Sunday, May 08, 2005

Defining Criticism

The most ignorant of all ignorant remarks made by our opponents on this blog is that there is no literary criticism anywhere in the Underground Literary Alliance. The person really meant this-- an indication of brainwashing and cluelessness. An elephant stands in front of him, yet he can't see an elephant anyplace.

The ULA IS literary criticism. In its 36-and-counting membership it's a full embodiment of it. Every particle of our campaign is a criticism of current literature.

Our various Protests against corrupt awards were literary criticism. Our lively appearances at KGB and Housing Works were literary criticism. Our shows, our zeens, and our upcoming books are literary criticism, because they present a free alternative to the monopolistic system of literature now in power.

The mypoic commentator meant the tame, scholastic brand of "criticism" done by Sven Birkerts and James Wood. Which means, studying the book placed before you and never looking up from it. He means following the Study Guide at the back of an authorized textbook: "Compare and contrast. Please give examples. Arrange your thoughts in regulated form."

Birkerts and Wood follow the designated rules, no doubt-- one reason why their writing is dead. They write term papers, not living art. Such establishment hirelings are scholars, maybe. They're not independent critics. Instead of being cognizant of the world; living and ACTING within it; they prefer to remain locked within their monastery rooms; chained to their desks in isolated environments without sound, the only light allowed that from the lamp focused on an isolated book, sole approved target of their concern.

The sun may set and rise; wars may happen; rioting in the streets; death and fire. They don't know or care. Heavy drapes cover the windows. Thick carpeting muffles any sound but the soft steady hum of air-conditioning ensuring their climate-controlled comfort.

The first need of a writer is to entertain. Approved lit-critics tend to forget this-- they view the very idea as a sin. After all, they're "serious" writers. Their peers and overlords have told them so.

Sven Birkerts has never written an entertaining sentence in his life. He wouldn't know how. James Wood, inside the Beltway at New Republic, is seldom allowed to-- he well knows the pattern and script he must follow. Criticize stray products of the Machine but ignore the Machine itself, which engulfs and owns him body, mind, heart, and soul.

THESE are literary critics? No thank you. I'll find my literary criticism in the pages of zeens and at the ULA's Monday Report feature.


Orlando Hotpockets said...

Those guys really have some nerve. They read books and write about them with intelligence and sometimes with style. People even RESPECT them for it.

Don't worry, King. That'll never happen to you!

King said...

Still hiding, I see.
The only problem with Birkerts and Wood is that they represent a failed, obsolete way of viewing literature. We're the replacement.
At some point, writing is a matter of individual taste-- but there are inescapable practical aspects. I'm not a "trained" writer-- I've spent most of my adult lfe in the realm of work, trade, and commerce. I can look at fiction by David Foster Wallace, or by Noah Cicero, or by George Balgobin, with a broader outlook, and ask, "Is this story good for literature? Is this the product we want to represent literature? Will this engage the public? Will it grow the art form yet at the same time express truth and thought?"
I can answer "yes" for the last two writers, as very different as they are. I can't for the pretentious over-intellectualized coagulations of the first.
The chief myth about the ULA is that we can't write-- an assumption made by those who haven't read the full variety of our output of prose, poetry, humor, and satire-- or are incapable, because of indoctrination, of understanding the unfamiliar.
As an art changes, those fixed in place with closed minds will be left behind.

Orlando Hotpockets said...

Who is hiding? I am Orlando Hotpockets! At least I use my real name, "King"!

Don't worry about it. Nobody thinks you are a trained writer, or have any feeling for literature whatsoever. Whatever else anyone may say about you, they won't ever say that!

Adam Hardin said...

Some things about David Foster Wallace:

He is not original.

His work is a terribly foggy derivative of Hyper-realism that really is far better done by Pynchon and Rushdie. His work is said to be Joycean but only in a watered down way.

His command of language is lacking in that he does not have control over language, and he often misuses large words, and his work is often repetitive. He will say something four different times in four different ways, and he himself probably doesn't realize it.

