Monday, January 31, 2005

Choire Sicha and Style

BECAUSE most of us were fairly poor, living from paycheck to paycheck, in the calling room I worked in for a few years recently raising money for an environmental group, we callers never asked for as much as we should have. A psychological barrier held us back-- the idea of contributing even fifty or a hundred dollars was nearly inconceivable to us, much less more than this. (Five or ten bucks we could better understand!) Few people when asked would give more than a hundred, even though as we were told the median income of the people we phoned was $80,000 or more. (The organization had similar thinking; anyone giving more than $100 was considered a "high donor," and bothered/marketed more thoroughly, until of course they gave nothing.) I was one of the best callers through most of my stay, yet can't remember once raising $1,000 from anybody, though I raised $400 a few times, $500 once, $600 on several occasions.

I give this as background for having spotted "Gawker" blog overseer Choire Sicha's name on a list of donors to Bomb magazine in the $1,000 to $2499 range. Quite a lot for a casual donation-- on the order of zeensters giving ten or twenty dollars to the Cullen Carter Benefit Fund in 2003. One can conclude that Mr. Sicha comes from money. He certainly isn't struggling.

Which doesn't matter, except that it throws light on Sicha's remarks in the Dec/Jan Bookforum.

Sicha isn't a fan of the Underground Literary Alliance. A while back he got into a heated debate via e-mail with Michael Jackman and myself over rich author Jonathan Franzen's acceptance of an NEA grant, which, if I remember correctly, Choire Sicha thought was okay. (Grant money in this country often goes to those who least need it.)

This is why Choire Sicha's Bookforum remarks are surprising. Sicha calls for new cultural radicals, "--an outrageous, stylish, unself-conscious and unironic art movement." Yet he rejects the ULA's new literary movement. (I know; he's talking about "art.")

The word "style" may disqualify the ULA from approval by such stylish folks. For Sicha's set, "revolution" is just another style; another pose to adopt or ensemble of clothes to wear. The ULA has often been asked about our style. We've had trouble answering the question, because we represent anti-style: authenticity and roots; culture's foundations-- not the foppish trappings of fashionable segments of a corrupt civilization.

The problem Sicha had with the ULA about Jon Franzen had little to do with style, but with our mention of money-- a taboo area. Otherwise Sicha might've been friendlier. Overdogs prefer revolutionaries who are predictable, controllable, and safe; cute beribboned show dogs who can be kept in a cage or on a leash.


Adam Hardin said...

I have predicted elsewhere that group of writers will appear within five to ten years to sweep out the MFA garbage. I call them the "Neoshakesperians" because they will write real literature, and not the irrelevant, dull, superfical crap of Heidi Julavits and Dave Eggers and Jennifer Haigh. My generation(I am 28) has ZERO writers with the calibur of Hemingway and Faulkner and Kafka....Zero. No one is even close.I can only see these writers coming from the Underground or at least outside of the MFA system. The Neoshakesperians will write Literature that is relevant, controversial, and that generally the masses will enjoy. Real classics, and not these god damn period pieces from Michael Cunningham and Rick Moody.

Anonymous said...


In Half Empty I coined a word for the Choire Sichas of the world: "fauxletariat." The main character goes to a party filled with Choires and thinks, "There's a reason why the rich own Bohemia--they're willing to pay so much for it."

All those namby pambys and pretty boys who call for revolution still hate the ULA because, being grubby little rich kids (or desperate strivers) at heart, they really cannot stand any bunch of real, live, actual artists injecting a little truth into their blogopathic daydreams. I dealt with all this back with the Hangover, and all the coked up, trust fund narcissists who tried to take over the paper got their asses handed to them.

Let these glass-jawed geronimos put on their Che t-shirts and red berets and shriek about revolution; they can talk about it, but what the fuck are they going to do? Have a sleepover party or something?


BradyDale said...

Yeah, I gotta say, this doesn't surprise me. I have this really weird job, see. I am paid by the University of Wisconsin to teach students how to organize and make life difficult for Adminstrators and other establishment types here. The job really is the way I'm telling it here. It was created out of student demand and I really am pretty insulated from scorn on high.
Anyway, it never ceases to amaze me how many professors and administators talk shit about being radical, admiring radicals, want to be "changemakers" and whatever. But when it comes time to PUSH for anything, to rock the boat, to raise a little hell.
Oh no. That's inappropriate. That's not what we MEANT.
Of course establishment types are calling for "new radicals." Lots of the progress in all forms was made by radicals of all sorts of stripes who at first the establishment hated, then begrudgingly co-opted. Or died out and their successors admired them because it was safe and the controversy was over.

chilly charlie said...