Trolley Problem, Variant 218

[Another Difalco fanfic, this one a riff on his story “Relapse”]

A drunk driver careens through a busy intersection. You, a fiction writer, are standing some distance off, next to a lever. You have two options: (1) Pull the lever to the left, and the runaway car crashes into a second car, killing both drivers. (2) Pull the lever to the right, and the runaway car crashes into a pedestrian: the pedestrian dies, but the driver of the runaway car survives.

The driver of the second car is:
(a) a middle-aged man;
(b) a recovering opioid addict, on the wagon for six months;
(c) a heavy drinker when under stress, though sober as he drives through the intersection;
(d) a drug mule, transporting a sizeable quantity of hashish in his car for delivery to his connection.

The pedestrian is:
(a) a young woman;
(b) a recent immigrant from Guatemala;
(c) the mother of three small children;
(d) accompanied by one of her children as she walks through the intersection — the child will witness her death if she is struck by the careening car.

Which lever will you pull?

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Relapsing into DifalcoWorld

In my cahier entry for this morning I was revisiting ways of engaging short fictional texts and their authors:

Evaluating their ficticities seems reasonable, but is it? Highlight textual features that disrupt reality-as-actualized, then email authors.

Can I do it? Would I want to do it? Let’s give it a try. I click onto the Poets and Writers online listing of literary journals, randomly select a letter of the alphabet, pick off the first litmag listed under that letter, click the most recent issue, look at the Fictions listed for that issue, and — what are the odds? — it’s another story by Salvatore Difalco!

Of the 57 stories I excerpted on this site during my Flâneries phase, Salvatore Difalco is the only author to have commented here. Two posts ago I wrote a kind of fan fiction mediated by that Difalco story. The synchronicity of stumbling on another of his stories proved inescapable.

*  *  *

“Relapse,” by Salvatore Difalco

I was already running late, the first sentence reads. Already means you’re ahead of time, and besides that you’re running, putting even more distance between yourself and the now. But then late. Time out of joint. Early on the story is punctuated with time stamps: at noon, ten minutes, just as in just a few minutes ago. There are verbs of movement — running, sped — juxtaposed with verbs of stasis — stood, waiting. And also wanted, twice: the engine of desire stroking between speed and stasis, between running and late.

The narrator is a drug courier, a recovering addict — oxycontin: an opiate, a slow-down substance. Now when he’s stressed, instead of popping pills he guzzles the booze.

…And so on. But it’s not a deep reading or thematic interpretation I’m after here. I’m looking for ways in which this fiction throws a wrench into the actually existing world in which the story unfolds, revealing in the process how the fictional overlays the material in constructing generally accepted realities.

The event: a red-faced driver caroms his BMW off a truck; our narrator accelerates through the intersection quickly enough to avoid getting hit; the BMW, its path unimpeded, slams into a young mother of three, killing her. So, survivor guilt: it could just as easily have been him instead of the woman but for his right foot twitch reflex. At the same time, he could just as easily have been the red-faced drunk behind the wheel of the deathmobile. He revisits the scene of the accident, notices a stain on the pavement. Motor oil? Blood?

A few uneasy days passed. Your problems really begin only when you start thinking about them.

Relapsed, the narrator can’t make himself go through with his next courier assignment. He drives back to the fatal intersection again, gets out of the car for a closer look. That night he can’t sleep, the red-faced drunk driver staring at him. He gets back in his car, goes back to the intersection, parks.

When I saw the coast was clear I kneeled down, lowered my face to the stain and sniffed it. I shut my eyes and sniffed it, hoping to discern or dispel I don’t know what.

The accident happened: it’s in the past, no longer part of the world. The accident may for our narrator portend two alternative futures: stay off the drugs, keep drinking, wind up shit-faced behind the wheel of a death car; pop the pills, quit the drug-running business, enrage the mob boss, wind up as road kill. Neither of those futures is here yet; they may never arrive. But the accident isn’t just past, isn’t just future: it’s here and now, keeps coming back, keeps drawing the witness back to itself, the eternal return of a bivalent portal — you are the Killer, you are the Killed. An irruption into the actual of the timeless Real.

*  *  *

then email author, says my cahier entry. Maybe tomorrow.

Fictional Correspondence

Skip Fox’s “Sortilege” was the first short fiction I  excerpted in the Flânerie series. I found it, as I found the others, through a sortilege procedure of my own, so it’s understandable that I would have regarded the story as a talisman endorsing my undertaking. Not only that, but the substance of the story jibed perfectly with the motivation for my project. The day I read “Sortilege” — January 21, the winter solstice, a portentious date if ever there was one —  I tracked down the author’s email address to notify him of my intent. I also sent him an excerpt from something I’d  written that complemented his text. (Four years ago I posted an earlier, somewhat extended version of it on my old blog as “Untitled Revenge Fantasy Fragment.”)

Later that day I received a reply: Skip Fox liked my piece, granting me carte blanche to use his story however I liked. A lively extended correspondence has ensued.

Though the sample size is admittedly small, I’ve found that fiction writers do tend to respond to emails asking them about or commenting on their work. Problem is, it’s not always easy to track down their email addresses. I was able to correspond with Skip Fox, and a dozen years earlier with Robert Coover and DF Wallace, because they held positions at academic institutions that publish all faculty email addresses on their websites.

 

 

Dementia Questionnaire

[An engagement with Salvatore Difalco’s “The Teeth” (a short fiction previously excerpted in Flânerie 2), written on the fourth anniversary, give or take a day, of my father’s passing.]

Please answer Yes or No to the following questions. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

1.  Does the man whose two front teeth were extracted overnight have any reason to suspect the demented man living upstairs of having been the perpetrator?

2.  If the demented man is in fact responsible for committing this indecency on his downstairs neighbor, would he remember having done so?

3.  In performing the operation would he have used his pocket comb, an instrument that as the dementia extends its reach has proven more pluripotent than a Swiss Army knife, functioning equally well as a car key and as a telephone for conversing with his long-dead mother?

4.  During prep did the comb-wielding surgeon administer one of those newfangled anesthetics in which the patient remains conscious throughout the procedure but loses all memory of its having been performed?

5.  Has our ambulatory surgeon become a vector of forgetfulness, on his rounds through the boardinghouse infecting/blessing all of the residents with his malady/gift?

6.  Has the surgeon healed himself, having extracted his own teeth but in his deluded postoperative state confusing himself with his downstairs neighbor?

7.  Is the rooming house the surgeon’s memory palace, a method of loci for visualizing past events devised and practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, its rooms crumbling now, their contents scrambling into disarray, conflating that day more than seventy years ago when he placed his still-bloody two front teeth, knocked out of their shallow sockets by the opposing shortstop’s knee sliding (safely!) into second base, under his pillow in accord with accepted Tooth Fairy protocol with the present state of his old-man teeth, deteriorating along with the rest of him?

8.  Preserving teeth in a glass of milk and then drinking it — is this not another scene from the memory palace, a childhood reminder of enamel-strengthening oral hygiene reenacted now in degraded form, the reinforced but uprooted teeth having lodged themselves in the throat, necessitating their second removal?

9.  As the surgeon descends toward the kitchen, his long white hair trailing behind him like a veil, followed in turn by his toothless patient, is the memory palace not attempting to reveal to the patient the truth that he is himself the surgeon, their convergent identity veiled by the dementia enshrouding his brain?

10.  If tonight the demented old man were to go to sleep for the last time, would his tombstone record the date of his death as today, when the night manager of the nursing home feels for his pulse and breath but comes up empty, or tomorrow, when in the predawn hours the hospice nurse arrives at the facility and confirms the manager’s diagnosis, sending for the morticians to take him away?

11.  On what basis would the old man’s son, being informed by the mortician that he could choose the date to be recorded on the Certificate, render his decision?

