Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

MORE N+1 BASHING?

WE at New Pop Lit (www.newpoplit.com) received a tweet Tuesday from n+1 magazine leader Keith Gessen. The tweet was in response to a question we asked publicly, as to whether n+1 could be said to be “oligarch-backed.” Granted, that phrase might be exaggerating the situation—but only slightly. If media moguls are nice guys, and parents of your officially listed editor, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not oligarchs!

In his tweet, Gessen pleaded poverty. They’re a “nonprofit” (the word “nonprofit” having magical qualities). They’re mostly volunteers, struggling, none of them has any money; it’s all very bleak. A situation with which I can easily identify! Reading the tweet, in fact, I became quite concerned. I expected to run into the n+1 people when turning a corner here in Detroit, the lot of them squatting in rags on the sidewalk holding cardboard signs—Keith, Dayna, everybody—the signs saying “Please help me!” I thought, “What can we at New Pop Lit do to help these beaten-down writers?” A joint presentation?

Then I caught myself and asked myself a few questions. I outlined in my head a few facts and certainties.

Among them, that the n+1 staff consists of the so-called best and brightest. All are from Harvard, Brown, Columbia, and the like. They have access to the so-called best writers in the nation; bonded and branded, well-awarded and certified. Many of them published by the Big Five. n+1’s advisors include some of the shrewdest business people on the planet, including, as I mentioned, a big-time media mogul, as well as two of the publishing world’s most successful literary agents.

On top of this, for ten years n+1 has received more and better publicity than any literary journal in the country—including the McSweeney’s machine—always positive; in the most prestigious and widely-read newspapers and magazines. World-respected newspapers and magazines. Among them, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, the New York Times. And many, many smaller outlets. People love a designated winner. n+1 has received publicity and promotion that ANY business in any field could only dream of, much of it coming from the very center of media empire, New York City, n+1’s home base.

In short, everything has gone their way.

And they’re still not making it?

An intelligent person involved with a more modest project would try to learn from their mistakes. Would analyze the situation. During that analysis, I come up with three possible reasons for n+1’s unhappy plight. Feel free to tell me which one you believe is most, er, on the money.

A.) A bad product.

B.) Flawed thinking.

C.) On the wrong side of literary history.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Worst Novel Ever?

REVIEWING A REVIEW

Ever see the satirical movie about the art business, “Untitled”? Toward the end of that film, an “artist” appears whose “art” consists of pencil scribblings on sticky notes. When someone interviews him about his work, he’s so intellectually feeble he can respond only with vague mutterings; gurgling his words like a two year old.

blake butler

I thought of this character when reading a review at L.A. Review of Books by one Tiffany Gilbert of the latest novel by alt-lit icon Blake Butler, 300,000,000.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/god-bend

This single review shows everything wrong with the established literary game and the New York-based book business. The novel is about a man’s quest to kill everyone in the entire country. Ambitious, one could call it, I guess. It’s apparently written in standard postmodern style. Think David Foster Wallace. Only more so. The idea that Harper Perennial would invest a large sum of scarce funds into publishing and promoting this kind of work is, on the surface, incomprehensible.

The people at Harper Perennial (won’t be “perennial” for long!) need to ask themselves: What business are they in? Answer: Selling books! How do they presume to market a novel which is deliberately hostile to the reader? Tiffany Gilbert: “—Butler usually destroys understanding, favoring emotion and instinct over narrative.”

Who needs narrative?!

“Butler remains elusive, creating linguistic puzzles that we must sink into rather than solve.”

Linguistic puzzles! Haven’t we seen that before? from Nabokov, Pynchon, Foster-Wallace et.al.; from all the postmodern academy darlings praised by academy types who love “sink”ing into such shit because they apparently have nothing better to do? Justifies their standing in front of classrooms of the naive and gullible.

Tiffany Gilbert says that we as readers are “often demanding that our narratives conform to conventional rules of sense making.” (Sense making? Who wants sense making?) “Butler defies those expectations.”

Tiffany Gilbert is gushing about Blake Butler’s work, signifying his literary importance. Butler provides more than enough convoluted mish-mash for a Tiffany Gilbert to rationalize about.

Would I be surprised to learn that Tiffany Gilbert has a Phd from somewhere, and works as a university professor? Not at all. You have to be trained to buy into (or “sink into”) a compendium of nonsense. It doesn’t come naturally.

“Unlike many contemporary writers,” Tiffany Gilbert assures us, “Butler does not dabble in darkness. He is ensconced in it.”

(Great. That’s all we need from today’s art. More darkness!)

“Butler’s novel subsumes Bolano’s concerns with death, vilification, and secrecy and multiplies them tenfold.”

