Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Neal Pollack: Exploding Fake

Neal Pollack hasn't imploded. He's exploded into nothingness like a firecracker, leaving only small paper shreds of debris.

Neal spends an entire essay in the 6/19 NY Times Book Review putting himself down, explaining how there was never anything to himself but a desire for money. The much-hyped success of his first McSweeney's-produced book turns out to have been a myth (the book where Eggers was going to give over a third of the book's cover price to the author). Pollack now says that all his books sold 25,000 copies COMBINED. (Including the conglomerate one.) Pollack now writes off the last five years of his lit-career (which if nothing else provided some necessary entertainment, a few laughs, to a moribund industry) as a mere scam.

Now Neal wants to go "legit." His goal is to be like Zadie Smith, a writer of serious purpose-- which Pollack defines as getting a fellowship at Harvard. Neal Pollack may have been a total fake-- but his newest incarnation, a desperate bid to become a sinecured never-heard-from-again Harvard don, is worse.

The key sentence to Pollack's article is this: "Ultimately, the train of manufactured rebellion lost its funding. . . ." The point of the article and that line is that a literary movement can't be built on fakery.

Some wonder why I continue to attack the McSweeney's gang on occasion. The answer is not only that they still have influence, at least on the east coast (maybe especially in Philly), but that they have been portrayed by the media and by a horde of demi-puppet suck-ups like Maud Newton & Company as the next big thing in literature. Dave Eggers, from the first, borrowing motifs from the zine scene, presented himself and his writers as true independents-- when all along he was just buying into the conglomerate monopolies; in fact, had been their bought-and-paid-for boy from the very beginning of McSweeney's. People have been hungry for a renewal of literature. By putting ourselves, and the deep authenticity of our writers, in relief against the manufactured fakes, the Underground Literary Alliance can best meet the needs of hungry readers everyplace.

7 comments:

Grant Schreiber said...

I read the piece and was totally clueless what I was to make of Pollack. Is he to be pitied? Shunned? Forgotten?
The whole self-serving whine and name-drop piece struck me as only more fakery. Maybe if he wasn't so busy pointing to his winking eye for letting us in on the "joke" this would mean something other than filler.

Or maybe not.

Grant

Tao Lin said...

i like it when people say things and then at the end their like...

or... is it?

i sincerely like that

i think it's funny

Jeff Potter said...

"Reader of depressing books" -- a terrible name for an obviously clever (?) but likely terrible person who no one will listen to because she's already telling them not to listen to her. Kind of like "frantic." The self-disqualifying name is hilarious is in these anonymice.

Anyway, I always like to add to King's contrasts---which are well-suited for this, his attack blog---that our breakthru will come as a result of our actions on many fronts. So we win not only by standing out in stark contrast to the Lilliputians of Demi-Puppetry. We win by outreach. No one knows these inbred literati anyway. Sure, our contrast lets the powerbrokers see our point. That's essential. Our ability to relate to the actionpacked folks of the hinterlands clinches the deal.

I learned about Hemingway because I read hunting and fishing magazines. Millions of his fans learned about him the same way. I didn't read lit journals. Who does? My debt is to the next generation of huntin'n'fishin' mag readers, kids who are out there doing as much as they can in the real world, exploring, digging hard, looking for the good stuff, with their sweat and their hands AND their minds. I *OWE* it to them to give them the good stuff. I *HAVE* to do it. I can't let them down. How many people have been letting them down lately? It's time to stop the losses.

We can probably do something about reviving the lit journals, too, while we're at it.

As Grant says: compare and contrast the motives.

I got a call from a hungry, thirsty kid today. He thought we were onto something. He said he didn't listen to the critics, they seemed out of it. He liked finding out who his favorite writers liked to read. Those seemed like good leads, to him. He was looking for leads. He liked the fact that Edward Abbey wrote to Jack Saunders that he was reading Jack's book Screed in bed at night aloud to his wife. Seems like a good sign to me, too. (Now that's a double crossover title: a book that you read both to yourself and aloud---that's head-music and music-music---and one that a guy can read to his wife. Synergy, baby! Books for men AND women!)

