The State of the Author

David Hollander

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Writers Guild, Mr. Speaker and Mr. Vice President, it is with honor and humility that I stand before you and before the entire Literary Community and report that, despite petty rumors and real evidence to the contrary, the State of the Author is strong. In fact it is difficult to believe that only one year ago I stood behind this same podium and stared out into this same sea of skeptical faces, faces whose dead black eyes belie the ferocity of the bright chevrons of war paint, faces that haunt me every day of my haunted life, and reported on the Author’s seemingly insurmountable deficits—both psychological and monetary—and on an Authorial unemployment rate that threatened not only the authorship of future works but also the stability of the very mind within which those works gestate. Today I can report to you with absolute conviction that the Author is on the mend, back to work, and ready to once again lead our great nation in the manufacture and production of the experimental fictions upon which our Republic’s reputation rests. The “all of the above” strategy my administration outlined in the past 44 iterations of this redoubtable address has resulted in a 50% increase in authorial ideas, coupled with a 74% reduction in derivativeness and a 20% increase in the ability to reduce complex forms of suffering to percentages, bar graphs, and other simple mathematical or geometrical expressions. Word counts are up, alcohol consumption—when adjusted for inflation—is down, rage has been kept largely in check and the Author’s children have, in recent weeks, been heard to shout “Daddy’s home!” not in undisguised terror but rather in something akin to happy anticipation. These trends are all the evidence we need that our investments in Authorial narcotics and cleaner burning pornography have paid dividends that will lift our entire community from the cesspit of a life without postmodern manipulations of form, and into an ontology made less grim by its complete lack of adherence to the set of laws and logics we are sworn by necessity to endure.

Now, I promised the Literary Community that together we would make good on our vows to create a better, stronger Author, one not wedded to the financial markets but rather dedicated to form, structure, and language in their most esoteric manifestations. Today I can stand here and proudly share the fact that, through our desperate political maneuvering and largely illegal manipulations of the hiring process, the Author is now working at a rate double the Authorial minimum wage as a technical writer for a computer software manufacturer whose gray and soulless contributions to the Gross Domestic Product cannot be praised highly enough. This has led to an increase in Authorial bills settled, a resurgence of interest in paying down enormous student loan debt and thus slowing the steady march toward default and bankruptcy, and in date-night dinners with an Authorial spouse who has, presumably sensing increased Authorial vitality, shown for the first time in years an interest in turning toward the Author for a peck goodnight during that terrible interregnum between the light’s extinguishment and the Author’s eventual passage into a sleep clotted with dreams in which the Author leaps flaming from a flaming airplane into a Great Lake of methane. Projections by an independent and nonpartisan research committee suggest that in a mere six months that peck on the cheek will morph into a caress and that at some point well beyond the knowable future—with your continuing belief and the hard work of every man, woman, and child in the Author’s myopic purview—the Author will again experience the carnal warmth of another human body. These accomplishments are real and substantial and they reveal a truth we all know in our hearts to be truly true: when we work together our Author can overcome any obstacle and can prove to the world that, while you might occasionally see the Author counting pennies, or counting the minutes until the bar opens, you’d better not count him out. That’s why, ladies and gentlemen, I am asking the Guild to make the minimum wage increase permanent, so that the Author will always have just enough liquidity to persist but never enough to climb out of the ditch that he shares with his spouse, his children, and with all those unfortunate former students who were blinded by the Author’s powerful casuistry regarding the transformative power of art, and who remain in touch with the Author even years after his dishonorable discharge from our Liberal Arts College of record and thereby force the Author to occasionally don the costume of someone who gives a damn.

I’m proud of what we’ve done, but our work here is far from finished. While some of the voices inside the Author have reaped the benefits of the Authorial Recovery, others have continued to speak in hushed tones of failure, death, bankruptcy, and the dark and rocky bottom of the river toward which the Author’s rented domicile leans in an attitude resembling nothing so much as human ambivalence. I recently spoke with an Authorial figment who was convinced that money was not merely a symbolic abstraction in an exchange-based system of commerce, but was also a food that could be eaten. Another figment, living in a corrugated steel storage container on the outskirts of Newark and trying desperately to ward off repossessors with a variety of pitchforks and bayonets speaks—in a letter like the ones that arrive on my desk every day—of pains radiating through his colon and an insatiable craving for Tolstoy. Yet another figment insists, while pressed against the bars of a cage that he shares with an always-pacing and salivating tiger, that he is a lithe and happy child whose father will soon appear and say “I love you” without a trace of irony. Now, make no mistake, the Author was built upon ingenuity and a commitment to pursue bliss even in the face of hardships unimagined. But you and I know that, unless all of the Author shares in the fruit of Authorial labors, the rudderless and narrative-deprived fictions on which our Republic relies are in constant danger of fading into the background radiation of a universe that does not need us.    

