Sunday, December 04, 2005

Into the Literary Future

New technology won't destroy literature-- as the rise of blogs amply demonstrates-- but it WILL transform it. The trick is to anticipate the transformation, which the ULA is doing better than anybody.

Blogs are at the forefront of the democratization of literature, reversing a sixty-year trend toward increasing professionalization of the art, with attendant baggage of bureaucracy and credentialism. The journalistic community is being affected first by the changes. We see the decline of newspapers balanced by the popularity of websites and blogs manned by those without large staffs or prestigious journalism degrees. What had been a gated and controlled entranceway toward being allowed a voice in this society has been destroyed. The monitors and guards are gone. There is no reason why sites like the ULA's can't compete equally for stories and attention with those of giant dinosaurs like The New Yorker and the New York Times. (Our site has often been more relevant and exciting.)

The ULA's foundation in the zeen scene of the 1990's leaves us well adapted for change in the literary realm. In the long run there is no way that bureaucracy-heavy book companies, burdened by hierarchies of staff, located in expensive suites of offices in high-rent skyscrapers, can compete with an insurgent organization like ours. We may or may not be the new model-- the innovative competitor which will drive them into bankruptcy. At the least we're a primitive version of the model.

Our strength is our DIY philosophy. Unlike MFA grads-- helpless specialists who know only how to write-- our self-sufficiency leaves us better able to exist without layers of bureaucracy. To survive as a print zeenster, to find any kind of readership (as many of us did), we had to edit, format, design, package, print, market, and distribute our writing strictly OURSELVES. It was a liberating experience-- the freedom of not being dependent on any entity (particularly out-of-touch mandarins in New York City) in order to be writers. Our announced task at the ULA's founding was to transfer this independence and these discovered abilities into a cooperative organization. To date we've done this imperfectly-- we've had few models to follow, as we're the trailblazers. WE'RE the model. That we've survived despite our many fumblings is itself an achievement.

A few "literary" folks from more traditional literary backgrounds have embraced change admirably. Still, their mentality lies in the past. Even the most advanced of them is inescapably the product of bureaucratic indoctrination. They accept literary change piecemeal. They might grasp control of the means of production of literature, but exempt from change the nature of literature's creation. Having invested in expensive writing degrees, they can't see that such degrees in this field are unnecessary. They cling to MFA styles of writing, which are a product of monopoly specialization. (This a subject for a long post in itself-- how professionalization, certifications, and bureaucracy led to a writing style which celebrates jargon, bureaucratese, and unneeded complexity, best found in recent years in the pages of McSweeney's.)

In other words, you can't democratize only the means of production of the art-- you have to democratize the art itself, in order to broaden its appeal, as print-zeensters by necessity have already been doing, as the modest success of no-budget literature like Cometbus and Urban Hermitt demonstrates.

In literature today only the Underground Literary Alliance advocates literary change in ALL aspects. In that sense we're the most futuristic lit-group around, and are truly revolutionary.

No comments: