Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"How to Sell"

Clancy Martin is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UMKC. He works on 19th and 20th century European philosophy after Kant, the intersections of philosophy and literature, and the ethics of advertising and selling. He has authored, coauthored and edited several books in philosophy,and has published over two dozen articles and reviews on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Romanticism, and the virtue of truthfulness. In 2007 his story "The Best Jeweler" won The Pushcart Prize.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to How to Sell, his first novel, and reported the following:
The Israeli diamond dealer’s son is pinned to the floor with the barrel of a gun in his eye socket. It’s one of the few violent scenes in the novel. A few moments before one of the gunmen has complained, quoting Meryl Streep from Silkwood, “I think you ought to take a man’s [Meryl: “person’s”] word for something.” In both cases, the gunman’s and Meryl’s, what is interesting is this is a classic example of one strategy of deception: when the liar in the act of lying complains that, morally speaking, there should be a presumption of truth in communication. This delightful piece of hypocrisy depends on an argument made, most vigorously in the philosophical literature on lying, by Immanuel Kant. Kant argues that lying is morally blameworthy because it contradicts itself, it is an affront to reason: possible only because of the convention that we rely on the truthfulness of speech in order to understand one another, it violates this convention. The lie is an Ouroboros, turning back upon itself to feed on its own flesh, and in the act destroying itself. The particular liar in the scene does indeed destroy himself in his criminal act, and the fact that he is relying upon the diamond dealer’s trust immediately before robbing him is also typical of the liar (a lie is often used to extract something from the dupe that could not otherwise be gainsaid). At the end of page 69 Idan is still there on the floor, and the gunman is “kneeling with one knee on top of him, like a hunter kneels on a deer he has killed…”. We don’t know what will happen next.
Learn more about the book and author at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website and Clancy Martin's faculty webpage.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue