THROUGHOUT the 1990s I saw the zeen movement as "Beneath the American Renaissance" (to borrow a phrase from historian David Reynolds). Underground pamphlets in the 1800s such as "The Davy Crockett Almanack" influenced writers like Herman Melville. I believed that the authentic, gritty, outspoken words of zeensters like Doug Holland, Aaron Cometbus, Michael Jackman, Chris Estey and others would show the way toward a renaissance of literature in our time-- AWAY from convoluted over-intellectualized Foster Wallace-style posturing imposed by conglomerates and academics. The Underground Literary Alliance, which was discussed as a concept by myself and others in the early 90s, was first given public expression in my "How to Create a Literary Movement" broadside, re-published by "A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press" in the spring of 1999. I received a huge response from the zeen community; an outpouring of reactions and ideas. The ULA was on its way.
Meanwhile, the conglomerates had found their knock-off. Dave Eggers had been in San Francisco toward the latter part of Factsheet 5's "Zine Revolution." An unscrupulous rich guy with money to throw around, Eggers's slick hip journal Might might-- in some small way-- be considered tangentially a zine, though it was aimed at well-educated intellectuals from comfortable backgrounds, and spoke in their pretentious jargon-- the opposite of the San Francisco zeen style embodied by punk squatter Aaron Cometbus and street writer Doug Holland.
No matter! Eggers was soon in New York working at establishment icon Esquire, busily making friendships with the most over-hyped writers of the Manhattan Ivy League trust-fund crowd; the kind of Insider writers published in lit-establishment flagship The New Yorker. Eggers cut a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and simultaneously got his McSweeney's fake-zeen off the ground, while receiving a burst of publicity from Conde-Nast magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. This arm of the literary status quo was put forward, somehow (ignoring the reality), as DIY; as independent and new.
Eggers relationship with the monopolists has been mutually beneficial. Having their own version of the "new" (recycled Gordon Lish and David Foster Wallace)-- no matter how patently false-- was a wise strategic move, co-opting the nascent threat of the genuine underground. Eggers has gained by pushing himself into the heart of the establishment; positioning himself and his newfound friends (like Zadie Smith and Jonathan Lethem) as literature's great hopes. He's never stopped cutting book deals with the conglomerates.
Simultaneous with this has been the creation of the Underground Literary Alliance as vehicle for the genuine article. Nothing in the universe remains static. To retain the zeen impulse; to maintain our independence; we needed to take a further step. Joining in a cooperative project-- adding e-zeensters to our ranks-- has been it. We've survived. The true foundation for a new American literary renaissance yet lives.
(To be continued.)