12.  Would the son subsequently, and too late, wonder whether he had chosen wisely but not shrewdly?

13.  Does the old man’s memory palace survive him somewhere, perhaps in a storage room at the nursing home, perhaps in the columbarium where his cremains await the resurrection, perhaps in a niche in a chamber in the son’s memory palace?

14.  Without looking, do you remember question 1?

 

Splitting Actuals from Counteractuals

Yesterday’s post identified the counteractuals in each fictional excerpt from the Flâneurie 8 post. Today, a little experiment: what if the counteractuals are left out, leaving only the observable events transpiring in the narrative’s here and now? Inversely, what if the actuals are removed, leaving only observations that invoke alternate realities — past, future, inferred, desired, feared, unexpected, imagined?

First, in italics, the original excerpt;  second, indented, that same excerpt stripped of everything but the actuals, third, also indented, the excerpt with only the counteractuals remaining

*   *   *

He passes the carousel, the inflatables, the Fun House. When the base of the Ferris wheel comes into view, he’s surprised at the sight of unfamiliar men by one of the tower supports, starting to break it down with their own equipment. He jolts into an unsteady run. Ferris wheel thieves are something he’s never considered. (from Tom Gresham, “The Heir”)

He passes the carousel, the inflatables, the Fun House. When the base of the Ferris wheel comes into view, he sees men by one of the tower supports, starting to break it down with their own equipment. He jolts into an unsteady run.

He’s surprised at the sight of unfamiliar men. Ferris wheel thieves are something he’s never considered.

*   *   *

They summit the clear plastic cup that holds the remnants of my milk tea, steadily growing in numbers and alarm. More and more keep coming — I cannot possibly guess from where — they seem to be produced by the very grass. Several willful ants stray from the cup and try to obtain me for the colony. They are crawling on my bare feet, up my pant legs, through the wild reeds of my hair, some even cross the path of my pen on these pages — they are trying to keep me from writing this. (from Megan Jacobs, “The Ants”)

They summit the clear plastic cup that holds the remnants of my milk tea, steadily growing in numbers. More and more keep coming. Several ants stray from the cup. They are crawling on my bare feet, up my pant legs, through my hair, some even cross the path of my pen on these pages.

They are steadily growing in alarm. I cannot possibly guess from where — they seem to be produced by the very grass. Several willful ants try to obtain me for the colony. They are trying to keep me from writing this.

*   *   *

Close-ups were replaced by Closer-ups: single feature shots. Photographers trained cameras on feet, knees, noses, shoulders, and hands. They dismantled babies frame by frame and then gave the pieces back to mothers who studied the remarkable detail. “Look! Her third toe is the longest of the bunch!” a mother pointed out. Upon hearing such exclamations, photographers wondered if mothers looked at their children at all except in photographs.
Then came the Even Closer-ups: eyelashes, a dimple, a mole, nostril shadows. Again, mothers and photographers lost babies in the pictures. This time they were right in front of the lens but completely absent in the final JPEG files of veins and hair follicles. (from Lindsey Harding, “A Brief History of Baby Pictures)

Close-ups were replaced by Closer-ups: single feature shots. Photographers trained cameras on feet, knees, noses, shoulders, and hands. Mothers who studied the remarkable detail. “Look! Her third toe is the longest of the bunch!” a mother pointed out.
Then came the Even Closer-ups: eyelashes, a dimple, a mole, nostril shadows. This time the babies were right in front of the lens but completely absent in the final JPEG files of veins and hair follicles.

Photographers dismantled babies frame by frame and then gave the pieces back to mothers. Upon hearing their exclamations, photographers wondered if mothers looked at their children at all except in photographs.
Again, mothers and photographers lost babies in the pictures.

