Being and being reviewed: Books as pieces of self

600Being and being reviewed is a play on the English title of Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s book Varat och varan: Being and being bought. Hers is an ideological diatribe on the commodification of women who sell sex and surrogate mothers, full of sound and fury, as well as lies, including one or two about me. It makes women’s bodies and selves into transcendental things.

croppedLAhandsTo put a book out into the world is to say I did this, take it and like it. It’s a kind of commodification, whether you give it away or give it a price. Strict marxists might insist the book is the product of labour and that one is only commodifying that. But I think it’s ambiguous, and I’m not worried about commodifying myself or pieces of myself. I don’t think I’ll lose my humanity by opening private places up to strangers.

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 00.19.01Olly ‘gives away his degree’ via book commentary on his youtube channel Philosophy Tube. (I might say he commodifies himself.) In a recent broadcast he reviewed Sex at the Margins. Nine years after publication, there it is, being reviewed. And guess who is reviewed right after me? Hannah Arendt. (See how I muddled the boundary between the book and myself?) You can hear it at about minute 3.20.

Here’s the thing: Olly describes the book in a way that doesn’t perfectly match what I’d say myself. If I were in the room with him I’d argue. But it’s his reading, his experience, and he’s already done with it. The book is an object in the world, not mine to control. It’s a piece of me that others interpret through their own selves.

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 13.32.13Then my new book Three-Headed Dog was reviewed recently by Noah Berlatsky of The Hooded Utilitarian.  A Novel Without Borders is a good title and it’s a good review in more than one sense. Noah understands Eddy, for one thing:

Eddy isn’t the typical victim of sex trafficking narratives; he’s not a girl, for one thing, and he’s probably gay. He’s not the typical young person you see in novels, either—he’s neither precocious, nor chosen, nor ambitious. His goals are mostly short term; warmer clothes, a better haircut, a job. Short-sighted, without many connections, it’s likely he’ll be taken advantage of, in big ways or small—but then, being taken advantage of is the fate of most people.

tree-branch-shadows-on-snowThe novel-without-borders idea refers to the difficulty of fitting the book into contemporary genre-categories. Amazon and other book dealers make one choose them (and then they fudge the choices). Noah argues that noir needs ‘mistrust, deceit, dramatic betrayals’. For me, the first two are part of all fiction and the third forms an overt part of The Dog’s plot. Noir’s defining feature is moral ambiguity, and my choosing it as genre was easy and natural to me. I’d argue with him if we were having a drink in a bar. But my own conviction doesn’t trump any reader’s experience.

From Customer Reviews on the Amazon page:

Laura Agustin has created an intriguing character in Felix and I hope to encounter her again.

I loved reading the tale of Felix. Can’t wait for more.

Both these reviewers seem to know there is likely to be more: that is the nature of detective fiction. In some ways those are the most important reviews of all. If you read The Three-Headed Dog, leave a line or two of comment on the Amazon page. Doing that makes the algorithm at Amazon pick up and show it in searches for non-insiders looking for books about migration, trafficking, smuggling and above all borders. If you enjoy Goodreads review it there.

borderoceanAnd speaking of algorithms, the way to avoid them in terms of seeing posts on this blog is to subscribe by email or RSS. On facebook and twitter you’re at the mercy of time and the robots.

Laura Agustín, The Naked Anthropologist

4 thoughts on “Being and being reviewed: Books as pieces of self

  1. Cameron

    Art, high and lofty art.
    I notice that creative artists often internalise market expediencies, and they then understand these as part of their passion (to reach and affect a wider audience!) rather than as a form of economic necessity (more money).

    Olly, may be following his passion yet he is also (likely) building a “profile” too.

    Still, I don’t accept the ‘just commodity’ narrative (is that what you meant?). Nothing truly great was produced under that mantra. Dostoevsky had to churn out novels to pay off debts but his art was not motivated by money (it was rather, compromised by it).

    Congrats on your novel.

    Reply
  2. Laura Agustín

    Did I say anything about art? I could have, though for me it wouldn’t be about loftiness. Making things one isn’t paid for beforehand or as a salary and may never be paid for. In my case I’ll probably not get money from this endeavour, but reaching more readers sounds desirable. Dostoevsky was lucky to be able to pay off debts by writing – most people can’t.

    Anyway, here I was focusing on the idea of reviews of a thing one has put into the public realm. The thingness leads to ideas about objectification and commodification. Neither is important to me personally.

    Thanks for the congratulations – I appreciate them.

    Reply
  3. Cameron

    I was vaguely aware that your post was based on a rejection Ekman’s concerns (the female transcendent, commodification bad). I can see now (I think) that you weren’t in turn arguing that commodification was good or that all is commodification. But this point remains ambiguous.
    In any case that’s the reason I tried to use art as a point of contrast.

    Reply
    1. Laura Agustín

      Blogs are odd as genre, in the sense that if one’s done it in a sort of field for a while then one doesn’t explain references to earlier events, or not usually. The who-what-where-when of reporting doesn’t happen. Also it’s often musing, free association between one thing and another without the need to cite and explain all. I appreciate it can get mysterious. And my worldview is full of ambiguities so you’re right about that!

      Reply

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