Why “literature” is no longer “art”:

Why literature is no longer art: an orotund, hyperbolic rant against what it has become*

Now, I make no claim to know the complete span of the Hachette vs. Amazon kerfuffle, but I would like to point out that James Patterson (who is pro-Hachette) has started a laughable petition/open letter against Amazon over how they hurt authors. This is coming from a man who does not even write his own books, but uses ghostwriters (or, what he likes to call “co-authors”). James Patterson is an example that shows “the author” no longer need be an artist. He is a brand.

Ghostwriters, too, have played their part in the destruction of literature as art. They write memoirs for celebrities and politicians who could barely type otherwise, lying to the public that “No, no, this person really IS smart enough to write their own book.”  This is the equivalent of a self-portrait painted by someone OTHER THAN YOURSELF. Should it be called a self-portrait at that point? I think not.

And let’s not forget about the celebrities-turned-authors who hire these ghostwriters/feed the beast. Sure, celebrities are really busy (too busy to write a whole book), but aren’t consumers busy too? If you can’t take the time to actually write your own book, then how dare you expect us to read it? Is it that you want another title (“author”) under your belt for your resume? Have you earned that title? Ghostwriting has led me to respect self-publishers more and more. You’re much more likely to know who wrote your book if you buy indie.

…And THEN we get guys like James Frey who just want to make literature a product—a product you can churn out from a factory. Is literature so formulaic that it can be created without artistic intention?

I am surprised True Authors™ have let it go on this long—let it belittle their work and their potential for success in the industry.

All this is without mentioning the nepotism/inbreeding within the industry itself. Not that nepotism/inbreeding creates bad artists/art, but it sure doesn’t make for a diverse pool of voices. For a new author to break in, it seems they not only have to already BE somebody or BE RELATED TO somebody, but they have to get an agent to do the work for them, because authors are not “smart enough” to navigate the industry itself—it isn’t safe to go it alone. Since when is art such a field of landmines? Why have we allowed them to create SO MANY of said landmines?

*Takes a breath*

I am not strictly pro-Amazon, but I haven’t been pro-traditional publishing for a long while. Yes, yes, publishing is a business. But it used to be a business that also dealt in art. It used to make money ON ART. What is it that it’s selling now, really? Most doesn’t seem like art.

*By BLA, not Gabbler. Gabbler thought this probably wasn’t the smartest career move — bashing so many people. 

12/12/15  UPDATE — More interesting commentary/linkspam: 

1) “The Packager Phenomena” — A section from this PBS article, on book packagers and their role in publishing.

2) “‘Was it the book packagers who really wrote the book and plagiarized my books or was it her?” she said.’ — On Kaavya Viswanathan. From here.

3) “I Could Have Been a Pretender” — Slate, on an experience with a book packager/ghostwriting.

4) “Book Packaging and Indentured Servitude” — From Author Elizabeth Fama. From here.

5) More on Kaavya Viswanathan — From here. 

6) On how “most readers do not care. They don’t care where the book comes from if it’s a good book.” — From here.

7) On how publishing “chases trends, it doesn’t make them” — From here.

8) On how publishing houses don’t fact check “true stories” because, hell, it will sell either way — From here.

9) On how Penguin Random House owns the biggest vanity press that exploits writers — From here.

10) “Publishing is rotten to the core” — From David Gaughran.

11) Editor of NYT criticizes her own paper for biased coverage of the Amazon/Hachette case. — From here.

12) On “The Death Of the Artist.” — From here.

13) “Say No To James Frey: Why I’m Boycotting Full Fathom Five.” — From here. “Full Fathom Five don’t seem to have a website, so keeping track of their work to boycott it can prove tougher than it should be.”

14) “These days, writing isn’t a career. It’s a rich man’s hobby.” –From here.

15) “That said, we live amid a great sprawl of what passes for literature.”  –From here.

16) The Agony of Community; On Art and the Introvert.” –From here.

17) Traditional Publication is the New Vanity Press. — From here.

18) Alan Moore on why the publishing industry sucks. –From here.

19) The Damage James Patterson, Inc. Has Done to Publishing. — From here.

20) “If paying for someone to do your homework is wrong, isn’t it wrong for a ghost writer to write novels for other people?”

21) “Literary Hoaxes and the Ethics of Authorship by Louis Menand.” — From here.

Have a tip? Submit a relevant link below in the comments.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

all yellow B&N | Amazon | Etc.

7 thoughts on “Why “literature” is no longer “art”:

  1. Hey now. Interesting spin, but not sure I totally agree. I mean, I would not consider Patterson’s work to be “literature,” but written entertainment. It would be like saying music is no longer art because of Miley Cyrus, or film is no longer art because there are hack filmmakers out there. Someone told me a while back that “art is whatever and artist does.” The way the artist expresses him or her self is nothing more than the vehicle used to express the artistic idea. Thankfully, we still have writers like Neil Gaiman and Donna Tartt out there who are keeping literature alive 😉

    Hope you have a wonderful and inspiring day!!


    1. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject! B.L.A. confirms that music is not art if it comes from Ms. Cyrus. However, I, Gabbler, agree that there are multiple layers of art and even fart noises can have an “art” to them. Granted, I don’t think I could ever respect the art of fart noises, no matter how entertaining or life-enriching they may be.


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