Saturday, May 21, 2005

The History of Roots Lit Part II: Seeing the Future

Stray moments over the last four years have kept me enthusiastic about the ULA project. One of them was when reading Noah Cicero's new book manuscript a couple weeks ago.

It made me realize that young undergrounders scattered around the country are creating their own literary genres. They're reinventing literature in ways that will reconnect it to the general public-- as I've argued had to happen for the art form of lit to save itself. Call it a "Next Wave" of writers, led by undergrounders Noah, Urban Hermitt, Bernice Mullins, Emerson Dameron, and likely many others whose writing bears little resemblance to what is currently accepted as standard "literary" writing. Their work is more readable, direct, and most important, far more honest, TOTALLY honest, than anything I've read.

I admit, their writing is unlike anything I write-- unlike even the best from other good underground writers such as Tim Hall, Wild Bill, and the phenomenal James Nowlan. The recent undergrounders are completely uncontaminated by "craft," by thoughts of craft, presenting instead a kind of organic freshly-born folk writing stripped down but no less powerful for it. All facades and thoughts of facades are absent. Many ULAers-- Pat King, Steve Kostecke, Wred Fright, Joe Pachinko, Crazy Carl, Frank Walsh, Jack Saunders, etc.-- have been presenting each in their own way precursors or templates of sorts of underground models to follow. What the newest writers do is the same yet at the same time very different. At their best they get right to the core of what lit is about.

An obvious inescapable fact is that literature has mutated into a new form, unacknowledged and unrecognized by observers and critics among the establishment houseplants. I count myself fortunate to be given, as were Sam Phillips, Berry Gordy, and Brian Epstein in their day, the opportunity to witness a new reality about to drop amid amazement and shock upon the cultural landscape.

This summer could be exciting.


chapman said...

That's well-described; it's exactly how I felt while I was reading both of Noah's new manuscripts. His stuff's totally unlike anything I write either, yet reading it I drop my preconceptions, because the work makes its own case for itself line by line, the same way Beckett's or Acker's did before him. The outlandish clarity and directness, once you get over the shock of them, begin to seem like the missing elements in all other books--certainly & obviously in the average horrible product of the present-day literary marketplace. Noah wears his depth of reading and wide-ranging influences way more lightly than most anybody else (in that sense kind of an idealized opposite of David Foster Wallace), refuses to demonstrate his credentials, yet his wide reading gives the depth to even his cruellest and toughest work. It's weird because he writes like an American and yet we read him as a European. That's something to do with his wary, odd, untrusting relationship to language itself. Besides he's funny as all fuck, and thank god prolific too.

Of course the books you guys write will be the real polemic, and will surpass any argument that can be made for or against you. Noah as novelist will make your positions that much clearer. It occurs to me that any anonymous attacker is at a disadvantage, in that he can never say, look, here I've written a book that shows what I think literature can be. As an anonymous attacker, he has to hide his abilities, if any. That's made the discussion unbalanced, since there's simply no way to know who these people are in terms of actual accomplishment. (I won't judge them by their postings, since they surely aren't at their best here...are they?)

I've been disappointed by the "discussion." There must be a few editors and writers in the mainstream who are willing to put their own names to a few postings, discussing seriously the matters you've raised. (Even Plimpton came downtown in person to listen, to his credit I think.) There's really nothing that can happen to them here that would hurt their always carefully-tended careers. It may only be that the folks in that world don't want to think about the issues you're bringing up. But I know some of them to be honest and serious (though from my point of view they may have lost their way) and eventually I hope some of them will get it up to unanonymously speak here.

King said...

Very well said.

Jeff Potter said...

Noah sounds like he's really cooking. I can't hardly wait to see his latest.

King, you hit it on the nose with why being a part of this movement is so cool. We are getting to see the next big thing happen right before our eyes. It's a rare thing and we're lucky. Of course we've worked hard to put ourselves in the way of something like this.

I hope for the sake of other editors and even staffers that they get something like the same thrill that we do. But it's hard to imagine. Zeensters really do get to see some great, wild stuff that others don't. And not any old zeensters, either: you gotta mine awhile, eh?

When we in the ULA find a new star we do what we can to bust them out. I wonder what other people in publishing do. Do they discover inspiring writers who they then have to quash? Or who they have to write to and let them down: you really have something special but my limited resources are taken up by some pets, so sorry. That must feel bad.

I tell ya, I feel lucky to have experienced the underground writers that I have. And I will indeed do all I can to help them. I don't have huge resources, but at least I don't have to hold back. And with the ULA we've done a pretty amazing job of "loaves'n'fishes" with the resources we do have! Our rag-tag zero-budget bunch has gotten more attention for our heroes than the fancy lads can hope to get for most of theirs.

And, yeah James, I do hope some writers/editors do someday have the normal decency to stand up for their work. It's a bit pitiful. No, it's hilariously weak. It's so embarrassing that these losers who hassle us will never mention a writer who they think shows us up. They NEVER say who they're in favor of, never say what writer changed their life for the better. --Much less, as you say, mention the book that they've written which meets the needs of readers better than our heroes do. Let them say our writers are crap: they've still written and their work is out there. We declare what it can do. Let them show us up if they can. At any time. It's been an open challenge since we started.

Their silence (or narrow range of hassling) is so strange. I've participated in publisher/editor groups for years. We continuously disagree and take diverging stands on huge issues of relevance to publishing. We've split into rival groups. Everyone feels free to chime in. I do note that these groups are always comprised of indy players, even if quite a few of them are big in that scene: they tend to not be employees. Yet some are service-providers and they do say things that will limit their customer base: they must only want to work with certain kind of customers. Nothing weird about that. Yet no one will take a stand about literature and its role. (Art is covered only thinly in the Indy Pub Groups, most of their interests are business or political.) Is it because there's a claim on literature? Where everyone in The System is de facto an employee whether they're indy or not? They can't speak freely? It is strange. But it may relate to why Lit isn't free yet while music and film are.

frantic said...

potty, your concept of how publishing works is so absurd that i cannot believe anyone could be so stupid and yet muster the brainpower to breath while also chewing gum.

therefore i can only conclude that you are a mole who has joined the ula precisely in order to make people laugh at it.

if that is the case, you should be happy, because it is working.