Monday, April 28, 2014

Seth Roberts d. April 26, 2014

I learned today that Seth Roberts, who was a Professor of Psychology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, a bestselling author, and who could be found in the acknowledgments of books by Nassim Taleb and Tim Ferris, passed away. 

Seth and I met about eight years ago via my blog Behind the Approval Matrix and soon after that he flew to New York to give a talk to my students. Most recently I spoke about Seth during a talk to a group of Brooklyn College students. That portion of the talk was on the importance of not wasting time/how to read more than one book per week. I related a story about when Seth and I went to the Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien hotel and how when I was in line ordering the burgers, Seth, after quickly perusing the hip burger joint with his eyes, pulled out a tattered novel and began reading.

During the past year Seth and I spoke almost every Saturday via Skype, because we were co-writing a book on education. He'll be missed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck: Writers are Better Than Pimps, Doctors and Lawyers

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck became a famous and bestselling writer in the African-American community after spending over twenty years of his life as a pimp. Subsequently, his novels made him the most notorious pimp in America. His most famous novel, Pimp: The Story of My Life, is an autobiographical novel that was published in 1967 by the notorious Holloway House and sold millions of copies. Ironically, Beck saw little of the money.

Like Nabokov, Beck would visualize his characters in his head, he wrote for long hours  - sometimes up to 18 hours per day and like Proust, he was a recluse. Justin Gifford's Street Poison, The Biography of Iceberg Slim and Ian Whitaker's Iceberg Slim The Lost Interviews sheds some very interesting light on Beck's writing habits and his views on writers and writing:

Writing books is better than pimping. In fact, it's better than being a doctor or a lawyer. I don't have to go to court, I don't have to go to the hospital to perform an operation. I have no equipment...I don't even need paper; I'll write on the walls. All of my equipment [tapping his head] is in my noggin. And another thing; writing has been a wonderful boon for me, psychologically. The vacuum of ego that existed when I could no longer pimp has been filled most adequately.

Q. You have been described as the best-sellingest black author in America. Why is that?

A. ...I would think it's because I've been able to do what any artist must do if he's to rule the greatest possible audience - and that is to bare his emotional structure to the bone. I've noticed the same phenomenon as a speaker. I've been a success as a speaker because I've dared to do that which the audience, collectively, could not do. That is, I have overridden my inhibitions so I can confess. It springs from the soul, brother. So many people are dying and crying out to confess. But they lack the courage. 

Q. Doesn't every writer play [g]od?

A. Yes. But one can't play [g]od if one is also a father. One of the handicaps, of course, in being a writer is that one has large numbers of children, responsibilities. Ideally, a writer should be alone. Most writers - if they're married - inevitably, the wife will soon consider the writing a rival. And no writer can reach his peak with this kind of intramural opposition.

Q. Recently, you wrote an article about the loneliness of a super-pimp...

A. Ah, the loneliness...yes, the loneliness. Because you see, the only comparison I could make, as a matter of fact, with the loneliness of a writer is the loneliness of a pimp. I'm not talking about a would-be pimp. I'm talking about someone who really understands what pimping is. And by that I mean: no matter what problems I ever had as a pimp, I never got confidential with any woman...p 100

Q. Usually a writer tries to do more than merely entertain. He tries to inform and persuade.

A. Oh yes. I don't try to persuade. I used to be political. When I first started writing. Nothing is worse than to write with a tendency like that. You can't be a true artist. That's what hobbled most of the young black writers that came up in the 60s. In other words, one must - if he's black or any ethnic - if he's aware of the inequities of this society, purge himself, have that catharsis, through his writing, in order to approach the pristine peak that the artist, the true artist, knows. 

Q. Haven't you used the term "Pimping the Page?"

A. But you know why I've never been able to do it? Because of the torturous labor that writing is...If it weren't so gaddam hard man, I could make the analogy [between pimping and selling books]. But it's so hard...

Q. Are you a masochist?

A. I think all writers have to be. I'm talking about the serious writers - like yourself. You know you love it. You love the pain, that lonely pain.

Q. Is there any sadism connected to this?

. Yeah. We inflict that, we often inflict that upon the audience. You know, two sides of a coin. But invariably, we inflict it upon the people around us, like our wives and our children, when we suffer, you know. 

Q. Would you say you've achieved a balance or homeostasis between your inner and the outer realities?

A. Yes. And I've achieved it through what I call "The Overview". The way I interpret "overview" personally is that I will not permit any traumatic event, person or force to deal my writing and my life a fatal blow. I will not gnaw on personal tragedy like some psychotic canine. When the deed has been done to me, whether advertently or inadvertently, I will simply forget that, I don't conduct vendettas against people, objects or circumstances. 

Q. You once were a creature of the night. Do you write at night?

A. Ideally, from 2am to 7 in the morning.

Q. Do you make a lot of money from your books?

A. No. When you say "a lot of money," you know to a pauper a hundred-dollar bill is a fortune. And then a John Paul Getty, a hundred-thousand is a pittance. But I'm not a seeker of fortune. All that I aspire to is to have comforts, and to be cushioned so I can have the most magnificent luxury there is. And that is one of privacy, so that I might write. 

Q. Are you satisfied with your progress as a writer so far?

A. No, because I started late. And given the Biblical actuarial estimate, it seems to me that I've got maybe 10 years. And writing being the unconquerable that it is, I wish that I'd started at your age or even younger, so I would at least have some remote chance of becoming the absolute artist. Because every day, every day, is a reminder of how little I know as a writer. 

MISTY [Beck's daughter]: He was a strange guy who used to write on paper plates, on napkins, on anything. He did longhand on note pads but he would write on paper plates and things like that. 

Q. How easy was if for him to get published?

A. MISTY: ...He was very let down; it took a minute to get someone to look at Pimp