Monday, February 21, 2005

Eminent Domain and Fiction

Big in the news this morning is the fight over "eminent domain" in this country. This is where developers decide they want a local neighborhood (to build a Wal-Mart, or condos for rich people) and through their power and influence get local government to seize the property of the residents and evict them. It happens all the time.

This is the kind of battle that zeenster Anthony Rayson of South Chicago ABC Zine Distro has been fighting for many years, trying to save an area of low-income homeowners and small farmers from special interests with powerful connections (including the much lauded Obama Barack in their pocket) from seizing the land for a planned unneeded congestion-spawning airport.

"Eminent domain" was the major plotline of the greatest American novel, The Octopus by Frank Norris-- in that instance, based on a true conflict, a monopolistic railroad was fighting for land held by ranchers in California. The ranchers band together and form a "league" in their effort to save their property. The battle over eminent domain has been one of the major plotlines of American history since the beginning of this country, from the struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson to define what America would be. Jefferson wanted a nation of small farmers, small shopowners, and craftsmen. Hamilton wanted a system of monopoly-- of gigantic banks and commercial interests, fast-paced growth, large-scale trade. The battle over the ratification of the Constitution between the Federalists-- an alliance between New England trade interests and large southern plantation owners-- and the Anti-Federalists was the expression of the conflict between these two competing viewpoints. Hamilton and the Federalists of course won the fight. Imperial America which we see today, including the ongoing war in Iraq, is the natural fulfillment of his ideas.

This is a subject important to the ULA, because we see ourselves involved in the same kind of fight. The Underground Literary Alliance was created by a group of micro-scale self-publishers in an attempt to level the playing field with an art which had already been completely taken over by the forces of monopoly-- the intertwined relationships between conglomerates, academia, government, and tax-shelter foundations which cause literature to be controlled by a narrowly focused elite. It's been our contention that when you have such a System, it will be inevitably manipulated and controlled by those with the most connections, usually from the wealthiest backgrounds. The examples we've put forth (Rick Moody's control of grants panels) demonstrate the proof of our claims.

In other words, we want to open up the system and destroy the monopolies.

The cause is nothing more than the idea of independence and freedom. That's the side on which the ULA stands.

The greatest novels are those which retain their relevance. The Octopus is as relevant today as any American novel ever written. It remains a necessary read for anyone who wishes to truly understand this country and the thinking of its various people.


- Leopold said...

Great post, King. Eminent domain is a key focus point in my first novel, although I had no idea that there was this term for it. Really informative. I'll have to check out that book.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The NY Times pulled eminent domain a couple of years back for their new huge headquarters in midtown. Got a bunch of long time, profitable businesses (mostly textiles/hats/clothing if I recall) thrown out on their asses. Paid a tiny fraction of what the property is worth.

King said...

Well, I use "eminent domain" in a broad sense in my post.
The most striking thing to me about Norris's novel is the way it captures the mystical feeling of California-- which I've felt before while driving through it, and is really in the air and in every part of it. It has a unique feel unlike any other part of the country-- and is in many ways its own country. What I liked about the book is that the different characters relate to their environment in very different ways.