Book Publishing, Bookselling, George Bowering, and the new censorship

By Brian Fawcett | January 13, 2021





I read George Bowering’s latest book, Writing and Reading (New Star, Vancouver, 2019), in a single sitting, which was unique in my experience of reading him. Bowering can be demanding and occasionally hermetic, and therefore requires intense concentration. But Writing and Reading was like having a conversation with George at a sort-of-formal dinner party. His voice moves at an easy pace in the mostly short essays, and is seldom far from playfulness.  But along with that there is also a deeper, ruminative quality to the book that signals that a fine mind is thinking over serious subjects. It’s a charming book, in other words, but in that sense possibly a little deceiving, because it turns out that he has some very serious intentions with Writing and Reading: witness the somber black-and-white of the book’s design, which features a cover photo of Bowering wearing a black hat and holding an antique stand-up microphone in his left hand—along with about as dour an expression on his face as he’s ever shown to the public.

I should mention that Bowering and I are friends, and that his informal dinner conversation is quite different in that there he’s almost never serious, and it’s never quite clear if he’s talking to you, rather than to the whole of humanity. This has never much bothered me, by the way, but it took some getting used to across a (now) very long friendship. Mostly, he and I now talk about baseball during our less-formal dinners, or argue playfully about exactly how much bigger his nose is than mine. In a typical conversation, he’s claiming that he was once a high-average shortstop with decent range and I’m wondering if his nose is large enough to allow him to drink from the glass of water next to his plate without having to bend over or pick the glass up.

Okay. That’s enough joking around, because I have a serious purpose in writing this: Like Bowering, I have concerns about the present conditions of writing and reading, and the stakes don’t strike me as trivial.

George Bowering is one of those rare writers who has had a late-career surge in his skills and in both his artistic range and courage (the latter two I attribute to the presence of his second wife and intellectual companion, Jean Baird, who has freed him from a lot of pointless self-protective stylistic tics and post-modernist posturing.) He has also had some undeserved late-career setbacks: bad publishers, critical mistreatment, and worse.

The late career surge found expression in two novels, Pinboy, published in 2012 and No One, published in 2018.  The project was originally conceived as a trilogy, but the third book will likely never be completed, thanks in part to some culturally over-aggressive staff at ECW, the press that published No One.  

Pinboy is a marvellously entertaining novel of remembered adolescent sexuality, a book that is able to be witty, perceptive and heart-warming at once. Perhaps its most remarkable moment is the fully realized portrait of a vulnerable young woman the adolescent narrator admires from afar and tries his best to protect. Alas, the book became slightly notorious not for that portrait but for the practical joke the author played on readers with his depiction of an erotically-interested female teacher, something every sensible person knows is a less likely experience for a high school boy than finding a unicorn wandering around the hallways of the school. That this became controversial is testimony, mainly, to the fact that in the 21st century, irony (and daydreams) are endangered practices.

No One was a still more ambitious and risky project for Bowering: an attempt to understand his painful first marriage, and the “irregularities of monogamy” that characterized it (on both sides) by retelling The Odyssey of Homer, which is famously the story of the soul’s search for home, a search that was constantly denied by both contingency and custom in the ancient Mediterranean world—and has become equally denied in the worlds we inhabit today. No One’s signal achievement, in its final chapter, is the convincing reification of the wife of Odysseus, Penelope, as a modern woman.  

Which gets me to the reason I’m writing about these two books: bad publishers, critical mistreatment of writers, and things even worse than those, things that apply to all of us who read and write.

Let’s deal with the issue of critical mistreatment first, because it’s the easiest to explain (even though it might be the most difficult to remedy.) I don’t mean by this that harsh critics are giving writers bad or irresponsible reviews. I mean that today, books and writers are barely being reviewed and not at all where there’s the substantial audience that newspapers have traditionally provided.

Over the last several decades Canada’s major newspapers have successively eliminated their dedicated book reviewers, sacked competent book review editors, and then reduced or some cases completely cancelled their coverage of books. Today, for all intents and purposes, they have stopped reviewing books except for occasional business-propaganda reviews in the business pages, and seasonal omnibus reviews, which are most often rehashed book jacket blurbs from self-help books, cookbooks or suitably tame Young and Old Adult fiction.

