I grew up with a reverence for authors. If you made a movie, or wrote a play or directed a play or starred in a play, that was cool, but if you wrote a book (fiction, and to a lesser extent non-fiction, but to a greater extent philosophy) you were somebody. Authors weren’t just artists using the medium of words, they were culture.
As the internet has devalued writing it has also demystified authorship in ways that I think are unique to the times. From the dawn of the first printed book until the public began expressing itself en mass I think a reverence for authors has been the norm. To be published was to be validated in ways that most people could only aspire to.
This does not mean, however, that any cultural stewardship claimed by the publishing industry was real. Far from it. Publishers have engaged in gatekeeping for no end of duplicitous purposes, and the people populating those power centers have never shown the slightest hesitation in abusing whatever trust the public placed in them. Where power, money and desire meet you can scoop cockroaches by the pound and never see the bottom of the barrel.
So complete was publishing’s power over the concept of authorship that anyone who attempted to publish outside the industry was deemed by all to have admitted failure. A painter could work in solitude, a musician could compose for an audience of one, a filmmaker could go independent, but to be a real author — to be a part of the culture — you had to sign a contract with someone else and give them editorial control. [ Read more ]