E-ink is a lie. It tries to persuade us that writing is black. While I don’t doubt that some of it is black, the very best writing appears in brown ink. That’s because the very best writing is smeared on the page in shit. Romantics say the author writes from the heart. Intellectuals say the author writes from the head. But a true author — a warrior-poet, a prophet of divine judgment, a heckler of earthly powers — such an author writes from the ass.
When silk-tied fops speak of the publishing industry as if it were an oil field with wells sunk into the heads of writerly men and women, and when their soulless acolytes speak of consumers, I can’t help but think they’ve lost control of their metaphor. There was a time, before idiots took hold of the word, when consumption was something we did at the kitchen table, and the economy it supported went no further than the front door of the house. Now we speak of consumption the way priests speak of the Eucharist. We take our holy products on the tongue and by a miraculous consubstantiation, we become the things we swallow: I am Apple; I am Motorola; I am Nike; I am Coca-cola.
Or more to the point: I am Harper Perennial; I am Harlequin; I am Chapters/Indigo; I am Barnes & Noble; I am Amazon.
While consumption begins in the kitchen, it ends in the toilet bowl. This is a fact the priests of the new economy omit in their liturgies. After 9/11, when his holiness, G.W. Bush, instructed the faithful to shop, he forgot to mention this would induce a case of the runs that would fill a cesspool far deeper than the pit left behind after the collapse of the twin towers.
We are a race of gastronomic prodigies who force goods down the gullet in spasms of parastaltic glee, loosening our sphincters all the way down then blasting the half-digested bits wherever we aim our rear ends. How fortunate for those closest to me that I am, before all else, a consumer of words rather than a consumer of plastic and rubber.
Consumption is a neutral activity. A deer consumes grass in a meadow, then bounds to the woods to shit. Without some consumption, every living creature would die.
As with the consumption of food, so with the consumption of words: there is a practical limit to the quantity consumed. Like most people, I can’t eat much more than my hunger allows. Even if I could, even if I had a medical condition that made me feel perpetual hunger, my eating would not be boundless (it would soon exhaust me and my death would put an end to my eating). The same is true of words. I can consume words for only twenty-four hours of every day. That, of course, is a theoretical limit. In practice, I don’t read while I sleep, nor while I floss my teeth.
The problem with consumption lies more in its quality. If I eat too quickly, I might develop a case of diarrhea. If my food is tainted, I might vomit. If my food is thick and heavy, I might be constipated for days. But set before me a well-prepared meal, one with a variety of servings, with a well-planned succession of courses accompanied by an excellent glass of wine, and I will reward you with a firm stool that passes comfortably, presents with a warm brown colouration, and emits a rich odour.
This is the end of consumption: to offer up something fresh and pungent at the end of the day.
The same holds for the consumption of words. Writing is the literary equivalent of a shit in the woods after a session of hearty grazing.
I aspire to offer my readers warm coffee-coloured turds that tingle in the nostrils and send up plumes of steam in the wintertime. But I’ll never do that if all I consume are the words of hacks. If I were to wolf down a pallet of schlock thrillers (strands of dialogue strung between three-word sentences) the best I could offer on my own account would be a case of amoebic dysentery. You would read me as a runny gruel that seeps into the grout of the kitchen floor. Or if I were to subsist on a diet of Victorian novels, they would run through my intestines as naturally as a daily Big Mac through an Inuit, and I would be stopped up until, after weeks of bloated agony, I would explode with a volley of rock-like pellets.
Instead, give me a rich and varied diet. Cook from the recipes of both the living and the dead. Give me leafy greens and pasta. Give me bruschetta and marbled meats, wine and rutabagas, cheeses and coffees and desserts that fry in flaming rum. On such a diet, I can squeeze out nuggets of such delicacy that mothers will bring their children to gawk, curators will beg samples to place under glass for posterity, and revolutionaries will use them as incendiary devices to lob at dictators and CEO’s.
If we are indeed consumers, we cannot help but shit, and the result cannot help but be a mashup of all we swallowed the day before.
Writers are consumers of the first rank, gobbling by the bucket the words of their peers and squeezing out a rich paste. They can’t pull words from the air any more than they can sniff the farts of angels. Instead, they chew on all the words they have gulped, ruminating like cows in the dirt, swallowing and regurgitating, burping and grunting, then every now and again producing a great platt in the pasture.
But now. But now. How things have changed!
The silk-tied fops have arrived with their corks and shoved them up our bums and have told us we aren’t allowed to shit as nature intended by mashing up all we’ve digested. Now, if we want to shit, we must either squat like scatological gods and squeeze our shit ex nihilo or harvest it from a choir of raging aphasics. Whatever we consume, we must hold it in our bowels to fester until we bloat and burst, spewing our poisoned stew on illiterate innocents.
At first, the cork slips, allowing a pale soup to dribble onto the page. This gives writers a piffle to work with, a smear across a sheet of foolscap or a brown ass-shaped imprint for an ebook. But the brown-nosed acolytes are busy sniffing our shit, sending it to the lab for analysis, afraid that traces of our meals may have found their way into our stools. To be safe, they bend us over tables and take sledgehammers to our corks. They weld shut our sphincters. They seal our orifices with nuclear powered force fields. And always, they sniff through the dirt for more shit.