Friday, March 11, 2005

Beyond Hope?

I've stated that the ULA is an experiment in literary rebellion-- an attempt to prod the Beast of literary culture in order to determine exactly how corrupt it is; a way to test writers and gauge their willingness to speak out against the present system. The results aren't encouraging.

It's an indication of the closed-ranks nature of the current System of literature that those who hope to progress within it criticize it anonymously. This is accepted by everyone as a rational decision. To do otherwise could get you blacklisted! Cautious behavior that was last seen in the Soviet Union.

While it's done with subtlety, ours is as conformist a society. This is hidden by a non-stop barrage of media assuring us how non-conformist we are! Our minds are enslaved but we're the last to know. A slick trick. Television commercials tell us that to be hip we have to drink Pepsi or Coke (because these sugar-acid concoctions are "real"). To prove their non-conformity, the mass public runs out to do it. "Yo, man!" a hip-hoppin commercial pitch man yells while engaging in a series of poses. "Drink Coke. Get real."

The master of this same trick on the lit scene is Dave Eggers. He packages himself and his publications as "independent" while having simultaneously maneuvered himself, since his days at Esquire, right at the center of the conglomerate-establishment mainstream. Simply by using cute computer graphics like jumping rabbits, along with fake-witty asides sprinkled throughout the text, he was able to create for the gullible the illusion of difference. Here's a huckster who fully knows the stupidity of his audience-- targeting those who'd already spent a fortune obtaining useless M.F.A. degrees. Eggers knew: They have to be stupid! The modest success of mags like The Believer, containing a regular quota of status-quo New Yorker writers, yet packaged as the "new," proves this.

Now all he needs is some hip-hoppin' cred.

"Yo! My man Eggers be making the scene
creating for you Believer magazine
it's the shit mother-fuckers got to go right now and buy
just pays the big-time money don't be askin' me why
Not supposed to read it, that's not what it's about
Being seen at the coffeeshop with it gives you all the clout
Can't read it anyway it's just a load of shit
Geeky drawings on the cover look real bitchin'
Don't tell me these corny writers been spent too long at school!
Listen what I'm saying these rich motherfucking assholes are cool."
Etc.

(Behind the rapper in the video can be seen geeky Eggers, Franzen, Beller, Maud, and Company; dressed in baggy shorts and backward baseball caps; pointing clownishly with their fingers while ineptly trying to dance.)

33 comments:

Adam Hardin said...

If you want to get a feel for a typical MFA weblog and to undertsand why American Literature is dead, here are excerpts from the weblog of Laurel Snyder who is an Iowa MFA graduate.

Wed March 09:

Now it smells like the mediterranean, like friends will soon be stopping by, like I'm opening a bottle of Chianti Classico.

Like grad school. Sigh.

Tuesday March 08:

In other news I mulched the beds in the front yard and we bought a chainsaw. Good times.

I miss Emma.

Saturday March 05:

Lately I have been oft-occupied with PUPPIES! They are driving me nuts, but are actually pretty effing adorable. They peep and poop all day long, but even the little puddles are like, "Oh, what a cute little puddle of peep."
----

I don't make this stuff up. I don't have to.

Anonymous said...

People have been having trouble posting comments. Some times are better than others. During the week it's been taking me a long time just to log-in to Blogger.
Blame that asshole Hugh Hewitt and his book, "Blog." He's urging everyone on the planet to get their own blog-- and apparently everyone has! There seems to be a tension between the expanding volume of the Internet, and increasingly higher-speed computers to deal with it. It makes one wonder about the long-term health of the system. (Google anything lately and you get a million hits.)
-King

Anonymous said...

Testing it again. As I meant to say, during the week, blogger just seems to be overloaded. There's no problem now.
Re this post: it's point is not to be phony. Literature should be about honesty and truth. If the artist is false, so will be the art.
McSweenyites sometimes want to be authentic, but are held back by their conformist "pack." (case in point: "Smartygirl," among others.)

Anonymous said...

Most of the greatest works of literature are based on principle and driven by it, whether the principles are humane/political, scientific/technical, or sacred/idealistic. Closely observed details carefully selected and issues of inspiration and energy, style and structure all come in to play but are based on the driving, purpose-giving principles. For populists, these principles are rooted in the values of the people, values such as freedom, justice, loyalty (or solidarity), equality—in other words some of the key values this country was founded on, and key values of democratic movements and struggles the world over—values and principles that are spelled out in much more detail in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which aims to guarantee what we all want: meaningful employment (and leisure), real education and educational opportunities, guaranteed health care, adequate standard of living, personal safety and security, and so on.

These principles go far beyond those laid out in the ULA manifesto, which in its main focus dissents from the style, manner, and general corruption of the literary establishment but does not express much solidarity with the great historic and current populist movements and ideals of humankind. This is a severe limitation of ULA, it seems to me.

ULA is highly political when taking on the lit establishment. But outside of lit politics, it has no formal commitment, and not much specific expression of solidarity, as revealed in the manifesto and other official statements, and not much spontaneous political direction toward progressive social change, as laid out, say, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Karl has emphasized ULA is an officially apolitical group, whose members are free to be political without organizational commitment. And the vast majority of the ULA writings that I've seen also reveal very limited commitments to anything political beyond lit politics—which is a fairly marginal area of human activity. Does ULA really want to be officially relegated to these margins?

As Stephen Duncombe has pointed out, to this point, the zine "movement," or phenomenon is by and large not organizationally strong—and by and large doesn't want to be—and is not very political either, and by and large doesn't want to be. So while, call it, grassroots "people's lit" like ULA and zines are worth supporting and fostering in general (as long as it’s not Nazi wacko stuff of course), the zine movement and the ULA is formally depoliticized—which can only make the powers that be extremely happy.

