Friday, March 07, 2014
Their latest discussion is ridiculous because it ignores exciting real change in the literary realm: the rise of self-published ebooks.
At least some literary commentators recognize that both worlds of MFA workshops and New York “Big Six” publishing are in collapse, such as this article by Sonia Saraiya, “The Bleak State of American Fiction.”
But even Sonia Saraiya is wearing blinders. She ignores ebooks and the DIY world, and refuses to consider new options. Namely, creating fiction which can be pop and “literary” (significant) BOTH. The future won’t be bleak for those who discover a way out.
Anyway, there’s more intelligence presented in the Comments section to Saraiya’s article than in the entirety of the new n+1 book.
(An aside: Doesn’t n+1’s very title scream “pseudo-intellectual”? You just know these are the same kind of people to be found blatantly reading Derrida or other unreadable tome at the local overpriced hipster coffeehouse or bar.)
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Absent are writers who take chances-- writers aren't allowed to take chances. And so, there's no melodrama, color, rants-- no over-the-top EMOTION that could energize the art. (The kind of work I tried to promote when I was running the Underground Literary Alliance.)
To use an analogy from the movie world, look at the flicks James Dean made with Elia Kazan and Nicholas Ray, "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause." They're hyperemotional, melodramatic, utterly stylized. Today the films and acting styles no doubt appear dated-- but at the time they were blows against conformity. They engaged the public and enlivened the art.
Are there young writers-- who should be hyperemotional, not robots!-- who can do the same for the literary art? It would mean breaking the rules. It wouldn't be allowed.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
I’m an experimental writer. Mine are a different kind of experiment. My goal is the true hybrid story, pop and literary both.
Read my fiction ebooks, Ten Pop Stories, Crime City USA, The Tower, and you’ll see a variety of attacks in this direction, from different angles. The pop story needs to be readable and exciting, with good pace. The trick is to make it innovative and intelligent from a literary standpoint, with deeper meaning. Not solely entertainment, but also art.
I have two new hybrid prototypes on the drawing board. A simpler one, and one more complex. Both will try new approaches to the short story; new ideas. The objective is to present a story unlike any before seen. Art which is aesthetically revolutionary. More, a new kind of fiction: literature which people want to read. Need to read.
No small task!
Sunday, February 23, 2014
FURTHER DE(CON)STRUCTION OF A FLAWED ESSAY
Two months ago I examined an hysterical essay by ULA foe Maria Bustillos, about the 2008 financial crisis, which was receiving much promotion from The Awl, as if the essay were the best thing they ever published. (Maybe it was.) In a post, I showed the shakiness of the Bustillos argument. See:
Now, we have more evidence, in the form of the actual Federal Reserve transcripts from that critical year. Read about them in this Wall Street Journal piece by John Hilsenrath.
The discussion makes clear that how the crisis developed depended upon the behavior of those in charge of the Fed at that time—their ability to spot the crisis and prevent it, then react to it. To blame the crisis on past Fed chairman Alan Greenspan—and then by extension on Ayn Rand!—is ludicrous. Only a literary propagandist would—not a serious journalist.
I urge Ms. Bustillos or the editors of The Awl to respond.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
THE GENTEEL ART
It’s impossible to take the established literary world seriously. By “established,” I mean the critical/review/p.r. apparatus based in New York, bolstered by the academy, which decides what writings and writers are an approved subject for proper discussion by the proper crowd, and so, regarded as “literature.” It’s a tiny bubble world far removed from the hectic noise of America-at-large.
The Bubble Literary World has been marked by a fear of contention and conflict. No clash of ideas among this crowd. The goal has been to become as innocuous as possible.
In a recent New York Times Book Review article, (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/books/review/do-we-really-need-negative-book-reviews.html?_r=0), two Bubble writers take tentative steps toward questioning the prevailing norms. Their words, when put into context—literature’s non-standing among the greater populace—are comical.
