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Hamish McKenzie has the best idea the Internet has ever seen
Literate and literary; All those tech grasshoppers better make room in their heads; The new Substack social media innovation, called Notes, is way, way more than you think it is; Or is it?
Hamish, co-founder of Substack and Chief WRITING Officer (that’s called a clue), is looking at the new Substack social media platform, Notes, as far more than a rival to Elon Musk’s “X”.
Forget long posts on “X”.
Substack writers can make long posts on Notes.
Hamish wants Notes posts from novelists, poets, playwrights.
Imagine 10,000 Substack short story writers each posting 300 words from their latest work on Notes.
The great, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. What the hell. Why not?
Never been done before in the history of the world.
LITERATURE, my fine feathered friends, will be making a comeback.
Here’s how I met Hamish in New York and exposed his plot to take over, at last count, the solar system...
Yes, it was a sparkling June day, and I was walking along the south end of Central Park, and I spotted him sitting on a bench eating blue point oysters from a bowl of ice, drinking champagne from tall-stemmed crystal, and reading the greatest forgotten novel of the 20th century (according to the late critic, Harold Bloom), David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus.
How should I approach Hamish?
I settled on a well-worn line:
“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
Hamish looked up.
“That’s your best shot?” he said. “Ulysses?”
“I had no prep time,” I said.
“I’m a Substack writer,” I said.
“I know who you are. You’re always out of bounds.”
He stood up and we walked through the Park.
“It occurs to me,” I said, “that you’re going to come in behind the Notes launch with something else.”
“Well,” he said. He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a pair of binoculars and handed them to me.
“Look through the trees,” he said, “at the Pierre Hotel.”
Corner of 61st St. and 5th Avenue. NY landmark. Pile of plump majesty since 1930.
A truck was parked at the curb in front of the entrance. A squad of workers was unloading trunks and carrying them into the lobby. They were wearing blue windbreakers, with SUBSTACK in large yellow letters printed on their backs.
“You moving in?” I said.
“More than that,” he said.
“What’s in the trunks?”
That stopped me.
“I’m buying the hotel.”
“To do what with it?” I said. I felt like I was falling into a hole in the ground.
“Create a literary residence.”
‘Residence’ rang in my head.
“You want a room?” he said.
“A room. In the hotel.”
“You’re holding a conference?”
“No, I mean a permanent room. Not one of the big suites on the upper floors. But it’s very nice.”
“What kind of joke is this?” I said.
He shook his head and munched on an oyster.
“Maybe 50 writers holed up in there to start,” he said. “Very informal. Conversations in the bar. That kind of thing. Literary roundtable.”
Some crazy con. He was undoubtedly deranged. What was he pulling?
A pale young man walked up to us. He shook hands with Hamish.
He looked familiar.
My mind raced.
This man had died in 1945.
David Lindsay, author of A Voyage to Arcturus.
“Your suite is ready,” Hamish said to him. “You can move in anytime.”
Lindsay smiled and nodded. He took out a roll of bills from his pocket and waved it. I noticed they were hundreds. “Many thanks,” he said.
I went over and sat down on a bench and put my head in my hands.
When I looked up, they were gone.
I still had the binoculars. I looked through them at the Pierre. The truck was pulling away from the curb.
I started running toward the hotel.
When I reached the entrance, a doorman blocked my way. I thought he was going to slug me.
Instead, he handed me an old brass key.
“Room 402,” he said, and stepped aside.
As I moved past him, he said, “They both spoke cheerfully but were obviously without direction and bored by the fact—moreover, just any direction would not do. They wanted high excitement, not from the necessity of stimulating jaded nerves but with the avidity of prize-winning schoolchildren who deserved their vacations.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald?
I looked at the doorman. He was short and fat. Red Hair. Fair skin. Irish. About 50.
“Where did you get that quote?” I said.
He shrugged. “All sorts of stuff in the air these days.”
At the front desk, the clerk pointed to an elevator. She was young. Couldn’t have been more than 20.
Yet she said, “In a broad Moscow not two hundred yards from the Leningrad Station, on the upper floor of an ornate and hideous hotel built by Stalin in the style know to Muscovites as Empire During the Plague, the British Council’s first ever audio fair for the teaching of the English language and the spread of British culture was grinding to its excruciating end.”
Le Carre, The Russia House.
As I rode up to my floor, the elevator operator, a skinny washed out bald man stared down at the floor. I waited. In a raspy voice, he said, “Suddenly the waters around them slowly swelled in broad circles; then quickly upheaved, as if sideways sliding from a submerged berg of ice, swiftly rising to the surface. A low rumbling sound was heard; a subterraneous hum; and then all held their breaths; as bedraggled with trailing ropes, and harpoons, and lances, a vast form shot lengthwise, but obliquely from the sea. Shrouded in a thin drooping veil of mist, it hovered for a moment in the rainbowed air; and then fell swamping back into the deep. Crushed thirty feet upwards, the waters flashed for an instant like heaps of fountains, then brokenly sank in a shower of flakes, leaving the circling surface creamed like new milk round the marble trunk of the whale’.”
