I.

News

Nothing Sacred • Heresy Press’s first book, Nothing Sacred: Outspoken Voices in Contemporary Fiction, is now available for purchase on our website. The introductory sale price of $15.95 per book will last through the holiday season. The book is also available on Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.

Joyce Carol OatesHeresy Press Director Bernard Schweizer was thrilled to present an inscribed copy of Nothing Sacred to Joyce Carol Oates in person. Her endorsement of our book is a distinguished honor: “I highly recommend this gathering of boldly original voices with a predominant tone of wild invention and fearlessness side by side with the intimacy of domestic life in our turbulent American times.”

Animal • Heresy Press’s fourth book is now in production. Animal: Notes from a Labyrinth by Alan Fishbone will be officially published May 1, 2024.

Description:
Animal: Notes from a Labyrinth is a slim, intense work of autofiction whose gloriously incorrect life pulses with electrifying stories, both profound and profane, vulnerable and provocative, animalistic and deeply humane.

• Heresy Press was introduced on CSPAN Book TV in November 2023 by Nadine Strossen, who elaborated on Nothing Sacred and enthusiastically recommended the book to viewers.

c-span interview

• Heresy Press received a favorable mention in Alex Perez’s article “The Fight for the Future of Publishing” in The Free Press, published on November 28, 2023:

Illustration by Monsieur Collage for The Free Press

Illustration by Monsieur Collage for The Free Press

Eighteen months after Gullaba self-published, Bernard Schweizer, a former English professor, launched a brand-new publishing house in January 2023. Called Heresy Press, Schweizer gave it a mission statement of embracing “freedom, honesty, openess, dissent, and real diversity in all of its manifestations … We discourage authors from descending into self-censorship, we don’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation, and we won’t pander to the presumed sensitivities of hypothetical readers.”

Heresy’s board includes the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, the writer Meghan Daum, and New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In the past year, Schweizer told me, he’s been flooded with submissions.

“I got so many out-of-the-ballpark great stories and manuscripts that I realized the magnitude of the problem even more so,” he said.

• Heresy Press has hired a social media manager, who has ramped up our social media activity, regularly posting content up to 5 times a week. The posts cover news from the press, our latest book releases, reviews, as well as topics of general interest about literature, art, creative freedom, anti-censorship, and so on. Please follow Heresy Press on Facebook and Instagram. We are also active on Twitter and LinkedIn.

II.

Flash Fiction

Hair

by Danny Oppenheimer

It’s just hair, they said.

Anna is your best friend, they said. She needs your support. Think of how much this would mean to her. It’s just hair.

Hair that, before the heart attack, Grandma Rosa had arranged into the most gorgeous of styles: braided into fishtails, curled into ringlets, sculpted into elaborate updos and fontages. “So beautiful,” her grandma had gushed, “The hair of a princess. The hair of an angel”.

It’s just hair, they said.

For G-d’s sake, she has cancer, they said. Remember all that Anna did for you after your father’s accident. Think of how much she’s going through. It’s just hair.

Hair that, before the accident, before he lost the use of his hands, Papa would brush every night before bedtime, gently working out the knots and snarls, joking and laughing with joy in his eyes. And after the accident, Papa would rest his cheek against the crown of her head, feeling the smoothness of her hair against his cheek, and smile again.

It’s just hair, they said.

Don’t be so vain, they said. Don’t be so selfish. Think of somebody else for a change. It’s just hair.

Hair that, before the divorce, had framed her head like a halo after she and Josef had made love, collapsing, flushed and breathless onto the pillows, spent and content. Hair, soft as satin, that he would gently caress as he gazed at her, full of appreciation, full of affection, full of devotion. A happy, carefree time back when the world was safe and she knew she was loved.

It’s just hair, they said. Ignoring how her hand trembled as she placed the razor to her scalp. Ignoring the tears that she blinked back as her tresses fell to the floor. Ignoring how she bit her lip, and held her breath, and swallowed the rising bile as she stared at her naked scalp in the mirror. And after it was over, they rubbed her bald head all smiles and cheers, and told her how lucky she was to have been able to show solidarity with a friend in need.

After all, it was just hair.

Bio: Danny Oppenheimer is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University jointly appointed in Psychology and Decision Sciences who studies judgment, decision making, metacognition, learning, and how to trick his students into buying him ice cream. He is the author of over 75 peer-reviewed scientific articles and books including Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System That Shouldn’t Work at All Works So Well and Psychology: The Comic Book Introduction. He has won awards for research, teaching, and humor, the latter of which is particularly inexplicable given his penchant for terrible puns.

