There are a few different reasons that about 50% of my reading list at any given time is out of print. One of them is that I figure anything insanely popular has already attracted it’s sustaining audience – which is to say – their team doesn’t need me. Another (buried in the previous, as subtext) is that I’m just plain difficult. ;o)
But the big reason is a point I noticed decades ago, but never felt the courage to say aloud until I read Adam Gopnik making the same point in a beautiful introduction. Contrary to widely held belief (in the invisible hand of public taste?) most of the best writing is not in, but in fact out of print.
No, the public aren’t smart enough to identify every treasure, even in the realm of fiction – fashion, marketing, timing – so many things play a role, beyond the intrinsic value of the writing itself. This is even more true for scholarship – especially the stuff that was out on the edge at the time, and is now calved onto an isolated and fast-melting ‘burg.
Even ideas which were once quite popularly discussed and appreciated, weren’t necessarily popular in the time that most needed them.
The double-bind is one of the weirdest things that we all experience constantly. There was a lot of crazy-making stuff going on a half a century ago, when it could be intelligently discussed – but now the phrase has passed from common understanding, even though it seems to be the schematic plan of our whole modern world.
You absolutely must – but you may not, no matter what. Totally nuts of course.
“Go have fun with your ball”
The simplest and most universal version? – “No, we won’t hire you, because you haven’t got any experience.” (So how the heck is one supposed to get any?)
Immigration legalities have some especially nightmarish versions of this madness (sorry, you would have had to have filed that paperwork from-here, but before you got here, in order for it to be valid).
Discovering language-patterns that feel sane and practical but are in fact not only dysfunctional, but can even induce insanity in their victims, used to be a popular sport for clever types – going back a century now, but especially big between the thirties and the eighties. My favourite social anthropology about us dates from the same period, despite much culture drift since then.
“Brighten the place up a bit”
Gregory Bateson in particular is a must-grab, any time you see a copy – one of the last of the great scientific humanists, who used a truly poetic spirit and imagination to really try to understand us – a very different goal from the overspecialized reductionist dissection-reanimation (dead consumerist) approach now common, and mirrored in our overspecialized working world.
Just as we owe Korzybski for the extremely useful ‘air quotes’, we owe Bateson for pointing out and discussing the double-bind in a big way.
“Wiring up to code, as promised”
Here’s the thing – if we had really assimilated-it as a culture, then when you went up to an official at a desk and they told you to do something impossible, and you pointed that out – you would both laugh, and then it would get fixed, smartish.
As long as we can see that we are part of a completely insane informational chain, and do NOT respond with amusement and/or horror, I believe we are at very least being complicit in a deplorable abuse of absurdity. Absurdity being more important to recognize as such than ever – and the abuse in this case being failure to incorporate humour, it’s sole appropriate tribute.
One day, there’s going to be another Nuremberg (trial, not rally, that was yesterday) and someone is going to sit us all down (very politely, with a bayonet) and say – “Are you one of the soulless fish-mouth robot-people who lives to make others utterly crazy, by enforcing the impossible?”
Well, are you? (This work too is compassionate duty, my friends – truth may indeed be to some degree situational and relative – but even at this late stage, it absolutely counts!)
“Going all flower-headed” (deep perspective)
And BTW – grab all Loren Eiseley you see too – beyond compare for setting us humans within time and nature (and why I keep going all flower-headed) – and though he is still in-print, I’ll mention Julian Jaynes masterpiece again – because he’ll kick your head around in a way you’ll never forget, or ever stop thanking him for. “The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind.” Fifty bonus-points on offer for the first of my chums who reads it and checks-in with their own version of “WOW” “YIKES” or “OMG!”