There’s a larger point to be made about the new generation of approved writers—their white guilt and self-hatred; their pessimism; their disbelief in God, themselves, anything and everything. Warped, miseducated creatures; casualties of a broken educational system and a twisted, hate-filled philosophy. That’s a point for another essay!

From the start the alt lit writers weren’t literary artists, but con artists. They carried a postmodern philosophy which says there is no truth, nothing means anything and it’s futile to try to know anything. A novel like 300,000,000 is the logical result. The alt lit writers have made no effort to learn the difficult essentials of writing a competent, readable novel. (It takes talent to be readable.) To learn literary tools like structure and form; pace, clarity and plot. The artful weaving of narrative threads (there’s that darn word “narrative” again!) to build interest, suspense, and momentum. The drawing of believable characters.

Why should alt lit authors bother with such quaint notions, when a Harper Perennial will publish their vomitry regardless?

The related question is: Why is Blake Butler shoving so many novels through the crumbling Big Five publishing system? Possibly because he suspects the Big Five’s days are numbered. Or because he realizes a con game can go on for only so long.

There are only so many over-trained professors out there looking for something to laud.

“—at one point, he sucks the eyes out of a miscarried fetus after killing its mother.”

Golly gosh! Isn’t that wonderful?

Did I mention the novel’s about a serial killer?

Think of the sad mindset of those individuals who’d actually care to read this novel. Or would read it. If there are in fact very many of them, this civilization’s in trouble.

The postmodern prose style—not the subject—will be most offputting to general readers.

“Philistine!” a Tiffany Gilbert might say to anyone expecting that a novel make sense.

Anyway, who cares today—in the “intellectual” crowd—about the market?

But a novel is not only subject to the market, it’s subject to aesthetic rules. Rules which conform not to academy dictates, but to the hidden rules of nature and the universe. General rules appreciated by all, except for confused well-brainwashed alt litsters, or professors like Gilbert, who seem to believe there are no aesthetic rules. If nonsense is acceptable, nonsense is not only possible, but probable.

May as well have the proverbial 100 monkeys then pounding on keyboards to see what occurs. The outcome might be better than Blake Butler’s 300,000,000.

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Are there alternatives to Big Five nonsense? Yes! It comes from the DIY ebook crowd, and from New Literary Media outlets like www.newpoplit.com.

(Be sure to read, at New Pop Lit’s Opinion page, my essays on another alt lit figure, Tao Lin.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Economic Model

Can one predict how the changing publishing environment will shakeout?

With changing technology comes changing art.

One model to look at is what happened to the music industry in the mid-1950’s. (I’ve told this story often.)

A technological happening:

A smaller disc was brought to the market: the 45 rpm. Looked fun. Played music of short duration. Was affordable for everyone. Including the mass public. Including teenagers.

Simultaneous with this, likely because of it, came the rise of more populist music. “Rock n’ roll,” as it came to be known.

The Big Four record companies who controlled 85% of the market scorned the new music. It went against acceptable “taste.” They ended up losing nearly half their market share in a couple-year period. Who took it? Fast-moving entrepreneurs like Alan Freed and Dick Clark. A few years later, in Detroit, Berry Gordy Jr., who created Motown.

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What’s happening in the book business? New technology. Connect the dots. Draw the inescapable conclusions.

What’s coming? New literature pushed by outfits like www.newpoplit.com.

These are exciting times.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Shocking Truth!

THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT THE NEW YORK LITERARY SCENE

I was reminded of this truth—for the umpteenth time—in the follow-up to NEW POP LIT’s revelations about the n+1 lit journal operation:

http://newpoplit.com/opinion/beyond-hypocrisy-the-n1-story/

I’ve been beating up that insulated crowd of “intellectuals” a little bit on twitter, simply to draw attention to our story. I paused to wonder if I would ever get any twitter response or byplay from them. (I did have some guy attacking me anonymously at one of my twitter accounts in advance of the story, but none too effectively.) It occurred to me that I’ll never get byplay from any of them—for the key reason. What’s that shocking reason?

They’re not very bright! I’ve yet to meet one well-hyped New York City “literary” writer who could think very fast on his-or-her feet. And I’ve met more than a few of them, even before the big 2001 debate between the Underground Literary Alliance and the Paris Review staff at CBGB’s. (An affair which was ridiculously one-sided.)

“The shocking truth” is a revelation which disgraced interviewer Ed Champion must’ve come to on more than one occasion. He talked to enough of them. I don’t know to what he attributed it—but the irritating truth led to an 11,000-word online blow-up from him and something akin to a nervous breakdown.

You see, he had bought beforehand the mythology that these are the nation’s best writers.

The question: what’s the reason? Why aren’t Approved literary writers very sharp?