Lately the newspapers have been getting still worse: most of the major Canadian dailies have laid off or reassigned their arts coverage staff and are pulling the majority of their (pitifully reduced) coverage from wire services, from the New York or Los Angeles Times, or from underpaid local stringers. This has happened, they’re quick to explain, because of current “market realities” triggered by the shrinkage of advertising dollars, some of which has been caused by competition from the Internet and other by technology shifts. But it is also—or “actually”—a result of the ideological application of neoliberal capitalist theory, which has resulted in a market-based formula for media that accords coverage in direct ratio to whatever sector of the economy brings in advertising revenue.

Culture has an oblique relationship to the economy, as Jane Jacobs has explained in Systems of Survival, which is arguably her most perceptive book despite being the one least read. In it, she argued that culture and commerce operate by different rules and with different goals, and that political misrule occurs to the degree that one sector is governed by the rules and values of the other. Right now, we’re at the extreme end of commerce intruding into the realm of culture, where political, social and cultural discourse is under assault from a deliberate and bloody-minded corporate campaign to make the market the sole model for all human activities. (If you’re among those looking for the so-called “deep state”, I just gave you the location of its headquarters.)

Culture has never been a big-dollar element in the Canadian economy despite all the blah-blah promulgated by arts organizations pointing out that it provides subsistence employment for large numbers of people and is, very quietly, the major arbiter of democratic polity across Western civilization. The Canadian book publishing industry, for instance, has a smaller direct industrial output than Canada’s duct-tape industry. By market-think, book culture therefore has little or no importance, and increasingly, it is being treated that way by the corporate sector and by the governments they now control.

I’d offer a long-form argument for the definition of culture and why it is more important than the dollar value of its industrial output, but if I did we’d be bickering back and forth until hell freezes over. So let me just propose that culture isn’t only about putting on tuxedos and evening gowns and going to the symphony.  Properly understood, culture is a crucial and ongoing public conversation about whether or not we should kill one another and grab one another’s stuff.

One of the signals that this ongoing conversation is going badly right now is that our newspapers, which are supposed to be one of the key forums for discussing whether or not we should kill one another and grab one another’s stuff, are in a state of both economic and intellectual collapse. (Another signal is that our national public broadcaster, the CBC, whose mandate used to involve raising the level of public discourse, currently has its tongue so far up the ass of big business and the marketplace that its drool is running down the necks of every CEO in the country, but that’s a topic for another time, too.) What matters for our purposes here is that we’re left with, in the absence of any recognized forum for the discussion of literature, books, or the crucial-to-everything long-form thinking that books provide, a situation where books increasingly don’t have any substantial cultural penetration because they’ve been rendered invisible by the uber alles ideology of the market—and that this invisibility includes the two remarkable novels that George Bowering published in 2012 and 2018.

So let’s move on to bad publishers (New Star, Bowering’s current publisher, isn’t among them) and see if pointing fingers at them makes things clearer.

Pinboy was published by Cormorant Books, which is controlled by Marc Cote in Toronto. (I should note here that I am a minority—and completely silent—shareholder in Cormorant, the result of a survival loan I offered to Mr. Cote some years ago while he was transitioning his operation away from a failed book distributor.) Cormorant is what’s called, in Canadian publishing argot, a “small literary publisher”. As such, it is, like nearly all small publishers, dependent on grants from the Canada Council’s block grant program and other support programs from the Department of Canadian Heritage, and to a slightly lesser extent on grant programs from the Ontario Provincial Government. The cumulative effect of these increasingly under-funded programs ensures that publishers like Cormorant have fewer than ten employees, publish between a half dozen up to a dozen or more titles annually, and don’t have sufficient staff or capital to publicize any of the books adequately unless the book succeeds in gaining a nomination for one of several national book prizes. All small publishers are more or less at the mercy of the prize mills, of the granting agencies with their always-shifting rules and criteria for virtuous or politically-expedient book publishing, and of the capriciously-erratic buying and return practices of Chapters/Indigo, the Canadian bookselling giant whose trade practices wiped out almost 80 percent of the country’s independent bookstores between 1990 and 2010. (Some slightly out-of-date background on this is available on this website, or can be found in innumerable wishy-washy reports from various interests within the book publishing sector).

Among the little-publicized merchandizing practices Chapters/Indigo has imposed on book publishers after it wiped out the independents was the introduction of superstore merchandizing—a set of practices employed by grocery supermarkets a generation before that put neighbourfood green-grocers, butchers, bakers, (& yes, candlestick makers) out of business. In the superstore model of retailing, product suppliers must pay for display space—the more extravagant the front-of-store-front-of-isle-front-of-whatever, the more expensive renting that space is for the companies supplying the product on display. In bookselling this model was imposed all the way down to the micro-level: in the Chapters/Indigo superstores, publishers must pay extra even to get the superstore to display their title face-out rather than spine-out.