*   *   *

The priest lifted the silver cross from my forehead and touched it to his lips. He said the demon was gone but a monster remained. I spat blood in his face, accusing him of fake news, of failure to move on. He said if I loved my family, I’d get as far away from them as possible.
Afterwards, I tried to act normal but my wife refused to leave me alone with our daughters. A fortnight passed before I was allowed back in our bedroom and even then she wouldn’t let me see her naked, saying the way I looked at her made her uncomfortable. While she slept, I kissed the back of her neck where it curves into her shoulder and remembered the promises we made to each other on our wedding day. Then I licked my lips to savour the salty-sweet taste of her skin.
The night I bit her she said I had to go. (from Christopher Stanley, “Oymyakon”)

The priest lifted the silver cross from my forehead and touched it to his lips. He said the demon was gone but a monster remained. I spat blood in his face.
Afterwards, my wife refused to leave me alone with our daughters. A fortnight passed before I was allowed back in our bedroom and even then she wouldn’t let me see her naked. While she slept, I kissed the back of her neck where it curves into her shoulder. Then I licked my lips to savour the salty-sweet taste of her skin.
The night I bit her she said I had to go.

I accused the priest of fake news, of failure to move on. He said if I loved my family, I’d get as far away from them as possible.
Afterwards, I tried to act normal. My wife said the way I looked at her made her uncomfortable. I remembered the promises we made to each other on our wedding day.

*   *   *

But the stage down in theatre’s heart was a sea-pool and the failing light made distances fluid so that Zoe thought she only had to reach out a hand, for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries, to decant shadows and show her … what? Faces? The curve of a cheek or an unbending arm? Stones and bones and sorrow, or perhaps an imprint left by old joy?
Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes in her lap and Zoe breathed in time with the wind. It was not so much fear holding her in its grip, as a sense of falling.
‘You came back.’ (from Lorraine Wilson, “We Have Always Been Here”)

But the stage down in theatre’s heart was a sea-pool and the failing light made distances fluid. Zoe breathed in time with the wind.
‘You came back.’

Zoe thought she only had to reach out a hand, for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries, to decant shadows and show her … what? Faces? The curve of a cheek or an unbending arm? Stones and bones and sorrow, or perhaps an imprint left by old joy?
Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes in her lap. It was not so much fear holding her in its grip, as a sense of falling.

*   *   *

Townie boys with bamboo rakes scraped Hawthorne’s grassy common clean. Working for someone’s Uncle Ricco, saving up for a used Mustang to drag race till Uncle Sam dragged them off to fight in bamboo jungles. They’d whistle as you crossed their path, precisely because you were unattainable in the way that girls at a private boarding school were unattainable, like fur coats, soft and desirable but costing too much. (Judith Kessler, “Falling Season”)

Townie boys with bamboo rakes scraped Hawthorne’s grassy common clean. Working for someone’s Uncle Ricco. They’d whistle as you crossed their path.

Townie boys saving up for a used Mustang to drag race till Uncle Sam dragged them off to fight in bamboo jungles. You were unattainable in the way that girls at a private boarding school were unattainable, like fur coats, soft and desirable but costing too much.

*   *   *

Though I’d never been more than passable as a clarinetist, I did have one skill: I can take in an entire score at once, visually, and hear the piece in my head. During undergrad, my friends would come to me the night before projects were due because I could tell with one glance whether a note was off in their counterpoint or whether there was too much going on in the brass. (Kelly Luce, “Two of Swords Counterpoint”)

I’d never been more than passable as a clarinetist.

I did have one skill: I can take in an entire score at once, visually, and hear the piece in my head. During undergrad, my friends would come to me the night before projects were due because I could tell with one glance whether a note was off in their counterpoint or whether there was too much going on in the brass.

 

Cataloguing Counteractuals

Revisiting the Flânerie 8 excerpts, I’m trying to identify specific indicators in the texts where the narrative veers away from the actual material present in which the story takes place into nonactual alternate realities: the past, the future, the possible, the conditional, the interpretations of meaning, expectations and deviations therefrom, memories, intentions, fantasies, transpositions into parallel realities. In other words, I’m trying to document where fictions become fictional. I don’t mean fictional in the way a story describes imaginary characters participating in imaginary events unfolding in imaginary worlds: together those characters, events, and worlds comprise the actual reality in which the story takes place. I’m referring to situations when the story departs from its own actuality into the realms of the counteractual.