Francine Prose, an unexciting author and uncreative thinker, affirms the right to disapprove in her reviews of “bad” writing. She doesn’t define “bad” writing, but it has something to do with how sentences are crafted. She gives the example of “His eyes were as black as night.” Not done! If Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Dickens ever used such a phrase, you’d have to dismiss their entire body of work. Ms. Prose is locked into a single standard of value for literary work: “the well-written sentence.” This is chief value for the MFA set. Characterization; plot; pace; ideas; dialogue; form—everything else which goes into the creation of a compelling work of fiction is of secondary value, if considered at all.
What does Francine Prose make of a Debra Webb from Alabama, who has written 100 novels, the last several of them best sellers? On the first page of one of Webb’s novels, Webb talks of a character’s “piercing blue eyes.” I winced myself when reading it, because it seems like cheating—making it too easy for the reader to see the character. The larger question, though, is: Does it work?
Debra Webb is doing something right in her novels. They have an avid readership. Far more than Francine Prose (or myself), Debra Webb is keeping the art of fiction alive in this country. People purchase her books and her ebooks. The task of a critic is to figure out what Debra Webb is doing well. What compels her audience to read her books? To understand this is to take a real step toward saving literature in America; moving toward the elusive hybrid novel which can be popular and significant BOTH.
I’m not saying Francine Prose or Zoe Heller shouldn’t attack such work. I’m saying they should be open to an equal amount of attacks on themselves. It’s the only way the art can improve.
The literary scene needs contention and controversy. By such contention in this loud age, literature will be noticed. Myself, I’m from a background where we would argue just to argue. I enjoy debating. Try to do this with stuffy literary folk and you’ve broken their rules. No conflict. No contention. No noise. Everyone please get along. (Turn out the lights when you go home.)
(For a satirical look at Francine Prose and a few other writers, buy my ebook novel, THE MCSWEENEYS GANG, affordably available at Kindle or Nook.)
Friday, February 14, 2014
FROM POPULISM TO ELITISM
Has the Eric Bennett article in Chronicle of Higher Education opened a debate about the nature of American literature? Don’t count on it. This is a debate which I’m sure even Bennett’s backers at n+1 would not want to have—because inevitably they’d be caught on the wrong side of it.
Here’s a post I made on another blog about the matter:
And another post I made here:
There are many connect-the-dots leads to be followed, for those with the time or interest. This includes others in George Plimpton’s generation like William Phillips and Robert Silvers. It includes other publications, and important literary conferences of the 1950’s and 60’s whose intent was to direct the course of American literature into acceptable channels.
Keep in mind that American populism is a style of literature, probably best embodied in the Frank Norris novel The Octopus. The style can be characterized by large themes, characters caught up in sweeping historical currents and changes, and polemical speeches. It represented a large land and broad voice. Also with a trace of old-fashioned American romanticism. The viewpoint is usually against monopoly and/or centralized control. Organic, from the people, not tops-down. It’s a style which once defined American literature and its difference from the European variety. Sadly, that difference now is gone.
In his Chronicle essay, Eric Bennett posits Jonathan Franzen as a novelist of ideas. Maybe—but his recent anti-freedom novel Freedom is more anti-populist than populist. It has more in common with By Love Possessed than The Octopus.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Hmm. Where was Brian Merchant, Eric Bennett, and these other folks when the Underground Literary Alliance was pursuing the story? Here's one of many of my own posts on the matter:
My posts were follow-ups to a ULA "Monday Report" on the matter by essayist Richard Cummings.
Cummings made a lot of accusations in his essay. The ULA presented his essay for informational purposes, letting readers judge for themselves. The key point-- CIA involvement in the world of literature-- is what we stressed. This was seven years ago.
What happened? The ULA was attacked and ostracized by the established lit-world. Because of the flurry of pressure, five key members of the ULA resigned, virtually overnight. NOT ONE established or semi-established literary person defended us-- or even the idea that the matter needed looking into. This issue, more than anything else we did, turned the ULA and its members into pariahs.
Dare I say that the Underground Literary Alliance was right all along?