Thursday, September 30, 2004

The NEW YORKER Story: A Eulogy

The rigid NEW YORKER style is anachronistic, like Blondie or Nancy comics in the funny pages. Once, this kind of shit was new and exciting. Distant memories of the Algonquin Club in glamorous circles of the 1930s. Tophats and tails; bellhops calling for cigarettes in snappy hotels. Music by Artie Shaw.

It'd be like MCSWEENEY'S 60 years from now-- the same stale humor that was "hip" at the outset but already dated by 2004.

The rituals of a religion-- nobody knows why they're still performing them, they just do. THE NEW YORKER's fiction falls into this category. The only thing keeping it going are the hopeful MFA demi-puppets copying the stories like monks, with their own variations, because they think it's the way toward salvation. And so, as we're still afflicted with Nancy and Sluggo, so also are we stuck with the same sad outdated fiction in the NEW YORKER.

Enough converts are always found-- Canin, Danticat, Lahiri, Eugenides; inferior disciples-- to keep the ritualized charade going; a pretense of life, as meaningful and important as the activity in a seminary or a convent. The goal: preservation. Or, more accurately, embalming.

Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman is the most pathetic kind of acolyte-- a caretaker. She's keeping the candles burning in a church that lost the bulk of its congregation decades ago. Not a visionary; not a revolutionary; not a consolidator-- merely a caretaker; the night custodian in the halls of literature. It's still the tallest and most prestigious church in town, stuffy and gray, of a religion which no longer matters.

And so, in keeping with her role, Ms. Treisman gives us not a glimmer of anything exciting, different, or new, only the same dogma: the same apostles-- Updike, Ozick, Oates, Munro-- in their usual places. There's Johnny Updike in the same familiar niche in the interior wall where he always stands, stony and bland, like a long-ago ancestor, and all is well with the world.

The caretaker lights a candle under the Updike statue, and her face gleams idiotically. Outside moves the bustle of the world, but inside the church is cherished silence, which the caretaker worships. You might think her insane, but she's not at all, despite the irrelevance of the rituals she performs. She's found a place in the world.

The many candles to her Altar of the Dead blaze brilliantly within the dark and empty church-- or at least within her empty head. The caretaker lights a final candle to the Updike statue, the last and most important in a line of dead literary saints. The caretaker shuffles listlessly but happily down the side row of the dusty cathedral to go home, leaving the shrine for the night, to return in the morning. She steps outside and with rusted keys locks the heavy doors.

Grand Prize Award Winner

FOR: Worst NEW YORKER Story Writer of All Time.

The winner is--

Lorrie Moore! (Applause, applause.)

There was great competition for this. Any other of the Finalists would've been a worthy winner. Several-- Updike; Munro: those ultimate practitioners of Detail Disease-- would've been too obvious. They've inflicted the world with just so many of their stale fictions it's gone beyond the ridiculous.

Tom Beller, by contrast, has written only a couple NEW YORKER stories, but each one well fit the mold; so typically perfectly useless.

Lorrie Moore over the years has achieved just the right balance. A perfect representative of the magazine, she has insipidity in personality and prose down to an art:

"But she was pushing forty. She began to linger in juice bars. Sit for entire afternoons in places called I Love Juicy or Orange-U-Sweet."

This is hilarious only if one laughs AT it. The trauma of a bourgeois lifestyle. Or, the Stupidity of Contemporary America-- a subject Ms. Moore knows well.

Lorrie Moore is what I call a House Cat writer. She has the sensitivity and intelligence of a pampered cat. You know the kind-- with flat face and oceans of white fur shedding over the green silk pillow the fat animal has parked itself on in the middle of the Sun Room in the spacious house; blinking stupidly but believing in its own wisdom as it notes the comings and goings of stupid humans, then jots its observations down in a notebook and sells them to THE NEW YORKER.

The Great NEW YORKER Puppet Display of 1999

In 1999 there appeared on slick magazine pages a big splashy deal about the special magical day the "Top Hat" NEW YORKER rag unveiled a new generation of Approved Puppets, relying on its waning cultural authority to put them across. "THE NEW YORKER Twenty"-- supposed to represent, according to then-Fiction Editor Bill Buford, the best young writers in America. Names included David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, William Vollmann, A.M. Homes, Rick Moody, Donald Antrim, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, Matthew Klam, Jhumpu Lahiri, and others. Though the writers came overwhelmingly from a well-tamed well-bred sliver of American society, Buford had the arrogance to announce them as the best this nation had to offer.

Rows of pages of photographs of the posed creations appeared in the issue, accompanied by glowing reports not matching the obviously bland character of the individuals shown. (The only emotion energy or quirk that could be discerned from the photos was not intelligence but complacent smugness; the blank stares of cattle. One after all can do only so much with the faces of puppets!) THE NEW YORKER saw the writers as the hope of American literature, and believed snapping its fingers would make it so.

Well-staffed publicity departments-- at much corporate expense-- endeavored to make it so, with mixed results. All-in-all, the attempt fizzled-- the reason being the mandarins' flawed premise that one can manufacture, to conforming specifications, genius. But they're still trying to make it so.

By congregating together on cue and call, the Twenty Puppets acknowledged their subservience. Our next great writers!-- and not one independent mind among them. What's wrong with this picture? It's a glaring contradiction. (Will one ever find a great writer among a line-up of puppets?) The editors could've scattered dollar bills across the sidewalk, and asked the writers to scurry after them, on all fours, and obtained more interesting and truthful photographs.

More than a contradiction it's a puppet show. The stage appears impressively large when you stare directly at it, but it's actually quite small. The world of American letters reduced to the illusion of a puppet box. The puppets themselves arrived special delivery from the factory-- "M.F.A." stamped in block letters on the crate (the letters must stand for a cheap Hong Kong trading company). Strings already attached. All one need do is make them dance.

And so-- we arrive this week at the 2004 NEW YORKER Festival Puppet Show. The well-tamed names-- look, there's one with red hair-- will patter like marionettes across the stage, making the audience gleeful that the world is okay-- no, nothing has changed! they say-- because there the Puppets still perform in front of them, blank-faced, glass-eyed, and harmless; silly voices emitting not one disturbing dissenting thought, and the aristocracy which Puppet and audience alike are part of goes on.

BUT 1999 marked not only the end of the millennium, but the beginning of the end of cultural aristocracy. No longer can nor should American society be dictated to; told from above what constitutes acceptable literature. THE NEW YORKER set the standard for decades and the one thing that can be said for sure is that it has failed. The short story has become a decayed obsolete specimen fit for a museum. Writers and readers have forgotten when the form LIVED-- when O. Henry's populist tales reigned, in both Manhattan and the nation. When F. Scott Fitzgerald's jazz age stories in the POST lit up the sky, and Hemingway's created an ethos which influenced an entire generation, high and low.

What remains today are mannerisms.

For its happy part the ULA contains writers who are defiantly NOT puppets-- great personalities like Bill Blackolive, Jack Saunders, Steve Kostecke, Wred Fright, and many others creating a different kind of literary art more real, immediate, and vibrant. We're creating an organization that will carry forward our principles. THIS century is ours.

(Much more to follow.)

"Trash NEW YORKER" Carnival Opening Award

--goes to Calvin Tomkins for his endless coagulated essay "The Prankster" in the current issue, which no one not an art history doctoral student-- and a dull one at that-- is likely to read. (Despite the title, there's not a hint of wit among the essay's many wordy pages.)

The essay reminds me of the character in "The Sixth Sense": Dead but doesn't know it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Election Hysteria!

The ironic thing (Eggers fans take note) about Election Hysteria is that it's all for naught. The differences between the two candidates are negligible. (They even attended the same elite university.) They're both wealthy guys part of the Establishment, belonging to parties more similar than different (part of the same clubby DC world) and will follow the advised establishment course. The ability of any President to direct the will of the giant bureaucratic machine he's a front-man prop for is limited.

But people are led to believe by their radios and video screens that this is the most momentous event in history. They all believe it-- they can't all be wrong! (The behavior of crowds by LeBon.) The Repubs and Dems as they stampede over the cliff of hysteria together on this point are the same.

Everyone is undergoing nightmare scenarios. Sean Hannity broadcasts behind sandbags, wearing an army helmet, shouting frantically into the mic as through a megaphone. Caryn James sits trapped in her NY TIMES cubicle imagining streets filled with Bush storm troopers, while down the hall Paul Krugman shouts at the top of his lungs, "We're all going to die. We're all going to die!" like a passenger in the original "Airport." Philip Roth trashes Lindbergh. . . . Saddest of all is Nicholson Baker staring for hours on end at Bush poster with target on it while scribbling furiously. Get this man a straitjacket. Bush-- an ordinary greedy corrupt Texas pol-- has become more evil and capable than Hitler. His opponent, an ordinary American goof, has become a traitorous Communist.

While the technology we buy and laud (including what we're on here) eviscerates our privacy, the Frightened Ones worry they won't be able to check out a library book. But political writing is everywhere. One can't walk into a chain store without running into stacks of it, 99% garbage whatever the point-of-view. Even Nicholson Baker's hysterical tome is prominently sold. (I guess we haven't become a police state yet!)

The real conspiracy we're seeing is by book chains and publishing conglomerates to keep the populace as keyed-up wide-eyed and paranoid as coke-snorting rats-- and themselves in business in the process.

The day after the election will be a quiet aftermath. The confetti and insanity will drop. The stacks of books of desperate nonsense will find no more buyers-- they'll be carted away from the WalMart-like chains by the truckload, or put on sale at 90% off.

Hannity will discard his army helmet and come out of his bunker. (Ratings will drop.) The "journalists" at the TIMES will do also, leaving their building surprised to see New York not filled with black helicopters and army trucks; blinking as they experience the light of day for the first time in months.

The Great Debate: A Preview

BUSH (scrunching his forehead; looking puzzled): "You see, there's this country, I-rak, and there's these, er, Terrists, and we've got to, er, De-mocracy-- got to bring 'em De-mocracy. Got to fight these, er, you know, these Terrists--"

KERRY (saluting): "If I'm elected I John Kerry will end this ghastly mistake War I John Kerry which I voted for goals principles I John Kerry after all Was misled I but to give the authorization under the Nuances I will End this Catastrophic Disaster this nightmare Campaign I Will Kill All the terrorists All I John Kerry will bring home All the troops All the campaign workers in six weeks and maybe Six Days I Will Build a Coalition of Friends and Allies and Enemies Every Country I will send More troops and get the job Done I will Solve all problems I will create Fifty Million Jobs I will Bring the Best Health Care that I get to All Americans and the World I Will Bring Eternal Peace and Chicken Cordon Bleu for Everybody Every Sunday I John Kerry--"

BUSH: "You see, if we don't win against these, er, Terrists, we've got to, er, win this, thing, you see, we're re-build-ing, bringin 'em liberty-- li-ber-ty-- I-rak, the I-raki people-- "

(Any baseball or football games that evening?)

Magazine Report: PLANET

"Last summer, at Burning Man, I met a friend named Jay."

Maybe the most misguided magazine ever seen.

Produced by affluent white Americans; filled with corporate fashion models and corporate advertisements; a voice of exploiters not exploited; residing at the pinnacle of the global pyramid; aimed at a trendy-hip elite; PLANET presents itself as one with the world: "Global Culture and Lifestyle." Yes, they the world's (cars-cellphone-DVD-etc.) consumers-- the well-schooled information high priests-- and the billions of impoverished masses who'll never afford this magazine or even see it,
are one and the same.

Such people used to be called the Jet Set unabashedly believing they owned the world, but now it's done with an air of concern as they frighten animals in rain forests or push themselves at indigenous New Guinea tribesmen who want no part of these globe-trotting frauds.

It's either a charade the editors play for themselves, or the most cynical kind of marketing strategy.

Present are some of the Usual Suspects-- William T. Vollmann; J.T. Leroy-- along with upper-echelon First and Third World Fulbright winners, School of Visual Arts grads, and such. Every page is a pose. $5.95. Not worth it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ask the ULA

Dear ULA,

Why pick on THE NEW YORKER? They have some great journalists.

ANSWER: THE NEW YORKER, aka the home of the Top Hats (so much a part of the past), is a fine magazine for trust-funders and rich people; for well-bred dowagers in Upper East Side Manhattan or the Hamptons who wish to be well-informed or pretend they're well-informed. Concerning prosists and poets the Top Hats present System Writers Only proven adept at jumping through plastic hoops like little pet dogs dressed in clown costumes. We oppose the demeaning display and hope to someday free the minds of these sad captured costumed writers performing on estate lawns showing they know every stiff practiced officially approved move-- but we realize most are beyond hope.


(Send your questions to the ULA c/o me at the e-mail given on this blog. Put "Ask the ULA" in the heading.)

Demi-Puppets and Dave

Or, Sycophants Are Everyplace.

The question came up on another forum (on a thread entitled "Eggers Is Super Cool") of whether the ULA "hates" Dave Eggers.

This shows an inability to understand the nature of criticism, competition, and debate. For all our lauded freedom many Americans are NOT able to engage in discussion without believing in and embodying that word.
Witness the current election campaign.

One could easily turn the question around and ask whether Eggers "hates" the ULA. After all, his journal THE BELIEVER ran a 10,000 word essay which trashed us, and Dave himself was caught posting anonymous attacks on the ULA on Amazon earlier this year. (In which he showed his disdain for "unpublished" writers-- i.e., non-corporate ones. This revealed that his D-I-Y stance is a fraud, but also that for all his brilliance and millions he's not keyed-in to the revolutionary changes taking place right now in the world.)

More interesting than Eggers are the people who suck-up to him and accommodate him. Regarding the ULA, they believe that to please him they need to shut us out. After all, we're competition to Eggers (competition being frightening and alien), and never ever would they wish to anger him-- he's known to become angry-- and since we've criticized him and his actions then we must "hate" him; there couldn't possibly be any other explanation-- could there be?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Puppet Profile: Peter Beinart

Beinart is Editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC, a magazine of modest interest and circulation but much establishment clout.

Son of a Harvard professor, stepson of NEW REPUBLIC theater critic Robert Brustein, Peter graduated Yale in 1993, became a Rhodes Scholar, graduated Oxford in 1995 then immediately went to work for TNR. In 1999 at age 27 he was named Editor of the mag. This mainstream pet has jumped through every hoop set up for him; has had the road greased every step of the way.

Yet despite the impressive credentials, and the time and expense that went into grooming him, Peter Beinart is a steadfast mediocrity as a thinker and writer-- merely a jingoistic mouthpiece for the System that created him-- a ventriloquist's puppet.

(Beinart can often be heard as a guest on radio talk shows, as some kind of "expert" I guess, sounding much like a hysterical girl.)

"Monday Report" Update

I've authored the next scheduled Monday Report for the ULA's fan site. It's titled, "An Open Letter to THE NEW YORKER." However, due to an unforeseen glitch with the fan site, the essay may not be up today-- but it certainly will be sometime tomorrow, so please look for it.

Later in the week is the "Trash NEW YORKER Carnival!" on this blog and nowhere else, so please watch for that. As with any carnival, there will be fun and games.

By the way, the Finalists for the Carnival Contest, "Worst NEW YORKER Story Writer of All Time," have been selected-- those "poseurs," er, I mean, "auteurs," who typify the Special Nature of the genre and have consistently met the refined, arbitrary, and obsolete "literary" standards of that esteemed journal for a period of many years. The Finalists:

-Ann Beattie

-Tom Beller

-Lorrie Moore

-Alice Munro

-Cynthia Ozick

-Philip Roth

-John Updike.

(NOTE: Physically dead people like John Cheever, as opposed to the merely artistically dead, such as those listed, are not eligible for the Contest.)

Election Hysteria: A Prelude

One week after 9-11 in 2001 I wrote a quickie zeen called WAR HYSTERIA! which depicted the panic of the nation. (It received good reviews and sold well.)

I'd like now to write an ELECTION HYSTERIA!, except with the event a month away, its shelf life would be brief.

The election campaign is a spectacle of mendacity and insanity. Orwell's "1984" portrayed a "Two Minute Hate" with watchers of video screens pushed emotionally beyond all reason, into hysteria-- which is what we see today on both sides. The face of a politician appears on a screen and the audience gesticulates angrily, as if a bell rings.

Someone once defined something as "the ability to keep your head while others are losing theirs." Right now most folks are failing the test.

Zeen Report: BUTTCRACK!

Here are two brothers who'll likely never be in THE NEW YORKER!

If I were writing this report for one of my print zeens, I would design the heading in off-kilter letters to express the deliberately crude in-your-face flavor of this publication.

"BUTT CRACK! is straining lunging headlong toward the hemorrhoid-flaring monstrosity of Ugug fiction," the introduction reads.

Writers Ryan and Desmond Dugan represent a long and glorious tradition of scatalogical underground pamphlets, from the gutter press in France whose editors like Marat and Brissot sparked their Revolution; to America's DAVY CROCKETT ALMANACK of the 1830's with its violent tall tales and more violent drawings; to 1990's zinesters Jim Goad and Mike Diana. BUTTCRACK MAGAZINE, with cover drawing of same, follows this line-- the basest and maybe most authentic kind of zeen.

However, as the inside presentation is fairly clean and aligned (no hand lettering), the writing is also (sometimes) more thoughtful than expected; especially the centerpiece short story, "Evolution," by editor Ryan Dugan, about a violent rape in the swamps of Alabama which represents a clash between evil and innocence, reality and idealism.

A quote by Gustave Courbet on the back cover expresses the Dugan brothers' philosophy: "to create a living art."

($2. Info at No snail address given.)

(This Report is #2 in a series.)

Friday, September 24, 2004

Books: Brooke Allen Kills Literature

Comments on the paperback release of Brooke Allen's "Twentieth Century Attitudes: Literary Powers in Uncertain Times": a book of essays about literature. Ms. Allen is a regular contributor to NEW CRITERION and other little-read snob journals.

The collection is the Lou Rawls of literature: Reading to nod off to.

Allen is reviewing her subjects not because of any love or hate of them, but because they're approved topics: Wharton; Woolf; John Barth; and such. One essay is titled, "The Voice of a New Century: Colette." Oh, THAT century. The book's title says it all-- this is writing about and for the Past. Not one new thought attitude revelation subject will be found. One can see the layers of dust. Allen's audience after all is not the new reader, or the current reader, but the mandarin reader-- a clique of cultural dinosaurs in bow-ties who've generously published Ms. Allen's tired dry turgid work.

Allen's observations are distinctly lukewarm. On Saul Bellow: "Emotional honesty is not Bellow's strong suit." Every statement of hers is hedged: "generally"; "perhaps"; "leads one to suspect"; "doesn't seem to"; "they tend to"; "an unmixed blessing"; "shared a penchant for"; "it's hard to argue with"; "possibly because. . . ."

Brooke Allen's writing is the essence of mediocrity; snoozer criticism at its worst.

Dangling Man: "didn't begin to make Bellow's fortune. . . ."

Augie March: "a successful ploy if a little too conscious for all tastes. . . ."

Seize the Day: "garnered impressive critical notice."

Herzog: "not emotionally credible. . . ."

Mr. Sammler's Planet: "an odd, unfocused novel."

Ravelstein: "a surprisingly decent novel."

How did the novelist ever gain his status as "our senior litterateur"? There must be more to him than this!

Why is Ms. Allen reviewing a book about him? Why has this careful essay made it into her collection? Because other essays of hers are worse?

The McSweeney's Saga: The Salinger Influence

Chapter Two.


Young David had a baby mentality because he was a member of America's Bubble Class raised to believe he was the center of the universe, but had no way to convey his special wonderfulness-- his retreat into childhood-- other than thumbsucking (picked up from Walter Kirn) until one day David saw a short story title: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

Oh golly gosh giggle it was great! That one phrase encapsulated every feckless feeling bouncing around in David's vacuous head. David plunged eagerly into tales about the precocious sensitive hyper-intelligent Glass family, with which he identified in totality. He saw his makeshift family of his brother Snooky, his old friend Teddy, and himself in the same light. They represented for him the rejection of the cruel adult outside world into the swamps of solipsism. Everything and everyone was bananas. Or, he was.

Eternal innocence! Our hero had found his profession-- writer-- and he'd found his philosophy, or, anyway, at least his pose.

(To be continued.)

The McSweeney's Saga-- every Friday on this blog!

Busting the Boycott

Or, the Shock of the New.

It's blackballed by many bookstores throughout the land (some folks are afraid of free speech), but you can have a copy of LITERARY FAN MAGAZINE for only One Dollar cash to the ULA address, c/o me, up at the fan site.

#2 contains a kaleidoscope of fun stuff, including:

-A look at BOMB magazine;

-Profiles of Mitch Albom, Charles Baxter, Chubby Checker, and Rick Moody.

-The current Ten Most Ridiculous Lit Figures;

-A Will Ratblood Interview with blogger Maud Newton (I'm still eager to send her a copy);

-Frank Walsh attacked while reading poetry;

-A special J.D. Finch "McStoney's" feature;

-Results of the ULA Survey;

-Photos. . . .

And other surprises! Not to be missed.

Don't let the panicked and the tame regulate what you read. Order a copy today. Don't wait!


"To a generation hungry for new peacetime ideals, the neo-romantic world of total devotion to art was irresistible."

-by Ian Christie, from a review of the stunning 1948 color film "The Red Shoes."


When you browse through other blogs, ask yourself, "Is anything being questioned here? Does this site offer anything new-- anything opposed to the predictable and safe?"

The primary emotion manifested by literary people today is fear. Fear of contention, fear of scandal, fear of change. It's as if we're all going to live for thousands of years so we'd better not offend anyone, better not make any waves.

