Archive for November 2006
Ballard’s book don’t sell well in the U.S., but that’s entirely a top-down problem. I think the American publishing industry is in a state of free-fall, marketing all the wrong books in all the wrong ways. Trying to market Ballard would never occur to them. They want to sell people John Updike novels in hardcover — despite the fact that no one wants John Updike novels, and hardcover books are completely obsolete as a format. So they ‘experiment’ by publishing 900-page hardcover epics about farm life in 1920s Nebraska — and then still seem surprised that no one’s reading fiction in this country.
Short, good, fairly priced, intellectually progressive paperback books — that’s all you need.
Just so. If, seriously, I can’t bring myself to read those monsters – and I’m a professional for god’s sake, who exactly do they think will?
Xmas presents, xmas presents, and stuff for pretentious college-aged New Yorker readers… But not for immediate and actual consumption…
Rail: Right at the start of the book, in the Preface, you say a few words about the difference between what you’re doing in Afflicted Powers and The Sight of Death and ‘the alternative currently on offer in so much of the Left academy.’ It’s pretty clear that you haven’t much sympathy for what passes these days as Left art history. Why not?
Clark: I think it’s stuck with an out-of-date sense of the issues. As if it mattered any longer—as if it had any present political point—to prove for the umpteenth time that what we poor suckers had imagined was a difficult and double-edged picture of the human condition was really, hey presto!, just another instrument of ruling-class oppression… Here’s Bruegel for you—provider of sneering moralistic services for a bunch of bourgeois Puritans. Where does one start with this? Maybe by looking back at the canonical quote from Walter Benjamin, and reminding oneself of what it did and did not say. It did not say that “There is no document of civilization which is not really, when you look at its origins and function, a document of barbarism.” It said: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” This is a dialectical thought, not an anti-canonical put-down. The work of art is a document of civilization and of barbarism. The job of the materialist is to think the two identities—the two kinds of belonging to history—together. Not to reduce one to the other. A materialist will presumably be interested in what it was, in the sets of possibilities offered by a specific medium, a specific practice, that opened the space in which a jolly denunciation of peasant foolishness became something else.