III.

Reflections on the Frankfurt Book Fair 2023

By Bernard Schweizer

Bernard Schweizer at Frankfurt Book Fair

Each year, Frankfurt hosts the largest Book Fair in the world, with around 130,000 industry professionals in attendance. What happens there is indicative of larger trends in global book publishing; the fair is a major networking and dealmaking hub; and thanks to the Frankfurt
Book Fair, literature vaults into the headlines for a short time. This year’s Frankfurt Book Fair was no different—if anything the headlines came thicker than usual, since the Fair opened shortly after Hamas’s attack on Israel. Controversy erupted when Slavoj Zizek drew attention both to the Hamas atrocities and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Then, the award ceremony for the Palestinian author Adania Shibli was abruptly cancelled, further inflaming the debate.

Salman Rushdie

Read the full article about Rushdie’s words at the Frankfurt Book Fair

But not all news was controversial: Everybody seemed to agree that Salman Rushdie was a worthy recipient of the German Book Seller’s Peace Prize, indicative of the industry’s unwavering support for one of the great champions of unfettered artistic expression, and a writer who had almost paid with his life for the freedom of speech and the uncensored practice of artistic expression. In his acceptance speech, Rushdie said “My view is that everybody can write about everything. If that’s not true, then the art of the novel ceases to exist. The question is whether they do it well or badly—and to my mind, that’s the only question.”

My role at the Frankfurt Book Fair was twofold:
→ First, I promoted Nothing Sacred, which was displayed as part of a collective exhibition hosted by the Independent Book Publishers Association (ibpa). I was pleased to see that the cover of our anthology drew people’s attention, and that many of them picked up the book.

→ Secondly, I was eager to gauge how the publishing climate in Germany compared to current trends in American publishing. After surveying the works on offer and taking the temperature of the literary scene at publisher’s stalls, literary talks, and discussion panels, I concluded that in Germany the influence of the identity-and-sensitivity movement is noticeable but not quite as dominant a force of conformity as it has become in the USA.

Frankfurt Book FairOr rather: the identity-and-sensitivity movement expresses itself differently in the Old World. Germans (and central Europeans in general) are rather fixated on issues of cultural appropriation when it comes to certain genres of music, fashion, and carnival. For instance, white German jazz musicians like Helge Schneider run into opposition because they play a musical style—Jazz— not invented by white people. This identity policing does not only affect Jazz musicians: if you are a white rock musician sporting dreadlocks, chances are the venue will literally pull the plug on your show before it is over (as happened in Bern in 2023). The Swedish fashion designer Gudrun Sjödén unleashed a Twitter storm after she incorporated the aesthetic of northern Scandinavia Sami tribes for her line of clothes; and participants at Germany’s countless long-running carnival events have been berated for wearing costumes with ethnic insignia. In publishing, too, some voices have called for the cancellation of books, notably children’s books by writers like Michael Ende, for the reason that ethnic or racial representations current at the time of their writing now strike some as outdated or quaint. Yet, by and large, things are not as bad in Europe with regard to identity dictates and moral panics around cultural appropriation in the literary field. I came to this conclusion in part by attending a number of book talks, panels, and publisher’s booths at the Book Fair, which mostly projected a fairly balanced and sane concept of diversity, creative freedom, and open-mindedness in the literary space.

Some examples:

• I attended an author talk moderated by the prominent literary critic and TV personality Denis Scheck. He squarely confronted identity politics when he said: “The point of literature is not to confirm and reinforce our identity; rather, literature gives us the freedom to leave our identity.” This is an opinion emphatically at odds with the “own-voices” doctrine ascendant in the United States, and it goes against the identity essentialism so pervasive among US publishers. Yet, Scheck’s common-sense statement hardly raised any eyebrows here.

Denis Scheck in conversation with author Thomas Hettche

Denis Scheck in conversation with author Thomas Hettche

• At another panel, the conversation turned on how to deal with morally ambivalent characters and stereotypes in fiction. The four speakers made a strong plea in favor of the need to grapple with and debate viewpoints that in hindsight might be considered “unenlightened.” Rather than morally condemning “suspect” authors like Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, or Michael Ende and their “outdated” ideas, and instead of shielding Jim Knopt-Gonzo-und-andere-Aufregerreaders from purportedly “offending” contents by censoring them, the panelist Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora said: “Artifacts can and should be interpreted ambivalently. We don’t all have to agree on their implications, and we shouldn’t aim for collective approval or disapproval of this or that character, this or that story element. Debates over works deemed controversial are valuable in and of themselves. Taking offense at an artifact or its message is equivalent to shutting down the debate before it even begins.” This sane and rational approach seemed to have the support of the majority in the audience, yet the same statement would be frowned upon at an anglophone literary conference or in the halls of American mainstream publishing, and a segment of the US Twitter sphere might seethe with outrage over it. In such contexts, works of fiction are now often treated like crime scenes bristling with clues to their authors’ and characters’ objectionable opinions. Again, my impression was of a less righteously inflamed discourse when it comes to dealing with the alleged offensiveness of works of literature in the German/European context.