It could be because of the slow and deliberate way they’re trained to write. (Think of a typically slow and excruciatingly long Jonathan Franzen novel.) Such writers end up thinking slow and deliberately.

Or it could be that most of them are trust funders who’ve never been challenged by life, were never required to move fast or think quickly.

Even from the best of them you find scantly a trace of wit in their conversations. Some of them can be humorous—Daniel Handler comes to mind—but it’s a warped, childish, frat boy kind of humor. As I depicted him in a satirical ebook novel (still available!), it’s the kind of humor which takes delight in pulling the wings off butterflies. Bludgeon-like humor. Which I take it didn’t go over very well recently at some swanky Insider Manhattan affair he was hosting!

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Rambling: The last n+1 individuals I met in person was in 2009 at the Philadelphia Free Library’s Book Fair, at which those very radical n+1 people—looking very preppyish—had a table. I think Marco Roth was one of them, along with a collection of staffers or interns who looked like they just got done modeling for either Vogue or GQ magazines. I was with Philly-based poet Frank D. Walsh, who thinks and speaks so fast, with puns and asides, it’s tough for the best of us to keep up with his wide-ranging conversation. We chatted with the n+1’ers, an impromptu debate, for ten or fifteen minutes.

It was like conversing with pets. You know: the slow stare. They know you’re saying something, but they can only look at you with abject stupidity.

I’m not exaggerating!

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Last Company Town

The last company town in America is New York City, Brooklyn included, and the last out-of-date stodgy business ready to go under is the book biz, which continues to operate as if it were 100 years ago.

Of all the businesses which have had shakeups over the years due to changing economic circumstances, the “Big Five” publishers and their acolytes are the most insulated and the most elitist. Theirs is a clubby little world. Many of them are clueless pampered Ivy League rich kids. Bubble people. The handwriting is on the wall but they refuse to see it, which I suppose from my perspective is fine.

Daniel Handler is the perfect front man for them because in his person, thoughts, and style of speaking he well represents their ignorance and arrogance.

I asked the most “Leftist” of the New York-based lit rags, Guernica, Jacobin Mag, and n+1, if they had spoken out about Handler’s watermelon jokes, and received no response. But what could they say? Daniel Handler is inextricably so much a part of them, it would be unseemly and tactless to say a word. They’re outraged at everything else. About their own privileged world and its in-bred attitudes they remain mum.

Meanwhile, their products—their approved models—are like the Edsel automobile; ridiculously old-fashioned and stodgy Most should be subject to recalls. When NEW POP LIT is up to speed it’ll blow the lot of them out of the water.

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I’m writing an essay about how n+1 operates for the Opinion page at www.newpoplit.com. I’ll try to remain as factual and disinterested as possible. I plan to point out that crowd’s split personality. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brooklyn’s Literary Snob Set

Brooklyn Snob Set

(Pictured: Rumored to be a photo of Brooklyn’s Literary Snob Set at, er, work.)

WHAT is Brooklyn’s Literary Snob Set? WHO belongs to it? HOW do they operate? (The WHERE of the matter is obvious: gentrified sections of Brooklyn, NY.)

These are questions I’ll endeavor to answer in coming weeks.

Word has it that these are part of an endangered cultural species: supporters of New York-based establishment literature. Progeny of privilege. Well-connected holdovers clinging desperately to the familiar and known.

One thing is certain: NEW POP LIT (www.newpoplit.com) is an antidote to the east coast literary snob set.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Covering the Daniel Handler Fiasco

The problem with Daniel Handler’s “watermelon” remarks at the National Book Foundation black-tie awards ceremony in Manhattan last week is larger than one individual. They say a lot about the system of establishment literature. I’ve tried to examine the larger picture, first here at the NEW POP LIT blog:

http://newpoplitinteractive.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/latest-big-literary-scandal/

Then at my ’”Literary Circus” blog:

http://literarycircus.blogspot.com/2014/11/why-is-daniel-handler-celebrating.html

Am I a biased observer? Absolutely! Daniel Handler spent years harassing a writers group I used to lead, the Underground Literary Alliance. He did so because our mission was to expose corruption within the clubby halls of establishment literature.

Unfortunately, anything I say here or elsewhere is overwhelmed by hordes of go-along-to-get-along writers retweeting articles which portray Handler in a more positive light. (He’s a man of immense wealth and power.)

The most unfortunate of these articles may be this “Shelf Life” post by self-proclaimed “social justice ally” Carolyn L. Todd, an Entertainment Weekly intern.

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2014/11/24/on-the-books-daniel-handler-donating-110k-to-we-need-diverse-books-campaign/ 

How far, Carolyn, do your principles go in the real world?