Add to this practice the longstanding practice of having all unsold books returnable to the publishers for refund, with the superstores (unlike the independent booksellers) obliged to pay publishers only after 120 days, and able to claim their credits for product they return the day they notify the publishers that they are sending it back. Just as in grocery supermarkets, eventually the products of large, multinational companies are the most readily available, because (with books) those large corporate publishers are the only ones who can afford to pay for display/marketing feature space. (This set of retail practices is also why you’ll find tasteless imported U.S. strawberries dominating displays in Loblaws during the height of the local strawberry harvest, in case you were wondering about that annual occurrence.)

Not all that long ago we had four distinct sectors of Canadian book publishing. There were a number of large Canadian-owned book publishers: McClelland & Stewart, Stoddart, and (slightly smaller) Douglas and McIntyre on the west coast, with Key Porter and Thomas Allen in Toronto. There was also a tier of active University presses, with McGill-Queens and the University of Toronto Press the leading lights. Then there were the muscular American and offshore publishers: Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, Knopf, and a raft of American-owned educational publishers led by Scholastic Books who tried their best to stay out of the spotlight because they were flogging American cultural values to Canadian students because Canadian school boards (and senior governments) weren’t (and still aren’t) prepared to pay the cost of having textbooks that teach children about their own country.

Outside that financially lucrative realm were roughly 150 “small” publishers, some healthy and growing, many of them niche publishers of various devotional inscription.  Many of them operated precariously—and chronically—close to insolvency, but a substantial number were healthy and growing.

In 2021 there are no “large” Canadian-owned publishers. McClelland & Stewart has been devoured by the German-headquartered Bertelsmann media empire group, which also owns the agglomerated Penguin-Random House nexus; Stoddart went bankrupt in 2002; Key-Porter shut its doors in 2011; Thomas Allen sold off its publishing arm in 2013 and returned to distributing offshore and American publishers. Douglas and McIntyre has survived several bankruptcies, reappearing diminished and less ambitious each time, and is now a subsidiary of Howard White’s Harbour Publishing. The university presses are still around, but they’ve also become less ambitious, and of the smaller presses, Anansi—supported by philanthropist Scott Griffin’s wealth—along with Biblioasis and Harbour, are probably the only small publishers in the country that anyone would describe as flourishing. All have limited resources, and none can compete with the off-shore publishers in getting their books into Chapters/Indigo. (if you want the Full Monty on this, find and read Elaine Dewar’s The Handover, Biblioasis, 2017).

One of the side effects of having a single book-seller dominating the Canadian book trade was that it was able to impose the market simplifications that big-box retail seems to find comforting and efficient even though they have no relationship to on-the-ground realities of Canadian politics and culture. Chapters/Indigo easily imposed the sales categories invented by American book chains on Canada’s publishers, and at first, they didn’t fit very well. The best writing to come out of Canada in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t co-operate with strict genre classifications. Was Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter really a novel? Was The Collected Works of Billy the Kid conventional poetry? The best Canadian writing in those decades was local and cheerfully hybrid, and the larger the bookstore was, the harder time it had figuring out where to put really good Canadian books, and how to market them once they made it into the stores. This was because the best writers weren’t trying to satisfy market demand and conventional genres the way writers who come out of Creative Writing mills are trained to.  They were trying to figure out what was true and real, and the Canadian publishing industry itself was more or less consciously trying, with the financial and spiritual support of Canada’s governments, to prevent Canada from being swallowed by the United States and its cultural and political machinery. English Canadian patriotism, in those pre-Stephen Harper days, consisted of not feeling obliged to wave the flag or shout the national anthem. What writers and other element of the artistic community were asked to do was to devise a civic nationalism free of jingo: for Canada’s writers, it has usually been enough to write well, and be consciously and proudly not-American. In such a climate, experimental writing naturally thrived.

George Bowering has spent his long writing career on the cutting edge of this uniquely Canadian cultural and political initiative. He’s been there partly for patriotic reason but also because it has allowed him the artistic freedom to experiment. For all Bowering’s dabbling with popular history and conventional short story writing, he is a disciple of Gertrude Stein; a highly cosmopolitan experimental writer, interested in precision of language and form, and not very interested in sucking up to popular culture, (which isn’t able to imagine much of anything outside market-satisfying, profit-and-acclaim grabbing behaviors, lowest-common-denominator intellectual conformism, and 19th century literary conventions.)

