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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Separating from the Organization: Subjective Desire, Struggle and Social Responsibility in the Life of the Entrepreneur

My business came into being when 1000 copies of my first book, Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology, was delivered to my apartment in twenty cartons in January, 1975. Actually, I didn't know I was in business. All I knew was that I'd been developing certain ideas for sixteen years and wanted to share these with the world.I'd been in he system' my entire life. From 1963 to 1970 I studied psychology and received a Ph. D., earning my living during that time as a college instructor. I'd been programmed for academic life, but felt bored, restless, seeking a way out. I was pontificating theories of how the world worked but never had been in the world. A momentous note on my calendar in the Fall of 1970 read, 'Say yes to market research.' And so I entered the world of big business. I went on interviews and was impressed by the brightness of the corporate environment. I had three jobs from 1972 to 1975, two at qualitative research firms, one at an advertising agency. I wrote in-depth reports on toilet bowl cleaners, dishwashing liquid, time-keeping and clocks for General Electric, the dynamics of cookie-consumption for Pepperidge Farm. I did a study for a health-food company, for which my firm received $100,000 on 'What It Means for Americans to Feel Good.' Presumedly if you knew what 'feeling good' meant for Americans, then you could develop and promote a product whose promise was that it would create that state of being.Prior to my first market research job, I'd completed the manuscript for Hitler's Ideology. I mailed it to approximately seventy-five publishers over a two-year period and each of them declined to take it on. During 1973-74 I studied self-publishing and decided to bring the book out myself. A design firm let me use their facility in the evening when it was not in use. This was before word-processing and it took me several months to typeset and paste-up the book. I obtained a third position to earn money to pay for the printing. The firm decided not to re-hire me at about the same time the books were delivered.My small apartment on West 95th Street was crowded. The goal was to empty the apartment by getting the book into the hands of persons who would read it. I wrote and typeset a one-page flyer, printed 10,000 copies, inserted the flyers into 10,000 envelopes, sealed the envelopes and, using several relevant mailing lists, stuck 10,000 pressure-sensitive labels on them. The exciting part was reading the names of the prospects. Many were authors whose books I'd read during my long apprenticeship in college. I wanted them to know I'd written a book. I learned about third-class bulk-rate mail, tied and bundled the envelopes and delivered them, like Santa Claus with his sacks, to the post-office on 33rd Street and Ninth Avenue.In the next month I received about 150 orders, many from persons whose names were familiar. My second order was from Abraham Kardiner, the famous psychoanalytic anthropologist. I typed invoices (the book sold for $7.95 and I believe I added 75 cents for shipping), inserted them in Jiffy bags and dropped them into the mailbox. I mailed books to reviewers and a columnist for the Village Voice interviewed me and wrote an article. But what was I to do next? Fortunately, I discovered or invented a 'marketing concept' which made it possible to get Hitler's Ideology into the hands of college instructors and onto the shelves of libraries. My first year in business was spent sending out flyers and trying to get my book into every single college library in the United States. After promoting it for a year, I got an order for 200 copies from the wholesaler, Baker and Taylor. They'd selected the book for its 'approval program.' I was very innocent then. I called the man in charge of the program and asked him had he read my book. Was it selected because it was such an excellent work? No, he replied, he was simply responding to its recent sales activity.I soon realized other books could be marketed through the technique I'd developed. My 'product' became remainder or 'bargain books' which I purchased from Barnes and Nobles. My unemployment checks have stopped coming in and I've no other source of income. I'm mailing out flyers in a modest way. The concept seems to work. I've begun to write my next book but, who knows, maybe I'm in business. Two consultants visit to give me some hints and improve my cash-flow. They provide a few crucial insights, ones I never would have come up with myself: (1) Send out past-due notices, call your customers, bring your money in quickly. (2) Pay your bills, let your money out slowly. (3) A flyer is not enough. Call the librarians, wake them up, get them to place an order now. The consultants begin planning strategies, inviting me to Fire Island to meet investors. They are doing all the talking. I'm beginning to feel left out. They start telling me what to do and it's like I'm working for them. I decide, abruptly, that their services no longer are needed. They're shocked and angry, how could I be so ungrateful. I almost got into a fight with one of them. But I think they were happy, at least, that I'd learned my lessons: I paid their bill slowly.At first one does things in a reasonable way. But at a certain moment things begin to heat up. In the Summer of 1977 I began marketing art books because their selling price was three times that of social science books. I did a large mailing to art professors in the Fall and received an excellent response. I began working out of an office on the second floor of the warehouse where my books were now stored. Soon I'm purchasing books to sell from the same companies that supply Barnes & Noble. The jiffy bags are much bigger and the art books five times heavier. The mailman says the corner mail-box is stuffed, I'd better deliver the books to the post-office. I run an ad in the New York Times and hire a young man. I'm moving forward. On my own. As you separate from the large institutions to which you had been connected, disidentify, you feel you have to be big. You want to grow quickly and feel you need help to do so. You explore bank-loans, venture-capital, investors, etc. so things can happen fast. For most entrepreneurs, however, the idea that someone will give you money is a delusion. But there is a way to capitalize a business and this is through the vehicle of trade credit. This is how the American system makes it possible for persons to separate from the system. It's not difficult to open accounts and receive furniture, office supplies, books, whatever you need to 'start up.'There's an abundant supply of books hanging around publishers' warehouses. It's not difficult to press a button on a printing press. The more copies one prints, the lower the unit-cost. Selling these books is another story. Many important books can be purchased for almost nothing. Once I realized how easy it was to obtain product, I began to order more books than needed. I felt compelled to bring material objects into my business. One is traumatized by the experience of separation from institutions. One no longer is 'at one' with the massive American breast. One compensates for the sense of loss by bringing stuff into one's private space. Trade credit is the umbilical cord connecting you to organizations, nourishing you as you build strength to survive. Educated persons often live their entire lives in relationship to institutions so its hard to convey the experience of disconnection. One no longer feels 'contained' by society. One feels rejected, ejected. One's small body has been split off from the body politic. One exists within the confines of a private space. But you're past the phase where there's anything to return to. Your only choice is to move forward. But you're not ready to be cut off from the 'oral supplies' which only the system can provide. Trade credit is the umbilical cord, infusion of capital, blood transfusion, how you stay nourished though separate. America, you feel, is obligated to feed you. After all, you're the real American son, striving to be independent and free.