Yet life is really a blink of an eyelash (in geological time anyway). Time is rushing by. We're all very mortal and can leave at any time. The drones live life as illusion, because they have no sense of their mortality; they give themselves little chance to change the world, to make a real impact. When they do, the attempts are marked by caution, proceeding with babysteps. Take a tiny step-- then look around to make sure everything is okay.

Our advertisements tell us how brave, free, and bold we are, when in fact we're the most timid generation in history. (Which is why I take my models from the distant past, from those ruthless crazy and fearless enough to want change, whether Jesus, Cortez, Joan of Arc, or Lenin, or even Sam Phillips, Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, or Malcolm McLaren.)

Well yes, but what about the Middle Ages, a smug bearded tenured prof might ask? But the so-called Dark Ages were filled with activity, with peasants on long pilgrimages, knights on distant crusades, crazed fasting, building of insane cathedrals, the unabashed clash of religions and civilizations; sweeping Mongol hordes and Turks at Vienna's gates; everyone passionate about SOMETHING. Even the children picked-up to leave. People weren't sitting chained to bland desks in blank cubicles in sterile office buildings-- they were excited by life and eager for battle, for renewal, for activity.

The ULA asks from its sympathizers and opponents alike for a little more passion.


Beneath the hyperbole and kidding around, the Underground Literary Alliance is motivated and sustained by ideas. We're eager to test our ideas, and to contest with others about them-- with anyone, in any setting. Our argument has two foundations:

1.) Literature is becoming marginalized in this society and needs to be changed.

2.) The ULA offers new and exciting writers.

The vast bulk of those involved in the creation of literature in America are virtual drones who question nothing about the way lit is made, who makes it, or what is made.

The Underground Literary Alliance questions everything.

ULA Gossip Report

-My focus on writing, zeen-making, and this blog has delayed my involvement with Philly's secretive activist C.A.P.P.Y.S. entity (Coalition Against Posturing Poser Yuppy Snobs), though I did meet several aficionadoes of their ideas last week.

-Along with Bill and Lisa's new zeen (which I'll review next week), I received a note from Wild Bill saying Lisa Falour admitted the truth about the cover photo of LIT FAN #2-- "it is she." He expresses his disbelief, and adds about his wonderment, "But, this is me."

(Lisa lives in France; Bill in the wilds of Texas. She is very sophisticated and worldly; Wild Bill is Rousseau's authentic natural man, uncorrupted-- scarcely touched-- by civilization.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Magazine Report: HARPERS Apology

Shades of Rather.

In the October issue of HARPERS, Editor Lewis Lapham publicly apologizes for writing a report of the Republican convention before it'd occurred! Astute reader Matthew Ostrowski wrote them (keeping in mind that HARPERS has a habit of rewording the letters they publish): "--on the day I received my copy . . . the Republican convention had yet to take place."

HARPERS ends up with egg on its face.

Can we assume it's made other mistakes?

(They continue to stonewall about the Tom Bissell plagiarism case.)

NO SURPRISES DEPT: The October issue also includes a typically overwritten and thoroughly tedious story by John Updike.


Carnival! Carnival! Carnival!

I'm considering holding, in addition to the regular features, a one-day "Trash NEW YORKER Carnival" on this blog next week, as a way to begin weakening the stranglehold that rag holds over the minds of demi-puppets throughout the land, and by extension, over American letters. The "NEW YORKER story" is still taken as the model by wannabe lit journals. The dream of the million workshop grads out there is still to get a story placed in the mag. Which is silly when you recognize that:

A.) The NEW YORKER story hasn't advanced in sixty years.

B.) Only a select group of well-connected writers are ever allowed to publish fiction in the publication's pages.

C.) Those who are published by them must conform to the anal "NEW YORKER style"-- which means the writer has few rights and little freedom.

Which I guess doesn't matter to most slavish demi-puppets anyway.

(Among the planned features: "The Worst NEW YORKER Fiction Writer of All Time!" Suggestions welcomed.)

The ULA: Breaking the Chains.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

What's Wrong with Publishing Today, Part I

BOOKFORUM's Eric Banks also says something to the effect that "no matter what you hear, there's a tremendous amount going on in publishing today."

To which I reply, "Bullshit!"

This isn't exactly 1925, when both The Great Gatsby and An American Tragedy were published, with Sun Also Rises out the next year, and giants like Faulkner, Dos Passos, and Sinclair Lewis producing a stream of near-masterworks during the same time period.

Today we get BOOKFORUM writer Claire Messud, who gushes about unmagical unreal novels with passages that have to be read over three or four times to be understood, and whose own award-winning productions presumably are similarly incomprehensible; whose prose shown to us in BF is a clogged dense mass of lifeless and stupid verbiage.

Meanwhile, excellent clear-headed and intelligent novelists like Lawrence Richette and Phillip Routh (yes, that's his name) are reduced to publishing through Xlibris. Now, if BOOKFORUM printed an essay about Routh's work, instead of Roth's, THEN they would be topical and relevant.

But the overeducated snob aristocrats who've taken over the publishing world don't know what's out there and don't WANT to know. They'd rather cling to the familiar. When Philip Roth goes they'll have to stuff him and pretend he's still cranking out books, and have some mediocre MFA student dummy up his novels-- or maybe Claire Messud-- with suitably ridiculous plots. (It's said the next one will be about what would happen had Warren G. Harding lived.)

They'll prop the preserved Roth against the wall at author receptions, next to the preserved Updike, Bellow, and others of that ilk, giving employment to a host of standing-next-to-them ventriloquists.

The New York literary elite of which BOOKFORUM is part lives bunkered down in their office buildings-- in their own Green Zone-- clueless about what's happening in the provinces; eyeing the country and population fearfully; traveling through it in intellectual Humvees, their closed-off shut-down minds well-protected against potential intellectual hostility and assault.

Magazine Report: Living in the Past

As long as BOOKFORUM keeps sending me free copies I'll continue trashing the publication.

I just received the Oct/Nov 2004 issue. There it was jamming my mailbox among envelopes of bills. The bills went on a large stack on a small table. The BOOKFORUM went into the trash.

I looked at it first. Yellow letters against turquoise backdrop announced unexciting articles:

"An Early Rothko Manuscript." (Boy, that's thrilling.)

"Graham Greene at 100."

"Philip Roth's 'Plot Against America.'"

"Robert S. Boynton Surveys Integration's Critics." (Boynton is talking about Brown v. Board from 1954!)

What is this? Was this issue mailed to me fifty years ago, and delayed all this time in the mail? That's the best explanation for the anachronistic attitude. Or maybe the editor fell asleep fifty years ago and just woke up.

Editor Eric Banks sounds defensive about the unreadable nature of BF's essays-- that they all sound like college Phd dissertations of "C" quality. (If this is the intellectual alternative to the ULA we should win the race in a walk.)

"Smart people deserve smart coverage of smart books," Banks bluffs.

How about an ability to communicate? Wouldn't that be smart?

I guess not. Banks is proud of the fact his publication is designed for a coterie of snobbishly "smart" people able to write so badly they exclude all readers outside themselves (and probably THEY don't even read the bulk of this mess).

I worry about the fact I'm still on their mailing list.

(Note: The Future belongs to the Underground Literary Alliance.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Goal of this Blog

In coming weeks I intend to pull the mask off the American literary scene, to expose it as incestuous and corrupt, infested and embedded with charlatans and fakirs.

Stay tuned to this station!

Ask the ULA

Dear ULA,

Why aren't there more women in your ranks?

ANSWER: We're actively recruiting talented women writers, poets, and other cultural activists tough or ambitious enough to hang with us, and have been adding some good ones. Typical of our current membership is Detroit actress and producer Leah Smith, famous for wrestling with 6'6 lit geek Tom Beller over a camera outside NYC's Housing Works.

The ULA: No place for wimps!

(Send your questions to the e-mail address given for me on this blog; put "Ask the ULA" in the heading. Thanks!)

Typical Lit Novel

THE GOOD NANNY by Benjamin Cheever.

Blog Report

Aka, What the Demi-Puppets Are Doing.

I see Maud Newton is today sucking up to Zadie Smith, who has a story in the decrepit "flagship" THE NEW YORKER this week.

(Check out George Balgobin's review of Zadie's last book, now up as the Monday Report at

Maud also has a post up from someone who says that submitting fiction to the PARIS REVIEW is a waste of time. Duh! (Where was Maud when the ULA's Steve Kostecke covered this subject in a Monday Report earlier in the year?) Call it: how not to be on top of things.

I also found interesting a post on Maud's site from last Friday, with a quote from the NY TIMES's Janet Maslin (isn't she married to a Cheever?), in which Janet says, "not even our most sacrosanct institutions are beyond questions. . . ." Does this apply to the TIMES, I wonder?

News Item

Yesterday's USA TODAY had a front page story by Mary Beth Marklein titled, "Low-income students scarce at elite colleges." The article says that "rich kids are . . . far more likely to land in the nation's most prestigious schools"-- and that the majority of students at these schools are from high-income backgrounds.

Add to this the fact that Ivy-League grads have a near-monopoly on positions in NYC publishing and major glossy magazines (on the east coast even the shittiest staff position at the shitties freebie "alternative" paper is manned by an Ivy Leaguer) and what you have is our literature dominated by people from a narrow segment of American society.

Decisions about which authors are published and which receive publicity are being made by what in effect is an aristocracy.

Is it any wonder that today's "hip" literary writing is insular and clueless-- or that the present system is not discovering any great American writers?

(After establishing democracy in Iraq, we should bring some democracy to the United States!)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Zeen Report: THE WHIRLIGIG #9

(First in a series.)

For all its modest, zeeny presentation, THE WHIRLIGIG is one of the most important lit journals being produced in this country.

POETRY: Editor Frank Marcopolos consistently has a good eye for poetry. Jessica Wickens's "Transformer," clunkier than it could be, is salvaged by the image in the last lines: "yellow fire coming down around us in the street, burning up on the concrete. . . ."

FICTION: The fiction in this issue is represented by two poles.

At one extreme are the well-written literary stories of Douglas Lain and Ron Gibson Jr.

Lain's absurdist "The Dead Celebrity" is long, intelligent, interesting, confusing, ultimately unsatisfying.

Gibson's "Shadowbox the Sun" gives the reader paragraphs of dense prose; layers of crafted sentences. When one breaks into the paragraphs and reads the sentences, the writing is artful and impressive. The question is how many readers will make the effort.

At the other extreme are the approachable minimal fictions and two-word anagrammatic stories of Richard Kostelanetz splashed with big letters across five pages. R.K. calls himself a postmodernist, but this work seems the opposite of what has come to be known, stylistically, as postmodern writing.

In between the poles is "Marie" by Emerson Dameron, the only true zeen writer in the collection. I'm very high on Emerson's writing-- the reason he's in the Underground Literary Alliance. Emerson is one of a number of zeensters in their early 20's (Urban Hermitt another) who were reading 90's zines and are an outgrowth of zine writing. They're creating a genre unto themselves. It's no wonder that Tom Bissell in his infamous BELIEVER article on the ULA was unable to comprehend their work, breaking it apart in his mind to spellings and commas and dots-- to the trivial individual notes-- while missing its intent and its impact. What Bissell does-- rigid, careful, overcrafted and predictable-- is of the past, the hallmark of a status quo that in the large if not the small is killing literature.

I've asked here from noted young litsters like Maud Newton and Jackie Corley for a debate on what IS going to save or kill literature, and haven't gotten it. What will save literature are stories that any reader can immediately get into, which are also good.

"Marie" is deceptively simple-- simple like simple Beatles songs "No Reply" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party." Simple to the point of appearing without art and skill-- but with a rib-breaking emotional kick that stays with the reader after the story has ended.

This is not one of Emerson's better stories, in fact. The writing could be tighter. But it shows what he does; the short story of a guy and a gal who meet in a bar is suffused with melancholy, and its ending is devastating, because it's not overdone, and has been set up.

Maybe Marcopolos has a good eye for fiction also.

(THE WHIRLIGIG: $3 to Frank Marcopolos, 4809 Avenue N #117, Brooklyn NY 11234.)

Friday, September 17, 2004

The History of McSweeney's: A Continuing Saga

Chapter One

Our tale begins in a mansion near Chicago when young David Eggers becomes immersed in the idea of alternative culture. Not the fact of breaking with conglomerates and other top-heavy institutions, mind you-- only the pose of it.

By eighteeen he's become disillusioned.

When he's 21 his parents die, sadly and tragically and . . . but you've read the book.

Inheritance in hand, young disillusioned sad teary-eyed David heads west with the fictional facsimile of his younger brother, "Snooky," along with David's long-time playmate, "Teddy," to spend his fortune.

San Francisco!

(To be continued.)

The Ramones

The Ramones were working class guys fed up with the overprocessed overproduced pretentiously arty "rock" of the day; a time when skilled mega-corporate musicians had replaced grit and heart with bombast. The Ramones returned to rock's organic roots of simplicity and truth.

Magazine Report

ESQUIRE: Giselle Bundchen on the cover. Sorry, but with her basketball-player height and harsh features she looks like a striking transsexual. Whatever happened to ESQUIRE's yearly fiction issues? They used to actually put writers on the cover. (Okay, writers like wine-taster Jay "The Fop" McInerney, but still. . . .)
The magazine itself has the look of a women's fashion magazine. The short story in it, toward the back, is the kind of thing teens used to read in PENTHOUSE. I could hardly find the story among the ads and photographs.

THE NEW YORKER: Fiction by Joyce Carol Oates. A profile of Philip Roth. That about says it all. A few weeks ago they did a long piece on Don Rickles, who I thought was dead. The flagship of culture has become a mouthpiece for the geriatric set.
To Demi-Puppets: As long as you use shit like this as your model along with NYer house writers like Alice Munro and John Updike modern American literature will remain dead.

(I'll look at better mags next week, I hope, and maybe a coupla zeens.)

History Repeating Itself as Comedy

1960's radical: Abbie Hoffmann.

2004 radical: William "Wimpy" Wimsatt.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Amazing Collapsing Establishment Media

as I write this, the sterling reputation of CBS News is crumbling due to "Memogate"-- running with a story based on documents which were exposed as fakes within about three hours by political blogggers sharing information and expertise on the Internet. That "guys in pajamas" completely and swiftly outworked and outmaneuvered some of the most respected research people in the business shows that we're in the midst of major change.

This election is as much as anything a battle between new and old media-- and the established icons are losing.

Some notes I made to myself, which may or may not be accurate:

The establishment media is the election's biggest loser. Not just CBS News, due to its stonewalling. As discredited is the NY TIMES, whose reputation is sinking daily. The nadir of Michiko Kakutani's career has to be yesterday's review of Kitty Kelley's book "The Family." Kakutani obviously regards the book and the assignment with extreme distaste-- but there she is reviewing the thing anyway; the loyal soldier doing her part. How many hundreds of authors would love to get that kind of space? Yet there she is, reviewing what is acknowledged on all sides as trash.

Wherever one stands in this election -- and I'm no fan of Bush and his gang, never have been-- it's impossible to ignore the TIMES' political bias, as one-sided as Sean Hannity's on the other side. (The ULA, incidentally, has noticed the TIMES bias in the lit realm for a long time, giving full page spreads to no-talent Manhattan glitterati like Tom Beller and, er, Mr. Moody.)

If Kerry loses the election, a part of it will be the American public's disgust with the shilling of CBS News and others. Kerry suffers by association with these elitist people. (Not that he's not elitist himself. "Ditto" for Mr. Bush.) Many folks embracing conservative "new media" do it in reaction-- they're fleeing liberal media into the waiting arms of people like Hannity.

The Trend of History is obvious-- it's AGAINST the fossilized immobile decayed flagships of the 20th Century like the NEW YORKER and the NY TIMES. The ULA has been the only lit group to recognize this sea change and to be at the forefront of it. Our literary competitors, to say the least, are lagging behind.

The ULA is the vanguard of literary change, and we're willing to work with other writers who are interested in change; who don't wish to be left behind. (End of notes.)

I'll have much more to say on this topic as things develop, as I sort out my thoughts on the matter. I welcome the input of other writers. While I think that this is a phenomenon of small versus large-- that things have to do more with centralized concentrations of power breaking down than any phony designations of "Left" and "Right"-- one can also recognize that if Bush wins this election, despite the tower of baggage he carries (the war not the least of the problems), his victory will because of the noise generated by bloggers and their radio talk show allies, as evidenced on both the Swiftboat and Memogate stories-- enough noise to defeat the combined weight of the major networks and major newspapers, past holders of the power of the Fourth Estate.

Puppet Profile: Kirn the Klown

While cleaning out a closet of junk the other day, I came upon a press from 2000 for a novel by Walter Kirn, "Thumbsucker." This was during a brief period right after I'd moved east, when a few established writers were trying-- unsuccessfully, it turned out-- to get me to "play the game." I was asked to write a review for a glossy publication, and given, among the books to read, the Kirn novel.

There may be no writer who better typifies the mediocrity of the clique of Insider writers-- those endlessly hyped by the mandarins of the mainstream (obsolete places like the NEW YORKER and NY TIMES) than Walter Kirn. He's a graduate of Princeton and Oxford. (Rhodes Scholar?) He's held important jobs at NEW YORK, TIME, and GQ magazine. You'd think someone from this impressive background, these layers of learning, would be able to write something meaningful, of wide scope, on the order perhaps of the best works of James Gould Cozzens.

Instead he cranks out novels about self-obsessed adolescents with problems like thumbsucking!

An excerpt from the feverish press release (which includes a host of rave reviews by establishment publications-- which didn't stop the novel from immediately sinking):

"His mother, Audrey, is a nurse who works nights and dreams of a date with don Johnson. His brother, Joel, hides behind tennis lessons and Sergio valente jeans worn with Izod polo shirts. And his grandparents are living out their old age in a motor home called the Horizoneer, where they mix bourbon sours and read true crime magazines to pass the time. They're a regular All-American family."

This sounds like a parody of a bad press release. One has to wonder of the mentality of the pr person (Alison Rich) who thought such pap sounds compelling. The blurbs make the novel seem awful (not as bad as it is in actuality); the febrile conception of a bad novel, like shoddy movie producers in Hollywood concocting an unfunny situation comedy.

I was expected to give a positive review of this book, I guess, because the review I wrote about it was rejected! (They ran with a lukewarm review of a JT Leroy book instead, making a change or two first to make what I said more positive.)

Anyway, the point is that many of our well-hyped authors aren't as good as any shuffling writer you're liable to find on the street!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

New Lit Versus Old

Maud Newton has a very defensive heading to the lead post on her blog, arguing against the notion that the Internet is "killing literature."

I don't think the Net is killing literature-- but neither do I think that it's saving it, as some may think. The literary bloggosphere is operating within a self-created bubble. Most of them think and act alike. There may be thousands of them, but they all seem to belong to the same class, have the same political beliefs, and roughly the same views about literature and what constitutes "good" writing. There is actually far wider variety within the Underground Literary Alliance and our sympathizers.

The ULA isn't just operating within a narrow world of self-importance, but instead comes from, and is reaching out to, the broader spectrum of American society. We're creating different kinds of writing that can reach folks who otherwise wouldn't be readers (which is what we've been doing with our print zeens). This is what infuriates people. Please take a look sometime at the official ULA Blog, available on the home page at our fan site. ULAers Wred Fright and Patrick King are putting up a wide variety of writing. (Read also Marissa Ranello's remarks on the current Monday Report.)

The literary Past on the other hand of same-old same-old is represented by someone like blogger Dan Green, who puts forth the usual boring bland pseudo-intellectual BLATHER, with a liberal pose of objectivity and condescending attitude. A professorial know-it-all (just what the public is seeking). The Writer on the Podium.

Such writers are fakes. They never had an original thought in their heads; know only what was pumped into them in graduate school. What they give the reader are recycled recycled recycled recycled recycled recycled versions of what was nonsense to start with. Try making a copy of a copy on a Xerox, then a copy of that copy, and so on, and you quickly get very unsharp, blurry images. Current "literary" writing.

Updike knock-offs: Does it get any worse?


1.) What happened to Ada Calhoun at NEW YORK magazine? (It's not why she's gone, I know, but I'm sure she didn't score any points earlier in the year by shopping around an article on the ULA!)

2.) Has Ian Spiegelman, late of "Page Six," landed on his feet?

3.) Is Franklin Foer related to Jonathan Safran?

4.) To zeen (zine) people: Anyone read the recent issue of LOW HUG by A.J. Michel? Any thoughts on what she relates? Her opening essay relates what seems to me to be fear and disgust at a p.c. crowd of "cool kids" in the zine scene, of all places-- the last place where it should be. I've heard rumors that her piece has something to do with the Rich Mackin controversy, but don't know for certain. Mackin, btw, has a place in ULA history, having been the (great) opening act for our 2001 Amato Opera House show in New York City. Rich had been opening a year prior for Ralph Nader. We wanted to start our event explosively, and couldn't have found anyone funnier or with more energy.

Everything Wrong with Literature Today

Yes, in two weeks it will all be in one place: the NEW YORKER Festival!

Boring readings for fifteen or twenty dollars. What a show! It includes notable literary Stooges/Puppets

JonFranzenGeorgeSaundersE.L.DoctorowTobiasWolffJonathanSaranwrap-FoerBritMartinAmisJhumpherLahiriLorrieMooreJeffreyEugenidesDonaldAntrimZanieSmith-RoundUptheUsualSuspects-- How can it be missed?

In celebration of this great event, the Underground Literary Alliance will have a couple upcoming Monday Reports devoted to it on the fan site-- including a review by George Balgobin of Zadie Smith's last novel. And other good stuff.

Upcoming on This Blog!

Good stuff to come:

-The Demi-Puppet Hall of Fame

-Hall Monitors of Literature

-Puppet Profile: Kirn the Klown

-J.D. Salinger

-What's Good About Poets

-What's Bad About Poets

-Chicago vs. New York

And Much More! Stay tuned. . . .

The David Foster Wallace story

I never did tell the DFW story I wanted to on that forum I was in. We were going to get the original letter about it, from the person who was there, up on our site, but he was reluctant, and we've been having difficulties with our Letters page-- one reason I started this blog!


In NYC a couple months ago was one of those cheezy literary affairs, in this case George Saunders "interviewing" David Foster Wallace. A total joke, of course-- the kind of snoozy presentation that has killed lit's reputation.

After an hour or two of this kind of crap, they opened the floor to questions from all the Demi-Puppets in the audience. A person there-- who happens to know some ULAers-- asked the two authors about the shrinking world of literary fiction.

DFW turned the question back on our correspondent-- so he in turn mentioned the ULA and some of our arguments.

In response, George Saunders wondered if there could ever be another Dickens, in impact and popularity, implying it was impossible.

DFW referred to the ULA's "contretemps" with Tom Bissell, then said that lit fiction was going the way of poetry; the ratio of audience to artists was shrinking; there was more competition for resources, and so we see increasingly arcane and destructive ways of distinguishing oneself-- participants will fight among each other, and sees the ULA as an example of this. End of tale.

I find it interesting that the great mind would choose the most simplistic way possible of explaining the problem. One of our great writers, supposedly, and he just doesn't get it. Doesn't have a clue, in fact.

The necessity for we as writers-- for all of us-- is to expand the audience for our products! This is a must, and should come first.

The kind of controversy/conflict the ULA has generated is one way of doing this.

DFW isn't a chess player. He's able to see only one step ahead.

Revolutionary or Apparatchik?

Last night I listened to a radio show which played an hour's worth of John Kerry's debate and testimony in '71 and '72 when he was a member of Vietnam Vets Against the War. One could argue endlessly about what he said. What struck me in listening to him was his intensity, sincerity, steadfastness, and passion. Here was a very articulate guy not waffling on anything-- totally unafraid to take a stand.

What happened? How did he get from there to today's pompous, floundering, unsteady, ungenuine windbag? The difference between the two Kerrys is striking. (Though he may yet win, even his biggest supporters should recognize he's been a poor candidate.)

I see two factors.

One is that people peak at different times in their lives. Kerry peaked at age 28, and now is a shaky and muddled shadow of that earlier version.

The other factor is that what thirty years of being part of the System does to a person. Thirty years of being muted and molded; compromising and being compromised; pushed hither and yon so that of his earlier beliefs and principles hardly anything remains.

What's indisputable, to me, is that he was a more vital and compelling force when he was a revolutionary outside the gates, than today, as a designated candidate.

The analogy to the lit world is obvious.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Best and Worst Blogs?

Today's Question: Given the enormous number of lit blogs already out there, how does one choose which ones to look at? How does one sort out the mountain of noise?

I therefore ask someone to point me toward which are generally believed to be the best, or, maybe alternatively, most widely read of the literary blogs.

I also would like an opinion or two of which are the worst. As I look further into this milieu, I'll likely have an opinion or two myself.

Please give a reason or two for your opinion in either case.

(The only one I've looked at much has been Maud's, probably because she once posted someone's awful parody of the Underground Literary Alliance.)

ULA Gossip Report

Wild Bill, as I sense in a recent letter from him, seems enamored of the cover photo of LIT FAN MAG #2. He asks a couple times who it is, and remarks on the beauty of the snapshot. I think he's being disingenuous, and knows right well that it's a past photo of Lisa Falour, who he has never met, but is cooperating with long distance on a joint zeen project. Such long-distance infatuations are funny. I don't know if they often work out. (Read Bill's great Madame Z and Billy novel and one sees that for all his toughness, he's quite the romantic with women. There's an excerpt from the book on the fan site-- but there's much, much more to the book than what's given there.)

Other ULA news involves Bill: Patrick King and a buddy went to visit Bill in Aransas Pass Texas, got wildly drunk with him by all accounts, but had brought with them a film or video camera of some sort, and have eight hours of the historic original discussing his life and the literary art. patrick intends to turn the footage into a documentary, which will take much work.

That's all for today from ULA Gossip Central. (LIT FAN is available c/o the ULA address. Be sure to check out the rave Zine Review of it at


While the ULA isn't a monolith, and contains much diverse writing-- and talents beyond merely writing-- it does contain many writers who have revived the spontaneous free-form loose truthful jazzy impulsive prose tradition of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac-- Wild Bill Blackolive, Jack Saunders, Urban Hermitt, and Steve Kostecke, to name a few, with variations of course between what they do.

The literati pay lip service to the Kerouac legend, but will seldom allow that kind of thing in their journals.

"Beat," of course, as used by the originators of the term, had many meanings. Not just a sense of jazzy bop rhythmn, but also in the sense of being "beat down" by life, which applies much more to the ULA than any other collection of writers!

Literary Hypocrisy

Two observations can be made about the Demi-Puppets:

1.) Their ostensible commitment to free expression is a sham.

2.) They're desperately afraid of change; change in the way the established literary world operates, and in the kind of writing deemed worthy of notice.

There is a long line of people who've compromised their principles by shutting out the literary revolution now embodied in the Underground Literary Alliance.

The ULA, of course, represents across-the-board change. We espouse the zine world's DIY ideas. We advocate a freer, less restricted, less constipated, albeit less polished, kind of prose-- have applied much of punk rock's aesthetic philosophy to the literary art.

(In other words, ULA writing rocks!)

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Coming Soon to Philadelphia

I've been trying to organize an event called "Operation C.A.P.P.Y.S." Clues as to what this concerns can be found in the latest issue of the NEW POETRY EXPRESS newsletter being floated around town.

As far as I know, C.A.P.P.Y.S. stands for Coalition Against Posturing Poser Yuppy Snobs.

It may be off the ground in time for both the 215 and New Yorker lit festivals. Stay tuned to this blog for more details.


MFAers are not exactly synomynous with Demi-Puppets. Most known Demi-Puppets just happen to be MFAers, by the very nature of being a Demi-Puppet (or an MFAer).

We therefore need a more accurate term with which to refer to those hopeless and hapless folks who obtain MFAs.

The Institutionalized?

The Conformist?

Status Quos?

None of these quite captures the combination of ego, narcisissim, striving, unreality, and opportunism involved with spending all those bucks, basically being conned, and brainwashed, when engaged in an Approved Writing Program.

Suggestions are welcomed.

Friday, September 10, 2004


I'm still learning how to operate this blog. I think I've now enabled comments. We'll see if I get any-- if anyone is reading this thing!


I'm sure there will be much internal discussion in the ULA about e-zines. Steve seems high on them; Yul presumably also; myself less so; Mike Jackman presumably not at all.

My concern: I'm leery of dealing with folks with their own agendas-- it's usually a time-waster.

My question: Where's the benefit to the ULA?

My stand: Remember that the ULA has created a foundation. We're willing to let anyone into the ULA tent to work with us, and use that foundation, within the context of the ULA name-- promoting a name, that name, which isn't me or Steve or anyone in particular, but the symbol of underground literature.

