Just as when reading Adam deVille discussing late stage capitalism, I am not totally sure if “neoliberalism” is quite the right term for what King-Smith describes, but she certainly captures perfectly a certain pseudo-toughness many writers and literary folk affect that masks a sense of powerlessness:
This ideology dominates the publishing/writing ‘industry’ at present (as well as many other arts ‘industries’ and the entertainment industry, generally), where it manifests in many ways, including:
- Writers are nearly always defined as individuals, not movements or collectives (if they are collectives, they are rarely taken seriously). Publishers are always looking for the next best seller. Often books that are frivolous novelty items sell better than books that explore the deeper dimensions to society and subjectivity. Writers are no longer nurtured and developed by publishers over time to develop a mature and sophisticated body of work. There’s less capacity in the current publishing industry to subsidise important books that don’t sell in high quantities.
- Writers and other artists are always expected to be in competition with each other for the limited paid publishing opportunities available. Writers are told they have to be thick skinned, determined, tenacious and prepared to sell themselves. Writers are told to develop two personalities – a business self and writing self. NOTE: Many mainstream representations of creativity involve competitions of some sort e.g. shows like The Voice, X-factor, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.. Even cooking, which should be a way for people to come together and connect, is now depicted in competitive terms (e.g. Masterchef, MKR, etc.). We consume our culture in the form of competitive battles. Therefore, as a writer, if you aren’t successful, it is because you are not competitive or driven enough.
- A writer’s success is largely measured in terms of whether they make money or not. Now, I’m not saying that making a living isn’t important, but the vast majority of writers don’t make a living and for those that do, it’s usually pretty paltry. To measure our success by these terms means most writers feel like failures – even if their work is innovative, beautifully-crafted and says important things about the world
Most writers wear this paradigm and I think it makes us feel very powerless.
Of course, to a certain degree this pseudo-toughness on the part of literary agent is also a defence against being bombarded with not very good work.
My impression is that in the last 20 years or so literary types have become afraid to express anything that even smacks of Romanticism – or indeed a sense of vocation – about what they do. This manifests itself in this kind of rhetoric about “the industry” and a valuing of external achievements – this hypercompetitiveness indeed does deserve some kind of label. But is neoliberalism quite the mot juste? King-Smith’s article is worth reading in full.