When Cormorant published Pinboy in 2012, it fell directly into the middle of the national mess of book-publishing self-strangulation described above. Publisher Cote had been eager to publish Bowering, and probably promised more than he had the means to deliver. Like most small publishers his likely expectation was that Bowering’s reputation would get the book some prize nominations, which normally guarantees at least moderate sales and a modicum of free publicity. But then Cote made a serious error, classifying the book as a memoir, which put it into the prize mills as non-fiction, a category in which it was a little like a fish on a bicycle. The book did get a nomination for the B.C. National Prize for non-fiction, mostly, one suspects, because one of the judges, then-Globe and Mail book editor Martin Levin, understood what Bowering had achieved with it. (Levin was defenestrated a few months later, as the Globe moved into the first stages of its market-determined coverage debacle.)

Among Pinboy’s many virtues is the subtle absence of earnestness: it approaches the possibility that its narrative might be “truthful” playfully and obliquely, which instantly raises (or should) the issue of whether it really is memoir. As a result, the Chapters/Indigo buyers couldn’t figure out how to categorize it—and therefore, given Cormorant’s lack of fiscal resources and Chapters/Indigo’s merchandizing practices, barely placed it at all. At the same time, the book didn’t check enough of the non-fiction prize mill boxes to get properly considered. From there, Cormorant did what most small presses now do out of the necessities created by their marginality: it quietly abandoned the book. Who and what precisely is to blame is hard to pin down, but most Canadian writers will recognize the set of circumstances that sunk it, because most have by now been victimized by them.

There’s more: among the numerous pernicious effects the prize mills have had is the reinforcement of genre conformity, and the privileging of conventional writing—along with the frankly 19th century skill-sets of the writers. Literary prize-winning books tend to resemble Creative Writing Department thesis manuals, and more than one recent Giller Prize-winning book actually was the writer’s M.A. thesis.  This has ensured that virtually all prize-winning books are fungible market widgets, not the skilled explorations of formal and intellectual boundaries that should be the reason a book becomes prize-worthy in a small country.

If the treatment of Pinboy was ultimately the consequence of contemporary market capitalism, what happened to Bowering’s No One in 2018 was simply unjust and arbitrary.  As a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, No One was partly a personally-risky experiment in transformative memory, and partly an ambitious attempt to reify a human archetype. In a sense, it might be accurate to say that the book is Bowering’s most ambitious writing project. What it wasn’t, was a linear narrative, and it was neither morally nor artistically conventional. Rather, it was a “carrying across”—a true cultural metaphor.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the ECW staffers who decided, partway through production of No One that it objectified women, offended their sensibilities, transgressed their moral values and thus triggered traumatic emotions, thereby justifying them in declining further work on its production, distribution and promotion. But I would like to know how far into the manuscript they got before their triggers went off; whether or not they had read Homer’s Odyssey and understood Bowering’s attempt to draw parallels to it; or to what degree they understood that he was retelling an historical narrative?  Did they understand that the title echoes the piece of verbal indirection Odysseus used to save himself and his crew from the Cyclops after he blinded Polyphemus? Did they read the manuscript to the end, and did they recognize that No One was among the few attempts within Western literature to give voice to Penelope, the wife and chief victim of Odysseus’ wanderings? Were they aware of why and how James Joyce’s Ulysses, almost a century before, had set itself the exact same task within a different cultural and temporal frame?

In short, I’m making the conciliatory gesture of questioning the quality of the information on which their decision was based, rather than their right to make the decision.  The thing is, see, that I’m not sure that the procedures by which they rationalized their decision to censor are solid enough to throw out due process, and/or the rules of evidence. If they all read Homer, read Bowering’s manuscript to its end, and recognized and discussed among themselves the cultural implications of Bowering’s reification of Penelope AND their de facto act of censorship, then I have no reason to contest the sincerity of an active, conscious choice on their part. But that still leaves me with the duty to question the wisdom of what they did: the cultural arrogation of the literary censorship they inflicted on No One is troubling, and the effect their editorial presumption might have should it become routine in Canadian publishing is chilling.

