Saturday, April 16, 2005

The ULA Sets the Tone

Can there be any doubt of this, given the many attempts to imitate and co-opt us? (And destroy us!)

One is a ridiculous David Gates article about the "Outlaws of Literature" which mentions, of all people, establishment-approved flunkies Jonathan Safran Foer and Dave Eggers. Could Gates conceivably ever notice a few real literary outlaws? He looks and looks, from his pristine Newsweek office-- glances out the skyscraper window once or twice-- but can't see genuine outlaw writers anyplace.

Another example are lit-bloggers' blatant rip-offs of ULA motifs, such as the Justice League of America (JLA)-- an inspiration for the ULA from the beginning. Funny that these folks disdain us mightily but don't hesitate to steal our themes. My, my-- we must be doing something right after all.

From the outset the ULA portrayed itself as a team of literary superheroes, even when there were only six of us (as Lee Klein and others can testify). The demi-puppets-- who've never had an original idea in their lives-- can copy us all they want, but in the placidly predictable MFA conformity of their writings and their bland go-along suckass personalities they're weak imitations-- more the Pat Boones of the lit-scene than like the troubled neurotic psychotic explosive outrageous don't-play-the-game superhero writers who are in the ULA.

17 comments:

Emerson Dameron said...

I think the "JLA" nonsense is a lame attempt at parody. "Meta-parody," perhaps. It does feel good when even your staunchest detractors can't attempt a proper takedown, only recast your ideas and aesthetics as inside jokes.
I'm more interested in some of the ULA-ish notions I've noticed in mainstream lit-crit of late, particularly the brutal Foer backlash. (Check B.R. Myers' roast in this month's Atlantic, and Harry Siegel's in the New York Press.) Even if these writers aren't familiar with the ULA, or would outwardly reject some of its premises, I'm seeing a general drift in the direction Karl has pointed for years.
I'm currently reading On Bullshit by Harry J. Frankfurt, a slim philosophical treatise I heartily recommend to anyone preparing for debates on art and its relation to truth.

Bill_g said...

I'm sorry if I'm posting in the wrong place.

I was reading your "joke" about Bellow, and then your enlightened take. Wenclas wrote "Hot Poetry," which means -- I guess -- that he can say that Bellow's novels (save "sieze the day") are mediocre. I wonder which will be read in five years? (Or, which is read today?)

Read this, from Herzog. And see if Wenclas could come close:

"At the corner he paused to watch the work of the wrecking crew. The great metal ball swung at the walls, passed easily through brick, and entered the rooms, the lazy weight browsing on kitchens and parlors. Everything it touched wavered and burst, spilled down. There rose a white tranquil cloud of plaster dust. The afternoon was ending, and in the widening area of demolition was a fire, fed by the wreckage. Moses heard the air, softly pulled toward the flames, felt the heat. The workmen, heaping the bonfire with wood, threw strips of molding like javelins. Paint and varnish smoked like incense. The old flooring burned gratefully--the funeral of exhausted objects. Scaffolds walled with pink, white, green doors quivered as the six-wheeled trucks carried off fallen brick. The sun, now leaving for New Jersey and the west, was surrounded by a dazzling broth of atmospheric gases."

Bill_g said...

I'm sorry if I'm posting in the wrong place.

I was reading your "joke" about Bellow, and then your enlightened take on his work.

King Wenclas wrote "Hot Poetry," which means -- I guess -- that he can say that Bellow's novels (save "Sieze the Day") are mediocre.

I wonder which will be read in five years? (Or, which is read today?) Any of Bellow's 15 books, or "Hot Poetry."

It's fine to toot one's own horn. But to diss a guy like Bellow?

Read this, from Herzog. And see if Wenclas could come close:

"At the corner he paused to watch the work of the wrecking crew. The great metal ball swung at the walls, passed easily through brick, and entered the rooms, the lazy weight browsing on kitchens and parlors. Everything it touched wavered and burst, spilled down. There rose a white tranquil cloud of plaster dust. The afternoon was ending, and in the widening area of demolition was a fire, fed by the wreckage. Moses heard the air, softly pulled toward the flames, felt the heat. The workmen, heaping the bonfire with wood, threw strips of molding like javelins. Paint and varnish smoked like incense. The old flooring burned gratefully--the funeral of exhausted objects. Scaffolds walled with pink, white, green doors quivered as the six-wheeled trucks carried off fallen brick. The sun, now leaving for New Jersey and the west, was surrounded by a dazzling broth of atmospheric gases."

Desmond said...

there is at least one redeeming thing about Bellow: in a book of printed interviews he attacked(?) (or maybe made-fun-of is better term) Toni Morrison. Also he attacked others but all the names escape me. (I think dudes like Foster Wallace and the ilk.) I haven't read any of his shit so I don't know anything to think; I've heard "A Silver Dish" is like his best piece of work, at least his best short work. I don't know. Alex Keegan, a guy who you may have seen some of his shit on wordriot, and who also runs a hard-hitting writing workshop that i took part in but not for long, is obsessed with Bellow and on his "grid" the highest of a "modern" work of fiction can reach is 200, or 210 (can't remember). Keegan scored it like a 201 or something like that.

Anyways, also, saw a book awhile ago dealing with Postmodern literature. Interesting (bull)shit in there, especially Joyce Carol Oatses' take of The Turn of the Screw, which was like the actual text of TTotS on left-side column and her character's like diary on rightside column. Wonderful, simply.

JDF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Hall said...

bill g:

"At the corner he paused to watch the work of the wrecking crew. The great metal ball swung at the walls, passed easily through brick, and entered the rooms, the lazy weight browsing on kitchens and parlors. Everything it touched wavered and burst, spilled down. There rose a white tranquil cloud of plaster dust. The afternoon was ending, and in the widening area of demolition was a fire, fed by the wreckage."

Up to here this is very good. Then:

"Moses heard the air, softly pulled toward the flames, felt the heat."

Okay: he "heard the air"? Didn't he mean "wind"? How does one hear "the air"?

"...softly pulled toward the flames...." Ok, so the "wind" was "softly pulled toward the flames". I'm sorry, but this does not mean anything to me, as far as English language is concerned.

" The workmen, heaping the bonfire with wood, threw strips of molding like javelins. Paint and varnish smoked like incense. The old flooring burned gratefully--the funeral of exhausted objects."

I'm being picky here, but I don't see how the workmen "heaping" equals "threw strips...like javelins". The two are very different images to me, that of "heaping" and that of "javelins", which implies a kind of motion entirely different from "heaping." Perhaps I'm being picky, but again, it just doesn't "work" for me. He didn't "earn" it, class.

" Scaffolds walled with pink, white, green doors quivered as the six-wheeled trucks carried off fallen brick. The sun, now leaving for New Jersey and the west, was surrounded by a dazzling broth of atmospheric gases."

"Scaffolds walled" creates a kind of contradictory image for me; if the scaffolds were "walled" with colored doors, then they would cease to be scaffolds, rationally, but would be "walls".

"The sun, now leaving for New Jersey and the west..."

I don't see how one could watch the sun setting and think that it is "leaving for New Jersey and the west..." Aren't they both the same, if the perspective is east of NJ, ie, New York City? I don't see why New Jersey "and" the west are combined here, except as pure literary pseudo-poetics.

If that's Bellow's best, then I am sure I'm right in my teenage rejection of him as a pointless, worthless overhyped writer.

Eric Blair said...

The fact of the matter is that Saul Bellow was a 20th century writer and he has to be judged as such. Can he stand next to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce (and no boys, I am not talking Joyce Carol!) What about lesser post-war lights such as William Golding, Patrick Kennedy Toole, or preppie superstars like Salinger, John Knowles or Chaim Potok?

And what about foreigners, Kafka for example?

Are these comparisons unfair? If yes, why do you read Bellow? Are you a collector of authors? Why not collect stamps?

Another example: if you were in high school, you would probably think it’s pretty cool to put the cartoon backwards at the end of your “Big Novel.” I don’t mean you would necessarily think it is cool that “spice boy” saffron IV did it, but if you yourself thought that up.

To take it further, if you did that in elementary school it is quite possible you would be hailed as a genius by your teacher and the guidance counsellors.

But, to do that, as an adult, at the same age as Joyce was putting Dubliners together, Keats the Odes and Hemingway the short stories, and then to call yourself an author and go prancing up and down the eastern seaboard signing copies of your “novel” -- well that is just beyond embarrassing, it is disgraceful.

In any case, I really don’t think people read Bellow today. Just don’t read him, buy him, put him on the shelf, celebrate him, but read him? No, I don’t see it.

Maybe we are all missing something, as we recall snippets of Catch-22, as we think yes, must get to the Good Soldier Schweijk, and so on.

If that is the case, future generations will rediscover Bellow, reprint his works. This is unlikely.

Bellow’s work was hardly hidden away in an Amherst attic. It was thrust at us, foisted upon us for decade after decade, swooned over by the well-paid critics, toasted at writer’s retreats with delicate white wines.

And yet, and yet, his work did not resonate.

Turn up tour nose, if you will, at Catcher in the Rye, Portnoy’s Complaint or other adolescent novels, be my guest. These works resonated through our culture, formed it.

A hard working man has died, been feted on the pyre and sent out to sea with an obituary in the Economist.

God bless you Saul and safe journey to the great beyond, Brother.

Bill_g said...

I rank Bellow below Joyce but higher than Fitzgerald. His language in that section is at once lyrical and robustly particular.

Here are some random images from Herzog:

A rabbi, "short-bearded, his nose violently pitted with black." And Nachman, who played the harmonica in the lavatory stalls: "You heard the saliva in the cells of the tin instrument as he sucked and blew." And the light bulb that Herzog remembers at home, "which had a spike at the end like a German helmet. The large loose twist of tungsten filament blazed." Herzog recalls his asthmatic brother Willie in the grip of a breathing fit: "Trying to breathe he gripped the table and rose on his toes like a cock about to crow."

There is Valentine Gersbach and his wooden leg, "bending and straightening gracefully like a gondolier." There is the hospital that Herzog remembers being in as a child, where the icicles hung from the hospital roof "like the teeth of fish, clear drops burning at their tips."

After a while the reader might take for granted Bellow's exuberance of detail, and might not notice that the squares of the harmonica are called "cells," that the tungsten filament in the bulb is seen not only as large but also wonderfully as "loose," that the icicles have clear drops "burning at their tips" (the paradox of heat at the end of something cold, yet superbly right as a description of ice melting into water), etc.

Now, I don't think the next comparison is necessarily fair, but we're commenting on "King" Wenclas's calling Bellow mediocre, and the whole ULA thing is that "I'm as good as those over-hyped guys." So, let's compare Bellow with some of Wenclas's writing:

"Enjoy! Enjoy! Forget your troubled struggled life/ of sweatshop hours
/of cubicles and clocks/ the waiting rat race'd prison'd world
/with windows sealed, exits barred,/ doors forever closed
/Remember beauty and flowers! /But I don't want to talk about flowers."

"rat race'd prison'd world"? Cliche upon mixed metaphor. Reading Bellow, you realize you hadn't really thought of the looseness of a lightbulb filament, and hadn't heard the saliva bubbling in the harmonica; you hadn't seen well enough a nose pitted with black pores. A good writer makes you see the world in a new way. A bad writer sits around complaining about other writers and writes cliche's in support of his bitterness.

Saul Bellow's work doesn't need my praise, any more than it fears your dismissal.

King said...

??? I don't know why you're so hyper about Bellow, Bill, when I acknowledged in my post that he was a good writer. To be a GREAT writer however takes better overall control of one's material than he had-- not just a few well-written sentences.
Why don't you give me your address, Bill, and I'll send you along my Hot Poetry zeen, so you can read all of it to make a fairer judgement. Though as I've said, the only poetry I write is to be performed, with rhythmns that fit my voice and way of talking-- listening to it is the best way to judge it.
You seem to miss the concept of what I do. I'm a zeenster, a ranter, a polemicist, and a publicist; sometimes a critic, then peripherally a fiction writer and a poet when I have time for it. But golly, I guess I should be honored that you choose to compare me with Saul Bellow, who's been lauded for decades, given plush teaching assignments (far, far different from what I'm currently doing!) and ample book advances, his every tome accompanied by widespread attention in the press. Not to mention his Nobel. Give me a smidgen of that kind of praise and support and then we can discuss whether I live up to the expectations you have. (Give me more time to write and possibly I will!)
(I still think Bellow peaked more than forty years ago and was just going through the motions since. I also believe that some of the ULA's and the underground's best novelists well hold their own with him. Ever read Fred Woodworth's book? James Nowlan's? What's your context? Do you fully have one-- do you really know what is out there in the underground? Or is the establishment lit-world all there is for you? Flowery well-written sentences without energy, edge, or truth?)

King said...

p.s. Actually NF Junky's own novel is a better look at New York than anything Bellow has written in many decades-- definitely more current.
Here we have with Bill the perfect example of a brainwashed demi-puppet, desperately trying to justify the received wisdom programmed into his head in college. His every opinion is second-hand. His tools are borrowed. Cliche? To attack writing as cliched is itself a cliche'. What do I know about cliche'? I write what I know and feel, and try to build a rhythmn and patter while doing so.
Rat-raced prison'd world is for me a genuine emotion. Uh, that's how I'm living, dude. Get a clue.
Re Bellow. The guy was an academic darling even when I was taking some college courses long ago. I remember writing an essay which compared Bellow with Jack London-- pointing out that both were best when they focused on the natural world (the ending of Henderson the best part of a novel of bullshit) and left the philosophizing to others who did it better. The prof went ballistic! "They in no way are comparable," he told me, "no way on the same level." Way back then I knew there was something seriously wrong with the lit world. Why, I had been reading Jack London's great short stories on my job. The universal writer, best short story writer who ever lived-- and this tweedy geek was putting him down! I didn't know a lot about "literature"-- was just an ordinary reader-- but I knew something was seriously, seriously wrong.

Bill_g said...

King,
I agree that a lot of what's out there is crap. I looked at Foer's newest, and couldn't get past the first few pages. I haven't read NF Junky or Fred Woodworth's.

I agree that most published "lit" books are shitty. I do think, though, that there have been SOME good books recently. Try, Kevin Baker's "Paradise Alley" -- an old socially-conscious yarn in the best best tradition. Darin Strauss's "Chang & Eng" beautifully depicted the outsider's plight in America. James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" is a powerful look at addiction and poverty, in spare prose. David Lipsky's "Absolutely American" is a probing, hard look at four years at West Point. Etc.

Sure, there are crappy young writers out there -- navel-gazers. There are also some good writers.

Noah Cicero said...

Bill G and to anyone that wants to listen,

I've read Nowlan, Tim Hall/NF Junky, Kostecke, Crazy Carl, Fred Wright, Renello, Demeron, Blackman, Falour and some other from the The ULA, and Lillis and Eastabrook from outside The ULA and I wanted to say that all those people have their own style. And none of their styles is an imitation of Bukowski or Kerouac, or anybody from the past.

Actually their writing styles are so different that if some experiment was done, I wouldn't say they were part of the same group at all if that question was asked.

I assume ULAers writing styles are so different because they weren't all put through the same programs for six years straight getting conditioned like Pavlov's Dog to write a certain way.

They are self-taught from all different parts of America using the voice of their own particular area.

And they self-taught themselves literature not because they wanted to be cool or hip. But because they love lit, they love language, and they wrote and read so much they eventually developed their own voice.

Some Demi-Puppet wrote that ULAers imitate Bukowski. I laughed really hard when I read that. That comment was so silly and dumb I couldn't even get angry. That is like saying, "Man walks shoe through trailer park." That is about how much sense that makes.

Cocnerning that Gates article and the new Outlaws of Literature book. Dave Eggers is in it and some of the others fucktards. I think those assholes are trying to align themselves with Outlaw Writing, that book is pretty much a joke in itself.

I got the Outlaw of American Poetry book. That book generally sucks. Norman Mailer is it. I'm sorry to everyone, but Norman Mailer sucks ass, I've tried reading three of his books, couldn't get passed the third page, it is puke. he writes in that retarded "Writer Voice" as do all MFAer assstrumpets.

Def of "Writer Voice": You know that loud goofy sounding Voice assholes read in at readings. That voice that comes from nowhere, that causes you just to stare at their stupid asses thinking, "Why the fuck are you talking like that?" Yeah that voice. The profs teach people to think in that voice when they write, it is horrible.

Marissa Ranello said...

One quick post to sum up my thoughts for the day.