Lit Bloggers and Other Demi-Puppets

It's an indication of the threat the Underground Literary Alliance represents-- of our integrity-- that the lit bloggers won't link to our site. (Just as many bookstores won't touch our products, presumably because it may piss off the Eggers crowd.) We're persona non grata in the literary world. This proves that we ARE different.

Most lit bloggers, of course, are tame and status quo-oriented, a typical example being the tedious John Updike fan Daniel Green, who represents for American lit merely More-of-the-Same.

Media Wars

It's fascinating to observe the battle between "Old" and "New" establishment media, for whom the election is a focal point.

New Media right now, with much less resources (and political bloggers at the forefront) is outmaneuvering and really shredding the networks and the big newspapers.

The latest example is the exploding controversy over the forged memos which CBS trumpeted all over the airwaves (and which the NY TIMES and WASHINGTON POST eagerly ran with). Are they embarrassed? Do they have any shame?

The battle that the Underground Literary Alliance has been fighting has commonalities-- though we're not at all on the "Right" as is much of "New Media." (We disdain such outdated labels as Right and left anyway.) It's also interesting that we found some favor from the NEW YORK POST, of all places, and none from liberal icons like the TIMES, or HARPER'S, for that matter. HARPER'S, in fact, has been stonewalling on the Bissell plagiarism story, refusing to even address legitimate questions about it. In this sense, despite their constant pronouncements of their apparent virtue, they are really no better-- no less corrupt and insular-- than their enemies.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Writers as Sheep

One can leaf through something like Poets and Writers magazine and find pages and pages devoted to writing programs, and advertisements for same. The industry is intent on creating more "wannabe" writers (demi-puppets for the most part). There is little thought, however, to where the audience for these wondrous talents is going to be.

It's the same sheep-like mindset encountered by the ULA when it attempts to recruit outside the zeen scene. Writers, writers, everyplace, who do absolutely NOTHING to create publications or to develop a market. In this day and age, that has to go hand-in-hand with the writing, from everyone involved in this art. (Marketing, distro, zeen-making consumes more than 90% of my energies.) If each writer devoted time to this aspect, there wouldn't be a problem. But the egos involved (whose writing is in fact imitative and sheep-like) aren't serious people of course, merely wannabes. And so interest in literature is dwindling, and the art is dying.


The distressing thing about the British publication GRANTA is that Ian Jack is originally from a working class background. He emphasized this when he took over the journal as editor in the late 1990s. Yet the kind of writers given space in the publication hasn't changed an iota-- as far as American writers go it's always the same stale establishment figures. (You know when promo material announces Susan Sontag as a "new writer," the item being promoted has serious problems.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

More About the Internet

The Internet is a good supplemental tool to utilize-- as are readings-- but people who see the Internet as the be-all and end-all are fooling themselves just as much as, say, is poet Frank Walsh by thinking he needs to cram as many readings as possible into a one-week period.

My concern about Patrick Simonelli's Monday Report (at is that the very activist ULA is equated in it with thousands of nerds parked behind computer screens.

With ULA protests, crashes, readings, we're a very public organization which is out in the world; our rebellion is IN the world, not just within the confident confines of our own heads.

What Is a Demi-Puppet?

A writer like Jonathan Franzen, whatever his reputation, is actually a flunkie to the established lit world, and is therefore a Puppet.

Apologists for Franzen and other such controlled marionettes-- Puppet Wannabes-- are Demi-Puppets.

Tom Bissell seems, through relentless obsequious efforts, to have graduated in status from Demi-Puppet to Puppet.

Rewarding Incompetence

An indication of the extent of moral rot in the established literary world is the way Tom Bissell is not penalized, but rewarded, for his screw-ups.

His BELIEVER profile on the ULA is filled with inaccuracies. It wasn't just poorly researched-- it was more UNresearched.

Worse was his plagiaristic Harper's article-- the fact of Bissell's misdeeds beyond dispute.

Yet we find Tom Bissell giving a prominent review (of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell) in the August 29th pages of the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW.

A nice, clubby little world, isn't it?

Monday, September 06, 2004

New Poetry Express #4

A new issue of NEW POETRY EXPRESS is hitting the streets of Philadelphia. This one takes a few shots at the upcoming egregious Eggers-created "215 Festival," as well as the local freebie newspapers. Not to be missed if you live in this area. Watch for it!


I disagree with the current Monday Report up on the fan site-- and with a recent letter Jackie Corley posted on her own site.

I believe strongly that, for creative writers, e-zines and blogs are a dead end, for basic, fundamental reasons. The most fundamental reason being the law of supply and demand. For starters, there are millions of web sites. There are already many thousands of literary websites and e-zines. How is any writer of this mass supposed to stand out-- or develop an audience? (Lit bloggers' audience seems to consist of other lit bloggers.) It's the essence of solipsism-- the writer is writing for no one so much as himself. (The LitRev site, because of the attention the ULA has received, at least has a chance to stand out.)

In other words, there is growing supply, with static demand-- which means that the value of the product (The Writer) goes down. The philsophy, in fact, is directly opposed to the philosophy I've tried to implant into the ULA, utilizing the built-in advantages true underground writers have, such as their scarcity, or their ability to find new readers, or the innate difficulty of creating zeens, to give those writers who do belong to the ULA more value.

The fans of e-zines, contrary to the illusion they paint for themselves, are not creating new territory; are merely following the current pack.

Obviously, the Internet has its uses, but is not as time-effective as people think. (Which is why I'm putting more of my efforts off-line.) Just as obviously, it's very easy to use-- witness this blog.

Just Born Zeens

In 1999 Johnny Marr wrote that "Zines Are Dead"-- right when a new cycle was beginning. The ULA and (as far as I'm concerned) "zeens" were born.

About "zine" versus "zeen": not only is it an albatross to have as the label for our movement a word that many people can't even pronounce properly (witness how even CLAMOR and Ashabot have to tell people that "zine" is pronounced "zeen," and others give different explanations-- when's the last time people had to be told how to pronounce "jazz" or "rock"?)

BUT, "zine" is tied to the past, to zinedom's "glory days" of the 90's-- which is a second albatross. And so, commentators have to point back to Mike Gunderloy-- or Johnny Marr-- and are unable to see that the movement is still healthy, or that part of it has healthily mutated into the ULA.

Literary Writing

is writing of the past, predictable and stodgy. It's Bix Beiderbecke in 1955 when just-born rock is blaring across the soundtrack.

Corruption and Sophistry

Saul's son Adam Bellow is hawking the paperback version of his book of quack reasoning, "In Praise of Nepotism." He lauds nepotism and equates it with "family enterprise." Gee, the Bourbons in pre-revolutionary France could've said the same thing!

Adam Bellow is a top editor at Doubleday. Is there a better example of how out of touch people in the publishing industry are-- is there better proof that their world has the aspects of a modern-day aristocracy?

The Past

GRANTA: The Journal of Very Old Writing.


Right now I need others in the ULA to do more networking, membership work, and cheerleading. I'm working simultaneously on three new zeens (and re-doing another). I have no idea which of them I'll finish first, but want to get them out there asap. So far I have great covers for them-- the hard part is finding the time and focus to do the writing! If I drop away from human society for a bit, this is the reason.