Cheeseburger Gothic

Ursula K Le Guin serving up some smackdown

Posted November 21, 2014 into Books by John Birmingham

I saw Le G had been gonged this week for contributuions to American Letters, and that she'd given some sort of kick arse acceptance speech. But I didn't realise how kick arse until I read it.

She gives Amazon a kicking, champions SF and Fantasy writing, and makes you think you really wouldn't want to go up against her in a dark alley without a lot of fire support:

Thank you Neil, and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s name is freedom.

Thank you.

17 Responses to ‘Ursula K Le Guin serving up some smackdown’

Buck mutters...

Posted November 21, 2014
Fantastic stuff. The world and publishing both need more voices like Le Guin's.

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Naut reckons...

Posted November 21, 2014

Nice sentiment and all, but publishers aren't in just for the fun of it. They can be generous about art once they have a squillion dollars.

Surely in this digital age it is much cheaper and easier to self-publish an e-book and reach a wider market for your niche product than ever before?

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 21, 2014

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"Books, you know, they’re not
just commodities" and there I think you can in a single question divide
all those who come to this discussion and what sort of world they would shape
if their view comes ascendant.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p></font></font>

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted November 21, 2014

"Books, you know, they’re not just commodities" and there I think you can in a single question divide all those who come to this discussion and what sort of world they would shape if their view comes ascendant.

Comment now with less formating cues

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Surtac mutters...

Posted November 21, 2014


Thanks for giving us the whole thing John. I watched this explode on my twitter feed yesterday arvo and it was obvious she'd touched a nerve. Every single response I saw was in full support.

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Naut has opinions thus...

Posted November 21, 2014

I disagree Barnesm, I don't see books as JUST commodities. But I also don't think corporations can be forced to invest into something just because someone has defined it as "Art".

If Ursula is so concerned, why doesn't she set up an alternative? How is she going to determine what is art?

If the retailers are behaving unreasonably then set-up a writer's union and take your product elsewhere. Find a business partner that is willing to take a risk and leverage the art angle.

The speech strikes me as taking the high moral ground without offering solutions or offering to be part of the solution.

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted November 21, 2014
"I don't see books as JUST commodities. But I also don't think corporations can be forced to invest into something just because someone has defined it as "Art" never thought they should.

Naut ducks in to say...

Posted November 21, 2014
Ok, so what do you think?

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted November 22, 2014
What do you mean, I think a lot of things.


Naut has opinions thus...

Posted November 25, 2014
Very true and I suspect you think a lot more things than I.

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ShaneAlpha swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 21, 2014
Look just submit already.

You know that you are desperate to read that new series by that well known author "Dave Hooper fights monsters" sponsored by Amazon and Pepsi. See if you can pick the subtle product placement. Marvel at the brilliant wordplay as Amazon and Pepsi are both mentioned in every paragraph. (as legally required).

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JBtoo would have you know...

Posted November 21, 2014
She is awesome

Bunyip asserts...

Posted November 21, 2014
Agreed.

Respect.

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Abe Frellman asserts...

Posted November 22, 2014
I've read 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas' as part of a course in ethical leadership and the 'good society'. Indeed it bookended the course, and how your perspective on the story changes after doing the course is used as a tool to see how far you have moved away from any 'utilitarian priors'.

Worth the read.

Bunyip reckons...

Posted November 22, 2014
I can still remember the joy and shock of reading "The Dispossessed"

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Mordwa asserts...

Posted November 22, 2014
Consider me a dunderhead (many do!), but where is the smack down? Art and commerce nearly alway clash; I naively believe that clash is irrelevant as long as the art is good. Or to put it another way; is it more important to be good or popular? And *how much* more important? If "art" is the goal, how much does the money... matter?

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Sweet Jane Says asserts...

Posted November 24, 2014
Careful, Birmingham, you're supporting a liberal cause for art to be used to progress the ideas of freedom. Her words stand against art becoming captive to capitalism and she hopes for the human right to be free of fear.
A lot of Australians under Abbot understand her wish for a future where freedom is not only remembered - it is advanced.

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