Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Blandsters Part II: The Elitist Mindset

The elitist viewpoint was displayed in a recent N.Y. Times article by Charles McGrath. McGrath said that a literary magazine "almost by definition is one that operates on a shoestring and is read by just a few."

Part of McGrath's statement is misleading, as The Paris Review, the main topic of his piece, has from its beginning been backed by one billionaire or other. But, "read by just a few" shows the true mind of the literary establishment.

In the article, McGrath says that many litsters are upset at the Paris Review changes.

Elizabeth Gaffney: "I don't know anyone who actually does read it who was dissatisfied." (What: all five of them?) Referring to the critics, she says, "I don't think they understand the literary world today."

Maybe they understand it too well. But the aristocrats wish to keep literature in their perfumed clutches. McGrath mentions Rick Moody, "who like so many important writers of his generation, got his start under Plimpton." Remarks Moody, "George and I used to talk about this all the time, and he knew exactly who his audience was. Three thousand people in the creative writing programs-- the teachers and the students-- and then those odd persons on the outside who actually take an interest in literary culture."

Moody, an important figure in the literary establishment, with the kind of behind-the-scenes clout George Plimpton had, truly believes that literature, in a nation of 300 million people, belongs to a select 3,000 or so who "understand" literary culture. (Note he's not talking about all writing programs, but the upper level of them.) People like Moody don't WANT literature to reach the mass public. They're content with the way things are now, with lit's role in the world becoming smaller and smaller.

Aristocrats younger than Rick Moody are also fighting hard to dominate the literary art, as shown in a Feb 13th New York Post article by Tom Sykes about the 107-year-old "tradition-steeped" National Arts Club. The Accompanied Library, a new literary tax sheltered private club located at the N.A.C., held an "intimate reading" by poet Saul Williams for Accompanied Library's well-screened chi-chi members. Quite disappointing to see someone with Williams's street cred so used by "young, fashionable New Yorkers." Fifty years ago in the movie "High Society" Louis Armstrong shuffled and grinned for an "intimate" crowd of very rich white people at one of their mansion hangouts. I don't see that we've much progressed.

The article quotes young rich bitch Accompanied Library co-founder Iris Brooks as asking, "Where is the cafe society, the salons?"

Where indeed? The salons! Give us more literary salons! More aristocrats in ruffles and powdered wigs! Bring on Marie Antoinette! The Scarlet Pimpernel! Return to 1788; turn back the clock. Present to us the ever-lovable "beau monde."

But outside the walls of the well-guarded literary mansions in the snow and cold stand as always the grubby "gutter press" pamphleteers of the Underground Literary Alliance, a growing mob with quite a different take on literature.

(From inside the pillared stone walls of the National Arts Club in Manhattan's Gramercy Park floats the sound of the young aristocrats clinking crystal wine glasses and singing "The Blandsters" anthem.)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just had to post when I read the "cafe society" comment. I had to listen to a New Yorker say that about L.A. this weekend. What was interesting was that it was said automatically. As if the comment were in fashion or something. I'm not a big fan of L.A., but nonetheless, if someone wants to find a decent cafe here they can. They just have to have some curiosity about the place in which they live.Unfortunately, snobbery is a great demotivator.

Adam Hardin said...

It is the same old tired argument that Franzen also touts: you can either write Literature for a very few or Commercial Crap for everyone else, but the history of all world literature disproves that starting and ending with Hamlet, the most performed and probably the best play in the world.

The failing is with the writer who is not a good enough writer to connect with the reader. Moody and Franzen blame the reader and call him/her stupid for not wanting to read poorly written boring tripe.

The reader is smart. The reader wants a well-written, moving relevant, exciting work of Literature, and writers must learn to write for the reader or they will perish as writers.

Anonymous said...

Here's a nice Winter time-out, from our trip to Puerto Rico that has some ULA publicity photos:

Undie Press in Vieques, PREnjoy!

Tim Hall

Anonymous said...

Here's a nice Winter time-out, from our trip to Puerto Rico that has some ULA publicity photos:

Undie Press in Vieques, PREnjoy!

Tim Hall

Noah Cicero said...

"all world literature disproves that starting and ending with Hamlet, the most performed and probably the best play in the world."

Good point!
What about these works:
"Waiting for Godot" When that played at San Quinton it did really well.
"To Build a Fire" I've seen factory workers to sixteen year old stoner girls get a kick out of that story.
Hemingway, Joyce, Kerouac, e.e cummings, Twain, Bukowksi and even have tons of fans that don't even know what the Paris Review is.
My mother who worked at a the packard/delphi plant as an assembly worker she always told me about this guy on the line that always quoted poetry and classic lit.
Qustion: Thousands of people graduate with English degrees from state funded universities and I wager most of them don't even know who Rick Moody is. But they all have one thing in common, an interest in literature. But I guess they don't count.
People have to understand that the people who buy books are casual readers. They are restaurant workers, engineers, carpenters, THEY ARE NON-WRITERS.
History will judge their books to useless and they will be forgotten. Just like the painters of the 18th century french salon.

Adam Hardin said...

How to Create a Contemporary Hipster:

1. One Long Unreadable Manuscript

2. One Bandana

3. One Five Day Beard

4. One Slouching Boyish Author

Anonymous said...

I forgot to write "even Danta."
I meet people all the time that have read the Inferno and loved it. I want to add a little more.
There's this character in that Proust book "Jean Senteuil" that was like an engineer or business owner, can't remember. The guy loved Balzac, he didn't know shit about any other author, but he loved Balzac and knew Balzac like the back of his hand. I've found that many times amongst non-writers who don't know or care about the "literary world" at all. They will have read every Dickens or Hemingway book ever written and not give a shit about the literary world or really any other writers. My grandmother a useless republican benny addict was a Pearl S. Buck expert. How many teenage girls are Plath experts and how many teenage boys kerouac experts and will never become writers. And I've been in several people's houses and seen shelves with every Thompson book on it.
The fact is people like to read, but they aren't book junkies, they aren't going to search the internet for books to read. They wanna walk into the store, browse and found a book, go home, read it before Law and Order comes on, at their lunch break, while they are shitting, in their bedroom while their in-laws are over. That is how real people read books. They don't sit around and figure out their weak and strong points, they don't get a dictionary out to find out what a certain word means, they don't care about alliteration. People like character developement, characters they can relate too, plots where things actually happen, sex, drugs, booze, fast cars, big cocks, nice asses, tattoos, concrete language that conveys an image, comedy, and a vernacular they speak in.
The MFAers do nothing of that.

Anonymous said...

the previous post was by noah cicero

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