Inside Out or Outside In?

empire state

Here’s a question for everyone: Why did Tao Lin receive an advance from Random House for $50,000, while Lena Dunham received one from RH for $3.7 million?

As with most questions, there are likely multiple answers. One of them is the location/ background of the authors.

The trick with New York “Big Five” publishing is to look at New York as an Imperial city; practicing Imperialism in regard to writers and literature. Most of the Imperialism practiced is within country.

This is a theme I play in my satirical ebook novel The McSweeneys Gang. (Not recommended if you believe in the current literary scene.) Other cities across America, even literary centers like Iowa City, are treated like outposts by the core city, which must be thought of as akin to Rome circa 100 AD or London circa 1890. The east coast, from Washington D.C. to Boston, is the nation’s power corridor. Literature’s home country. If you’re raised and/or educated within this corridor, you’re part of literature’s native population. All else is strange territory populated by barbarians.

The attitude, then, from within the power corridor is always Inside Out. Big Five apologist Evan Hughes will travel to Detroit to write a book about this exotic spot’s more violent and bizarre happenings, like a Victorian reporter curious about the unknown and, for him/them, the unseen.

A host of journalists traveled to Alaska in 2008 to cover the quaint and barbarically exotic Palin family.

Again: Inside Out. The Imperialists covering the world, they the only acceptable voice.

Outsiders like Tao Lin or Ed Champion who travel to the Imperial City to join the establishment literary scene have reversed the viewpoint. They’re Outside In. One wonders if it’s possible for them to truly fit in, to be accepted as equals.

When it comes to publishing clout, and the attached-at-the-hip New York-based literary media, the Imperial City with its near provinces has had more influence over what’s determined to be literature than the rest of the nation/empire combined. The rise of indy ebooks gives the opportunity to balance this equation.

(Read’s Opinion page for more thoughts along these lines.)

-Karl Wenclas

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