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MARCH 2011

Black Day at Eddy's
Nietzsche and Free Will
Free Will: An Addendum
The Trouble with Publishing
CreateSpace: A Warning

Black Day at Eddy's

Two black girls turned up at Eddy’s accompanied by a white Nordic red-haired Amazon who actually looked half-interested in the stock. One of the black girls wore tight white pants which had a zip on the thigh at the front. I thought this odd. The thigh is an erogenous zone I suppose but these two weren’t Beyoncé and Naomi Campbell and anyway even if you were hung like a black you could hardly begin an insertion from such a location. I wondered whether to enquire about this when the one with the zip picked up a volume of glamour shots and protested that this wasn’t what she wanted at all – she wanted MEN. Whereupon Eddy backed into his cubicle (the office) and reached up on his own top shelf to produce a volume of photos by some Jap pornographer named Araki. This was more up their street and they larfed immoderately. On the shelf alongside Araki was a big hardback of Tom of Finland. A big hardback of big hards-ons one might say since this famous depiction of gay lust is another prized item Eddy is not inclined to stick on the tables. They would be quickly stolen. Eddy says he has private clients who queue up for this stuff – although I can vouch for the fact that both these volumes have been there for at least six months. The Amazon is excited by a copy of Jane Eyre but the two black girls are keen to carry on to Afleck’s Palace and drag her away.

Later two black blokes arrive. They are big beefy geezers and enquire about books on mechanics. Perhaps they’re having trouble with the microchip in the engine management system of their seven series BMW. Eddy quickly pisses them off. They’d be time wasting thickos who wouldn’t know 15mm ring spanner from a donkey’s dick. The three of us are all engineers of some description. Eddy seems to know a lot about plumbing and Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) was a machinist at AEI in Trafford Park. It reminded me of Brian Philips – one our suppliers from Shoreham on Sea when I worked for ICI. He was mad on boats, finished up on a yacht on the Florida Keys and spent time in the Navy. Brian had a degree in Engineering from no less than Trinity College Cambridge. One day he was talking to some Vice Admiral who expressed a fleeting interest in Brian’s subject “I should know more about engineering” said the old seadog “Is there a good book on it?” How we larfed. And a similar dismissive attitude prevailed amongst us, Eddy, Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) and myself at the thought that some uppity punter could think a quick flip through a book from Eddy’s could solve his engineering problems. It takes at least 10,000 hours to get good at using a file.

I am about to shoot off when Eddy accosts both Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) and me concerning an errand. One of us is asked to schlep down Market Street to Anne Summers and buy a vibrating dildo size AO priced £45. Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) blenches visibly. I ask why Eddy can’t go himself since he often nips over to the Arndale for a snack – currently his favourite is Chili Con Carne. “What?” he replies “and leave you two in charge?” It seems Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) is not up for it and I’m doubtful. I might do it for a dare. Eddy peels off five tenners and repeats the specification. “Do I keep the change?” I ask. I don’t. No, I’m not going to do it either. But on my way back I pass Anne Summers, half way down just past the Market Street entrance to the Arndale and look in. The window doesn’t have any dildoes on display – it’s just full of frilly knickers and bras. Inside there are two languid young girls looking bored. I’d have to say “of course it isn’t for me” and they’d think “that old line – dirty old git”

Next week I ask Eddy if he got his dildo. He did. He shlepped down to Anne Summers after he shut the unit. The dildoes were in a basement emporium. I could think of a few questions “How big is the OA?” “Does it go in and out as well as wiggle about?” “What colour is it?” Eddy told the assistant it wasn’t for him and when the assistant asked if he wanted batteries and lubricant he fished out his mobile and rang his mate, the ultimate recipient, who is having an affair with some randy old slut – the dildo is her idea. Yes he wanted batteries and lubricant. I guess the assistant thought – yis, that old line “It’s not for me – and then he pretends to ring his mate”.

You might think that Sean (the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog) and I were both suspicious of this subterfuge but we know Eddy well enough to know it’s not for him. Eddy’s three passions are fishing, cheroots and wine. Women are not even on the first page. Only last week he raved about a Vosne Romanee 2002 as the best Burgundy he’d ever tasted. I realised it was one I’d given him a few years ago. But do I get special consideration for this? No I don’t – I’m even asked to go and pick up dildoes.


Nietzsche and Free Will

To most oiks if you say Nietzsche they say “Bless you”. Yep the name does sound like a sneeze and if you’re a half cultured oik you’d probably say “that crazy old Nazi”. But there’s more to this very influential thinker than you might imagine. An article in the Times Literary Supplement of March 4 acknowledges his prescience in matters of psychology. His anticipation of Freud has long been accepted. But the author of the article brings out another strangely modern aspect – Nietzsche’s rejection of Free Will. I mention this since it is germane to the long debate on this topic between Alan Dent and myself. (see A Dialogue on Determinism) Dent remains stubbornly attached to Free Will (as do I – but perhaps not so stubbornly) and may return to the debate now I’ve sent him the clip below. The author says modern research shows that volitions are always preceded by brain activity before the volition becomes conscious. In other words you may think you’re deciding to lift your arm but in fact your brain has decided to do this and the sensation of deciding follows this event. Deciding is thus an epiphenomenon – a parallel mental sensation with no force in the material world.

The whole article is added to the site and can be read by following this link. Article in Full

I feel sure that Oiklet followers will be riveted by this and will attend to it as soon as the Eastenders Omnibus or X Factor has finished. Before that read the nub below:

In a later work, Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche develops these ideas about the "error of free will". He writes: The "inner world" is full of phantoms... the will is one of them. The will no longer moves anything, hence does not explain anything either - it merely accompanies events; it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness - something alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them. .. . What follows from this? There are no mental causes at all. We know, of course, from the earlier remarks, that Nietzsche is denying conscious mental causes of the actions we experience as freely willed. And the antecedents of the actions at issue are precisely the fundamental psycho-physical traits that really explain the person's agency.

If the experience of willing does not, according to Nietzsche, illuminate how actions are brought about, what, then, really explains our actions? The "Four Great Errors" section of Twilight of the Idols suggests an answer, one which wins powerful support from recent work by the psychologist Daniel Wegner in his widely discussed book The Illusion of Conscious Will (2002). Wegner, like Nietzsche, starts from the experience of willing, and, like Nietzsche, wants to undermine our confidence that the experience accurately tracks the causal reality. To do so, Wegner calls our attention to cases where the phenomenology and the causation admittedly come apart. One set of cases involves "illusions of control", that is, "instances in which people have the feeling they are doing something when they actually are not doing anything" (there are experiments involving video games in which the subjects feel that their manipulation of the joystick explains the action on the screen, when in fact the machine is just running a pre-set programme). Another set of well-documented cases involves the "automatisms", that is, cases where there is action but no "experience of will" (examples would include ouija board manipulation and behaviours under hypnotism). Wegner remarks: "The processes of mind that produce the experience of will may be quite distinct from the processes of mind that produce the action itself". If the cases in question do indeed show that phenomenology of willing is not always an accurate guide to causation, they certainly do not show that this is generally true. But Wegner wants to establish Nietzsche's claim, namely, that the phenomenology of willing systematically misleads us as to the causation of our actions. And in the place of the "illusion of free will", as Wegner calls it, he proposes a different model according to which the conscious experience of will and the action are the effects of a common unconscious cause, but in which the chain of causation does not run between the experience of willing and the action; rather, in Nietzschean terms, some psycho-physical fact about persons explains both the experience and the action. As Wegner sums up his alternative picture of the causal genesis of action: unconscious and inscrutable mechanisms create both conscious thought about action and the action, and also produce the sense of will we experience by perceiving the thought as cause of the action. So, while our thoughts may have deep, important, and unconscious causal connections to our actions, the experience of conscious will arises from a process that interprets these connections, not from the connections themselves. Wegner adduces a variety of kinds of evidence to support this idea, but I will focus here on one illustration. These are the studies by Benjamin Libet and colleagues examining the brain electrical activity (the "readiness potential" or RP) that precedes an action (such as moving a finger) and the experience of willing. What the researchers found is that "the conscious willing of finger movement occurred at a significant interval after the onset of the RP (and also at a significant interval before the awareness of the movement)".

According to Wegner, "These findings suggest that the brain starts doing something first. .. . Then the person becomes conscious of wanting to do the action" that the brain has already initiated. Wegner quotes Libet summing up the import of his findings as follows: the initiation of the voluntary act appears to be an unconscious cerebral process. Clearly, free will or free choice of whether to act now could not be the initiating agent, contrary to one widely held view. This is of course also contrary to each individual's own introspective feeling that he/she consciously initiates such voluntary acts; this provides an important empirical example of the possibility that the subjective experience of a mental causality need not necessarily reflect the actual causative relationship between mental and brain events.

In other words, about a century after Nietzsche, empirical psychologists have adduced evidence supporting his theory that the phenomenology of willing misleads as to the actual causal genesis of action. Even if Libet's interpretation of the results of his work remains controversial among both psychologists and philosophers, it is surely stunning that Nietzsche reached the same conclusions a hundred years earlier.

Brian Leiter - Times Literary Supplement march 4 2011


Free Will an Addendum

I attach a comment from Alan Dent in response to the above. Followed by my response to his response. This is a continuation of the Debate on Determinism featured elsewhere on the site:

Alan Dent 16/3/2011

  I didn't see that piece in the TLS but the pre-firing of neurons doesn't prove determinism: it's almost certainly the case that without volition the pre-firing doesn't happen: ie three quarters of a second before I tap the next key on my keyboard, pre-motor neurons fire followed by the motor neurons which control the action. But the pre-motor neurons wouldn't fire if I wasn't choosing to type. Where is the volition located ? In my brain of course but only because my brain is in connection with others. It's the social stimulus that counts. Mind can't be reduced to brain. We've evolved to need a social trigger for almost everything we do. Culture, not neuronal determinism makes us what we are. I'm just reading Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain. He takes it for granted that things could have been very different. Contingency is built in to evolution. 

Ken Clay 22/3/2011

You write "it's almost certainly the case that without volition the pre-firing doesn't happen: ie three quarters of a second before I tap the next key on my keyboard, pre-motor neurons fire followed by the motor neurons which control the action. But the pre-motor neurons wouldn't fire if I wasn't choosing to type. Where is the volition located ?"
Isn't there some logical confusion here? Surely the neuroscience demonstrates that the sensation of volition follows that of the pre-firing. Your remark that "without volition the prefiring doesn't happen" would lead us to have to redefine the word volition - we need a new word since the existing one is bound up with the strong intuitions we have about free will and choice. If, by some mysterious process we actually make such choices but aren't aware of them until a train of events takes place then how can they be considered "choices"? They are unconscious brain states and if we extract consciousness from volitions and choices then we really are in a determinist quagmire.
I think the research is a powerful argument for epiphenomenalism. Powerful in the sense that it's hard to disprove (I'm not saying I'm persuaded). I still can't see that your insistence on culture adds much to the argument (of course we are social animals and many of our mental properties are social constructs) but what about simple volitions like raising an arm which even a dumb and deaf wolf-child (or indeed a chimpanzee) would have separated from society? They "chose" or think they do to move limbs or wander about.
I suppose the nub is this: if there is another unconscious antecedent to what we think of as choosing but which is, nevertheless, still choosing how do we distinguish the two? It sounds like a fudge to say we are still choosing (in the sense that we consciously choose, or appear to, after the initial event)
Perhaps I'm missing something here.


The Trouble with Publishing

Brett Wilson draws my attention to an article in the weekend FT. Dale Peck, a yank maverick known for his scathing reviews lays into the publishing scene and proposes to do something about its dire condition. Something very like the Oik model of hand distribution and print on demand. Here are two extracts:

Of course, authors will always find it difficult to accept criticism of their work but that doesn’t necessarily mean covert commercial forces are at work. Mitzi Angel, a 36-year-old English editor who joined Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2008, challenges the idea that publishing is ready to corrupt art for a quick buck. Yes, sales of some kinds of books have dropped over the past few years, she says, but “look at someone like Roberto Bolaño”, one of FSG’s recent triumphs: “He’s a dead author in translation; no one had ever heard of him; and yet he has sold around 70,000 in hardcover, 35,000 paperback boxed sets and 40,000 paperbacks so far.” Angel also successfully published the Man Booker Prize-longlisted Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, after it was rejected by every major publisher in the US. She says it is not necessarily the system that is at fault for such decisions but, rather, that the publishing process is inherently random. “So much depends on who sees what, when, and whether they like it,” she says.

John Thompson, 59, Cambridge professor of sociology, came to a fairly similar conclusion after conducting 280 interviews with publishers, booksellers and literary agents for his new study of Anglo-American publishing, Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (Polity). “I often came away from an interview feeling puzzled and at times completely bewildered by what I’d heard, simply because this is a very complex and bewildering business,” he says. He concludes, however, that economic forces have conspired against the kind of sales figures that have, historically, supported literary culture through what are known as midlist titles. “It is getting harder and harder for publishers to sell literary fiction, especially new fiction by writers who have not yet become recognisable names with established track records,” he says. “Whereas 10-20 years ago a large publisher in the US might ship out 10,000-15,000 copies of a new novel by an unknown writer and sell 6,000 to 10,000 net, now they’re more likely to ship 5,000-6,000 and sell perhaps 3,000-4,000. It’s the same in the UK, except the numbers are even lower.”

The consequence, says Thompson, is “the literary marketplace looks more and more like a winner-takes-more market, concentrating on a small number of titles that sell exceptionally well, indeed, better than ever, whereas the number of titles  that sell in modest but acceptable quantities is declining.” He agrees that “this is not a particularly appealing vision for the future of literary culture.”


Can projects such as Mischief + Mayhem break this death spiral? Colin Robinson, a former publisher at Verso, who co-runs OR books, M + M’s partner, believes so. “If you had to design a system, it would be hard to come up with something more stupid” than the current model of publishing, he says. He believes publishers need to become their own independent bookstores, virtual shops around the corner, where handselling can be reinvented through the web. (All OR titles are also available on Amazon for the Kindle, because no capital outlay is required, unlike for print editions.) Stein agrees that this is a logical path out of the current mixture of chaos and entropy: “It makes sense for book publishers to think about selling directly, it really does. Amazon does not have neatly convergent interests with the publishers of serious literature.”

The full article can be read via this link: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/e2b3fd74-50e2-11e0-8931-00144feab49a.html#ixzz1HROdNHqI

Publishing with Createspace 

Tom Kilcourse sends in his experience of print-on-demand publishing

Because Createspace is associated with Amazon I decided to publish my novel, ‘Who Killed Clarissa?’ with them. The story is set in pre-war Lancashire and some dialogue uses colloquialisms familiar to an English readership, but not to Americans. Therefore, exposure on Amazon.co.uk is important. When the book appeared on Amazon.com (American) but not on the British site I wrote to Createspace and received the following reply. 

“Unfortunately, we are unable to list our titles on International Amazon sites, as we do not have a direct relationship with those sites. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.” 

This caused me to write to the Oik to warn other writers of the limitation, but Ken kindly responded with a comment that reassured me. However, when the book did pop up on the British site, as Ken predicted, the only purchasing option was through an American distributor, and marked as ‘second hand’. I contacted Amazon.co.uk and received the following. 

“While CreateSpace supports fulfilment via Amazon.com, this is not an option through the Amazon.co.uk website at this time.
Books published by CreateSpace may become available on Amazon.co.uk if we can source these titles from a third party distributor in our existing supply chain. Our Buying team regularly review customer interest for the titles within our catalogue and we are constantly adding to our catalogue listings.” 

Consequently, I have now advised Createspace that I shall not be approving the proofs of two other books I planned to place with them and, if I can, I shall withdraw ‘Who Killed Clarissa?’ The book, incidentally, is available on Kindle. 

This situation may be of interest to other Oik authors who are thinking of publishing through this medium.

 This is disturbing. One might shrug it off by saying 'even if it is "secondhand" and sourced via USA what does it matter to the punter?'. But the point is you are at the mercy of CreateSpace and Amazon's arcane rules and may never get UK listing. I tried to re-assure Tom by citing my own experience (and that of Bob Wild's) where, via the Lulu route, we both began with USA listing and then later UK listing without doing anything to oil the wheels. I suspect Tom's book will get UK listing eventually (or would have if he'd stuck with it) but this seems by no means certain. Maybe the system is getting flooded with such projects. On the other hand Amazon's great boast is that they're an infinitely large bookshop capable of listing everything. Certainly the economies of computer storage are such that this effectively costs them nothing - there might be a small overhead putting it on in the first place.

I've just checked my own immortal tome Nietzsche's Birthday, worldwide sales to date approximately zero, and find it UK listed at £7.14 and also available "used" from USA for £20.30. I have never prodded anybody in either Lulu or Amazon to raise this unknown masterpiece's profile. Checking on Amazon.com (ie USA) I find it listed at $11 and yours by Friday if you order now. It is possible that things have changed and got worse. My hunch is that legalistic meatheads at CreateSpace and Amazon are not going to guarantee anybody anything and fob you off with a jobsworth response. The reality, I'd opine, is the experience of me and Bob Wild - the mills of Amazon do seem to grind exceedingly slow but they get there in the end. Why wouldn't they? They might make a buck.

Addendum March28 2011

Only a few days after the above exchange I get the following from Lulu

Dear Ken Clay,

Thank you for taking part in our expanded marketREACH distribution initiative, which makes your book available to readers throughout the Amazon Marketplace and eBay. We appreciate your publishing through Lulu and are proud to be a part of that process.

As you've most likely discovered, your marketREACH project(s) is currently not available for sale on the Amazon Marketplace. Please note, this is not the result of any action taken on your part, nor does it have anything to do with the nature of your marketREACH project(s).

We've confirmed the source of the problem, and want you to know that we're doing everything we can to work with our partners at Amazon to reinstate your project(s) for sale on the Amazon Marketplace as quickly as possible.

We apologize for the delay as well as any inconvenience this may cause you or your readers. Thank you for your support as we continue to enhance our services. We'll be sure to keep you updated with any new information about your book's listing as we receive it.


Your Friends at Lulu

You wonder if some kind of war is hotting up between Createspace and Lulu with Amazon trying to create a no-fly zone to benefit its own partner Createspace at Lulu's expense. Why, after all, should Amazon do Lulu any favours when it's in direct competition with Createspace? In some ways it's encouraging that Geoff Bezos, the genius who created Amazon in the first place, sees publishing-on-demand as the next big thing. I get the impression that Lulu are responding to the competition by lowering their prices and offering more discounted deals. What exactly their letter means is another puzzle. I've checked all the books I've published with Lulu and they're still all on Amazon US and UK. Maybe it's just new stuff which is in limbo. But it needs watching. If Lulu do get back to the status quo ante with Amazon then no probs - but if Createspace, the new cuckoo on the block, does eject Lulu from the Amazon nest then I guess we'll all be migrating to Createspace. I can't say I relish the prospect - it'd be just like when I had to dump Wordperfect and learn Micorsoft Word.

The Oik will not be affected by this since it isn't sold on Amazon and never will be.

Further digging reveals that Createspace prints in USA (unlike Lulu which uses UK printers) and that the mark-ups are quite high.

A recent Lulu amenity is to pay you in pounds via a Paypal account. My last Lulu payment was a dollar cheque for $25 (ie approx £16) of which Natwest took £6 just to put it in my account (bankers!). So that's to be bourne in mind too. Try reading forum exchanges on the two operations at https://www.createspace.com/en/community/message/60546

Another good source is http://www.lotontech.com/publishing which gives a run down on the current scene