And so I think the depoliticization is unfortunate—and likely even undermining of potential ULA success. Why would ordinary people who are working and struggling for their human rights and basic dignity on the job and elsewhere, or who are dying to do so, why would they, why should they bother with a group that won’t itself officially express much of any specific solidarity with the common, popular struggle? Why would they, why should they join forces with such a group?

I think the underdog ULA can only benefit from an infusion of a more broad and more basic political element, including the political ideals and life basics, say, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/rights/50/decla.htm). Frank Norris and Jack London, etc., were all for incorporating such vision and life, ideals and principles in lit. They were very strongly focused on it, far more so than ULA, it seems to me. Who needs another bunch of narcissistic or retrograde writers, of any class, with no vision much larger than their own individual often largely asocial selves? A danger most any writer or group of writers may run. Fortunately ULA in its declared official standards rises above this, including even a few broad political principles, as laid out in its manifesto. But the manifesto doesn’t begin to adequately address common populist principles and basic human standards that have long been central to a rich

Tony Christini said...

Most of the greatest works of literature are based on principle and driven by it, whether the principles are humane/political, scientific/technical, or sacred/idealistic. Closely observed details carefully selected and issues of inspiration and energy, style and structure all come in to play but are based on the driving, purpose-giving principles. For populists, these principles are rooted in the values of the people, values such as freedom, justice, loyalty (or solidarity), equality—in other words some of the key values this country was founded on, and key values of democratic movements and struggles the world over—values and principles that are spelled out in much more detail in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which aims to guarantee what we all want: meaningful employment (and leisure), real education and educational opportunities, guaranteed health care, adequate standard of living, personal safety and security, and so on.

These principles go far beyond those laid out in the ULA manifesto, which in its main focus dissents from the style, manner, and general corruption of the literary establishment but does not express much solidarity with the great historic and current populist movements and ideals of humankind. This is a severe limitation of ULA, it seems to me.

ULA is highly political when taking on the lit establishment. But outside of lit politics, it has no formal commitment, and not much specific expression of solidarity, as revealed in the manifesto and other official statements, and not much spontaneous political direction toward progressive social change, as laid out, say, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Karl has emphasized ULA is an officially apolitical group, whose members are free to be political without organizational commitment. And the vast majority of the ULA writings that I've seen also reveal very limited commitments to anything political beyond lit politics—which is a fairly marginal area of human activity. Does ULA really want to be officially relegated to these margins?

As Stephen Duncombe has pointed out, to this point, the zine "movement," or phenomenon is by and large not organizationally strong—and by and large doesn't want to be—and is not very political either, and by and large doesn't want to be. So while, call it, grassroots "people's lit" like ULA and zines are worth supporting and fostering in general (as long as it’s not Nazi wacko stuff of course), the zine movement and the ULA is formally depoliticized—which can only make the powers that be extremely happy.

And so I think the depoliticization is unfortunate—and likely even undermining of potential ULA success. Why would ordinary people who are working and struggling for their human rights and basic dignity on the job and elsewhere, or who are dying to do so, why would they, why should they bother with a group that won’t itself officially express much of any specific solidarity with the common, popular struggle? Why would they, why should they join forces with such a group?

I think the underdog ULA can only benefit from an infusion of a more broad and more basic political element, including the political ideals and life basics, say, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/rights/50/decla.htm). Frank Norris and Jack London, etc., were all for incorporating such vision and life, ideals and principles in lit. They were very strongly focused on it, far more so than ULA, it seems to me. Who needs another bunch of narcissistic or retrograde writers, of any class, with no vision much larger than their own individual often largely asocial selves? A danger most any writer or group of writers may run. Fortunately ULA in its declared official standards rises above this, including even a few broad political principles, as laid out in its manifesto. But the manifesto doesn’t begin to adequately address common populist principles and basic human standards that have long been central to a rich and vital literary tradition, prominently including Norris and London themselves, a lively, fascinating and powerful tradition that has never been more needed or gripping than it is and may be today.

ULA, where do you stand? ULAers, what great projects of principle—inspired by the people and given wing by the muses—are you working on? What compelling works are you prepared to undertake today?

Tony Christini said...

More posting difficulty. My post apparently first got chopped off but simultaneously was posted in full immediately below itself. Hopefully this short post will show up as intended.

Tony Christini said...

More posting difficulty. My post apparently first got chopped off but simultaneously was posted in full immediately below itself. Hopefully this short post will show up as intended.

Marissa Ranello said...

I'm so tired of hearing that ULA members are "impressionable wanna-be-writers," who lack fully formed opinions. I'm so sick of pseudo-intellectuals anonymously posting unusual and ugly "critiques" of ULA works.

I guess evil grows in dark corners, not in the full glare of the public-eye.

For some reason, there's this seductive simplicity to "bashing" the ULA. Are people frightened by the plurality of our ideas and opinions? At times our opinions will offend--but this is the nature of the new. There are no cynical political strategies, we've never strayed from our important principles, nor have we ever denied the entry of new ideas.

Most of us, as Karl was once quoted saying, "are broke, so a lot of our tactics are formed out of necessity." Unlike the great writer Norris, I can not afford to go to Paris, nor will I study at Harvard. In addition, my home will never be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, like a vacation-home of Norris'. I suppose the world is over-full of 'Ceaux dont le rĂªve obscur salit tout ce qu'il touche' ("those whose hidden dream stains all that it touches").

Tony [Christini] asked:

"Why would ordinary people who are working and struggling for their human rights and basic dignity on the job and elsewhere, or who are dying to do so, why would they, why should they bother with a group that won’t itself officially express much of any specific solidarity with the common, popular struggle?"

