One: An author with no readers is silent
Communication is a two-ended process. Message sent, message received. Inevitably garbled and noisy, as Claude Shannon showed in the 40s. Clear communication is impossible. What we take as clear is the result of cleaning and descrambling, first of all. Then there has to be a negotiation between the parties to agree on such things as the semiosis of the message. Without these things there is no communication. In order to communicate, the author needs the reader.
Two: The reader who doesn’t listen silences the author
Communication is a two-ended process. Message sent, message received. Inevitably garbled and noisy, as Claude Shannon showed in the 40s. Clear communication is impossible. What we take as clear is the result of cleaning and descrambling, first of all. Then there has to be a negotiation between the parties to agree on such things as the semiosis of the message. Without these things there is no communication. In order to communicate, the reader needs the author.
Three: The reader’s bargain with the author is asymmetric
The reader who rejects the offer of communication remains in ignorance. But, says the reader, I can pick and choose. This is true. It is also true that in order to choose it is necessary to communicate. The buyer must examine the merchandise on sale.
The writer who rejects the offer of communication loses a chance to impart what he knows. But he does not lose all chance. He is mute but not silenced, and he does not forget what he knows, for it is written for all to see who will look.
Four: The reader has more at risk
The sensei knows that when he accepts a student he accepts the responsibility to speak. Otherwise it is better to remain silent. The sensei also accepts the responsibility to speak the truth. Having spoken, his responsibility is discharged.
The student knows that when he asks to hear the truth he accepts the responsibility to listen. Having listened, his responsibility is not thereby discharged. Those who first listen must then understand. Learning is a two-way process. Inevitably garbled and noisy, to clearly speak the truth is impossible. The false sensei who speaks less than he knows cheats the student. The student who gives less than his full effort cheats himself.
Five: The reader as supplicant
Wittgenstein said: Of that about which we cannot speak we must remain silent. Heidegger said: knowledge is genealogical, and requires ancestors and progeny. No sex, no knowledge. No desire, no sex. Desire can be communicated in many ways. Desire can be accepted in only one. Even the trees talk to each other.
Six: The writer decides for himself
The relationship between readers and writers is asymmetrical. But writers do have one responsibility solely their own — shut up. Those who worship at the feet of the Logos had bloody well consider what they are doing.
Seven: The writer’s isolation
Most authors don’t get to talk to their readers, unless they’re Mom and Dad. The writer’s audience is imaginary. All the writer has to go on is books sold, hoping some of those buyers will actually read the book.
Eight: The writer’s screen
The author wrote the book, but it’s the book talking. Turn the situation over. The reader asks the same question again and again and gets a different answer every time. All of them are true. Now we know we’re talking to a book. The author should hope to make a book which can speak many truths at once, for truths do not come singly.
Nine: The writer’s first responsibility is to his book
I wrote a book which I hoped would speak the truth. For a long time I did nothing to publish it, until I decided that I owed it to the book to give it a chance to speak. So it was published, and my responsibility to the book was discharged. One who thinks of reading it owes no responsibility to the book, takes no risk, invests no wealth. Which of them is most likely to profit?
Ten: The writer’s first friendship is with his book
Nobody listens to me. I’m that schmuck with a glass of soda water standing in the corner trying to look intelligent. But people talk to my book, who is a more fun person than me. So I’m happy for my book, and sometimes we sit out on the patio with some good wine and talk about where’s the best place to retire. There isn’t one. There’s something wrong everywhere.
Some people think there’s more to it than that. There isn’t. It’s the people who think there is who are writing all those boring stories.
Eleven: Commitment brings vulnerability
There is a bibliographic law that if a paper is not cited within the first year of publication it never will be. I find this ineffably sad for the lonely spurned paper and for the author who tries to add something to the conversation and is simply ignored, talked over. Publishing (or trying to) is an emotionally dangerous enterprise for some people. You have to be driven by some power, some great need, to risk it. It’s so much easier not to.
Twelve: Writers who refuse commitment will be lonely. Readers who refuse commitment are condemned to solitary confinement.
Humans are one of the most gregarious beings on Earth. That need cannot be satisfied with party talk, platitudes and formulas. Boring stories are written by people who won’t take risks.
Thirteen: Writers risk their enlightenment. Readers risk their chance at enlightenment.
People wonder why Zen provides no moral guidance, no precepts. If you are enlightened you will do the right thing without precepts because anything else will destroy your enlightenment. The analogy with storytelling is exact.
Fourteen: Writers can choose to make it new. Readers must choose life or death.
An author can re-invent the form or he can do the usual so meticulously and intelligently that it rises up. Consider which has the more value: a new person brought into the world or a dead one returned to life. Lazarus is of importance to no one but himself. Having written his thirty-first piano sonata Beethoven had the good sense not to write it again.
Fifteen: Writers control their language. Readers control their literacy.
Ezra Pound said: make it new. The Cantos have very little in them which is new, and yet they are new. How is that done? We needed to learn how to write, not corner an agent at a party. The reader needs to learn how to read. The reader needs to learn the language, not simply to stop strangers in the street and point to his mouth or his ass.
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Books by Charles Brownson
The Figure of the Detective
And these (click on any link or the cover image)