I’ve been thinking for the last couple months about how I’m going to sell my book, Poker Tales. I had decided that I had my eye on two separate audiences: a serious audience of academic readers and a lay audience of people who enjoy light comical entertainment. After I wrote it, I decided that I had not reached either. This caused me a dilemma.
The primary audience for the book is the lay reader, who would labor under the weight of a dissertation on ethics, but who I thought would happily read a work of fiction centering on such a silly game. Therefore, I deliberately wrote a silly book in which a kid (known only as ‘the Kid’) comes to Las Vegas, where he meets an old-timer (known only as the ‘Old-Timer’). The Old-Timer likes to tell stories, and his tales make up the bulk of the book.
The Kid sits down at the table with him because he spots him as an easy mark on account of his penchant for telling stories. He makes the calculation that if the Old-Timer is telling stories that he won’t be paying close attention to the cards on the table. The question of the frame narrative becomes whether the Kid has an advantage over the Old-Timer, or whether the Old-Timer has a more devious purpose in mind when he invites him to sit down and play a simple game of poker with him.
The book itself is filled with stories like “’Knuckles’ and ‘the Louse’” (which you can read or download here for free), ‘Revenge,’ and a story about Las Vegas called (with my tongue planted firmly in my ironic cheek) ‘A City of Honest Men’ (it’s about how a guy named Russell cheats the casino at every opportunity and grows enormously wealthy in the process).
But, for reasons that I will outline in my Introduction, I didn’t think that I had positioned myself to reach my prime audience of people who like to play poker for the fun of it.
But I had a serious purpose, as well. I take the position taught me by my academic elders that art rises above partisanship and shows us (as nearly as possible) our whole selves. Within my cavalier romp through Sin City, I had hoped to show the reader some things they may not have ever considered about themselves as human beings while telling them a series of delightful tales.
In that sense, I was following in the path of one of my favorite authors, Geoffrey Chaucer, who starts his Canterbury Tales with a series of rationally-ordered tales only to have a miller (known only as ‘the Miller’) interrupt the perfect order of reason with a tale brought about by his drunkenness. (And, in case you’re wondering, no, I do not think that I am on par with Chaucer as an author. After all, who am I?). Nevertheless, Chaucer’s poem provides me with the origin of my title, Poker Tales. (Did you see what I did there? I switched Canterbury for Poker in my title!)
But few people in the world today take the literature that I take so seriously to heart. This is because we find ourselves in an environment where aesthetic thought has been subordinated to politics. There are understandable reasons for this, having to do with literature’s dual roles as ‘fiction’ which points to itself as fiction, as well as beyond itself to a ‘higher truth.’
During the period between 1920 and 1960, the substitution of a fictional ‘higher truth’ for ‘real truth’ held, as Modern scholars substituted literature for life. But by the 1960s, the easy substitution had come under fire, and Postmodern scholars noted the fact that in this substitution literature had the power to conceal some of the ‘truth’ in order to raise up their particular culture over others in a completely artificial manner.
Literature’s ability to conceal as well as reveal certain facts made it productive to search texts for previously hidden meanings in the postmodern world. There were masters and slaves in literature, and in many instances the relationship between master and slave was presented as though those relationships were ‘natural.’ And yet, it turned out that that was only true if you were a member of the master (class/race).
From the perspective of the underprivileged class or race the same literature looks very different. Take a look at Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, written as a “prequel” to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but focusing instead on the perspective of the woman who would become the ‘madwoman in the attic’ in the novel. The novel ‘deals largely with the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation’ (Wikipedia).
The goal in such postmodern novels is
- to break the egg of Modern criticism’s confidence in its firm reading of literature by breaking down the assumptions on which it is based and
- to put the Humpty Dumpty back together again, but from the suppressed perspective of the forgotten underclass.
I have always been in the postmodern camp where such concerns were aired. But because when I was in graduate school I was in an environment in which politics had overtaken aesthetics as the touchstone of one’s belief, my political allegiances were constantly being tested. And here I got in trouble, because my conservative professors thought I was way too liberal (on account of my feeling that doing whatever you want is okay with me and my long-standing opposition to the drug war which I still maintain is a huge waste of money and—more important to me—of human potential), whereas my liberal friends thought I was far too conservative (on account of my refusal of offered drugs, which I had given up forever at 3:20 AM, Sunday, June 3, 1984 in favor of ‘clean living’).
So I could not win; I was constantly being painted in opposition to a known position. So I dropped out of the search for academic work after I got my PhD and decided to make it on my own as an entrepreneur.
…But I Want to Write My Own Version of Fiction
When I decided to write my first work of fiction, I was determined that it would not come with a political position, as Robert Penn Warren has in his Humpty Dumpty-based All the King’s Men. I would rise above the world of partisan politics like my professors had taught me when I was still a poor undergraduate lad.
You see, despite the assurances of my grad school professors, I was never convinced that the old position in which aesthetics represented a higher position than political partisanship was dead forever. In resurrecting the work of aesthetics over politics, I hope to give you the whole, unbroken egg, rather than a political position that can appeal only to one side or the other. In these partisan political times, this should come as something of a relief.
But in resurrecting the older position, I had to make some changes to the system of aesthetic solidity that underlay the former positions. I made those changes based on my reading of Chaucer, who starts out with the Knight making a serious point but gets distracted by the Miller’s drunken tale before Chaucer can completely close the circle of life around itself. The tales spin out of the author’s control after that. When Chaucer does manage to get control of his stories again, it is to forgo storytelling altogether and to give himself into the hands of a higher power in his long and little read ‘Parson’s Tale‘ and his more often read (because it’s far shorter) ‘Retraction.’
My resolution of my book of silly stories does not turn on the God of Chaucer, nor on the Modern substitutes of James Joyce or T. S. Eliot, but on a far more pervasive relativism which (not uncoincidentally) I find to be the source of both the good and the bad at the heart of the American experience.
This is why the cover of my book features a picture of one of the most recognizable symbols in America, the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign. It is also why I used an imaginative painting of the sign, rather the sign itself. It is as though I’m trying to see through my art to the underlying truth given to us by nature. We can see this only darkly, a point made by Hegel in his book on aesthetics, as well as by Augustine in his work. I simply follow greater men than I in giving my version of the same old truths under circumstances that have changed once again.
Anyway, I will try to cover each of 16 chapters (and my Introduction) in the next 17 weeks. I will return to this page and make a link the corresponding article as we go along. I have also decided as a blatant attempt to get you to buy my book, to give you a chapter of my book (“’Knuckles’ and ‘the Louse’”), as well as the Introduction so you can get a sense of what you’re in for.
“‘Knuckles’ and ‘the Louse’” (known in my house as ‘Popeye’; read it and you’ll see why) should give the reader an indication of just how un-serious my book really is.
The Introduction is part of my attempt to be taken seriously in spite of my having written such a silly book. I cite the author of my favorite sports book of all time The Legend of Bagger Vance (and, no, I am not being ironic here; it’s a fabulous book). Because I don’t believe in talking behind the backs of others, I have invited him to take a look at my book, and I think it’s only fair that he have access to my thought without having to buy a copy for himself. You can have a copy, as well.
For the most part, you should be able to read the web site for free, but it is filled with serious material for serious readers. I know that we live in a country of people who would much rather laugh than cry (and I include myself in that category), so I will give my too-moral advice for free in unlikely hope that someone will read it. But if you want to read my silly book for the pure entertainment of it, you will have to click on the link on the side of the page and buy a copy for yourself.
Anyway, here are the chapters of my book:
|Introduction||Download it here|
|In the City That Never Sleeps|
|Lessons In Reading|
|A City of Honest Men|
|‘Knuckles’ and ‘the Louse’||Download it here|
|His First Wife|
|Interlude with an Actor|
|The Director’s Tale|
|The Devil in the Meadows|
|The Old-Timer’s Tale|