I'm a writer, my goal is to produce literature that is relevant to the lives of "real people." Hence, my specific focus is on the literary establishment, not "human rights" (whereas I would have joined Amnesty International). While "populists" have long been afforded a special status in history, I refuse to identify with the term "populist." I know Karl has been quoted as saying [on behalf of the ULA] "We’re populist. We want to publicize underground writers. We want literature to get back to its roots.” I don't intend to contradict Karl--I just hate that term. When I think of "populism," I look back to 1988 and see former KKK leader, David Duke (a conflicted and unstable political phenomenon).

But, how clear can ULA members "spell out" their values and principles? I'm an anti-elitist, who's goal is to aggressively dismantle the "current system of literature." I believe we all make an effort to "projects of principle." Outside of the group, most of us are individuals who contribute time and effort into literary projects. Why do I do this? Because I know that writers that go unpublished [in any medium] will never nurture growth in language or literature. I'm not a savior, I'm not Mighty-Mouse, I'm not tooting my own horn. I'm just a digital citizen.

Anonymous said...

The problem with political ideologies is that they subordinate human reality to abstract principles. One could say that many in the ULA are alienated. The left would ask them to see this alienation as symptom of a larger problem. The democratization of literature that the ULA is working towards would allow them to express this alienation as it is lived by them.

Tony Christini said...

Anyone who follows this weblog or who has even glanced at my writing knows that the type of populism I speak of is progressive populism, which has nothing to do with reactionary, oppressive movements.

Also, the main reason I referred to Norris was because Karl resonates to his writing. There is much that is accomplished and important in Norris' writing, though there are plently of flaws there too, in my opinion.

What about Jack London, who came up from nothing, maintained contact with his roots, and also engaged in progressive popular social change, and sometimes incorporated it into his writing, most fully in the Iron Heel? Even if there were no London (and there are others, Tillie Olsen, for one), it shouldn't be too hard to imagine writers who have a vision larger than existing social reality, and values and principles to match. Far from "tooting your own horn," being "Mighty-Mouse," or a "savior," to me it simply seems like common sense for writers to have a vision larger than reality, much the same as entrepreneurs and idealists do (or a fertile mix of the two), of which there are very, very many in the working classes, and elsewhere.

If ULA chooses to officially strictly limit itself to challenging the lit establishment, and to singing the song of certain types of existing social and private realities, rather than bringing into being a fuller expression of human being and aspiration, and rather than making basic challenges to the fundamental systems of power that support and facilitate the lit establishment, that's ULA's choice. More power to it in carrying out its work. ULA would officially have to broaden its principles of operation and writing if it wants to take on more.

Tony Christini said...

Anyone who follows this weblog or who has even glanced at my writing knows that the type of populism I speak of is progressive populism, which has nothing to do with reactionary, oppressive movements.

Also, the main reason I referred to Norris was because Karl resonates to his writing. There is much that is accomplished and important in Norris' writing, though there are plently of flaws there too, in my opinion.

What about Jack London, who came up from nothing, maintained contact with his roots, and also engaged in progressive popular social change, and sometimes incorporated it into his writing, most fully in the Iron Heel? Even if there were no London (and there are others, Tillie Olsen, for one), it shouldn't be too hard to imagine writers who have a vision larger than existing social reality, and values and principles to match. Far from "tooting your own horn," being "Mighty-Mouse," or a "savior," to me it simply seems like common sense for writers to have a vision larger than reality, much the same as entrepreneurs and idealists do (or a fertile mix of the two), of which there are very, very many in the working classes, and elsewhere.

If ULA chooses to officially strictly limit itself to challenging the lit establishment, and to singing the song of certain types of existing social and private realities, rather than bringing into being a fuller expression of human being and aspiration, and rather than making basic challenges to the fundamental systems of power that support and facilitate the lit establishment, that's ULA's choice. More power to it in carrying out its work. ULA would officially have to broaden its principles of operation and writing if it wants to take on more.

Anonymous said...

Can I be honest with you good people.

Jack London, everytime you mention the name Jack London, I laugh out loud.

Stop it please. My stomach is cramping up too bad from the mention of his name. Tolstoy and Jack London? Christ I made myself laugh.

Anonymous said...

Tony can't seem to accept the ULA for what it is, trying to turn a zebra into a donkey. We are what we are. Not everyone should attack the system in the same way. Our strategy is organic, a natural outgrowth of D-I-Y philosophy. I happen to believe it's the best answer for cultural problems in this society.
Trying to jam this diverse movement into a narrow, intellectually rigid political ideology would be a mistake.
-KW

Jeff Potter said...

The ULA is a group of independents. This duality gives us our impact. Without it we're nothing, just a gang.

The ULA is a way to amplify what WE do.

So, Tony: you're free to launch some art, some project and see if it resonates with us. Well, first work to become a member if you like. Then do something politically progressive as a ULAer! (Forgive me if you're already on-board. I'm still on deadline and miss/forget some of these things.)

The ULA does NOT exist to be told what we should be doing. DO SOMETHING then invite and convince us to join in. (The convincing would come by showing us results, traction.)

We do nothing FOR anyone. We work WITH each other.

Now, my own take is that we're not here to hassle the Lit Establishment. We're affecting things SO FAR past them it's silly. They're so far outta the loop, whew! We're here to revive Lit, to spark it up, to get it to the people, to boost some READERS. And as a result of our belief that reading is more important than voting, our result will be to boost society overall by way of reviving populist reading. Of course along the way we're MOPPING up the Lit Est. But that's just an inevitable side effect. See?

So don't nobody say we're aiming too low.

(I'm 80% done with the Catazeen launch of ULA PRESS now. Just 2 more articles, then it's ad-sales > print > mail > phone.)

Noah Cicero said...

