Literature and the Fight Club Demographic

Several authors and friends have rightly asked me how Hyperborea will set itself apart not only from the puffed-up penguins and random houses dotting the landscape of mainstream publishing, but also from the myriad other small presses that proliferate like mushrooms on the larger ones’ refuse. While I have answers involving the peculiarities of our business structure and operations, and the character of the material we publish—which have and shall be expounded in other places—another facet of the answer involves the specific readers we try to reach, and our reasons for so doing. This post deals with one such group. (Please do not misunderstand and think that it is the only one.)

Nowadays, women buy more books than men do, and they read more than men do. This asymmetry is especially acute among the uniquely lame “millennial” generation (a loathsomely sticky term used to denote people born between 1980 and 2000). This isn’t a historically unique phenomenon; there is, for example, the stereotype of the Victorian lady frolicking in the leaves of the latest frilly social novel, while her fulsomely mustached husband and father busy themselves otherwise, presumably hunting foxes and conquering India. And it isn’t always and everywhere a problem; women certainly should read, though frankly it would be nice if they’d go back to wetting themselves over Mr. Darcy and Count Vronsky rather than Edward Craven and Christian Grim. But today this disparity is a symptom of a truly virulent disease, and also, I believe, in a kind of vicious cycle, one of its causes. The disease is the crisis of identity, ability, and confidence that has afflicted western man during the past several decades—and now more acutely than ever. The erosion of religion, nationalism, imperialism with its associated core and frontier, and the “nuclear” family (I don’t like that term either) has robbed man—or a certain type of man, and a few women too—of his raison d’être. He is adrift in a milieu where he feels—and often truly is—utterly useless and obsolete. At best he is treated as something quaintly anachronistic, at worst as something brutal and frightening. Essential pieces of his being are treated as pathological, like bone spurs to be sanded off, as though he were born misshapen and now must be broken and set right. Admonished by his elders and cynical peers to “play the game,” he knows that the game he’s in wasn’t made for him, and balks at the notion that life and love should be a game at all.

In 1962 the ethologist John B. Calhoun showed that over-crowding and the absence of hunger and predation resulted in bizarre and destructive behavior among rats (read about it). I won’t draw out my argument pedantically here, but I and others believe that the same sort of thing has happened to young men in affluent western countries, albeit the causes are more complex as humans are more complex than rats. Many smart, healthy, educated, relatively affluent, and materially comfortable young men are nonetheless miserable and forlorn, rudderless and deracinated; and this affects not only them but the young women who they should be loving and caring for, their parents who love and care for them, and our once great now tremulous civilization. These men are materially comfortable, so why are they spiritually restless? It is because a certain type of man is not made to be comfortable; or at least for him comfort is not a satisfying end. (Once again I will emphasize that there is a small but important handful of women of this type too.) For this type of man, comfort is not dignity—there is dignity in striving, in learning more, in building more, in being more. But though these men are strivers with great potential, they are not all leaders; the large majority are followers and they have been misled and abandoned by leaders who don’t understand and don’t care for them. So like Calhoun’s rats they sink into flabby degeneracy, obsessing over video games, sports, pornography; drinking too much alcohol, eating junk food, taking too many drugs, and taking drugs for the wrong reasons; treating women like wads of Kleenex and measuring their virility by the number of notches on their bedposts rather than the affection and happiness they could share with any particular woman. They are lost; and to return to their proper path, they must rediscover who they are. They must embrace the “strenuous life,” physically, intellectually, and spiritually; and their personal renaissance may bring about a new golden age for us all.

I don’t want to over-romanticize all those things I mentioned before: religion, nationalism, empire, the frontier; even “traditional” gender roles can be fetishized by some who lament our modern ennui. Besides, time only flows in one direction, and we couldn’t really go backwards even if we all tried. But though western man and woman no longer believe in these things as they once did, these are not the only wellsprings of purpose and dignity accessible to the aforementioned striving type of man. There are also those liberal arts and sciences, some as ancient as the pillars of Athens, that empower us to connect with the universe around us, and in so doing to connect with ourselves, our past and our future. One of these pillars is the humble written word, the atom from which all our collective dreams and personal myths are made. It is my desire to reconnect the Man with the Word, and this desire motivates all my actions in my present enterprise, and will in the future, because I believe it can animate men once more “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I could go on and on, because this is a jumping-off point for lots of other topics, and there are perhaps details I should add to be clearer and avoid misunderstanding—but I won’t right now. We’ll talk of these matters later. For now, brothers and sisters, my friends, I thank you once again for reading.


Raphael W. Deketele, M.A.

CEO, Hyperborea Publishing