It’s never been clear exactly what it was about No One that the ECW staff members found objectionable or objectifying.  One of the several problems with what is now being identified as “cancel culture” is that the cancellers appear to feel no obligation to provide detailed explanations of what upsets them and why it is upsetting. The emotions, apparently, are proof by and of themselves, of authenticity: it is true because I feel it is true. Without disputing the authenticity of their emotions, it’s difficult to have a rational conversation about what other social and political issues and values might intercede or countervail, and impossible to scale alternate values or, in some instances, individual and social rights.

In Writing and Reading Bowering has included a letter he sent to the ECW staff members after they refused to work on No One. What he has to say meanders some, almost certainly because he is trying to get them to listen, and knows that if he shows his injury or displays any aggressive outrage, he will fail. There is a long discussion of what objectification means, including a perhaps “unstrategic” quote from American poet and theorist Charles Olson, who, having died in 1970, wasn’t very careful about his use of pronouns, substituting triggering male-gendered generalities like “man” when he ought to have been saying, “humanity” or observing more recently-approved terms of pronominal address.

Bowering does explain, carefully and respectfully, why the ECW staff members might have been wrong to think No One objectifies women. The explanation evidently didn’t change their minds, because the book has remained unpublicized, unreviewed, poorly distributed, and largely unread. That’s a shame and an injustice, and it tempts me to say some intemperate things about the generation of young people who believe they are at liberty to overturn the rules of evidence and the expectation of due process, to abrogate free expression, and to toss the arduous and careful work of an accomplished writer into the nearest dumpster in the interest of keeping their beliefs sacrosanct and their emotional equilibrium unruffled.

The problem is that this phenomenon, though of relatively recent origin, become common within Canada’s cultural sector. The theory behind it, which is rarely articulated in ways that enable even rudimentary debate but rather presents as a set of triggers to traumatic emotions should anyone challenge or question the contextual relevance of the triggers. The offended persons typically find themselves “literally shaking” with anger or outrage, a condition that forfends further debate or even enquiry. The actual theory behind what they’re doing goes something like this: Any person or group that has been oppressed in the past or feels oppressed in the present by current and past patriarchal white male capitalism and colonialism has accumulated a deficit of privilege which can only be equalized by subjecting the oppressing demographics to retributive loss of cultural privileges—and, where possible, financial and social penalties—that are directly transferred to the oppressed. This process is called “equity”, and has led (for our purposes here) to the appropriation of more or less all current cultural funding, public awards and prestige. Governments and even corporations have somewhat gleefully gone along with this appropriation, and one wonders why.

One of the peculiarities of the way this theory is applied is the subjective authentication of individual claimants to the theory: if one feels the emotions intensely, then they are justified and socially applicable.  Another peculiarity is that among the oppressors, there is no individuation of application: all white males are oppressors, whether or not they have acted out patriarchal behaviors as citizens, spouses, or artists, and whether or not they have actively exploited or tacitly agreed to the exploitation of women and minorities in their personal or economic behaviors. Cecil Rhodes (or the wife-beater down the street) are white males, Cecil Rhodes (and the wife-beater down the street) are evil, so all white males are evil: summary conviction. White males should tug their forelocks and shut the fuck up until further notice.  Most male artists in Canada today are doing exactly that.

Am I overstating this? Yes, slightly. The thing is, see, that I don’t think that emotional authentication is enough to throw out due process or the rules of evidence. All too often, the logic behind Social Justice and Equity is as brutishly applied in practice as I’ve stated their theoretical bases are unilateral and unnuanced. Without wanting to appear to be shouting, and certainly without wishing to give comfort to the radical right, (which is more than crazy enough without any encouragement), the activities of the Social Justice movement bear a depressing resemblance to the Bolshevism of the first half of the 20th century, in that they don’t respect democratic values, have no interest in free speech, scientific process or meritocracy. The equity and social justice movements simply want to turn the wheel 180 degrees, and let the oppressed take reparation from their former oppressors until some sort of undefined condition of “equity” has been achieved. That point of “equity” never appeared in the Soviet Union, and there’s no reason to believe that so mechanical a concept of “revolution” has any interest in achieving equality, or anything other than unrestrained access to power.

One could chalk up the ECW staff’s actions to a failure to observe the terms of Coleridge’s Fictional Agreement, which counsels that a reader must first purposefully suspend disbelief in order to adequately entertain the premise of any work of fiction. A problem with the Fictional Agreement is that it requires a degree of intellectual and cultural sophistication that, depending on who it is you’re talking to, only two to twenty percent of contemporary audiences possess. The classic example of the failure to respect (or even comprehend) the Fictional Agreement was a turn-of-the-Millennium American television series based on the silly premise that John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the work of extraterrestrials. Silly premise, yes, but only until you remember that a social survey conducted among viewers of the series shortly after its cancellation found that 85 percent of viewers surveyed believed that Kennedy’s death was the work of extraterrestrials.

One of the particularities of Bowering’s late-career fiction has been that it invokes the Fictional Agreement and then interrogates it by talking directly to the reader, usually questioning the verity (or authority) of the narrator, and/or that narrator’s ability to assemble facts and interpret situations. This can be illuminating, entertaining or irritating depending on the readers tolerance level, but any way it’s taken, it tends to undermine the reader’s suspended disbelief, particularly if one is paying close attention. No One’s narration also slips from one narrative identity to another without telegraphing it: sometimes it is Bowering-the-character; sometimes it is his long-time literary alter ego George Delsing; and sometimes it is George Bowering, author and Poet Laureate. It also shifts temporally: sometimes you get the adolescent Bowering, sometimes a middle-aged Bowering, and sometimes it’s the elderly Bowering-of-the-present. (In one passage, I was startled to find myself briefly become Bowering’s narrator as I confronted American poet Robert Creeley, who I did not—as No One has the story—punch, but rather threw over the back of a couch to stop him from hitting on my girlfriend. I wanted to restrain Creeley, not hurt him.

This sort of narrative mutability isn’t exactly unheard of among writers of experimental fiction. But in No One, the mutations are swift, witty, and frequently come with a transparency that is rare even in Bowering’s sizable opus.  Shifting narrative perspective is a longtime strategy of Bowering’s, but the deftness with which he does this in No One is a delight—provided that the reader is comfortable having their expectations messed with, and their prejudices confronted. “How did Kirk Douglas, I wonder, stave off temptation?” his narrator sensibly asks at one point, referencing Douglas’/Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens. “You can’t have wax in your ears all the time.”

Bowering’s habit of speaking from the temporal sensibility of his narrator’s voice can be unsettling:  sometimes he sounds like a horny twenty-year-old, sometimes like the eighty-year-old he now is. He doesn’t apologize for any of the voices, and he doesn’t really ”interpret” them.  This is fiction, after all, and he’s insistent on making the most of its properties—but on his terms, and in his idiosyncratic, faithful-to-the-particular fashion.

That said, one of the things in No One that contradicts the set of generalities that define the violent, woman-objectifying, politically and socially and economically domineering Patriarchy, is that none of Bowering’s narrators—anywhere in the book—associates sexuality and male desire with violence and/or domination. What every male in the book wants is erotic permission, active consent from women—almost obsessively so. “What I needed,” the narrator says at one point, “and this would be a pattern all my life, was a female human animal who would take the initiative.”

At issue here, in an extraordinarily subtle way, is the definition of violence. Violence in its traditional definition, means some sort of physical interference by an individual or group into the physical space of another individual or group that brings harm to the second individual or group. The interference can be accidental or intentional, with the degree of censure that results heavier if the interference is intentional. But the characters (and narrators) in No One are uniformly and sometimes exquisitely aware of their possible interferences to the integrity of female sexual choices, along with their possible culpability in denying them autonomy.

In the end, what denies the accusations of Patriarchy, sexism, and objectification is the particularity of No One’s male desire, and its non-violent consent-seeking view of sexuality and women. There are also moments of pure, chastenedly candid memory: recall the one in which the narrator can’t remember the last name of the first woman he had sex with—yet he can remember her landlady’s full name, along with the first name of one of her two sons, a youngster he’d only seen once or twice.  I’m not sure what those young people at ECW were reading when they decided to withdraw from legitimately publishing No One. I suspect it has something to do with the secret and rarely-recognized codicil to the Fictional Agreement: that one is also asked to suspend one’s beliefs—one’s ideological apparatuses, if you will. The ECW staffers chose to protect their prejudices instead, and we are all poorer for their choice.


January 13, 2021,   5440 words, with help from Karl Siegler




















































  • Brian Fawcett

    Brian Fawcett (1944-2022) is a founding co-editor of He's the author of many books, including "Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow" (1986), "Gender Wars" (1994), "Virtual Clearcut, or The Way Things Are in My Hometown" (2003), "Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and other Non-Globalized People, Places, and Ideas" (2003) and "Human Happiness" (2011).

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