Tony, Karl and I have been talking about politics the last few days. we share the same views. I asked if I could write something up political and he said yes. I've read a good amount of ULA lit and know their views also. It will not be pro republican, democrat, znet, anarchist, or Marxist. it will be a synthesis of all of them. For most poltical issues aren't political issues but issues to get votes. And it will be the first time in history the lower classes have created their own poltical manifesto. So dont worry, it is coming.
It will also be important because ULA writers are all saying the same things politically in their writings but I am not they know it, so it will be to notify that there is an actual ideology coming out of our writings.

Jeff Potter said...

As a ULAer, what Noah posts or writes is the voice of the ULA *and* his voice.

I'd be happy to see a prog/pol essay or MR from Tony, why not.

To me this is different from saying the ULA should do this or that. It's doing something and/or reporting on it. If it comes from a ULAer and gets traction then it becomes part of the ULA.

The situation kinda reminds me of how a ULA ally (nonmember) once declared how we were doing X all wrong, and that he was an X expert, and that we should do Y&Z. Well, I said SHOW US. He got psyched and put his project into action. He stepped on out and ACTED. Kudos to him! He's out at the 90th percentile right there. But, so far, only bad results, so we aren't going to imitate him QUITE YET nor are we accepting his view of expertise ranking. I hope he keeps TRYING.

Tony Christini said...

I make a few suggestions, do some analysis, and suddenly I'm "telling" people in ULA what they “should be doing"? I don't think so. And I'm trying to turn "Zebras into Donkeys"? Tell me, what's the going rate for that? And I think "everyone should attack the system in the same way"? I don't think so. And I'm in favor of "a narrow, intellectually rigid political ideology"? My goodness, I've been busy, very foolishly so, unbeknownst to myself.

Again, I've simply explained that I think ULA could officially intensify what it is already doing and expand and improve upon that to boot. Those are ideas and suggestions, not advice and directives, obviously, that I have put out for discussion. Discussion--a key idea-generating mode. And remember I have joined a previously existing discussion (as is sort of indicated in Noah's post), have not even had the temerity to start a new one, and my comments follow directly up on these recent thoughts of Karl's in a recent post:

"I've been satisfied that the ULA is merely more radical than anything else on the lit-scene, without being extreme. We can go way farther. Should we re-consider our strategy?"

Was I foolish to take you seriously? Regardless, you’ll have to forgive my daring to respond with the expectation that my words would not be hopelessly distorted, per above.

Why anyone would have to ask someone else in the group if they could write something up is beyond me, Noah. Doesn’t seem right to me, and that doesn’t sound like something Karl would approve of either, so I wonder if you actually mean what you wrote, and have no way of knowing what you mean. Also, I do not think "ULA writers are" or should be "all saying the same things politically in their writings." That doesn't seem to me to be desirable either, or even possible, and I really don’t know what you mean by it. There's a big difference between agreeing to formal principles and then turning writers loose in their own writings where some of those principles may well come into conflict with one another. Moreover, the literary focus of ULA is far broader than politics, and literary motives may well conflict at times with political motives. I've never suggested that ULA reign in its literary motives at the expense of any political motives or direction.


My main point is that it seems to me that it would be both beneficial and important if some ULAers would be broadly and fundamentally political, in a progressive sense, _in addition_ to what ULA does currently--not utterly in place of. ULA is in many ways an apolitical organization. I’ve never said throw that out. Quite the contrary.

Jeff Potter said...

TC: "My main point is that it seems to me that it would be both beneficial and important if some ULAers would be broadly and fundamentally political,..."

My point is that they're already free to do this and report back.

I suppose we'd want it tied to Lit somehow, but we're not totally strict on that. I mean, we don't run sports columns, but if there was a populist tie-in or some lesson we could learn from sports (or whatever) for what we're doing, then we'd go for it.

We may be touchy about suggestions because so many are talk without action. Perhaps they'd go over better if presented in terms of "I tried this and here's how it worked for me so you guys might consider it."

Jeff Potter said...

*THE VIEW OF NOVELS TODAY*

Twice in the last couple days I came across fakey presentations of Lit. One was actually real (on NPR) the other in a movie. Both had the same approach and both rung wrong for me.

Here's what it was: they spoke about the characters as if they were real, alive. It's like their whole artistic experience was emotional and sentimental...and false.

I'm a reader, not a writer (not a novelist anyway). And I may be way off here. But! I don't think that real writers make readers think of a character as if they were real people. I mean, these people spoke of characters as if they were ready to call 911 if they got in trouble.

A character should hit you, be memorable, bring something new to you, but I've never sensed that I was meant to consider them to be real.

Basically, I think that quite a few old or MFA-style conceits are just totally passe, weak and useless. I just laugh when I read a dust-jacket that says something like "Dan finds that his job is dull. Jackie no longer excites him. Rob and Sarah, their neighbors, show them something new. But when a stranger appears in a hot air balloon, all their lives are changed. And when son Ricky is hit by a car, nothing is the same again." (I saw one like this.)

It's even worse when I then hear these characters being discussed as if real. I can see a book making one cry, say, but not as if someone really got hit by a car. You'd be moved by the art. And you'd discuss the art, the intention, to discuss what happened.

Oh well. It's hard to describe but something sticks in my craw.

Tony Christini said...

In response to Jeff's comment that ULA writers are already free to be political--the point I emphasized throughout my recent postings is that I think it would be beneficial, also important, for ULA to _officially_ embrace what I see as a broader, deeper set of principals. I suppose I left it a little unclear at the end of my most recent post, which Jeff replied directly to.

About the effectiveness of what I've tried, it's not just about what I've found success with personally. Though as far as that goes, I've published in various places, through politically progressive organizations that ULA has either not successfully published through or has not tried to, as far as I'm aware: places such as Znet, Counterpunch, Texas Observer and others.... So even my personal results expand on places where ULA has gained access/exposure, but the main point is that many human rights organizations and many other politically progressive organizations reach far far more people to far far greater cultural, etc., impact than most sheer lit organizations. So I can only see that adding basic human rights lit principles, operations, and writings officially to ULA would help ULA strategically. And help ULA in a way that ULA already has some considerable sympathy with. I also think adding such principles should be done on principle itself. Plus it makes sense to formally affiliate with one of the most dynamic (let alone important) literary traditions (the politically progressive) that this country and the world has ever known.

Tony Christini said...

In response to Jeff's comment that ULA writers are already free to be political--the point I emphasized throughout my recent postings is that I think it would be beneficial, also important, for ULA to _officially_ embrace what I see as a broader, deeper set of principals. I suppose I left it a little unclear at the end of my most recent post, which Jeff replied directly to.

About the effectiveness of what I've tried, it's not just about what I've found success with personally. Though as far as that goes, I've published in various places, through politically progressive organizations that ULA has either not successfully published through or has not tried to, as far as I'm aware: places such as Znet, Counterpunch, Texas Observer and others.... So even my personal results expand on places where ULA has gained access/exposure, but the main point is that many human rights organizations and many other politically progressive organizations reach far far more people to far far greater cultural, etc., impact than most sheer lit organizations. So I can only see that adding basic human rights lit principles, operations, and writings officially to ULA would help ULA strategically. And help ULA in a way that ULA already has some considerable sympathy with. I also think adding such principles should be done on principle itself. Plus it makes sense to formally affiliate with one of the most dynamic (let alone important) literary traditions (the politically progressive) that this country and the world has ever known.

Noah Cicero said...

Tony,
"Also, I do not think "ULA writers are" or should be "all saying the same things politically in their writings."
There are common social themes exhibited among the ULA writers. That is what will be expresed, that is all.
Why wouldn't we all have the same ideas, we are all from the same class being oppressed by the same problems. How could we not have very similiar ideas. We have the same things provoking us to come to those conclusions.

Mark ONeil said...

King -- your blog is exactly what I expected, which means I like it. As always your points are valid but I have a slightly different perspective I'd like to add to the mix.

Both you, King, and the McSweeny's folks are looking at the problem from the perspective that literature is something you can have a career in. I'd have to say that's where I differ from all of you. I don't think writing should be a career. I don't think people should be trained in it and given special advanced degrees in school, I don't think people should make money at it and I don't think there should even be an underground scene. I think the Internet is going to blow all of that right out of the water giving everyone equal ability to publish writing. That means the elitists will fade away but so will the underground.

Writers should not write for money or fame or even just to make a living. Get a real job, contribute to the real world, meet real people out there, and write on the side, as you can manage. Sure, you get less 'studied' literature but I also think you'd get more genuine and more real writing.

And kill Public Grants. If Private Foundations want to give out grants that's their business but the Government should not. It's not that I think it should be a 'level playing field' -- I don't think it should even be a playing field. Being a writer should be a mental disorder -- not a career.

Anonymous said...

TC: "So I can only see that adding basic human rights lit principles, operations, and writings officially to ULA would help ULA strategically. And help ULA in a way that ULA already has some considerable sympathy with. "

This sounds good, but still implies a certain ideological stance and set of political principles that are antithetical to art. (Just what are "basic human rights lit principles"?) This opens the Pandora's Box of politicized nonsense and ineffectual, pseudo-liberal idealism.

The real issues are much simpler. Here's a sampling of what's at stake:

1. Why do millionaire writers receive taxpayer-funded need-based grants as resume padding?

2. Why can a no-talent like Foer write a book with crayon sketches and stupid photographs of the inside of a bodega and be heralded as a "brilliant writer"? He's neither.

The politics of publishing are disgusting, corrupt, vile, evil, and deserving of screaming derision and mockery, which I'm proud to say the ULA is a healthy part of. Mockery, derision, and loud guffaws are needed, not more lame banners and marches on the "rights" of the "people."

Too many lit darlings suck dead dog's ass. And they deserved to be mocked to oblivion. THAT'S politics.

Tim Hall

Tony Christini said...

Interspersed below for clarity at the arrows (-->), my comments on Tim's points.
-Tony

TC: "So I can only see that adding basic human rights lit principles, operations, and writings officially to ULA would help ULA strategically. And help ULA in a way that ULA already has some considerable sympathy with. "

This sounds good, but still implies a certain ideological stance and set of political principles that are antithetical to art.

--> Call it an ideologial stance if you like, but the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights just seem like common decency, common sense to me. In any case many great writers do express an "ideological stance," if you want to call it that in their writing. Ideological stances that express the importance of justice or freedom or dignity; notions that this country was founded on at its best, along with other democracies, and that are expressed and detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; notions that have spurred and given purpose, shape, style and substance to much of the best writing ever written. There's a long literary tradition of this which I've documented in detail. ULA would do well to recognize and embrace an ever more significant role in this tradition, in my opinion.

(Just what are "basic human rights lit principles"?)

--> Literature, simply writing and art, that is an outgrowth of the great principles of humanity. Surely you don't think Whitman and Dickens and Balzac and George Eliot and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy wrote about their cities and lands because they thought it was all really exciting. They were excited about their life experience and knowledge but also very intent in work after work in expressing various ideals and principles and corrective or enlightening purposes--sometimes unfortunately reactionary, often liberal, sometimes progressive--the various ideals and principles that are often referred to as human rights today. Jack London's Iron Heel is one of the most progressive works in this regard, I've noted (probably too much by now; it's just a personal favorite of mine and may not resonate with others).

This opens the Pandora's Box of politicized nonsense and ineffectual, pseudo-liberal idealism.

--> Tell that to Tolstoy, Eliot, Whitman, Dickens, also Twain in much of Huckleberry Finn, let alone Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath, Heller in Catch-22, etc., etc., and so on.

The real issues are much simpler. Here's a sampling of what's at stake:

1. Why do millionaire writers receive taxpayer-funded need-based grants as resume padding?

2. Why can a no-talent like Foer write a book with crayon sketches and stupid photographs of the inside of a bodega and be heralded as a "brilliant writer"? He's neither.

The politics of publishing are disgusting, corrupt, vile, evil, and deserving of screaming derision and mockery, which I'm proud to say the ULA is a healthy part of. Mockery, derision, and loud guffaws are needed, not more lame banners and marches on the "rights" of the "people."

Too many lit darlings suck dead dog's ass. And they deserved to be mocked to oblivion. THAT'S politics.

--> Yes that is politics, as I've noted repeatedly. And there's plenty more politics in literature and to literature that extends beyond the literary establishment and that also reaches deeply into peoples' daily lives. And the many "human rights" movements and other such work are saving many peoples' lives and protecting and improving living conditions everywhere. And what tremendous stories those are.

Tony Christini said...

I think Jeff makes some important points in his "View of Novels" post. Important for readers but also even moreso for writers.

I agree that with effective, powerful art, often "You'd be moved by the art. And you'd discuss the art, the intention, to discuss what happened." And also in many discussions I've had with all sorts of people from many different backgrounds, we've discussed the values and the principles of the work of art, (often as expressed in various characters, othertimes as expressed in evident authorial or narrative intention and expression, and sometimes in spite of apparent authorial intention). You can't skip discussion or avoid noticing the broad and pointed human values and principles that are revealed--intentionally or not by the author--in any work of art, especially in those writings, many of them very good, where the author bases the whole work on some few organizing principles and ideals, some overall purpose that gives the work shape, substance, direction, energy.

In The Responsibilities of the Novelist, Frank Norris for one, in part, gives his take on the purposeful and often principled nature of novels and novel writing:

"‘The novel must not preach,’ you hear them say. As though it were possible to write a novel without a purpose, even if it is only the purpose to amuse. One is willing to admit that this savors a little of quibbling, for ‘purpose’ and purpose to amuse are two different purposes. But every novel, even the most frivolous, must have some reason for the writing of it, and in that sense must have a ‘purpose’. Every novel must do one of three things—it must tell something, (2) show something, or (3) prove something. Some novels do all three of these; some do only two; all must do at least one…. The third, and what we hold to be the best class, proves something, draws conclusions from a whole congeries of forces, social tendencies, race impulses, devotes itself not to a study of men but of man. In this class falls the novel with the purpose, such as ‘Les Miserables’. And the reason we decide upon this last as the highest form of the novel is because that, though setting a great purpose before it as its task, it nevertheless includes, and is forced to include, both the other classes…. [The novel] may be a great force, that works together with the pulpit and the universities for the good of the people, fearlessly proving that power is abused, that the strong grind the faces of the weak, that an evil tree is still growing in the midst of the garden, that undoing follows hard upon unrighteousness, that the course of Empire is not yet finished, and that the races of men have yet to work out their destiny in those great and terrible movements that crush and grind and rend asunder the pillars of the houses of the nations" (203-207).

Characters themselves are embodiments of certain distinct values or principles--conscious or not--combined with other traits, distinguishing "characteristics." Recognition and appreciation of "character" can be enjoyable and valuable but should not cause readers, or writers, to lose sight of the bigger picture within which characters are only parts, though often the most visible, dynamic, and memorable parts that usually express, or should express and reveal, a lot beyond themselves.

King said...

(I'm having trouble getting on my blog again.)
My remark about zebras is best illustrated by the comment of Stephen Duncombe's given on this thread-- his apparent frustration that zeensters aren't "organized" enough for him. He seems surprised that a zebra has stripes-- and also is unable to see that it can still move around, despite this apparent handicap.
What we have with Duncombe and zines is a clash of different mentalities. He lives in a vertical, hierarchically arranged world. Zinedom has been horizontal in make-up. The difference is akin to Westernized whites encountering American Indians, and wondering where the "chiefs" or leaders are. Or the difference between early Christianity, when the movement was seemingly disorganized and communal, and the later hierarchical codified version instituted by Constantine which represented a sea change in mindset from Jesus's thinking.
Duncombe looked at the zeen phenomenon from a distance, as an outsider. To look for understanding of zeens from him is the same as going to academic authorities or "experts" like Bernard Lewis for understanding of the Mideast, instead of to the source, Arabs themselves. I'm not saying the first way is wrong-- just emphasizing that it's a different approach.
Proclamations from international organizations-- declarations from bureaucracies propounded from on high-- are not right or wrong from the ULA's point-of-view, in my estimation. They're simply irrelevant to our grass-roots, from-the-ground-up movement.
Re my own role in the ULA. I see it akin to that of Sitting Bull sitting in his tent. ULAers can follow or not follow what I say-- it's up to them. But I hope my words carry some weight! In part because I've been debating these questions with ULAers and non_ULA zeensters since the ULA was founded. The ULA's former #2, Doug Bassett, for instance, believed we were being too political, getting away too far from our focus on literature. Another founding member thinks we shouldn't even list "Officers" on our fan site. (Though I don't think we take the titles too seriously.)
I've had exchanges by mail on the topic of organization and politics with such zeen icons as Violet Jones, and with the most renowned zeenster of them all, Aaron Cometbus. The ideas I express here aren't formed in a vacuum.
One thing for all to remember is that the biggest influence on the rise of "zines" in the 90's was punk music. Influences on my own thinking are Sam Phillips, the movie "Jailhouse Rock," the Nuggets collection-- even Little Steven's "Underground Garage" radio show (which was on last night). These are far bigger influences for me in my thinking than anything political.
For the underground to influence the culture it will have to stress the cultural aspect, in my opinion.
I know this: The original ULA I put together was a "super group" of zeensters. We had two very bright thinkers in Doug and Joe Smith. We had three extremely charismatic personalities with Michael Jackman, Steve K., and Ann. The energy and excitement was there. For the short time we were able to work together we achieved a lot.
We've added a lot of members since. Maybe this year we'll see what we can do in the excitement and charisma department. This is WAY more key to the ULA's eventual success than these endless questions about politics.
(If there's a demand from the bulk of the membership to become political, we'll address that. Otherwise we have other priorities.)
-KW

King said...

