On Promotion, or This Blog is Fucking Stupid

Christopher Nosnibor interviews Christopher Nosnibor about his latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid.

CN: So, another book out. How many’s that now?

CN: This is number six, although two are collections of short stories, there’s one novella and a collection of essays and miscellaneous prose works. This is only my second novel proper.

CN: You’ve also published a number of pamphlets and things too, haven’t you? You wrote over 400 music reviews last year, conducted a number of interviews, and still found time to produce several short stories. How do you maintain that kind of work rate?

CN: Yes, there are half a dozen pamphlets with my name on them. I just sit down, shut up and type. I’ve never lacked ideas. So for me, it’s not about ideas, it’s about discipline. Basically, I organise myself to produce something on a daily basis. It’s less about the creative process and more about the production, I suppose. I really am a writing machine, as advertised. It’s no mystery. I have a full-time job, too, but when I get home, rather than piss about and toss off to the telly, I knuckle down to some serious work. Hardly enigmatic or mysterious, I know, but that’s how it is. And if I need a break, I just set the clones to work in my absence. No-one ever seems to notice.

CN: Tell me about the clones.

CN: Like many people, I often wish I could be in more than one place at any give time, had more hours in the day, could do several things simultaneously. It’s one of the less overt themes in From Destinations Set. Cloning myself a little over a year ago eased the burden a little.

CN: The title of your latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid seems like a complete non-starter in commercial terms. Why did you pick suck a self-defeating title?

CN: There’s a certain valour in consigning oneself to failure, and a degree of glory in crashing and burning in a most spectacular fashion. But it has to be truly spectacular. Limping along and failing half-heatedly is the most pathetic of things to see. People are so competitive, it’s a cultural trait. I’ve seen shows on television – not that I’m big on watching television – where the parents in American families tell their children ‘there are two kinds of people: winners and losers, and no child of mine is going to be a loser’, and that kind of mentality really riles me. It’s not a uniquely American thing, though. My idea of rebellion is to devise strategies against this perpetual one-upmanship, which is also a key theme of the story that’s submerged within the book. So rather than make any attempt to compete on the same grounds as everyone else, I set my own objective, namely, if I can’t be the best, I want to be the absolute worst, and truly spectacular at it. With a title like This Book is Fucking Stupid, I’m giving myself a head start toward achieving the kind of commercial failure most losers could only dream of.

CN: You make it sound like you want to be the Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards of the literary world…

CN: To an extent, that’s exactly it. He wasn’t an athlete and never had any expectations beyond calamitous failure, yet he’s better known than most gold-medal winners, simply by virtue of being the absolute worst. So This Book is a double-bluff. The difference between me and Eddie is that while he couldn’t ski for toffee, I actually can write. I mean I’m a technically competent writer, I have a degree in English and the job I do to pay the bills is writing-based. The stuff I’ve produced like THE PLAGIARIST and This Book are written the way they are through choice, but a lot of people don’t seem to get that. I had a story rejected by a magazine not so long ago because they had issues with the way the tenses switched, completely missing the point that the (unreliable) narrator was wrestling with reflections of the past in the present. I’ve always maintained that a writer should learn the rules before breaking them. I know the rules and have produced work that follows them to the letter. In actual fact, the stuff I’ve done that I can’t get published or otherwise gets slated is the most technically correct, but because I’m using the rules against themselves, people just assume I’m clueless. This Book sidesteps all of that by shooting myself in the foot – repeatedly – before even leaving the house.

CN: You say that This Book is a double-bluff…

CN: Absolutely. And it’s working. By pitching it as the worst book ever – which I should point out is certainly isn’t, and despite what’s been said abut it by myself and various reviewers, it’s infinitely better on both a technical and conceptual level than the bulk of recent bestsellers – it’s almost guaranteed to arouse interest. People want to see the worst, or what they’ve heard is the worst – almost as much as they want to see the best. It’s a strategy that seems to be working, too. Only a month after publication, it’s already outsold its predecessor, From Destinations Set.

CN: The hype – in lieu of a more accurate word – seems to have been building for a while, and all seems to have been perpetuated by yourself. Was this an integral part of the strategy too?

