Monday, May 09, 2005

The Arguments of Our Critics

The arguments of our critics have come from a Bizarro universe. Somehow, the main dangers to literature aren't those who sit at the center of the literary universe, holding the levers of power, but instead an obscure group of writers without resources at the edge of a faraway galaxy. Out of the many thousands of lit-sites and weblogs, an army of lit-establishment flunkies focused on mine. Quite a compliment.

I'm portrayed as having the power to censor or destroy those who are born into connections and wealth, receive huge advances, pen glossy magazine articles, sit on awards panels determining the fate of fellow authors, and disburse many thousands of dollars to writers (often their friends and acquaintances). I've been picking on the Poster Boy of Corruption, who never misses an opportunity to prove the designation. (Recently giving the National Book Award for fiction to fellow NYC Insider Lily Tuck.) The poor aristocrat high in his mighty fortified castle hears a dissenting voice far below on the streets! Crush that voice, so the Delicate One can return to his comfortable sleep!

I've been said not to have a heart, because I don't care enough about the sad fate of well-connected writers like Poster Boy, Bissell, Foer, and others of that ilk. Sniffle snif!

Where are these Compassionate Souls when it comes to the dilemma of good novelists (by the present lit-world's own standards) like Lawrence Richette, who's written three excellent novels which he's had to publish himself? Who cries over the fate of Phillip Routh, ignored and destroyed by the gods of lit after presenting his humorous well-written Camellia City, which takes too close a look at the current system for discovering lit talent? Why no outcry about these authors? Have the demi-puppets read their books? Of course not! They're not on the Approved List.

I'm accused of aggrandizing myself through my actions, somehow (I'm the last to know), though I gave up a good-paying job to come to Philly to start the ULA, have no assets but a typewriter, and work two part-time low-paying ultra-shitty jobs. Jonathan Franzen receives million-dollar advances and taxpayer grants which he spends on the overpriced artwork of his friends. Where stand the ULA's critics about this? They don't see it and don't want to see it. Anyone who dares point it out awakens the wrath of the entire flock.

Our critics have stressed out over a smattering of press coverage the ULA and myself received three and four years ago in "Page Six." (Curious that they remember it-- it's been all but impossible to find on our site.) I didn't "deserve" the mentions. (A decade of shocking essays and meticulously detailed examinations of corruption in my 45 issues of New Philistine didn't count.) Well-connected Bubble Boy Jonathan Safran Foer receives major press coverage (and huge advances) merely for stepping gingerly from the Bubble and no one says a word.

The ULA's critics, here, are actually close to the mark, and have a right to be worried. They show a better understanding of how the system of literature works than do most ULAers. What this fight is really about is a battle over scarce resources. The most naive assumption a writer could make is that all he or she need do is "write" and the production will sell itself. Richette and Routh are living proof against this notion. (The Poster Boy of Corruption, despite the many disclaimers, doesn't "just write." He's heavily involved in the machinations of the lit world.)

A relatively small clique of well-bred expensively-schooled writers controls most of the access to available literary resources, which includes large conglomerate advances, major magazine articles, and tax-shelter-spawned grants. Exceptions are masters of politicking like Tom Bissell and outright literary prostitutes like J.T. Leroy. Otherwise, 80-90% of the pie is spoken for. Many thousands of other writers, including hordes of MFAers and the lit-blogger demi-puppets, battle viciously over the crumbs. (One of my first sights when I moved east was a panel discussion of top editors in New York City, after which the audience mob of demi-puppets shoved elbowed trampled one another in their feeding-frenzy stampede to the podium to suck up.)

No, the ULA didn't bother with endless seminars and writing programs. (We'd already honed our craft elsewhere, in the zeen world.) We went after the sole resource available to un"certified" independent writers-- press coverage. Of course Insiders were bothered! We were poaching on their territory, in their reserved preserve of the literary forest.

It's no accident, by the way, that most of our press coverage came at a time when as an organization we were at our lowest point-- when it was just Potter, Jackman, and myself-- then Steve soon jumping back on board. The three or four of us had nothing to lose. We weren't constrained by worries about moderates or sensitive poets or thoughts about what was best for the organization-- there was no organization to worry about! In Ann's infamous words, it'd "disintegrated"-- thanks in part to a couple good kicks from herself. The few of us who remained went all-out balls-to-the-wall, chiefly for our own amusement: with constant over-the-top outrageous mini-zeens and flyers, protests against the Corrupt of the Corrupt, Franzen, Eggers, and Poster Boy himself. It was a stimulating invigorating period and it was tremendous fun.

We didn't have a full panoply of writers then to crow about-- though adding legends Jack Saunders and Wild Bill Blackolive to our ranks was a great start. NOW we do have a full line-up, with more to come. I have not one iota of a smidgen of a sliver of doubt that current ULA writers are good enough to engage the public and kick-start literature and the comatose lit-world. I've read too many great truthful rockin' books and manuscripts not to believe this. The future of literature is here and it's found on the site; most fun site in the literary universe (check the profiles), home of the ULA Galaxy of Stars. Beginning this summer we'll be presenting dynamic performers like Frank Walsh and Jack Saunders throughout America. I just hope ULAers realize that no show sells itself. We live in no fair and perfect world. The noise we make is an essential part of the process.


King said...

As the army of insane demi-puppets has been swept from the field (or their puppetmasters have decided they've had enough), I think we should consider presenting ULA "medals of honor" to those who participated in the fight-- maybe at our upcoming events, which we'll shortly announce, and invited to which will be one-and-all. Even marionettes! (They should remove their strings, first.)

superbad said...

Perhaps it is not the ferocity of your anger but the narrowness of your focus that causes so much angst among those who disagree with you. Again and again the ULA champions its own members - and only its own members - as the revolutionary option to reading the likes of Foer. Is, say, the work of Jose Saramago or Daphne Gottleib unworthy of praise because of its connections, however tenuous, to certain people in New York City you happen not to like? Is E.R. Frank's work for children - or Andrew Ross's work in nonfiction - equally worthy of condemnation, even though their commercial attention is severely limited, despite clear Insider ties?

Again and again you slam the same three or four writers and praise a similar handful. If you're really looking to overturn the literary world - and it's about friggin' time - why don't you praise one of Sarabande's poets, or sneer at the fiction of Ryu Murakami?

Or are your critics right, and your mindedness is as small as your glare?

gregg said...

Let me see if I can understand this "controversy."

ULA folk think that, say, Lily Tuck shouldn't have won the National Book Award.

Furthermore, you'd never take such an award yourself, because it's hopelessly corrupt.

Scarcely anyone reads people like Lily Tuck, because she's boring and elitist.

So, you're angry that someone nobody reads won an award you don't want? Excuse me, I have to go find a total stranger and tell them I don't like their sweater.

Emerson Dameron said...

Hey, welcome back. I don't think Saramago needs Karl's help - the Gospel According to Jesus generated enough smoke to make him a name of sorts, more so than you or me or Karl. I don't think most of the people you mention really fit Wenclas's tastes - he's more into self-published stuff, as am I. To its credit, the ULA as a whole has championed a number of writers who, although obviously not among the anonytrolls, are not direct supporters: Cullen Carter, Asha Anderson, Jeff Somers, Marc Parker, Todd Dills...

Emerson Dameron said...

Hey, welcome back. I don't think Saramago needs Karl's help - the Gospel According to Jesus generated enough smoke to make him a name of sorts, more so than you or me or Karl. I don't think most of the people you mention really fit Wenclas's tastes - he's more into self-published stuff, as am I. To its credit, the ULA as a whole has championed a number of writers who, although obviously not among the anonytrolls, are not direct supporters: Cullen Carter, Asha Anderson, Jeff Somers, Marc Parker, Todd Dills...

Marissa Ranello said...

You have a point. They don't like you or change. Forgive my lapse of judgement over the last month, I don't know what happened, what started out as a rag tag group of poor writers yelling at the gates, amused me. Little did I know your truth hit so close to home. I'm sick of sucking up to the corporate hacks. Maybe I kust cracked. But after your sacrifice, I have a lot to atone for--due to my mocking of you guys personally, whilst completely ignoring the points of your argument. Don't worry I'm no one of relevance, there is a 100% chance you don't know me, so the theory that it is Eggers or someone with a moody connection is incorrect. The fake ULA site has been taken down. I lost the password but the address know points at a site that parodies the religious right.

King, you are a brave warrior for your sacrifice. A bigger man than I.
One suggestion, you might want to keep those anonymous comments turned off, it is just an invition to spam your blog. I'm staying away, I am not even worthy to read it, but there were 2 or 3 other people who were not me.

Apologies to Marissa, I know I am sill under you name making this post, but I deleted the crap on the fake blog too and the entire blog itself. I'm handing over the Username and password.


Well, once again my apologies. Good fortune to you in the struggle against the elitist bastards.

King said...

Life is a continual process of discovery, of seeking and stumbling and getting back up and trying again.
Thanks for the honesty-- which puts you ahead of some other folks.

superbad said...

Um, I'm not Superzeke. I also wanted to come back here because I suddenly realized Superbad is the name of a book by one of the writers ULA specifically targets. And I'm not that guy either. I'm with as noted.
And I love that our "King" chooses only to respond to someone who has decided self-censorship is the way to go in a literary revolution.

Emerson Dameron said...

I've loved the Superbad site for years - if that's your work, I salute you. (You seem to read a lot of brainy fiction for a computer programmer... and you remind me a lot of someone who just slammed the door on his/her way out.)
If you'd been around during the fracas that guy started, you'd applaud his "self-censorship" too. If you're curious, or want to discuss why Karl doesn't advocate for Daphne Gottleib, e-mail me offlist: edameron (att) gmail (dott) com.

