I picked up via twitter yesterday that a Kurt Vonnegut novella that was twice rejected by major magazines has been published for the first time via Amazon singles. Dutifully, I downloaded the book and now have it available via my Kindle app on my iPad and ready for reading. Perhaps a review will be in the offing if I can get around to it. (If I would blog less, I’m sure I would read more.) The ways in which this leaves me feeling strange and uneasy requires a catalogue.
1. If the book has been rejected multiple times and Vonnegut in his later life never chose to publish it when he most assuredly could have, as an e-book or otherwise, why should I buy this book now. Is it because “it’s a Vonnegut,” and therefore worthy of my time. I think this must not be true since in the end Vonnegut didn’t think it was even worth his time. Am I somehow trading in a cult of celebrity in which the Vonnegut industry keeps pumping out the undead wisdom–even if the quality of the book might end up being something akin to a black velvet painting of Elvis being sold on the roadside beside a 7-Eleven in Arkansas. Somehow I think here of Foucaults inquiry in to what exactly constitutes the work of an author. I always kind of smiled at the question of whether an author’s laundry list is a part of his or her work. I am now wondering whether Vonnegut’s laundry lists will be imaged and sold online as amazon singles.
2. I haven’t read half of the Vonnegut that Vonnegut himself thought was worth publishing. Why should I purchase this latest for 1.99. Because its easy and I didn’t even have to leave my couch to do it? On the other hand, I have wasted a good bit more money than that on impulse purchases of literary magazines that now serve landfills, or perhaps could be fodder for Liz Laribee’s latest art project(the latter a worthy demise, I should say)
3. Should I really enrich Rosetta Books and Amazon.com in pursuit of Vonnegut’s ghost.
4. Is there a problem with the fact that the internet erases distinctions between ephemera and things of “enduring value”? What is the nature of “enduring value” when essentially everything can endure on an equal plane and theoretically in to eternity. ( I know here that my colleague Samuel Smith thinks the internet is more ephemeral than a paper book, but I have my doubts. If we really get to the point of apocalypse in which all our digital resources are essentially unavailable through some massive destruction of the grid, we won’t be reading our paper books either. We’ll be burning them in our fireplaces. Or cooking them in our soups.) The intellectual world is flat, and if Rosetta books had not chosen to publish the work, some enterprising graduate student with a scanner and an email account could have.
5. Is it a problem that in writing this blog post, linking to websites, retweeting GalleyCat missives, posting to Facebook, I am flogging a book that I haven’t even read, part of the industrial–internet–publishing complex that makes Kurt Vonnegut a Zombie Author who continues to fascinate and destroy. I am the hype that I descry.