(I'm having trouble getting on my blog again.)
My remark about zebras is best illustrated by the comment of Stephen Duncombe's given on this thread-- his apparent frustration that zeensters aren't "organized" enough for him. He seems surprised that a zebra has stripes-- and also is unable to see that it can still move around, despite this apparent handicap.
What we have with Duncombe and zines is a clash of different mentalities. He lives in a vertical, hierarchically arranged world. Zinedom has been horizontal in make-up. The difference is akin to Westernized whites encountering American Indians, and wondering where the "chiefs" or leaders are. Or the difference between early Christianity, when the movement was seemingly disorganized and communal, and the later hierarchical codified version instituted by Constantine which represented a sea change in mindset from Jesus's thinking.
Duncombe looked at the zeen phenomenon from a distance, as an outsider. To look for understanding of zeens from him is the same as going to academic authorities or "experts" like Bernard Lewis for understanding of the Mideast, instead of to the source, Arabs themselves. I'm not saying the first way is wrong-- just emphasizing that it's a different approach.
Proclamations from international organizations-- declarations from bureaucracies propounded from on high-- are not right or wrong from the ULA's point-of-view, in my estimation. They're simply irrelevant to our grass-roots, from-the-ground-up movement.
Re my own role in the ULA. I see it akin to that of Sitting Bull sitting in his tent. ULAers can follow or not follow what I say-- it's up to them. But I hope my words carry some weight! In part because I've been debating these questions with ULAers and non_ULA zeensters since the ULA was founded. The ULA's former #2, Doug Bassett, for instance, believed we were being too political, getting away too far from our focus on literature. Another founding member thinks we shouldn't even list "Officers" on our fan site. (Though I don't think we take the titles too seriously.)
I've had exchanges by mail on the topic of organization and politics with such zeen icons as Violet Jones, and with the most renowned zeenster of them all, Aaron Cometbus. The ideas I express here aren't formed in a vacuum.
One thing for all to remember is that the biggest influence on the rise of "zines" in the 90's was punk music. Influences on my own thinking are Sam Phillips, the movie "Jailhouse Rock," the Nuggets collection-- even Little Steven's "Underground Garage" radio show (which was on last night). These are far bigger influences for me in my thinking than anything political.
For the underground to influence the culture it will have to stress the cultural aspect, in my opinion.
I know this: The original ULA I put together was a "super group" of zeensters. We had two very bright thinkers in Doug and Joe Smith. We had three extremely charismatic personalities with Michael Jackman, Steve K., and Ann. The energy and excitement was there. For the short time we were able to work together we achieved a lot.
We've added a lot of members since. Maybe this year we'll see what we can do in the excitement and charisma department. This is WAY more key to the ULA's eventual success than these endless questions about politics.
(If there's a demand from the bulk of the membership to become political, we'll address that. Otherwise we have other priorities.)
-KW

King said...

(I'm having trouble getting on my blog again.)
My remark about zebras is best illustrated by the comment of Stephen Duncombe's given on this thread-- his apparent frustration that zeensters aren't "organized" enough for him. He seems surprised that a zebra has stripes-- and also is unable to see that it can still move around, despite this apparent handicap.
What we have with Duncombe and zines is a clash of different mentalities. He lives in a vertical, hierarchically arranged world. Zinedom has been horizontal in make-up. The difference is akin to Westernized whites encountering American Indians, and wondering where the "chiefs" or leaders are. Or the difference between early Christianity, when the movement was seemingly disorganized and communal, and the later hierarchical codified version instituted by Constantine which represented a sea change in mindset from Jesus's thinking.
Duncombe looked at the zeen phenomenon from a distance, as an outsider. To look for understanding of zeens from him is the same as going to academic authorities or "experts" like Bernard Lewis for understanding of the Mideast, instead of to the source, Arabs themselves. I'm not saying the first way is wrong-- just emphasizing that it's a different approach.
Proclamations from international organizations-- declarations from bureaucracies propounded from on high-- are not right or wrong from the ULA's point-of-view, in my estimation. They're simply irrelevant to our grass-roots, from-the-ground-up movement.
Re my own role in the ULA. I see it akin to that of Sitting Bull sitting in his tent. ULAers can follow or not follow what I say-- it's up to them. But I hope my words carry some weight! In part because I've been debating these questions with ULAers and non_ULA zeensters since the ULA was founded. The ULA's former #2, Doug Bassett, for instance, believed we were being too political, getting away too far from our focus on literature. Another founding member thinks we shouldn't even list "Officers" on our fan site. (Though I don't think we take the titles too seriously.)
I've had exchanges by mail on the topic of organization and politics with such zeen icons as Violet Jones, and with the most renowned zeenster of them all, Aaron Cometbus. The ideas I express here aren't formed in a vacuum.
One thing for all to remember is that the biggest influence on the rise of "zines" in the 90's was punk music. Influences on my own thinking are Sam Phillips, the movie "Jailhouse Rock," the Nuggets collection-- even Little Steven's "Underground Garage" radio show (which was on last night). These are far bigger influences for me in my thinking than anything political.
For the underground to influence the culture it will have to stress the cultural aspect, in my opinion.
I know this: The original ULA I put together was a "super group" of zeensters. We had two very bright thinkers in Doug and Joe Smith. We had three extremely charismatic personalities with Michael Jackman, Steve K., and Ann. The energy and excitement was there. For the short time we were able to work together we achieved a lot.
We've added a lot of members since. Maybe this year we'll see what we can do in the excitement and charisma department. This is WAY more key to the ULA's eventual success than these endless questions about politics.
(If there's a demand from the bulk of the membership to become political, we'll address that. Otherwise we have other priorities.)
-KW

Jeff Potter said...