He has no understanding of how to edit himself, and what is important to say, and what you should leave out, and so he just allows himself to ramble from page to page inserting footnotes to give his work some authority it does not have. This is his schitck.

There is some genius there with his short stories.

Now then let me say that Dave Eggers is just a less intelligent and less gifted David Foster Wallace derivative.

What does that say about Dave Eggers?

Orlando Hotpockets said...

Oh oh oh! Let me answer!

What is says is, "David Eggers is very important to Adam Hardin."

Noah Cicero said...

First I want to say: I don't think the people writing are demi-puppets or overdogs but undergrounders. So attacking them like overdogs or demi-puppets is not going to work. They don't care, they don't like Eggers and such anyway.

It seems to me their main bitch is that paying attention to Eggers and the like is pointless. Which is understandable some would view it that way.

My response to that is the reason why I joined the ULA. I joined it because it pains me that there are no good new books in the stores. That myself and so many young people cannot just enter a store down the street and pick up a good new book or zeen. Instead like myself I read Dostoevsky or Hemingway, which are great. But it would be good to me if there were books in the stores that were thoughtful and had a taco bell or computer in it. The non-writers though who enjoy reading on their lunch breaks and on the shitter who don't have time or care about spending hours trying to find good underground literature usually just stops reading completely or reads nonfiction.

I suppose from the blog it seems my biggest concerns are Eggers or Foer, but that is in the context of this blog. In the context of other blogs I have said things about Bush to Kerry to The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. If I ever stumble across a blog on turkey or ham I would comment on ham or turkey in those blogs if something popped in my head to write down.

To the nameless undergrounders who think the underground should stay underground. That implies to me you are elitist, that is all. The underground wouldn't exist if it weren't for overdogs. You are a rebel faction, that is all. You depend on there always being a mainstream, for without it you would lose your coolness. Which implies that you enjoy the mainsteam being there. you have no interest in changing things, you need things to stay the same so you can remain "cool and underground."

You say you hate the mainsteam, but how can you hate something that provides you the arena to be so damn "cool."

Of course you could say, "The ULA needs the mainsteam, without it, it would die."

My personal response to that is, if some ULAers make it to the mainsteam and they reveal to the world how phony and stupid Eggers and such are, then the ULA will probably end shortly after. For a ULAer it isn't about being cool or underground, it is about people reading the books.

The problem people with Wenclas is that he says, "Let unite." instead of "Lets keep divided."

Wenclas says, which needs to be said, "People of America need and want some good books to read, there is a large amount of zeensters, eziners, and self-published people who have written really good books, and I think the people of America would like to read them."

I can see how the idea of "unity" is not taken well in America. The land of division. Everyone is thrown or chooses to remain in some absurd clique circle jerking until they have wasted their whole miserable life and then they die.

Which is strange that some undergrounders would go that road, because they are so "against america and its ideals." You must not be, for you are in a clique that lives off of division yourself.

I'm not an underground writer, I'm just a guy who writes books that doesn't want his books edited to death or sold by a company that sells Pro-Bush and dumb self-help books. But if that makes me an underground writer, i guess I am one.

But you aren't like that: You are consumed with the identity of "The Underground Writer." Like it is mystical or something, but I'm sure that identity can get you laid, and when it comes down to it, everybody just wants something that can get them laid.

But if you are only involved in the literary world or undergound or mainsteram to get laid or be cool, then fuck off. Because hating someone for wanting to provide better literature to the bulk of America and someone who is trying to unite people really makes you look like an asshole and stupid.

What puzzles me is why people would get so mad about a guy just checking on the NYC literature clique. Why it angers demi-puppets, overdogs, and even undergrounders. I mean seriously all Wenclas does is check through Harper's, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review and checks who gets the awards and the ones that seem obviously unethical he makes a comment on it. There is the EPA, OSHA, all kinds of organizations that watchdog other organizations. If your whole life depends on maintaining this "coolness" then you must be really pathetic. Wenclas is attacking those institutions, but in reality he is chopping away at certain people's "coolness or hipster" factors.