*   *   *

He passes the carousel, the inflatables, the Fun House. When the base of the Ferris wheel comes into view, he’s surprised at the sight of unfamiliar men by one of the tower supports, starting to break it down with their own equipment. He jolts into an unsteady run. Ferris wheel thieves are something he’s never considered. (from Tom Gresham, “The Heir”)

…he’s surprised at… The character harbors a mental framework of expectation, from which some aspect of the actual present deviates.

…unfamiliar men… This is an elaboration of the character’s surprise: the men and their actions deviate from the familiar, built up from repeated past experiences.

…Ferris wheel thieves… The subject has constructed an interpretation, imposing it as an explanatory framework as to the reasons and motivations for the unexpected actions of unfamiliar.men.

…something he’s never considered… Not only are the men and their actions unfamiliar; his explanation too is unfamiliar, unprecedented by past considerations.

*   *   *

They summit the clear plastic cup that holds the remnants of my milk tea, steadily growing in numbers and alarm. More and more keep coming — I cannot possibly guess from where — they seem to be produced by the very grass. Several willful ants stray from the cup and try to obtain me for the colony. They are crawling on my bare feet, up my pant legs, through the wild reeds of my hair, some even cross the path of my pen on these pages — they are trying to keep me from writing this. (from Megan Jacobs, “The Ants”)

…and alarm… This seems like an interpretation as to the cause of or motivation for the ants’ actions — they’re alarmed — though it’s presented as an observation of fact.

…I cannot possibly guess… Another interpretation of cause or source is attempted, though this time it fails.

…they seem to be produced… Another interpretation of cause, though the “seem” is an acknowledgment that the interpretation is impossible, relying on circumstances that don’t occur in the actual world.

…Several willful ants… Presumption of intentionality.

…try to obtain me… Interpretation of motive.

…the wild reeds of my hair… Metaphorical transposition of an actual substance into an alternative reality.

…they are trying to keep me from…. Interpretation of motive.

*   *   *

Close-ups were replaced by Closer-ups: single feature shots. Photographers trained cameras on feet, knees, noses, shoulders, and hands. They dismantled babies frame by frame and then gave the pieces back to mothers who studied the remarkable detail. “Look! Her third toe is the longest of the bunch!” a mother pointed out. Upon hearing such exclamations, photographers wondered if mothers looked at their children at all except in photographs.
Then came the Even Closer-ups: eyelashes, a dimple, a mole, nostril shadows. Again, mothers and photographers lost babies in the pictures. This time they were right in front of the lens but completely absent in the final JPEG files of veins and hair follicles. (from Lindsey Harding, “A Brief History of Baby Pictures)

…They dismantled babies… This is metaphor, serving to transport the actual situation of photographs dismantling whole images into a parallel imaginary situation of dismantling whole physical beings.

…photographers wondered… The photographers construct an interpretation of behavior, an interpretation that’s tentative, speculative.

…lost babies in the pictures… It’s the same metaphorical transport as the “dismantled babies” phrase.

*   *   *

The priest lifted the silver cross from my forehead and touched it to his lips. He said the demon was gone but a monster remained. I spat blood in his face, accusing him of fake news, of failure to move on. He said if I loved my family, I’d get as far away from them as possible.
Afterwards, I tried to act normal but my wife refused to leave me alone with our daughters. A fortnight passed before I was allowed back in our bedroom and even then she wouldn’t let me see her naked, saying the way I looked at her made her uncomfortable. While she slept, I kissed the back of her neck where it curves into her shoulder and remembered the promises we made to each other on our wedding day. Then I licked my lips to savour the salty-sweet taste of her skin.
The night I bit her she said I had to go. (from Christopher Stanley, “Oymyakon”)

…accusing him of fake news… Interpretation the news as a counterfactual representation of the actual situation.

