“Selling Yourself”

"The Absinthe Drinker" Edgar Degas, 1876

“The Absinthe Drinker” Edgar Degas, 1876

“Selling Yourself”

Where I come from, there was another name for women who did that, and it wasn’t “sex worker.”

Although writing Confessions of a Young Philosopher sometimes felt like being crucified near an ant hill – compared to marketing, the writing was the fun part.

I have never felt that anything I happened to know gave me title to expertise on anything else, so I recognize that writing Confessions does not confer the ability to market it to literary agents or editors and get it published – much less get it read! The two kinds of gifts, book writing and book marketing, appear to be almost antithetical gifts.

Writing a book would seem (in my own case) to presuppose a kind of shyness. I have lots to tell and lots to say, but would rather not tell it in the street and frighten the horses. It’s as if the person who might ordinarily be speaking hides behind the writer. “Marketing” asks her, the concealed speaker, to come out and speak up for herself.

Instinctively I identify with the Bronte sisters: Emily, author of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre, and Anne, author of Tenant of Wildfell Hall. After corresponding with a London publisher under the names of Ellis, Currer and Acton Bell, they descended from their father’s parsonage on the wild moors of Yorkshire, caught the train south and appeared on their publisher’s doorstep as the very last thing that was expected:


One account I’ve read of Jane Austen told that she pretended to be writing letters whenever someone opened the door while she was penning Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility et al. And of course, let’s not overlook the Amantine-Lucile-Aurore who was “George Sand,” the Mary Ann who was “George Eliot” – all those fine Georges who were really women – in the days when Not-Being-A-Woman-Writer was practically a secondary sex characteristic.

Officially, we are all way past that at the present hour. So, emancipated as we are, I should have no excuse for wanting to hide my lights under a bushel. Or, more precisely, for wanting to hide. (Never mind the lights and the bushel.)

My readers, who surely include writers and would-be writers, may feel inclined to say,

  • What’re you complaining about? Cheer up! You may never get published! Or, if you do find a publisher, the probabilities are against your getting read (now that your mother is dead).

I have to tell my conjured-up critics: you don’t understand! I’m not afraid of being known or well-known. What I’m afraid of is having to seek that condition where, virtually my whole life long, I’ve been cultivating – nay mastering – the fine art of invisibility.

If they can’t see me,

they can’t nail me.

There are people who achieve protective invisibility by wearing a mask. To me, that has always seemed a costly expedient, since you risk becoming the mask you wear. Also, you risk missing the meaning of your daily encounters, since whatever you meet won’t know it’s you in there! So, unmasked but fairly well hidden, I’ve navigated the rapids as best I could.

What I fear is taking the real, unmasked me into a wider arena – or trying to.

Plato says that a writer is, by vocation, a politician, in the sense of a person who desires to be an influence. If written words are inscribed on a durable surface, like the pages of a book, a writer (says Plato) could even be an immortal politician.

With “marketing” – the whole process of it, not just the stated goals — I’m looking at the confrontation between being an influence and receiving multiple influences in turn. Not all of it will be bad. But some of it will be.

What I have said in Confessions of a Young Philosopher will need to be defended. For me, “marketing” means

defending –-

no longer with the armor of invisibility –

the lessons of my life.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “Selling Yourself”

  1. Ken Kaplan says:

    In your writings I see you as sharing yourself, not “selling yourself.” Those inclined to read the wisdom you share can take what they may and leave the rest…agree or disagree, feel enriched or that they wasted time. Many, I assure you, are indeed enriched. Probably grateful too. Marketing provides the opportunity to help those readers find you. Taking the “unmasked you” into a wider arena does remove your invisibility cloak but feeling compelled to “defend… the lessons of your life” is strictly a choice you might make. You can also choose to be too calm to let your conjured up critics disturb your peace of mind. Remind me again why you care??

    • Abigail says:

      What a thoughtful and kindly-intended comment! Thanks, Ken. You open a train of thinking that can’t possibly be “covered” by a reply from me here. How to keep the kind of caring embodied in your comment, yet shed the kind of bad-ego “caring” that keeps our caterpillar from morphing into the beautiful butterfly that, deep down, she is? I’ve just come back, late last night, from a memorial service in NYC for a precious colleague and friend, the theologian/philosopher Michael Wyschogrod. He was a person of very large stature, who traveled through his marvelously courageous life remarkably unburdened by ego — in the negative sense of the word. Yet Wyschogrod is known for his objections to the claims of Maimonides, that Judaism’s contribution to the world lies in its ethical monotheism, its universally applicable beliefs about God and human obligations. Michael argued, rather, that God moved toward Abraham because he “fell in love” with him and that, in his descendants (Jews by birth or conversion) God still sees the face of the man He first loved so passionately. What Wyschogrod brought to theology was the conviction that love is both divine and intensely personal — not one-size-fits-all & generic. So, there seem to be many senses of “caring.”

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