What is going to happen to Dave Eggers if Fred Wright makes it to the mainsteam and the Eggers fans go to him, he won't be cool anymore.

What will happen to The Undergrounder if Fred Wright makes it to the mainsteam. His girlfriend will say, "Why didn't you join the ULA?"

Another complaint is that The ULA should be talking about issues like war and enemployment. First that is silly because ULA books do discuss that, still we talking in the context of this blog. Second The ULAer currently has no voice in the culture, first they need to make it to the point to have a voice before people will even be there to listen.


p.s. to MDG. I'm sorry about that. Wrong person, and I overreacted because reading this shit shows me why America sucks and is so damn third world.

Anonymous said...

Happy Muthah's Day T'all You Muthas Out There!
Karl, jes wanna say yr writing lately has been really good... how can I say well without getting wooley-bully 'bout it? 'cos I'm a good writer among comrade good writers.
Yer showing with ease shining facility, inventiveness and a very "entertaining" sense of irony (not cynicism), these are Renaissance art- critical specific terms by the way that contribute to the general aegis formulated back then of, especially literature, "DOLCE STIL NUOVO". The piece below mostly applies to the PUPPET BOX expose you did yesterday, which tho anagogical very nicely cut the mustard and was charming overall in effect. This from a larger performance piece "THE WAR BETWEEN THE PUPPETS AND DOLLS" which was done live on stage outside at South and Passyunk Ave and the following Friday night in the Adrienne Theater Philly Fringe Festival as part of the Hydrogen Jukebox Band's "art carnivolution"
event. The People responded very well to it all. Taking it to the people works. Being inside the stuffy academic institutionalized box doesn't 'cos that's the way the way the cards are stacked by the Pseudo- puppet masters, etc. What you say about Entertainment's true, practically speaking of "entertainment" (what I perfer to call "playfulness" or "play" a function of the Imagination and appearing in all the "higher" mammals and for all intents and purposes the opposite of the "game" per se (the domain of the critical intelligence proper) ), e. provides a staging area or preparatory angle of incidence for the AUDIENCE one of many surfaces of real litter'ture whereby that AUDIENCE can feel secure and relax their psychic leashes and governors and settle "in" to deeper aesthetic (read: cultural) EXPERIENCE. Anywho am thinking there's a thread of real critical basis stuff going on here above, but as the Triple Great Toth is sd. t've sd. so it is below:


The rusty sausage casing of mufflers harvested from a junk yard, old drive in screens stuffed through and through.......

The roiling cadavers of pickled road- kill served on a sleigh of slaw
with a distinct oily sheen suggesting rainbows and sun dogs.....

The choice innards like the foam balls and foam mash of abandoned sofas with only the most delicate aroma of couch potato and TV radiation.....

Squirrel cheese curdled from squirrel milk while they are breast feeding a roll of pennies......


Marionettes will keep up the pace
with pirouetting helixes chock full of grace
and dancing hands like in cave man times
back when missing fingers shook sweet-grass smoke
but festooned in baubles toots bells and whistles
with tiny eyes and gaffs for smirks made
of smelly purple thistle beards wagged in tongues
their bandy antics tease the cave kids fond
or shadows conjured to such effect many an ancient
Oriental Queen or wizened Baghdad sultan raged with tears
for the flesh and blood ghost of their long buried concubines.
And rod puppets caused to traipse and prance
like a stampede of miniature hinds
to entrance the juvenile breath within an aging breast
that both do still survive in us when we’ve half-the-chance,
we listen and watch and shake off the iron stress of this
post post modern life and death and such
if not sustain though we be cast of mere clay
or yanked into the lime- lights strain
and by the instruments of hard labours drained
see that puppets are only ourselves too much unchained.


My motive is to warm the cockles of the Mothers of and in all of us, simply that here!


FW ("Portho" for now!)

(And thanks for the "one for all" Karl.)

AZ said...

Re: Wallace

Recall that Nicholson Baker's "The Mezzanine" (1988) used footnotes as well, and might have been doing so before DFW's (though I have not read the early stories).