…if I loved my family… Conditional: in actuality he might not love his family.

…I tried to act normal… Intentional behavior, attempting to conform to an internalized image of societal expectations.

…made her uncomfortable… Interpretation of the cause of an affect.

…remembered the promises… Promises were made in the no-longer-existent past, expressing intent toward the not-yet-existent future.

*   *   *

But the stage down in theatre’s heart was a sea-pool and the failing light made distances fluid so that Zoe thought she only had to reach out a hand, for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries, to decant shadows and show her … what? Faces? The curve of a cheek or an unbending arm? Stones and bones and sorrow, or perhaps an imprint left by old joy?
Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes in her lap and Zoe breathed in time with the wind. It was not so much fear holding her in its grip, as a sense of falling.
‘You came back.’ (from Lorraine Wilson, “We Have Always Been Here”)

…for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries… to obtain access to a realm where the meanings of actual things are made manifest.

…to decant shadows… Metaphorically, to precipitate out the substance from the appearances of actual existence.

…an imprint left by old joy… A trace made in the present by a no-longer-extant past emotion.

...Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes…Metaphorical transformation of an actuality into an imagined alternate reality.

…a sense of falling…The falling isn’t actual; it’s a sensation, an illusion, perhaps a decanting, a precipitating downward from actuality.

*   *   *

Townie boys with bamboo rakes scraped Hawthorne’s grassy common clean. Working for someone’s Uncle Ricco, saving up for a used Mustang to drag race till Uncle Sam dragged them off to fight in bamboo jungles. They’d whistle as you crossed their path, precisely because you were unattainable in the way that girls at a private boarding school were unattainable, like fur coats, soft and desirable but costing too much. (Judith Kessler, “Falling Season”)

…saving up for a used Mustang… Expression of intent: actions taken in the present so as to achieve a desired but not-yet-existent future.

…dragged them off to fight… Intent: action in the present in order to achieve a desired future.

…precisely because you were unattainable… Interpretation of the cause or motivation for present actions.

…like fur coats… Transposition of the actual situation with an imagined parallel reality.

*   *   *

Though I’d never been more than passable as a clarinetist, I did have one skill: I can take in an entire score at once, visually, and hear the piece in my head. During undergrad, my friends would come to me the night before projects were due because I could tell with one glance whether a note was off in their counterpoint or whether there was too much going on in the brass. (Kelly Luce, “Two of Swords Counterpoint”)

…and hear the piece in my head… Transpose from the actual reality into an imagined one.

…During undergrad… Remembrance of a no-longer-extant past time.

…because I could tell… Interpreting the friends’ motivation for actual behaviors.

 

Status Report 2

I’ve put up 8 “Flânerie” posts, each excerpting and referencing 7 short fictions: that’s 56 fiction writers. I even double-dipped the 7 stories from Flânerie 1,  citing each of them a second time in a Counteractuals post. All of those posts have been indexed by Google, which means they would show up if the stories’ authors google themselves. Based on the stat tracker attached to the site, maybe 3 or 4 of those writers have visited the site — a rate of less than 10 percent. None has responded to the invitation, posted at the upper right column of the site, to complete an online questionnaire. I conclude therefore, based on the empirical evidence, that the method I’ve adopted for making contact with fiction writers is not successful and will be discontinued forthwith.

What went wrong? In the first Status Report I observed that the newly published short stories I’ve read are rarely referenced on the Internet, so there’s not much reason for authors to google themselves and their stories. Are the authors disappointed by the apparent absence of reader response?

