I think about this a lot.
I wonder: if Kafka were alive today, how would he market himself? Would he tweet? Would he blog? Would he network? Would he do an AMA on Reddit? How would he “get the word out” about stories like “The Hunger Artist,” and “Josephine The Singer”?
Would he ignore “social media”? Or would he just suck at it?
Because if you’re THAT good at one thing (writing stories) can you possibly also be THAT good at promoting yourself?
And, today, if you cannot promote yourself effectively, does it even matter how good your work is?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but that doesn’t keep me from obsessing about them. I spent a career in “business” trying to “promote” many different things to many different kinds of audiences. Some of those efforts succeeded, others failed. But were any of the ones that worked a product of classic marketing or promotion? Or did they work because all the stars aligned and the product being promoted had an intrinsic worth and I was just lucky enough to sense that?
The internet has of course made people more skeptical than ever of marketing and promotion. People know it’s a scam. This book! This movie! This band! This game! In spite of their ultra-clever cross-platform multi-media marketing campaigns, most of what is being promoted sucks … and people know that now. They instinctively distrust the “sell.”
So maybe it’s more about keeping your head down and doing good work and getting better and better with each project … and hoping? Hoping you have a friend who digs your stuff and tells someone else who tells someone else who … what? Works at Fox? We all know what the chances of that are. Plus, Fox would just want to own your IP and fuck it up, anyway!
As a result, part of me has just stopped thinking about self-promotion. Oh, I make half-hearted attempts at it. Facebook updates, tweets, Tumblr posts, targeted email blasts, even LinkedIn messages. All to let people know that I’ve just finished something and I’d appreciate it if they checked it out. And some of them will check it out. And most of them won’t.
That used to bug me. But now for some reason, I’m becoming OK with it.
I do what I do because I love it and because it helps me understand my life, my sense of reality, my conception of art, my knowledge of consciousness. I also have the unmitigated gall to believe that what I am exploring about MY LIFE will be interesting to others as they navigate THEIR LIVES. What a concept, right? But there you have it. You keep going because … well, because you want to get better, you want to get closer … to the quickening moment, the spark that makes us human, the things that unite us as we stumble forward with our arms outreached into the darkness, feeling, fearing, hoping.
I won’t stop. Because this is what I do now, who I am.
My gratitude for life, for being conscious in this particular place at this particular moment in time, has been electrified by the experience of writing the three BALLARD novellas.
And I know that better (not unlike winter) is coming!
Jonathan Cohen said:
Kafka, as a writer, was humble to the point of self-effacement. He told Brod to burn his works, and it was only due to Brod’s betrayal of Kafka’s trust that we have anything of Kafka’s. It is not clear what use he would have had for the Internet, but he might have been happy with its ephemeral nature and its ability to help disguise one’s identity. Of course, Kafka lived in a time when the Imperial secret police kept close tabs on everyone, so he knew about that part of our experience, too.
Jkc—what are your thoughts on Brod? Would you have done the same?
Jonathan Cohen said:
I would — which should be a lesson to you if you make me your literary executor. To burn the works of someone of Kafka’s gifts would be worse than breaking his trust. I would still have to live for the rest of my life with my having betrayed him.
There are almost no arguments in this particular case for doing otherwise … but it’s a conundrum nevertheless. What if Brod had been a less discerning friend and HAD burned the Kafka ms, unaware of their worth? Would that have made him a better friend? Are there any circumstances in which being a better friend SHOULD override the obligation a man or woman of letters might feel toward posterity?
Jonathan Cohen said:
Case by case basis, Mike. There are too many variables. Max Brod — who was actually something of an opportunist, and who introduced many errors and “corrections” into Kafka’s manuscripts — did the right thing, perhaps not for the best reasons. But it was luck. I can think of people whose unpublished work should be suppressed; would I be making the right call? How many matches of great work to sensitive but determined literary executor have there been? We only know what survives. Like the Aeneid.