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With economics as the primary engine, only those things that appeal to popular taste are apt to make it to the marketplace. Art of substance gets pushed to the margins, or is neglected altogether. It is an odd paradox, but the arts in general have become increasingly ineffective, while at the same time the means of making and distributing the products of the arts have become increasingly varied and efficient. The concern has been deeply felt by many in our time. Camus, in a famous speech delivered at Uppsala University in Sweden in 1957, said:

"Of what could art speak, indeed? If it adapts itself to what the majority of our society wants, art will be a meaningless recreation. If it blindly rejects that society, if the artist makes up his mind to take refuge in his dream, art will express nothing but a negation. In this way we shall have the production of entertainers or of formal grammarians..."

Orwell had something to say about it, too. The following comes from his essay entitled "The Prevention of Literature":

"Any writer ... who wants to retain his integrity finds himself thwarted by the general drift of society rather than by active persecution... Working against him are the concentration of the press in the hands of a few rich men, the grip of the monopoly on radio and films, the unwillingness of the public to spend money on books, making it necessary for every writer to earn part of his living by hackwork..."

Or consider the words of the American historian Dr. Henry May. Writing in 1961 for a little pamphlet entitled The Discontent of the Intellectuals: A Problem of the Twenties, he says,

"In the philosophy of American publishing, popularity has been regarded not only as a practical advantage but as a virtue as well. Thanks to the peculiar character of our democracy, our publishers have been able to persuade themselves that a book which fails to appeal to the ordinary citizen cannot be good on other grounds."

Dr. May goes on to suggest that in America, at least, there has not been a willingness on the part of the publishing system to provide our artists with so much as a handout, a little hackwork to keep them afloat between disappointments.

"A genius looking for employment is one of the saddest sights in all the world," wrote Henry Miller in his Time of the Assassins. And, yes, it is sad to see. Sadder still, in my view, is the picture of whole armies of talent -- perhaps not all of them first-rank geniuses -- being slowly drained of optimism and capacity until, having achieved the maximum reduction, they fade into either virtual or actual oblivion. As I said, this has been the general drift since at least the beginning of the machine age, which is about when society got in the habit of regarding any disinterested activity -- especially the arts -- as self-indulgent nonsense.

I want to believe that the revolution of the edition is not finished -- not yet, anyway. Happily, I have some grounds for thinking it is not finished -- providing, of course, we have not driven too many of our talented persons into one kind of oblivion or another, or so frustrated the young ones coming along that they fail to take an interest.


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