Jeff Potter said...

Superbad, Em already replied more than your challenge was worth. You know some names, but your concept isn't up to speed.

And King's reply doesn't relate to self-censorship but to a seemingly fresh and surprising turn of events as regards crimes against us.

But I'll try to add a bit to what Em said about your newbie remark. So... Did Elvis's or The Beatles' managers promote other acts per se as they changed the world? No. But as they launched their new scene many others were freed as well. As Em said, we've helped nonULAers already because we got a lot to give. You're darn right that our focus is giving people angst. That's the whole point!

The ULA promotes zeening, the underground, indy media in general---but we specifically are launching several writers who are capable of breaking a new kind of lit into the mainstream, and who have paid their dues already, who have synergized with us, have carried their weight. It's laser beam focus, with the backing of dozens of fans. It's going to hit them every which way they turn.

We're working in and taking on the real world. This isn't funsies for us, it's keepsies. The NYC literati have missed out on the real talent. We are SIGNING that real talent. And promoting it. And selling it. Together. As a focused group that's breaking down the gates.

This isn't some nebulous .org nonprofit full of grad students and other idlers. We have mouths to feed and we're going to feed em by breaking the underground out of its chains. Let people join our movement if they have what it takes and prove themselves. We'll expand our operation on that basis.

We've always had open arms for real activists and workers who see the point behind our current strategy of focus. We laugh at "Here's what you can do for me." No matter who says it.

Those who've been working the streets hard tend to see the point.

Without focus, we're ignored. United in a phalanx with a sharp point, we win.

Sure, a few exceptions are allowed in. Sure, an indy scene trickles along in publishing, smaller than in other media. We're hunting bigger game. A scattered approach won't work.

So, pitch in if you can, if you're compelled to (more like), show us what you're doing and how it can lift us, too. Or, do better if you can, and enjoy the show. It's been wild so far. The next level will be something to see.

Jeff Potter said...

PS: Superbad, nothing gets done in this or any group or project by saying, "Hey, what about this guy?" That's nothing on us. Do you care about the writers you named? If so, do something for them. How? Good question. Who are you? Are you big enough to go it alone? Do your letters to the editor get major play on their brilliance alone? If so, enjoy your special universe. The site reminds me slightly of Farm Pulp zeens. Design. Cool. Run with it. The 'how' we found involves banding together to help specific writers we like. Together, our voice gets through. Our name has clout. Our combined energy has clout. If you want some of that, join in. Or if you're shy, but you still like this or that writer, let them know about us. Then it's on them. To stand up and do something real. Or not. We're running full steam ahead with our hands full. We only have ever had room for those who give more than they take, who enlarge the game by more than the space they occupy. That's our economy of scale. That's the lesson of zeening: Build, contribute, or get lost. What do you say when someone tells you "That Superbad site is cool, it should should do..." A zeenster says, "Hey, if you think it's cool, do it and show it. But don't tell it." Cultures take time to come to fruition. We're the zeenster generation. No one who got anywhere in zeening ever showed up and said "Why don't you help that guy?" It was walk-the-walk yourself or get out. No exceptions and no one is special. It's like you're trying to tell us what to do. What's up with that? But if you earn your way, you get the props you deserve. By the way, we did lose at least one good writer because they said, "Here's my novel. Now you sell me." That's not how we work or how anything works. We said "Cool book. It could kick ass. Join us and kick ass with us." But they wouldn't pull their weight so they fell by the wayside. Their loss. The world's loss, too. Who said life wasn't tragic. But I'm not doing anyone's stapling for them. (A little zeenster inside humor.)

Jeff Potter said...

Good one, King, about inviting the puppets! I hope it's a big bar---they'd be a downer if they got too close to the action.

King said...

??? That one of our opponents drops his opposition to us is worth celebrating, I'd think. Bothered that I killed the fatted calf for one who was lost and now found? It's merely a sign that we're open to peace with our most obstinate enemies. Our ultimate goal, after all, is to unite writers, not divide them.
Curious that his peace gesture is referred to as "self-censorship." Censoring what? The fraudulent use of another's name and identity?
We're not postmodernists who seek to live among a blanket of lies. Literature will renew itself only if it re-offers its greatest asset: the truth. This concept has been lost.
ULAers are as playful as other writers. We love good satire. We're from the same era as other writers, including McSweenyites-- but are from an entirely different stream of thought within that era.
The main proponent of the other literary philosophy (which includes the doctrine of the "Three Thousand"), built his career on trickery and lies; on shell games and false identities, pretending things that were not. (Remember the McSweeney's family?) In the ULA we're trying to do things differently-- to be completely up front. We say, "Here we are. These are our zeens and books. This is who we are."
We've made our share of mistakes and will continue to make them, but if we maintain a true foundation we'll be fine.