My 2013 disagreement with Chris Knowles, and subsequent open letter, came up yesterday in the comments section, and I mentioned that something similar had happened, or was happening, with my much more long-term collaborator, now publisher, Doug Lain. Doug took over Zer0 Books in late 2014, just before Seen and Not Seen was due to be published, and our relationship has suffered ever since. It is currently hovering somewhere between acrimonious and non-existent.
At my end, I have been trying to enter into an honest, meaningful dialogue with Doug for some time now, and since this doesn’t seem to be happening, I am taking it public, as is my wont (I am a wanton exhibitionist, as my frenemies never tire of reminding me). I am hoping this way either to resolve it or knock it on the head once and for all.
Sometimes the only way to have a dialogue is to start alone. I wrote Paper Tiger both about and to my brother, at a time when he wasn’t talking to me. Unfortunately he died before he ever got it. This isn’t meant as a threat to Doug Lain—though I imagine I wouldn’t be the first author to want to murder his publisher—but there are patterns that recur in our lives, and this—fraternal rivalry—is one of mine. In fact, it’s an originary myth.
Doug and I first hooked up in 2008, during my Stormy Weather stint as Aeolus Kephas; he invited me on Diet Soap a few times, and I had him on SW. We did a string of conversations over the next five years, including one for the Crucial Fictions site, all of which you can find here. Most recently, when Doug took over Zer0 Books, and started his podcast Zero Squared (I think I suggested Square Zero as the title). I was even the first guest, talking about Seen & Not Seen, and afterwards, Doug invited me to do a regular slot on it. I made a couple of recorded segments, which he included at the end. Pretty soon, the collaboration became too fraught for me and, to avoid the headache, I decided to do my own podcast again (which I guess means thanks are due to Doug for inspiring/provoking the inception of The Liminalist). Doug had me on his podcast again to talk about that, and then a few months later I talked to Doug on The Liminalist. I think that was the last time we spoke.
It was around that time that tensions began to creep into our relationship. When someone commented on one of my articles, at the Zer0 Books blog, a propos of nothing they mentioned the discrepancies in the official version of “the Holocaust.” When I engaged them in respectful dialogue rather than chasing them away, Doug called both of us “Holocaust deniers” and deleted the comments. The other incident I recall was in a Google chat when I referred to Marx as “another over-intellectual Jew,” or words to that effect, and Doug called me an anti-Semite. (Doug’s stated view, after Žižek, is that all conspiracy theory is ipso facto anti-Semitic.) I think I made a remark that this was the stuff from which break-ups were made.
Then last year, after a period of incommunicado, there was a minor online spat on Facebook, which I can’t refer to as I deactivated my FB account yesterday. It concerned my associate and fellow disgruntled Zer0 Books author, Nicolas Hausdorf. Nicolas had written an article, or several, for Jacobite, that had got the attention of a Zer0 Books reader, who had asked what Doug thought of Nicolas’ shift to “the right.” Apparently, the site is seen as somewhat right of center, at least compared to Zer0 Books’ ideological soapbox.
Doug said something like, “He won’t be writing for Zer0 Books again.” Nicolas challenged Doug about this, and, sympathetic, I chimed in with my own challenge too. Doug did a podcast with Nicolas, showing apparent willingness to bridge the ideological gulf. Unfortunately, he edited it in such a way as to further piss off Nicolas, who felt Doug had made the discussion seem more adversarial than it was, mostly to Nicolas’ disadvantage (Nicolas recorded the conversation too, and published the unedited version online).
Doug’s defense, predictably, was that Zer0 Books was a political publisher and Nicolas’ politics were now incompatible with theirs, making it perfectly natural not to want to publish him anymore. This I felt was somewhat circular reasoning, and it didn’t really address the question of: a) the manner in which Doug had let Nicolas know, in such a cavalier yet dictatorial fashion (by publicly “dissing” one of his own authors) b) exactly which political positions were now deemed incompatible with Zer0 Books, and why; c) why Doug assumed Nicolas had gone “over to the right,” rather than allowing he might simply be exploring ideas and asking questions (his comment suggested that Nicolas had permanently stained his record and was persona non grata at Zer0); d) what Zer0 Books’ (Doug’s) actual ideological position now was, and how and why it could so easily be affronted or challenged.
Probably I am at a disadvantage in judging such matters since I see fixed ideological positions as, at best, equivalent to fashion statements, at worst, akin to Johnny Depp’s choice of tattoo.
In a related incident, I had made a comment at Zer0 Books FB page, or asked a question, I forget now what about, and been instantly trolled (there’s really no other word for it) by one of their authors, Alfie Bown, who accused me of being an “alt-right transphobe” and lobbed jibes and sneers at me so infantile and inarticulate as to be wholly indistinguishable from self-satire. (The gist, as with Doug’s comment about Nicolas, was “Your kind ain’t welcome ‘round these parts no more.”)