And it was a (thankfully) very brief book too.

Orlando Hotpockets said...

Aw shit, now the ennui's done kicked in. Well, it was fun, for a while.

You folks will never know how much it breaks my heart that the ULA is a total joke. I mean that. It is the one thing I will say without any sarcasm at all. I wish it were what it pretends to be.

Unfortunately it is not. Wenclas is antiintellectual, antiliterary, and borderline fascistic in his pseudopopulism. He can't inspire anyone with talent, just make scenes and be a nuisance. This is good for his ego, and it gives people without the strength to become real writers an outlet for their frustration. Plus a whole bunch of excuses.

Probably there are a few ULA people who grasp this but don't say anything because....oh, hell, who cares why. If you drink the Kool Aid, you deserve what you get.

Well, this was an amusing distraction, for me, for a time. And now I have to go. Otherwise, the sadness and the boredom will overwhelm me, and the mild disgust turn to something worse.

If you have any seriousness about writing at all, you, too, will leave. And sooner than later. And if you do not, then you will not. It's about that simple.

Patrick @ LitVision said...

Orlando Hotpants,

Your adventure on this blog's been a waste, then. All i've seen displayed by you is empty cleverness, which was amusing at times but mostly annoying! I don't know what your beef against Karl and/or the ULA is, but it seems to be purely emotional.

FW said...

Just testing this damn blog thing in case the Moronymouses rear their ugly heads agin!

King said...

Orlando revealed himself ultimately to be a brainless idiot. (A real live talking puppet.) Given the opportunity, like Pinocchio, of being a real person, he failed-- and so showed himself to be a charlatan, nothing more.

Cantara Christopher said...

Greetings. As it happens I've been given Wood's new tome, The Irresponsible Self, to review, and plan to give it a fair and just reading--how fair, you may infer from my website's motto: "Beating Our Tiny Fists on the Big Hairy Chest of the Corporate Literary World". Thanks for listening. --Cantara Christopher, Editor & Dogsbody

Jeff Potter said...

One aspect of ULA diversity is our different takes on the role of entertainment.

My view is that of course we have to be entertaining. I also think that a brave, talented storyteller who works from candor and relevance is a shoe-in for entertaining. I don't think that it's a hurdle or focus point for us. But the modern world specializes as it implodes so for pure entertainment books aren't going to beat TV, rollercoasters, NASCAR or public execution. The factory approach definitely knows excel at one thing for one effect. So I say, sure, we got it, but we're not going to beat out crack in the fun department, and I at least am not worried about that. We can expose crack and wake up zombies from their fun addiction. Literature ULA-style can help people live again---which is why it's going to win. And it'll definitely be an entertaining experience, to say the least.

That said, today's literati have blown their ready chance to engage.

The ULA is far beyond engagement. We're all that and more. We're into a zone where we smash up against yet another fallacy of the literati which we've seen recently bleated here: "Literature isn't life, you know," said an Anonymouse. (What a workshopper!) What is it, then? Frosting fit to put round cakes? Literature ULA-style is an essential part of life. It's a tool, an extension of our senses and faculties, reaching out to help us see where we are and where we might go. Really. In life. Good lit lets us know we're playing for keeps. No second time around and no time to waste. It gives urgency.

It helps us stand back from our situation then push further in a conducive way to life and more life.

Today's literati take that dynamic and kill it---they step back to wink then go right back to their cubicle and do what the boss says. Who'd read a book like that? ---Fewer and fewer. Who's inspired by a book like that. Inspiration? That's to laugh at, the literati say. The ULA steps back and laughs at them, it mocks the cubicle slaves and their bosses, it says to stand up and take the shit but don't dish it out and get used to worse jobs---there are worse things in life, such as being Anonymous. But keep making noise and keep looking for weakpoints and a chance to bust out---not to stab, not to climb, but to trash some part of the System and break your ownself out in a way that others can use as well. It makes for stories that people can't put down.

Anonymous said...

I bet you were drunk when you wrote that, Jeff.