Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Two people in my family, Monique and I, are quite fond of a slender volume by E.F. Schumacher titled A Guide for the Perplexed. I’ve had occasion to refer to Schumacher a while back here, in the context of health care. Schumacher is best known in economic development circles, for his book Small is Beautiful, which appeared in 1973, and for concepts like appropriate technology. A Guide for the Perplexed is, in a sense, the documentation of his conversion to Catholicism. In the process of working his way to a religious understanding, he produced this little book in which certain medieval ideas are explained in modern terms. One of the concepts Monique and I like is Schumacher’s rendition of adequacy. The concept simply means that your understanding must measure up to that which you are trying to understand, expressed in Schmacher’s quote of Aquinas (without citing work or place): “Knowledge comes about insofar as the object known is within the knower.” He traces the origin of this insight—although, no doubt, it goes back into the mists—to Plotinus: “Knowing demands the organ fitted to the object.”

In a way this concept, adequacy, is self-evident. It belongs among those things that, once you hear about them, you immediately accept if you’ve observed the truth they represent. And then, ultimately, turning one of these concepts this way and that, you realize its profundity.

This floated back into my mind the other day again—my mind being on publishing books and how that process works. Then it struck me that a work—a novel say—must encounter someone in the publisher’s organization “adequate” to grasp what has been submitted, adequate to see its value. If an author matures while editors get younger and younger—if the big houses become ever more corporate, if fashions start to dominate, if werewolf stories compete directly with more serious works—it is possible to lose your market. The world of publishing has changed in significant ways since I began to write. The process has been bureaucratized. It wouldn’t surprise me if now “reading” is being outsourced to free-lance readers so that the publisher no longer has to pay health benefits to a sizeable editorial staff, never mind one senior enough to travel on the same trajectories some of their authors have described.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting observation, Arsen.

    The funny thing about Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed is the fact that the book itself proves his point about adequacy. It also makes the book eminently rereadable. Each time I pick it up I seem to be ready for a deeper understanding and thus see things I did not in the earlier reading.


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