As a passing point of interest, when I posted my exchange with the bouncing Bown on FB, Nicolas saw it and told me it had been Bown who had held up publication of his favorable review of Prisoner of Infinity, at the Hong Kong Review of Books, apparently for the same reason: that I was ideologically toxic.
This is all to give readers some background. It will be easy for many of you to imagine the ideological tension—whether potential or dynamic, imagined or actual—between Doug and myself, despite the fact I don’t have any specific political orientation or ideology (unlike Doug, a Marxist). And although I felt like this gulf between us might be unbridgeable, I decided to try and bridge it anyway, because I enjoy a challenge and try not to get “boxed in” by my own reactions to being boxed in.
On Nov 21, 2018, I reached out to Doug as follows:
I had an idea today, while lounging in the local hot tub, for a conversation launch-point that might be worth both our time.
Point 1) I have this book due out in Jan, Vice of Kings, which takes my childhood as a departure point and traces the roots of organized child abuse in part to (Fabian) socialist programs and philosophies in the UK from late 1800s to date.
Point 2) For the last 3 years, I’ve been running a small-town thrift store and getting more involved, inevitably if peripherally, in local politics, as one of the main functions of the store is to provide cheap (or free) clothing to the poor and homeless, as well as free food once a week, and so on.
So, while on the one hand I have spent several years exposing the destructive hypocrisy of socialist ideologies (as sourced in the ruling classes), further disowning my elitist roots, you might say, I have on the other hand been practicing some of the main socialist principles in a non-theoretical manner, while mingling ever more with society’s disenfranchised. All [this] being part of successfully and ethically running a thrift business properly, which is all about redistribution of wealth.
I would even say that these policies of helping others in need stemmed, if anything, from a capitalist ethic, not a socialist one, seeing as how this was the business model we settled on as the most efficient.
I’ve blogged about my day to day experiences in the store recently, in an ongoing series called “The Life & Loves of a Failed Misanthrope,” which I will be alternating with my more usual social analyses.
I thought this might be of interest to you, and that despite the apparent gulf between our worldviews, we might find some common ground by discussing.
Eight days later on November 29, I received a response:
I’d be glad to have you on the podcast to discuss your book, socialism, the Fabian society, and the rest. Let’s record in mid-December?
I replied right away:
OK; I have asked Aeon to send you a PDF
One thing: if you end up editing our conversation, which I think is normal for you, do you agree to let me hear & approve the edit before airing?
Doug sent an immediate response this time:
I’ll agree to let you have veto power but not to run your own version.
OK, maybe we can switch over at some point to Liminalist talk
I didn’t hear back from Doug again. Come mid-December (the 17th), I emailed a question:
did i get dropped?
I got no response, which naturally I took as a yes.
Then, a couple of months ago, on finding out how few copies of SANS had sold since 2015 (just over 200), I felt deeply chagrined and decided to do some promoting. I emailed Doug, on July 8, 2019:
From your non-responses to my last couple of emails, & your choice to leave me hanging like the proverbial straw man, I deduce that I have been deemed ideologically unsafe in Lain-land?
This would be sad, after all those conversations, but not a real issue to address, were it not for the fact that you run the publishing house that carries one of my books, even if admittedly one you didn’t select yourself.
I am currently embarked on renewed promotion of the book; this is partially because I would like to someday release an updated & revised edition, and this seems unlikely to happen (unless I pay for it) until Zero has sold its first 1000 copies, or so I have been informed.
My question is whether or not you/Zero are willing to help me promote the book, via social media for example, & if not, why not? If I get reviews or do podcasts, are you willing to share them with Zero readers?
Getting the lay of the land here will help me know how, or even if, to proceed with my mini-campaign.
Doug’s response arrived that same day:
The reason behind my prolonged silence isn’t personal or even ideological, but rather it’s just a failure on my part. I am constantly struggling to keep up with correspondences and to follow through on plans and I find myself sometimes allowing certain lower priority projects to fall through the cracks, espeically [sic] projects that promise to be high maintenance. It’s something I’m constantly trying to rectify, however.
I would still have you on the podcast and would even invite you to produce a video for the Zero Books youtube channel if you’re interested.
If you did come back on the podcast perhaps we could discuss the ideological differences you mentioned in your email and we could talk about the direction Zero Books has gone in the last few years.
I sent my response the following day:
That’s a pleasant surprise
what sort of video did you have in mind? is this something other authors have been doing?
SANS would be the logical focus…
when do you want to do the podcast?
After several hours without a response, I sent another:
returning to the original question
>My question is whether or not you/Zero are willing to help me promote the book, via social media for example
any chance that whoever runs the twitter account can retweet relevant tweets, such as this one:
Days went by with no response. I did correspond with someone, possibly Doug, via Zer0’s Facebook page, about sending copies of SANS to a couple of writers (John Cussans and Jim Kunstler), and whoever it was, they were helpful enough. I put the requests in the John Hunt system and eventually saw a note from Doug Lain approving the books to be sent.
Eight days after my last unanswered email to him, I wrote this to Doug:
another good tweet:
@JaKephas's "Seen and Not Seen" is a trip. It's sort of a self-interrogating memoir interlaced with personally engaged film- and lit-crit. If you liked @nicholsonbaker8's "U & I" and/or @bigsmashkierla's "House of Psychotic Women," it might be your cup. https://t.co/Jc1YDyPdDk— Nine-Banded Books (@NineBandedBooks) July 18, 2019
That was nine days ago. I composed a longer email and left it in drafts, thinking to wait before confronting what I saw as Doug’s weird, passive aggressive and/or mealy-mouthed behavior.
Yesterday morning, I sent him an email saying only this:
since you’re not answering my emails I’ll probably address this via an open letter thing
No response 24 hours later. That brings us to the present, finally. So here goes.
Where are we now?
First off, thanks for sending the books to Cussans & Kunstler. Were it not for that, I would now be fully convinced of my zero-priority status at Zer0.
The problem with failed communication (like when emails get ignored) is it leaves room for all kinds of projections on the part of the ignored. The email you sent, while it seemed conciliatory and explanatory, was vague and evasive, and in light of your subsequent silence it seems more like a non-denial-denial—very politically!—designed to reassure me, while offering a carrot of future collaboration to keep me quiet.
I have experienced this many times over the years: being ignored repeatedly and then, when I finally offer a clear challenge, being promised some “reward” for being patient, and then—guess what?—ignored all over again! What’s that Motown song? Set me free why doncha baby?
I get that you have assigned me to the categories of both “low priority” and “high maintenance.” Very honest of you to say so. And it’s easy enough to see why you wouldn’t want to deal with me. But then, why not just cut me loose?
Is it because you find it hard to square that with your Marxist conscience, which presumably prohibits acting like an autocrat, pissing over your low-income workers and calling it rain, while sucking up to the managerial classes? Or maybe this is your attempt to avoid an embarrassing scene—something you know I am adept at—and have no qualms about—creating? These are just guesses, but your silence forces them out of me. Nature (mine anyway) abhors a vacuum.
Or is this a way to maintain plausible denial even to yourself? Hey, you offered to help me promote my book by inviting me onto the podcast, and even to make a video. Very gracious of you, to make such an offer and demonstrate how open-minded and tolerant you are, regarding dangerously differing perspectives.
But you are busy guy, you forgot to get around to my emails, and then what happened, this crazy paranoid writer went ballistic and bit the hand that was trying to feed him! This does seem like a way to avoid possible embarrassments from readers and listeners, like the one who questioned you about Hausdorf.
Projection or necessary deduction, you decide.
Remember Freud (or Jung): to gauge what a person is trying to do, don’t listen to what they say, look at the results. The result of our (non-)exchanges over the past couple of years is this: your low-priority, high-maintenance author has very nearly gone away for good. It hardly seems worth my time trying to compose the right response to your treatment of me, so I certainly considered just letting it lie, like the dead horse I evidently am to you. The reason I didn’t? Like plastic garbage, unresolved “fraternal” issues don’t ever really go away; they just go underground and ooze toxins for future generations to deal with.
Since you have created conditions that make collaboration with you virtually impossible, presumably you don’t want to collaborate, not really. Easy to grok, but what’s not so easy is that, for some reason, you want me to think you do, presumably so you can get to be seen as a “good guy” who is open to ideological differences and values friendship despite the heavy responsibility on your shoulders, etc., etc.
In which case consider this to be the voice of your conscience, whispering idiot-like: “Epic Fail, Dougie.”
It’s easy for me to imagine your conflict, between what I might think of you if you blow me off, and what others might think, if you don’t. Reputation matters, especially when you are guiding a rickety old ship of ideological salvation.
Had you said simply, “Sorry, this is too fraught, I can’t be bothered; even if we have a history, I have a future to secure, so good luck and good riddance,” it would not have taken me long to get over it. The price of that would have been that, yes, I would have decided once and for all that Doug Lain is a bit of a dickless dick. But I am afraid we are at that juncture now anyway, aren’t we?
Wanting to be seen as a good guy and being a good guy are two different animals—two different species. And caring what I think of you has zero relation to caring about me, as a human being.
So, you may ask (if you ever get this far), what’s the purpose of all this, besides getting something off my chest and trying to set the record straight? To propose some sort of simple resolution. All this comes down to, at a practical level, is my interest in getting people to read SANS, and the initial impetus for that was my desire to do a revised and corrected reprint, including a new subtitle.
I propose that: either you make amends and start really helping me promote SANS. Or, since it seems this would require too much cooperation and at this point neither of us are inclined that way, that you allow me to revise the MS, even though only 250 copies have been sold, and issue a new edition.
A third option, which I am not sure would work at my end, but I am willing to try, is return the rights to me, and I look for another publisher, one that actually cares about me and my work.
Or you can just stay there in your fortress of silence, practicing Zero-intolerance.
Set me free why doncha baby!?