The Fourth Circus

In light of many public conversations around literati turning into a fourth circus of glamour and publicity, here are some hurried words. The autonomy of the word reached a new high with self-publishing aided by the internet. Read many socio-historical accounts on the nature of blogs, facebook, flickr, twitter and other such platforms. They are dissed for the vanity and misplaced self-confidence it affords for many worded members of cyberspace - who now spit out words on anything and everything. Opinion is generated in realtime, with less careful consideration, less regard for grammar, punctuation and the potential impact of publishing one's first raw thoughts. These are coupled with the criticisms of hurried attempts to write books, publish in magazines, anthologies by raw, unschooled authors.

Much of this criticism is legitimate. Much of it ironically falls into the nature of the same trap it accuses its enemy of. Raw, hurried thought published with low consideration for the aforementioned. I agreed and disagreed with much of Hartosh Singh Bal's legendary article of anger at poor writing among new Indian authors and the publishing boom in India. I do not know enough about book culture, book markets and publishing to be able to comment on his new article in Open on the Salman Rashdie JLF controversy as also Manu Joseph's comments in NYT on the buzzing ground for hooking international publishers that the JLF turns into. Some of their criticisms seemed plausible to a skeptical netizen and book-enthusiast such as me, given the levels of hype these events and associated controversies received. I followed various Twitterfeeds about the event and related controversies aside from what the mainstream media published about them.

But I am left with these thoughts. That I know about new books, their content, reviews, comparisons with peers, old classics only because of the media hype and social network feeds that JLF and its satellite stories generated. I read the book or not, in a private world, but I can clue into the public world in which the book as a commercial product to be circulated. In the same way that my habitation of the larger consumer remains individualistic and private, despite the promotion campaigns that mass media inundate me with. Without them, I would not know the domain that my private consumer self can traverse. The book industry seems to have opened up opportunities for livelihoods for many writers, publishers, who can now pursue these professions with less anxiety, uncertainty on the condition of being more media-savvy and public about their writing ambitions and achievements. Much as the Bengali conservative in me is slightly repulsed by unabashed Twitter self-promotion by authors, artists, intellectuals, I must grudgingly admit it is more sensible to be an active marketer of one's work than one's tattered manuscript of brilliance be found after one has died of hunger and depression. The latter fits a mythical profile of author/artist/intellectual.But like the mythical simplicity of the peasant is no more a politically wise imagination to hold onto, I think it's time me and others begin to dissociate ourselves from the cutouts of reclusive and mysterious author/artist/intellectual.The fourth estate had a succinct but old friendship with forces of ownership and sovereignty that Marx himself has suspected and sniggered at, that are only made explicit by these dazzling events and their glorious participants. To the extent that international publishers may be hooked, book contracts may be signed, books may be publicised, fans may be acquired,photos may be posed for, I think the author has come of age. About time that skeptical readerships of this time begin to accept the New and Improved authorial figure.

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