Back in Boulder a friend would take a weekly mountain hike with a literary scholar who’s evidently well regarded in the field. My friend gave me a copy of a recently published article in which this scholar evaluated the (ir)relevance of cognitive science research to narratology. Reading her article I found not just points of disagreement but probable errors and inconsistencies in her interpretations of the scientific literature she was citing. I wrote a fairly extended commentary and emailed it to my friend, who in turn emailed it to his friend. Her response: the article is already published, so there’s no need to respond to this critique.

Maybe fiction writers come to feel the same way about their work. Story writing is a competitive sport; the editors of literary magazines, inundated with far more material than they can publish, judge the competition. Being published is the prize awarded to the author for having won. In an arena where excellence is conflated with personal taste, getting a story published is one of the few tangible indicators of success. If your goal is to get published the only readers that really count are the litmag editors.

In scientific and scholarly circles, having an extensive CV of published articles can bring career rewards: academic jobs and promotions, grant money, possible entrepreneurial opportunities. Presumably it works the same way in fictional circles. Most of the litmags provide brief bios of the authors published in the current issue; those thumbnails typically list the authors’ most prestigious publications and prizes. Them that’s got shall get, as Billie Holliday sang. The magazines, seeking to enhance their own prestige and circulation, invite well-published writers to contribute pieces for publication, leaving the unknowns to battle it out for the leavings in the slush pile. The chosen few are able to buttress their proposals with their lists of pubs when it comes time to seek publication for their story compilations and novels.

Version 1 of Ficticities lamented the false promises of commercial fiction, with agents and publishers and editors and retailers making a living from the works of authors who do not. Writers of literary fiction are even less likely to make money from their work, the highbrow publishing houses being more limited than corporate for-profit publishers in their capacity to turn out new titles and to achieve widespread distribution to mass audiences. Maybe for the highbrow fictionalist the money isn’t in publishing but in teaching: get enough pubs in respected outlets and your applications for academic posts are more likely to be given a second look by the hiring committees.

Money or credit: that was the trade-off my fellow doctoral students and I were making. We could be off in industry making money; instead we were trying to achieve acknowledgment from the scientific community for making significant discoveries. Of course we also harbored expectations that credit would eventually be redeemable for money, money that would pay us to do even more creditable work — them that’s got shall get. And how would we know whether our work had made a significant contribution? If we got publication credit. The journals were the arbiters of scientific merit and the bellwethers pointing toward the future of the field. If our colleagues at other universities were discussing our work we wouldn’t know about it unless and until they cited us in their own published work, a time lag that could stretch into years. No, it was the pub that served as the token of credit.

Print journals, facing strict page restrictions, typically accept for publication only a fraction of submitted manuscripts. Journals, like universities, gain cachet by maintaining low acceptance rates, restricting access to their hallowed pages to the crème de la crème. Now change is afoot in scholarly publishing. Evaluating merit and importance is a judgment call, often resulting in wide inter-rater disagreements among reviewers of the same manuscripts. Journal editors often select from among equally meritorious articles the ones they believe to be most attractive to their readership, a decision criterion based more on popularity than excellence. Electronic publishing, facing no page limit restrictions and incurring no distribution costs,  eliminates the editorial selection bottleneck that artificially restricts supply, exacerbates competitive jockeying for position, and puts the journal publishers in control. Scientists would self-publish their work, making it freely and widely available to all. Peer review, rather than an anonymously rendered once-for-all verdict, becomes the basis for an ongoing public discussion of the published work, conducted online between authors and readers.

I don’t know whether a similar move is being considered with respect to the publication of short fictions. I would support such a move, which would correspond precisely with the Ficticities agenda. Put writers and readers in charge; make texts open access; eliminate the middlemen profit-takers. And we haven’t even gotten to the Ponzi scheme of graduate education in fiction writing, where students shell out big bucks in the scant hope of positioning themselves on the receiving end of the money flow generated by the next generation of students.

But all of this is extrapolation and speculation, tincted with a hint of sour grapes. The gist of this status update is that the attempt to lure short story writers here to Ficticities is demonstrably unsuccessful. So I’m abandoning the effort and going back to the drawing board.