CN: When I began promoting This Book is Fucking Stupid, the book didn’t exist, in that it was still very much a concept, and even as I began to post excerpts in my blog, it still didn’t exist as a book because it was far from complete. There was of course something appropriately and inherently stupid in the notion of promoting a book that didn’t exist, although this strategy meant that I had a real incentive to complete the work and get it out into the public domain to save face (the irony being that the finished work would be an act of commercial suicide that probably wouldn’t actually sell even when it did come into circulation. And so the layers of irony continued to build. And so eventually, This Book was published and the promotional machine at Clinicality kicked into overdrive and I went even more overboard in my labours of self-promotion. But being an ebook, we were still promoting a book that effectively didn’t exist, and in material terms, that’s still the case now.

CN: You posted a number of blogs explaining the writing process and the book’s function, and those blogs have in turn been incorporated within the text itself. Do you think you have a tendency to over-explain your work?

CN: Most definitely. I’ve written a fair few pieces explaining my works, probably in significantly more detail than most readers want, let alone need. I have an educational background in English Literature and it’s become second nature to examine text from a theoretical perspective, and my own texts are no exception. Besides, a lot of theoretical work informs my writing, but I’m aware that this isn’t generally all that apparent. Since no-one else is likely to analyse my output, there’s a sort of logic in doing it myself.

CN: Doesn’t that seem rather like a punk band sticking in a jazz number in the middle of a set just to prove they can play? It’s almost as if you feel the need to justify or defend your writing…

CN: I like that analogy, and maybe I do feel that need. Is it a lack of confidence? I dunno. Sometimes, perhaps. I think it’s important to differentiate between writing that intentionally transgresses the established boundaries of literature and writing that’s just plain bad, and it pains me when I’m accused of being a ‘bad’ writer when there are technical elements that are integral to what I’m doing that people miss. Take, for example, a story I wrote a while ago that was, essentially, about the way memory distorts time, and how a recollection of a past event, when experienced in the present, shifts the temporal position of that past event in some way. I tried it round a few on-line journals and zines and no-one would take it. One editor sent me a fairly lengthy email explaining the problems he had with it, the biggest being the way the tenses switched. It left me feeling frustrated because he’d completely missed the point. He’d also assumed that I simply didn’t ‘get’ tenses, rather than purposefully fucked about with them to achieve a specific effect.

I appreciate that some readers will find my technical focus and self-explication irritating, and in some ways, that’s one of my objectives. So I decided with This Book that I’d make the whole theory / practice thing not only explicit, but the subject of the text – or one of the key threads of the text, at least.

CN: Conceptually, it sounds extremely grand, but doesn’t it rail you into something of a dead end?

CN: Yes and no. The scope to expand the book with supplementary material, commentary and straightforward revisions is essentially infinite. That’s the whole point. Because of the nature of the text and the publishing arrangement, new editions can be pushed out as and when. Ten years hence it could run to five or six hundred pages in theory. Plus I’m not averse to new intros and cover art, numbered signed editions, anything else you care to name. Serialisation, a special hypertext edition, audiobook, film, a ‘making of’, anything, everything. By the same token, the point’s already been made simply by virtue of the book’s (virtual) existence, and the book is a dead end as of and in itself. Every book I’ve done to date is a dead end: THE PLAGIARIST was a dead horse long before I started flogging it. Burroughs said he’d taken the cut-ups to their limit by the end of the 1960s: Kenji Siratori effectively produced the same text more than a dozen times in a couple of years, and then I came along ad rehashed the whole thing with some third-hand theory mashed in. I’d dabbled with dual narratives – something already explored by John Giorno in the 60s, 70s and onwards, right into the 90s – again, with my own slant, and by the time I’d finished From Destinations Set I really don’t think there was much scope to take the form further. But at the risk of completely contradicting myself everything I do is concerned with pushing narrative in different directions, I’m not anti-narrative, and I’m not anti-plot, believe it or not. I’m just preoccupied with trying to find new and different ways of writing, and the form and content of my work is invariably intrinsically linked. There will always be new modes of narrative, it’s just a matter of exploring them. I consider that my role as a writer, not because I’m not a story-teller but because I want to render storytelling exciting again, and not in the obvious, conventional ways.

CN: This may seem like a really obvious question but isn’t interviewing yourself completely ridiculous?

CN: It is a really obvious question, and yes, of course it is. Again, that’s the whole point. It comes back to the fundamental premise of the book, that self-reflexivity and self-negation, and the idea that I’d rather provide the academic analysis for my own works – since I’m more than qualified to do so – rather than wait until I’ve been dead twenty years for someone to do it and make a hash of it – or not do it at all. I find it difficult to generate media interest and despite my best efforts, there queue of people waiting to interview me about my latest work never really builds up. And so interviewing myself seems the logical way to go. Plus, I can rely on myself to ask relevant, sensible questions, and if the questions I field aren’t relevant or sensible, I really have only got myself to blame.

CN: The self-interview does feel a little schizophrenic though…

CN: In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari theorise that a schizophrenic mindset is the only same approach to capitalism. I’m inclined to agree. The only way to maintain a thread of sanity is to give oneself to madness.

The Changing Face of Consumerism X: Down on the Street

Only just a few days into January and already the sales reports from the high street are beginning to filter through for the run-up to Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will be surprised by the fact that broadly, sales have been rather poor and substantially weaker than hoped, and that as a percentage of retail sales, online transactions account for a larger proportion than ever before.

Sky News report, ‘There is one factor common to the trading statements from Next and John Lewis – an increase in online sales that has propped up the overall results.’

The on-line article continues, ‘In the case of Next, it’s [sic] Directory service recorded a 16% increase between 2010 and 2011 for like-for-like sales. Sky News has been told that online sales account for roughly 90% of this figure. With regards to John Lewis, online sales for the five weeks to December 31, 2011, were 27.9% up on last year.’

Apart from exemplifying the kind of statistically-dense reporting that’s likely to bamboozle the average reader and providing a practical demonstration in the kind of journalism that uses a proliferation of numbers in lieu of meaningful analysis, what we are supposed to extrapolate from this is that the figures speak for themselves. Of course, this is patently untrue, because the figures, bald and devoid of context are in themselves virtually meaningless. The scant analysis offered by the unnamed reporter does little to shed any real light on the implications of the figures when they ask ‘What can we learn from this? Well essentially that we, as shoppers, are inherently lazy and becoming increasingly more so,’ adding ‘There is nothing wrong with that. If we can shop without leaving our desk or home then we are choosing to do so.’ Really? There’s a lot wrong with being inherently lazy, on so many levels, but of more importance here is the fact that shopping from one’s desk (something many employers would surely disapprove of, and which could constitute misuse / abuse of company systems) or home does not necessarily equate to being lazy. I would contend that lethargy has nothing to do with it, and that the laziness of consumers is nothing in comparison to the laziness of the journalists proffering such poorly-considered evaluations of the ‘facts’.

For starters, the article fails to take into account the fundamental fact that high-street (or out of town) shopping – real-life shopping – is hell. Never mind, as was mentioned in the BBC’s TV report, that the opening hours of high-street retail outlets are both limited and limiting, and that on-line shopping affords the convenience of 24/7 open hours, which are handy for those who work sociable hours (I say this because those work work anti-social hours aren’t stuck in an office or other place of work between the hours 9am and 5pm, when shops are open, and if you’ve ever tried to do any serious shopping within the confines of a lunch hour Monday to Friday, you’ll appreciate that it’s not only nigh on impossible, but more hellish than Beelzebub’s oven).

Discounting the Sartrean hell that is other people momentarily, there’s the fact that comparing the prices different retailers charge for the same item is considerably more straightforward and less time-consuming on-line than on foot. And of course, time is money, supposedly. Undoubtedly, that time is the most precious commodity an individual can have is part and parcel of the hectic technology-driven lifestyles that facilitate both on-line shopping and global commerce. If workers do spent time at their desks shopping on-line, it could be that they’re time-wasting skivers, but could just as readily be because they’re too busy to take a proper lunch break in which to hit the shops, which have probably relocated to an out-of-town shopping precinct.

According to the Sky article, ‘The trick for retailers is how best to facilitate that and how they combine an online store with their high street shops whilst keeping both profitable.’ No kidding. By making your presence as a business prominent via the most channels available, with particular emphasis on those where the most customers are, then you’ll fare better than if you don’t. The adage ‘Location, Location, Location’ still has merit, and applies to the virtual world too. As for keeping outlets profitable, that’s surely how business works, period.

Sky’s report concludes with the observation that ‘Both Next and John Lewis know their customer base well and play to it with success’ (fine, except according to the figures, Next’s overall sales are only fractionally up, and its high street sales have dropped dramatically, a point that provided the focus of The Guardian’s reporting of the same information, with Zoe Wood writing, ‘Analysts estimated that like-for-like sales in Next stores fell more than 5% in the last two months of the year, resulting in a worse than expected 2.7% decline for the six months to 24 December. That weakness was offset by a strong performance at home shopping arm Directory, where sales jumped nearly 17%. Together the divisions delivered growth of 3.1% which was in line with guidance given to analysts in November’).