Tim says politics opens Pandora. Tony says tell that to (a bunch of great writers). The ULA point is that you could NEVER have told Whitman, Twain and Orwell to all march under some same banner or project-rule. Their work is guided by indy freedom, that's the only 'banner' that works. They LEAD banners, not run under them.

I suppose we could add a tag at our site that says the ULA believes in human dignity. No, Tony is suggesting more. He's saying we should reach out to the progressives. But our work by definition already reaches out to them. It includes them. It shows them what and why they're doing what they do. And we've reported that we do indeed let them know what we're doing. They have no interest. Yeah, it's weird. But WEIRD ON THEM, NOT US. This shows how THEY fall short.

We got on the cover of the NYT and in their line-up of hottest lit-scenes not by reaching out to the NYT! They dug around and SAW who the coolest were and didn't want to be LEFT BEHIND and they included us because they did their job in this case.

The progressives need us, in short, not the other way around. They need to learn from us.

Coz they fell on their faces. For one thing.

There's really nothing more we could do. As independents. --There's the rub, eh? Which exposes THEM.

I don't like this idea of appealing to a demographic. Sure, the progressives have a membership of "X" that might click on our banners at their websites. BUT THEY LOST. And what about people who AREN'T under their banner? WHITMAN INCLUDED THEM, TOO, AND SO DO WE.

I wouldn't be surprised if they lost because of their stupid and wrong CLUBBINESS. They need help if they're going to win next time. We have what they need.

Sure, the Reps won because they had better (lame) clubbiness. But the whole club thing is a teetertotter of disaster that I won't ride. Now, an indy club is a different bird...

Sure, we have class consciousness---and powerful people better pick some up, too, if they know what's good for them. My own view is that they can and some of them do. I personally don't exclude them and their work. So, sure there's a split, a war, but I include everyone under my banner, making banners silly.

Sure, our work is about regular people, or real experience at any rate. In my view it's not FOR any KIND of person. It's for everyone. Who's willing. (The matter of will ends up leaving out the mob, however.)

Tim says we don't need more banners or marches. Right on. Brings to mind a crazy thing that happened to me once in my zeening. So I'm selling out (over and over) copies of my popular indy all-culture OYB zeen at this bookstore. An old acquaintance clerk comes up to me and says "Do you want to run a story about the March on Washington? Here are some pics." He shows me pics of hippies and banners. I said Cool, hey, if someone gave me a story about their experience at the march, I might run it, if the story was good, if something happened to them that readers could learn from and enjoy. But I don't, like, promote events in my zeen, I promote life. It's particulars that reach out to the general that I'm after. That dude never spoke (willingly) to me again. Come to think of it, he never did in the first place. He only approached me because he thought I'd help his cause. If I wasn't waving his banner I was nothing to him. So much for humanity.

Man, am I windy. Man, I gotta get back to the Catazeen... Crap, I have to ship 5 store orders first... I mean, that's a good thing, but HARD in the middle of a deadline.

King said...

I'd like to just add that the rise of rock n' roll in the 50's was an explosion of working class talent, which shook up the bourgeois world.
(Even the main entrepreneurs, Sam Phillips, Alan Freed, Dick Clark, Berry Gordy Jr., were working class dudes at the outset.)
Not until Bob Dylan's rise did intellectuals give rock any cred at all.
Yes, the movement, despite renewals like the punk phenomenon, was co-opted. But surely we can learn from this.
Btw, new Rock Hall of Fame members added. Once again,no Tommy James or Chubby Checker! Politics reigns in the selections once again. (Even the Sex Pistols aren't in.)

King said...

We've always been open to work with anyone. I mean-- here we are! People can reach out to us if they want. But it's best to deal with anyone on our terms-- not theirs.
I recall from my reading of history (for those on the Left side of the equation) that in 1917 everyone was urging Lenin to work with this group or that one. He steered a careful course, holding to his group's principles.
The ULA's interest right now is our fight to capture literature. I look for help from anyone in that endeavor. If a Christian fundamentalist wants to help us take on the literary establishment, that's fantastic-- just as long as the person doesn't try to impose his or her own beliefs on the group. We're open for freedom-- for writers to express their views, to shout their voices, within our framework. There's no need for us to go beyond that. As Zine World says, "The underground is for everybody."

Jeff Potter said...

*MORE VIEW OF NOVELS TODAY*

Here's another angle: people use novels today like they use movies: as a replacement for life, as a way to skim off bubbling energy, as a way to stay repressed or blind to their real lives. So you go to a movie for an emotional experience so that you can keep living like a zombie at home. So you treat the emotions and feelings of the movies and novels as if they were real as if they were the point! Well, they are, to zombies. This is of course an abuse of movies, novels, people. Same as drug abuse.

An emotion is a side effect for someone creatively experiencing or exploring art. It's not that we're meant to extract some dry stance from the work. The work is a whole thing, as a work, it's alive when it includes everyone: artist and reader. The point isn't imitation, replacement or even mere engagement. The point should be life, all of it. It's not a drug that does something to us because Sally gets breast cancer in a story and we cry and hope Sally gets better---and if she doesn't, a certain (small) percent of readers blame the writer and start stalking them and many more pop Zanax and the news media blank-faced wonder why, as progressive critics coo over how much Sally moved them.