“Do you recite that a lot?” I asked him.
“Every time I go up and down,” he said. “Mostly to myself, but occasionally out in the open.”
I walked down the hallway and came to Room 402.
I put the key in the lock.
Here goes nothing.
I turned the key, opened the door, and walked in.
Somebody yelled DINNER AT SIX. WHITE TIE.
The floor to ceiling windows were wide open and a strong breeze was blowing in.
It wasn’t a room or a suite. It was many rooms stretching out in all directions. Books on shelves. A library.
I went over and picked up a book and read the title on the cover. “THE ONLY WAR.” I’d never heard of it. I opened it.
For the next few minutes I looked at more books. They were all novels. Unknown to me.
Thousands of novels in this library?
Had anyone ever read them?
Holding one, I looked at the small print under the title: “Originally published on Substack, June-August, 2046.”
I looked at a dozen more. They’d all been published on Substack.
The library went blank. I went blank.
I was falling. Falling down four floors and then falling through Blank.
Into a small furnished room. I was standing against a wall. Sitting at a small desk, a guy was hitting keys on a Royal portable.
The sheet of paper in the typewriter fed into a small box, and on a screen next to the box the paragraphs came up on a Substack page.
The writer kept typing. Looking at the keys. He said, “We’ve got a direct line now. We just need more readers. You know, we’re taking over.”
“Taking over what?” I said.
He laughed. “Remember Diane di’ Prima? The poet? ‘The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.’ So now we win.”
Diane di Prima:
You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology a cosmogony laid out, before all eyes there is no part of yourself you can separate out saying, this is memory, this is sensation this is the work I care about, this is how I make a living it is whole, it is a whole, it always was whole you do not "make" it so there is nothing to integrate, you are a presence you are an appendage of the work, the work stems from hangs from the heaven you create every man / every woman carries a firmament inside & the stars in it are not the stars in the sky w/out imagination there is no memory w/out imagination there is no sensation w/out imagination there is no will, desire history is a living weapon in yr hand & you have imagined it, it is thus that you "find out for yourself" history is the dream of what it can be, it is the relation between things in a continuum of imagination what you find out for yourself is what you select out of an infinite sea of possibility no one can inhabit yr world yet it is not lonely, the ground of the imagination is fearlessness discourse is video tape of a movie of a shadow play but the puppets are in yr hand your counters in a multidimensional chess which is divination & strategy the war that matters is the war against the imagination all other wars are subsumned in it. the ultimate famine is the starvation of the imagination it is death to be sure, but the undead seek to inhabit someone else's world the ultimate claustrophobia is the syllogism the ultimate claustrophobia is "it all adds up" nothing adds up & nothing stands in for anything else THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST THE IMAGINATION ALL OTHER WARS ARE SUBSUMED IN IT There is no way out of the spiritual battle There is no way to avoid taking sides There is no way you can not have a poetics no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher you do it in the consciousness of making or not making yr world you have a poetics: you step into the world like a suit of readymade clothes or you etch in light your firmament spills into the shape of your room the shape of the poem, of yr body, of yr loves A woman's life / a man's life is an allegory Dig it There is no way out of the spiritual battle the war is the war against the imagination you can't sign up as a conscientious objector the war of the worlds hangs here, right now, in the balance it is a war for this world, to keep it a vale of soul-making the taste in all our mouths is the taste of our power and it is bitter as death bring yr self home to yrself, enter the garden the guy at the gate w/ the flaming sword is yrself the war is the war for the human imagination and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you The imagination is not only holy, it is precise it is not only fierce, it is practical men die everyday for the lack of it, it is vast & elegant intellectus means "light of the mind" it is not discourse it is not even language the inner sun the polis is constellated around the sun the fire is central
—Hamish was standing next to me.
“Notes isn’t succeeding,” he said. “We could lose everything. The library, the hotel, the cash reserve. It could all go up in smoke.”
“Enough people aren’t showing up on it?”
“Not enough people, not enough writing. Not enough fiction or poetry. Not enough imagination.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s always been the problem, hasn’t it? No system is going to eliminate it.”
“I knew that from the start. I thought with a strong kickoff we could attract…but as usual we have to fall back on individual writers. Whoever they are, wherever they are. There’s no way around that. And readers too, who want IMAGINATION like people want food. But we have to keep trying.”
The writer was still hitting keys on his portable typewriter. I looked over his shoulder. He was typing the Diane di Prima poem, over and over.
-- Jon Rappoport