• My last example stems from a conversation I had with representatives of Novum, a European publisher founded in Germany. This press invites submissions from any and all, including debut authors. I was curious to learn what selection criteria they used to separate the dross from the silver. The rep of the press told me frankly that they let themselves be guided solely by the marketability of the manuscripts they receive. As long as a submission is deemed to have popular appeal and the story promises to sell, the book would be edited and promoted through the publishing process. I then asked them if they demanded that authors write in “own voices” to avoid cultural appropriation, and whether sensitivity readers were engaged to weed out “offensive” contents. This terminology met with uncomprehending stares. Finally, my interlocutor said in a slightly exasperated tone “I honestly don’t understand what you are talking about.” It looks like the folks at Novum Publishing were genuinely flummoxed by the lexicon of the American identity-and-sensitivity movement.

I was pleased to see that there was palpable excitement in the air at the Book Fair, and judging by the throngs of visitors, book reading is alive and well these days.

Frankfurt Book-Fair Hall 3

Dense crowds in Hall 3, an “outlet mall” for book publishers

I hope to return to the Frankfurt Book Fair next year, and at that time I want to represent Heresy Press with its own booth, presenting the complete lineup of Heresy Press books available by then. The plan will be to engage with foreign rights lawyers, translation services, and other industry professionals to negotiate licensing deals to make our works available internationally and to bring our authors to a wider audience. Stay tuned for any updates from that front.

IV.

GUEST ESSAY

How Prep-school Pedagogy Strangles Literature

By Britton Buttrill

I’m a novelist and a playwright living in New York City, but for almost a decade, I’ve paid my bills by teaching secondary-English. I recently transitioned from a Harlem high-needs public school to an elite preparatory school. It is here that, if I ask my students’ opinion why they think literature is part of the required curriculum (i.e. why read books?), they usually reference a social justice concept. These students are quite good at identifying instances of patriarchy, racism, homophobia, etc. in a novel, poem, or play. Yet, asking them to discuss matters of style, aesthetics, literary history, or the beauty and complexity of art is like posing an advanced calculus problem. Indirectly related to this: I haven’t seen The Odyssey, The Iliad, or Edith Hamilton’s Mythology on a Literature syllabus, in either a public or private school, since at least 2016. Whatever comprehension of Classical Mythology exists, it comes from Social Studies courses, private tutoring, or pop culture. Practically speaking, such a lack of exposure to the Western Canon means that I rarely teach literary allusion nowadays because I don’t have time to explain every reference. I believe this is a feature, not a bug. This elite understanding—and I do think it is an attitude prevalent among the socially privileged—of English literature has been shaped by the work of Paulo Freire as summed up in his seminal book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Freire was a Brazilian educator forced into exile after a 1964 military coup. During the late 1960s, he taught in impoverished neighborhoods in Chile, then he took on a position at Harvard where he wrote his teaching philosophy, aimed at providing teachers with the means to help marginalized populations emancipate themselves. Following from Marxism, the book argues that education systems are designed to disenfranchise the poor and working-class members. For Freire, education under such a rigid order follows a “banking system”, wherein students serve as a repository for ideas imposed on them by the State. Teachers remain unaware of their complicity in this indoctrination, with the cycle of conformity and indoctrination perpetuating itself indefinitely. A ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ presents an alternate framework, where a teacher’s job is to give their students the tools to understand State ideologies, to become co-creators of knowledge, and then to act in collective resistance against the regime.

Critical Pedagogy is valuable for many student populations. It gives teachers in high-needs, impoverished communities, a tool-kit to help better students’ lives. In fact, Freire’s philosophy guided my graduate studies in English teaching, then shaped how I taught in New York City’s high-needs schools. Using Freire’s approach, informed by other critical theories, made Shakespeare and Sophocles conceptually accessible, provided my students with a vocabulary for their lived experience, and created a path towards understanding the power of Literature. I was a proud ‘critical pedagogue’ in these communities. Yet, those students are not the majority in New York City’s elite prep schools.