The reporter ends their piece by opining that ‘Retail is Darwinian, the survival of the fittest. Success and survival comes to those who change and adapt. The old adage is the true: the customer is always right.’ This is blatantly untrue, and blindly propagates the myth that markets are consumer driven. As I have bemoaned variously, I feel largely uncatered for as a consumer. It’s not even the obscure items, that I would expect having difficulty with, that present the biggest problems. If I want something unusual, there are niche stores – granted, usually on-line – that stock them. I’m talking about specific books, records, storage solutions, brand footwear at prices I’m willing to afford (£95 for a pair of DM Chelsea boots is obscene however you look at it) homebrewing equipment and other such items. But try finding something simple, like decent oven mitts, a ceiling-mounting light for the bathroom designed to work with a fitting that runs in conjunction with the wiring for an extractor fan, jam jars, etc., and you’ll probably struggle. I can’t be the only one seeking these items, and can therefore only conclude that others make do with whatever alternatives and close matches are readily available. How does this indicate a market tailored to the consumer?

Moreover, if I find myself making an increasing number of purchases on-line because I frequently return from town empty-handed, having been unable to find the specific item I was searching for, how is that an example of consumer lethargy? Again, by failing to cater for my needs, the high-street stores have failed their (potential) customers and driven them on-line. If retail is Darwinian, surely the survivors are the ones that stock the items that consumers actually want. After all, it’s only possible to convince people that they want what they get and that they don’t know what they want until they see it up to a point. If I need a new stylus for my turntable, it won’t do to tell me that vinyl’s outmoded and that I should get myself an iPod and docking station instead, and similarly, if the styli in stock aren’t compatible with my turntable, I won’t be buying one – or a new turntable for that matter, at least for as long as there are other stockists who carry compatible styli. It’s really not that hard.

High-street shopping is tiring and laborious. Some people love it and will spend days trailing round shops trying on shoes and clothes and all the rest. Yet even those than enjoy such shopping expeditions will often make their purchases on-line, not through lethargy but because of the price. No-one with half a brain is going to buy an item in one place they can purchase for a third less elsewhere, especially when they know it’s the item they want having already tried it on or out. On-line stores don’t have the overheads of physical stores: fact. They don’t have to pay out-front assistants, cleaners, heating, lighting, or, most significantly, rent on the floorspace. This is precisely why Amazon can undercut Waterstone’s and HMV so dramatically (and why HMV, with their Channel Islands based tax-loophole savvy on-line arm can undercut its own physical stores, a retail model also known as shooting oneself in the foot). Of course people are going to go and buy their goods on line for less. It’s simple economics.

Another piece of simple economics is that anything that isn’t growth is considered recession, but to expect endless growth is unrealistic. Sure, the world’s population may be continually expanding, but that doesn’t mean they all want to buy the same products. Certain markets have limited potential for expansion, even mainstream mass markets. Therefore, to declare ‘flat’ sales or lower than projected growth a complete disaster seems unreasonable. Yet many companies will lay off large numbers of their workforce in light of such ‘disappointing’ results, and blame the recession while contributing to it and exacerbating the problem further.

But perhaps the biggest major omission in these reports is that people aren’t spending because they simply don’t have the money. There’s a global financial crisis going on. The fact that the figures for Christmas 2011 correspond with those for 2008, only with the decreases in overall sales and the erring toward on-line sales more dramatic, reminds us that we’re still in a slump. The words ‘recession’ and ‘depression’ still hang over financial reports like a black cloud. Look at the most recent unemployment figures: they’re still on the up, not just in Britain, but in the US – and the US economy is the global economy.

Context counts, then, and against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, rising inflation, etc., etc., people are spending less money because they have less money. It’s interesting to note that these reports appear on the same day that homelessness charity Shelter made public the findings of a survey they had recently conducted, which revealed that one in seven Britons has turned to credit such as a payday loan or unauthorised overdraft to help cover their rent or mortgage in the last year. Surely this is all the evidence required to establish the reason behind reduced spending. I’ll say it again: people simply haven’t got the money. But then, perhaps they never did have the money. The difference now is that neither do the banks, and so they’re not lending it out. And if people can’t get credit, then they can’t spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Better to spend the money they don’t have on the things they do need, like accommodation. It’s a slippery slope, of course, and where it ends is anyone’s guess. But then, that’s what economists do….

 

High Street_1581_18891412_0_0_12664_300

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk