke up and it was wet with rain, and as the day wore on, that rain turned to sleet, and, briefly, snow.  Intermittently, behind a cover of grey cloud, the sun in poking through.  In those instants, the world feels different, almost as if the whole sensation of being is lighter.  Now a wind has picked up, blowing in from the East.  Gusts are howling down the chimney and – just as I write – a 2 second burst of brilliant Sun.  We long for that warmth on our bodies, a journey out of the quotidien.

Study

I came across this very insightful set of words by Max Arthur Macauliffe, who wrote (amongst other things) the immense six volume The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors (Cambridge University Press, 1909).  It resonated with me strongly, having been working in academic publishing now for over 15 years.  I must have commissioned hundreds of books in that time, and worked on thousands.  In that time, I have also published my own novel, and worked on several books of poetry.  I’m in the (long, drawn-out, possible stalled) process of writing a second novel.  I don’t think this depresses me – in fact, it reminds me that the work is important and that I have worked on books that have had impact on people’s thinking, teaching and learning (more than will be said about my own writings, and I am fairly sanguine about that).  Yet it gives me pause, and also encourages me to look within and think : what’s here, that’s truly me, and truly mine, and do I have the humility and patience to actually do anything with it?

“The preacher of old said that ‘of making many books there is no end’. For the last century their publication has increased in geometrical ratio, and prodigious must be the number which find their way into the streets and shops which sell quicquid chartis anticitur ineptis. The author fondly hopes that this work, which contains an account of the last great religion of the world which remains to be exploited, may escape the general fate. At the same time a glance at the shelves of any large library must convince a writer of the vanity of most literary labour, if haply the love of fame is dearer to him than the love of his subject. The blurred and hoary volumes, elaborately illuminated and bound, which no one now ever peruses, were often produced at the expense of years of toil–nay, of health and even life itself–and now remain sad monuments of the transitoriness of fame and the frequent futility of human effort. But there is even a worse fate than this, namely, the obloquy so often meted out to authors instead of the legitimate recompense of lives of strenuous toil devoted to literary or scientific investigation. Even under favourable circumstances the author of an elaborate work of this description, the production of which has occupied several years of his life, cannot always hope even for temporary reward in the approbation of those dear to him, those whom he would wish to please; for either their measure of years has grown full, or separation and varied interests have dulled the feelings of mutual pleasure which would result from his success.”

MAX ARTHUR MACAULIFFE

The Sikh Religion Vol 1, p. xxxii- xxxiv

MeCCSA20

Interesting few days at MeCCSA, this year being held in Brighton. Off-season seaside towns are an acquired taste but I like the vibe – foam-flecked sea and quiet contemplation.

I’m the Publisher at Rowman and Littlefield and head up the London team, myself commissioning into cultural studies and media and comms. Our media programme is important to us and we are investing in it. Lots of presentations were dealing with the problems of modern life – which is good to see. There was intelligent work presented on AI, smart tech and social media, as well as the structures and ownership of media as it stands in 2020. I think it’s fairly clear the modern media has completely failed to serve the left in any fair way and that the left, to have any chance of survival and eventually returning to power, need to invest heavily in changing the media environment.

I attended Professor Sarah Kember’s interesting keynote, which covered a lot of ground but spent a good while talking about open access. Her description of OA as accelerationist and tied to tenets of neoliberalism made sense. I personally think that it’s more libertarian than idealistic. Information doesn’t necessarily want anything, least of all to be free. (Who decides, who defines free?) In the backdrop, a commercial deal that was actually announced the next day – F1000, the OA research platform, purchased by Taylor and Francis. This is very bad news for OA. It also speaks to Sarah Kember’s point that OA is exhibiting signs that it will function just like other tech developments and enforce more and more of a platform hegemony, and replace a direct many to many relationship (academics to publishers to readers) with one where three or four OA platforms are in the middle. They will make a lot of money for a very few people – which is what tech has really been about. I left with much to follow up on, and read.