I’ve come to realize that elite, majority-White institutions have co-opted Critical Pedagogy, resulting in institutional capture. This ‘Criticality’ is degrading literary study, specifically because it is being used in institutions that set educational standards. A cursory example of this is Columbia’s Teacher’s College, which lists Pedagogy of the Oppressed alongside Horace Mann and Rousseau as “foundational texts” in education. Freire’s approach incentivizes the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, degrading the study of language and literature by filling students’ heads with a socially functionalist definition of literature, which is, itself, a ‘banking system’. Students are no longer ‘deconstructing’ the Western Canon—they are blithely unaware of its existence.

As literary scholar, Dr. Rita Felski observes, “ways of reading gradually shift over time” and “it is difficult to imagine how education might proceed without a base level of continuity, repetition, and transmission of prior knowledge.” The ‘inherited body of knowledge’ that we call Literature is being erased by elite educators, who have replaced truth with ideology, admiration with suspicion. In these spaces, Critical Pedagogy’s biggest impact is the propagation of an anti-aesthetic ideology. Writing in The Atlantic, Yascha Mounk called this an “identity synthesis” which is distilled into the idea that human experience is defined by power relationships as seen through essentialist understandings of socially constructed identity categories. Under this framework, an English teacher’s imperative is to negotiate where a book fits into this zero-sum game of Oppressor versus Oppressed. As a result, literature becomes devoid of truth, beauty, and nuance.

I had an internal conflict writing this piece, because Freire and his Critical Pedagogy did allow me to connect with students, to foster their passion for literature, and to give them a vocabulary for the systemic inequities surrounding them. Yet, the ‘privileged’ students learning under this system will one day be in positions of power. What they will have gained, and what they will pass on, from their English instructors is a vacuous, cynical understanding of something to which I have dedicated my life, i.e. the writing and teaching of Literature. However, I am drawn back from total cynicism by the words of Harold Bloom who said, “critical reading, the discipline of how to read and why, will survive in those solitary scholars, out in society, whose single candles Emerson prophesied and Wallace Stevens celebrated.” Perhaps if I’ve fostered one of these solitary scholars, then the job will have been worth it.

References:
• Katz, Leticia; “Paulo Freire Initiative at Columbia University”, Columbia Global Centers: News, (September 21st, 2021)
• “Doctorial Fields of Study: Education & Philosophy: Foundations of Education.” Columbia University Teacher’s College, website.
www.tc.columbia.edu/arts-and-humanities/philosophy/doctoral-fields-of-study/foundations-of-education/.
• Freire, Paulo; Pedagogy of the Oppressed; trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. Continuum International Publishing (New York, 2005)
• Felski, Rita; “Context Stinks!”, New Literary History, vol. 42, No. 4, Context? (AUTUMN 2011), The Johns Hopkins University Press.
• Mounk, Yasha; “Where the New Identity Politics Went Wrong”, The Atlantic, (Sept. 2023)
• Bloom, Harold; Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays with a Forward by Harold Bloom. Princeton University Press. (Princeton, 2000)

Bio: Britton Buttrill is a writer from the American South. He was a finalist for the Nick Darke Award and a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference. His work has been published in The TONIC Journal, SamFiftyFour Literary, Opium Magazine, The New York Public Library ‘Zine, and The New York Times’ “Tiny Love Stories”, among others. His stage plays have been produced off-off Broadway and regionally. He holds an MA in English teaching and an MFA in playwriting. Britton lives in New York with his wife and son. www.brittonbuttrill.com

V.

Christmas shopping made easy

t-shirt and mug

→ What better gift than Heresy Press’s first book Nothing Sacred: Outspoken Voices in Contemporary Fiction? Order here.

→ Among other stocking stuffers, Heresy Press offers coffee/tea mugs and t-shirts with our logo.

VI.

Affiliated Organization

“Heresy Press is aligned with the mission of Heterodox Academy, whose goal of furthering free inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive debate in the academy resonates with Heresy Press’s focus on free expression, unfettered creativity, and open-mindedness in the literary realm. I encourage anybody in the academic world who is not yet a member of Heterodox Academy to consider joining, and I recommend making a year-end donation to this vital organization that stands up for untrammeled academic freedom.”

Bernard Schweizer (Director of Heresy Press and member of Heterodox Academy)

heterodox academy

HxA is the world’s largest membership organization of 6,200+ university professors, students, and administrators united in their commitment to the ideals of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement.

We’re on the frontlines, putting ideologues on notice that speech policing and research suppression will no longer go unopposed on our nation’s campuses.

Support our efforts with a donation today — because diverse perspectives are not just worth protecting, they are worth celebrating.