Noah:

The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry was intended to showcase poets that are "non-conformists."
I don't think it was very successul. While there were several great UNDERGROUND poets who had their work showcased in that book, one name that sticks out in my mind is Jim Chandler, the editor of the zine Thundersandwhich,(Chandler really had some great poems in there! Oh, and the section on the Unbearables towards the end, was good) the book in general was a half-assed attempt at making poetry "cool."

TUPAC (good lord) and Richard Pryor? What the hell? But I suppose it would be a good feeling (as an underground poet) to have your piece featured on a page next to Che Guevara...

While I don't really find the writing style of Eggers all that awful, (it's certainly not the best I've read)-- there is nothing OUTLAW about Eggers. I'm sure I'll find that book at a yardsale for 50 cents in a year, as I recently found "A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius" for a quarter. A CANADIAN QUARTER!

Going back to the statements made earlier on Bellow:

Bill G, you said "I wonder which will be read in five years? (Or, which is read today?) Any of Bellow's 15 books, or "Hot Poetry."

This isn't a question of quality. It's a question of marketing. Which will I find displayed pretty on a bookend in Barnes & Nobles?

Finch: You mentioned the litblog co-op's, or should I say (as it's been called) THE OPRAH ONLINE! Ugh.

I checked out their site. There's Richard Nash...I'll hold my comments on Nash. But it's sad, really sad. WHat the hell is Soft Skull doing?

Flashback: "Sander Hicks has made his life mission to surpass the mediocrity and fear that brands the corporate-owned media. Hicks' goal is to provide the American people with better information, reporting and research, so that we can truly perceive the injustice in this world."

Hicks, oh Hicks--why have you let your creation go to the wolves?

Nash says, on "The Oprah Online"

"The Lit Blogs are now doing what e-mail and the Web couldn't pull off: connect writers to readers more smoothly." Does Richard Nash live in a cave?

Noah Cicero said...

Marissa,

I'm holding "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry." Just looked through it.

I'm just really offended by those lame fucks using the term "outlaw."

"Outlaws" are mobsters, drug runners, moon shiners, and drug dealers. Movies like The good, The bad, and The Ugly, White Lightening, Every Which Way But Loose, Smokey and The Bandit and Goodfellas represent "Outlaw" life. Most of the writers in that "Outlaw" book probably consider those movies for stupid people.

Also as a person related to people once heavily involved in the mob to the point of having Cicero's Restaurant in the fifties get blown up, and who had a brother that was a truck driving drug runner out of Juarez Mexico I feel offended.

"Outlaws" are tough violent creatures that eat meat, shoot guns which also means they know how to load them, go to strip joints, have mullets, grease under their fingertips, carry weapons, have guns in their glove boxes, piss on tires, fuck in brothels, and if they read their favorite book is usually "Call of The Wild" by London. But most of all, real american outlaws don't give a fuck about Buddha.

These chunmps ain't "Outlaws", some of them maybe Guthrie, Burroughs, Cassady, a few others. But the rest are just upper class douche bags playing tough knowing the whole time they can go back to their parent's house any time they want. Pretending to squat in a building they actually own.

King said...

Bellow wrote a few good books but also several awful ones. I couldn't even complete Mr. Sammler's Planet, for instance--Bellow was unable to maintain any kind of narrative pace-- the novel just clunked depressingly along.
Remember that the ULA doesn't necessarily want to displace the Bellows of the lit-world-- but to offer an alternative and level the playing field.
Surely one of the reasons for lit's weakness the past thirty years or so is its major "stars"-- its figureheads like Bellow notably lacking in excitement in their personalities and prose.
Bellow's excitement was gone by the early Fifties-- then he became just another academic-establishment stooge, as much a fixture as a chair, with as much life to him.
Fitzgerald, whatever his flaws, always wrote words that were alive with his unique sensibility. For a brief period in the Twenties he was a literary rock star, along with his buddy Hemingway. (Who Bellow so desperately used in Henderson the Rain King.) We haven't, really, seen Fitz's and Hem's likes since.

Alfred Kazin, from beyond the grave said...

Bellow is pretty good but even he admitted that the finest short story in modern American literature is "My Name is Orlando Hotpockets" by Orlando Hotpockets.

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