Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dear Famous Writers School...

Immersed in a 1969 Fawcett Crest edition of Herzog, a reader notices that a small, yellowing tri-folded brochure has fluttered into his lap.

It purports to offer a personal message from Random House founder Bennett Cerf:


Inside the brochure, the "Famous Writers School" and its "revealing Aptitude Test" are extolled as sure means of harnessing creative inspiration via the guidance of famous literary professionals -- and of launching a "successful writing career," finding "success in writing," etc.

Taking a cue from the epistolary impulses of Herzog himself, the reader pens a reply to this transchronological dispatch:

Dear Famous Writers School,

Were you among the first to peddle a secular deliverance from the spiritual pangs of art? Did it start with the likes of you, or could one find your counterpart in the ancient world? You take up, I suppose, an immemorial tradition -- the merchant class has always traded in shortcuts, always sold to the confessant a means of circumventing the rigors of real confession: indulgences, &etc. Even Gutenberg perfected his press with funds raised this way. Yes, but with you something is different. What you offered was a new brand of clergy ordained by sales figures and anointed by the pentecostal light of "fame." It was the number of units sold, it was notoriety, it was mass appeal upon which you based your claim of authority. This was sensible, rational. I see your logic. What was lacking, though, was that old dependable leavener: Shame. It only takes a dash of the stuff to increase the nutrients that enable the questioning of questionable undertakings, and thus it's extremely valuable in moderation (in excess, of course, it will stymie all action). I know, the market, perceived to be an autonomous, self-propelling, and amoral organism, has no place for shame. I can see how you got along fine without it, sure. But listen, had you never married the profane and vacuous standards of the dehumanized marketplace to the holy, humanizing labor of art -- or had you never done so in such a speciously authoritative way and on a such a mass scale -- had you, in short, thought twice before ordaining yourselves high priests in the New Church of the Cynical Arts, we might all be better off today. Maybe.

Yours Truly,