That is why my administration is calling on the members of this body to authorize a new Stimulus Package that will silence some small portion of the monster-horde that will ultimately devour the Author’s innards regardless of any action we do or do not take. How does this stimulus work? It’s simple. First, we visit the Author’s home and offer him a choice of one of the following secondary vocations: pizza delivery boy, whiskey-sipping school crossing guard, or visiting artist at a shithole public school in one of the many urban precincts bordering his icy northern hamlet. Second, we pour greater resources—both human and financial—into the unknown literary magazines whose occasional acceptances of Authorial work represent the Author’s only access to a dwindling and unenthusiastic readership. And third, we roll back some of the tax breaks we’ve been giving to bestselling authors whose work is translated into five or six languages and we give those tax breaks to the Author instead, whose work barely even appears in his native tongue. Michael Chabon doesn’t need that tax break. Jonathan Franzen doesn’t need that tax break. They’re doing fine. I want to put more money and greater security in the hands of an Author whose work isn’t going anywhere. It’s staying right here at home. It is going precisely nowhere.

Nothing is as powerful a weapon against existential terror than the illusion of human order, which is why I want to call your attention to an exemplary case in our wider Authorial initiatives. In the audience tonight is a cytoplasmic shadow-creature named Protagonist 238, or P238 as his buddies in the Basement call him. Now P238, as an idea passing through one of thousands of stories that pass through the Author’s mind before returning to the oblivion from which they originated, he doesn’t want a handout. But he’ll take a hand up. The stimulus package my administration has outlined will make it possible for P238 and all the other half-baked inanities taking up acreage in the Authorial Basement to have a chance to get onto the page and then into the paper shredder that the Author feeds daily the way other humans might feed a hamster. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that an Author who grows his ideas at home, who resists outsourcing, who is unable to muster up the courage to abandon everyone who loves him and travel overseas to begin a new life under the alias Mack Poinsetta, is an Author that I and you and everyone in our Community will support with every means at our disposal, barring those means that would reduce our own small portion of joy.

And now for the most sobering part of tonight’s address. When I took the oath of this office I swore that I would end the Author’s involvement in the Unspeakable War Against the Self. This has been perhaps the biggest challenge of my administration, but one that I refuse to shy away from. There’s a woman in the audience tonight, Sarah Slaughter. She has lost both her legs in the Unspeakable War but has grown extra arms, or no, not arms exactly, she has grown various stabbing appendages that she uses to prick, hack, and stab indiscriminately at the Author’s imagined friends and enemies day after day, month after month. For nearly 15 years Sarah has performed this thankless task not because it was fun—although it was fun—and not because she wanted to do it, although I’m sure that she did want to do it. She performed this task because it was her duty, and no one understands duty, courage, and determination better than the young and credulous men and women who have risked their lives in an Unspeakable War so that you and I can eat Cheetos and watch a different set of young men and women engage each other in various depraved acts on our mysterious glowing tablets and laptops whose internal intricacies are no more knowable than the Almighty Himself. I’m proud to report that later tonight, after this address has run its seemingly interminable course, after you and I have left these hallowed chambers to retire to our nightstands and their stacks and stacks of books we keep telling ourselves we will one day read while knowing full well that the age of reading is as dead as the age of innocence, Sarah Slaughter will be doused in kerosene and set ablaze by secret members of my administration who I can cause, through executive order alone, to blink in and out of existence. Sarah Slaughter and her dozens of cyborgian torture-appendages will burn and scream and flail on the very floor where the members of our literary community currently sit and await a next opportunity to erupt in insipid, jingoistic applause. Her ashes will sail up to the rafters and her screams will be trapped in the folds of this ancient structure, to be heard—like a tea kettle whistling in some distant farmhouse—every time we again gather beneath our glory-addled flag. This will make little impact in the Unspeakable War Against the Self, nor will anything else my administration might attempt, but it will perhaps momentarily slake our need for vengeance against forces we can neither understand nor identify but that we sense, deep in our pitted bowels, are responsible for a suffering that supersedes any the Author might endure precisely because it belongs not to him, but to us. Whose side is Sarah Slaughter on? Nobody knows, ladies and gentlemen, especially not the Author, which is precisely why she has been invited here today, and why her sacrifice is likely very dumb.

In the words of someone great whose name may very well be enshrined in the sole copy of a Constitution rumored to be buried at the bottom of a deep well somewhere in the incestuous depths of Appalachia, “We are only as free as freedom itself, which is itself only as free as we are.” That is why I would like to declare this year, in closing, as a Year of Action, a year in which you and I and everyone in the Literary Community bring our substantial doubts as to the feasibility of Authoring to the streets of this great literary Republic, so as to expose them to air and observe the resulting chemical reaction with scientific rigor and objectivity. I repeat to you, ladies and gentlemen: the State of the Author is strong. And with the unlikely help of every last one of us, the Author will rise up to again hold dominion over a post-post-post-postmodern landscape that I personally intend to abandon at the very first opportunity so as to pursue my own dream of living off the grid in some untamed wilderness hidden from the maps and geographies of men. Thank you for your commitment to this vision, and to the great and glorious vision forged in these chambers four long decades ago. May God bless the Guild, may God bless every member of our Literary Community, and may God bless the sad and mortal Author whose resiliency defies understanding. Thank you, and good riddance.