The kid was awkward, searching. I *owe* it to kids like him to help as best I can. He said he thought that the underground was Buk and Mailer. No critics in the mainstream helped him see that it was deeper, that it was ALIVE NOW. He's in that wonderful discovery period---if he gets a little help, that is. He'd just found Willeford, too---there's a writer who finally made it to the mainstream---good for him! The underground isn't a literal place. A successful writer can have the spirit. ULA writers are going to be successes: because they write about real life. There are fine writers in the mainstream, here and there. Ya gotta read Willeford!

The kid could hardly wait to get his double order of Texas Gang and Screed. Lucky kid. I was VERY happy to wrap em up and ship em. Imagine what it was like to first find your own favorite books, those that influenced you. Think of getting two at once. What luck!

Someone put me on to good books back when I was a kid. I have to do the same.

chapman said...

Sheesh, that Neal Pollack article unintentionally reveals so much. It actually rises to the level of tawdry, creepy tragedy, since even now, supposedly in extremis, the guy still can't understand how to sound sincere or honest. He's still tap-dancing, joking about his wife, winking, writing to entertain the slick-magazine crowd he was always living for. Even though he supposes he needs to sound earnest, here, to save his literary reputation, still he can't manage for one minute to be real. It's a horrible spectacle to see him struggle, like watching Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

What he doesn't mention out loud is exactly when and why Eggers dropped him. It was 9/11. After 9/11 there was that bunch of stupid magazine articles about how irony was over now. Most of us shrugged at that, seeing it as irrelevant, just another reminder that bandwagon-jumpers will always have to do their thing, even at a funeral...it was hard to read those articles, since the summary version would always run like this: "Now that 3000 people've just died in a terrorist attack, we'd better make ourselves look earnest, in order to remain cool."

So there was an unseemly scramble among the ironists. Beck suddenly came out with Sea Change, though it didn't help him much. And the magazine-oriented lit writers, who live and die by trends, saw the ground was shifting. If the glossy mags were all saying their whole epistemology was for shit, then they'd better change over fast to the "sincerity" thing. Or whatever. As long as they aren't caught on the wrong side.

So they positioned themselves as authentic. And I guess Neal P was at the bottom of the heap, the most irredeemable, the sacrifice to the new sincerity trend, the one they threw overboard, the scapegoat. All in all, as an account of moral crisis, it's not exactly at the level of Fitzgerald's "Crack-up," and just thinking about Fitz's great series of essays makes it hard to even keep your mind on McSweeney's. So I, like, don't.

Jeff Potter said...

I'll tell ya about some REAL post-9-11 authenticity: the locals around here have pretty much stopped their homicidal behavior against me when I'm riding my bike. We fly an American flag (and a pirate flag) on our trailer when we go to get groceries. That flag is like a totemistic "hands-off" force-field now. Wonderful! The creepy-crawlers out there in their lead-sleds get a weird feeling in their gut whenever they start to swerve to knock the innocent cyclist off the road---it wouldn't be patriotic! Think of the innocents dying overseas! Furthermore, hey, who's burning the oil here in the first place? Not the biker---so back off! And they do! Whatever it is, it's working, and I haven't had an assault on me while riding since The Disaster. I used to get about one a month. It was a wake-up call where everyone became a little less moronic. Praise be! It can happen! A new kind of lit would have an even bigger effect. Forget magazine writers---I want to see more and more authenticity in the motorists driving up behind me!

Tao Lin said...

i have no idea what jeff potter is saying

all it reminds me of is harry potter

Emerson Dameron said...

Karl,
I haven't read this piece. Most (not all) of the Pollack material that's crossed my desk has been a joke on a bed of jokes. Do you think he's serious this time? On his blog, he describes the "controversy" surrounding the piece as the work of a "right-wing conspiracy." Surely, he wouldn't wipe the smirk off his face before election season, when Hillary-bashing comes back in style?