Monday, February 28, 2005

Philly Lit Gossip

Nowhere is this country's two-class divide better seen than at the Philadelphia Free Library. During the day the building is filled with underclass people gaining access to the Internet, refuge from the cold, or simply there to read. The genteel class is nowhere to be seen.

In the evening the library's main auditorium is taken over by the clean and comfortable gentry arriving wrapped in smug bubbles to watch for twelve bucks appropriately tame literary authors, usually conglomerate puppets trucked in from New York City.

The town's largest newspaper, Philadelphia Inquirer, had a big article Sunday by Karen Heller praising these tepid affairs. The supposedly "liberal" newspaper consistently aligns itself with the upper end of the literary spectrum-- reinforcing, through their choices, the widespread belief that literature is boring.

ITEM: Has Lewis Lapham cancelled out of his March 10th appearance at the library? Posters that were once up announcing the event-- with Lapham's narcissistic mug on them-- have now vanished. Aristocrat Lapham was to be there to promote his new book about dissent. Was he afraid that he might face an expression of dissent at his own event?

It would have been a tempting occasion to picket with large signs. How appropriate! A conjunction of anti-dissent targets: Lapham, who won't acknowledge or address criticism of his own magazine, combined with the Free Library's lecture series, run by Andy Kahan, the guy who told me-- after I'd asked a few questions of Rick Moody-- that he was in charge of security and he'd have me banned from the library. (This self-important dude has no tolerance for dissent. He and Lapham must be buddies.)

It's fitting that Kahan's assistant is Sara Goddard McAteer, who's been one of the people behind the egregious Eggers-founded "215" readings in Philly-- a yearly yuppy showcase of mainly New York City yuppy conglomerate writers. Sara's partner in organizing that event has been Snob of Snobs Mary Richardson Graham-- the person who refused to shake my hand (in fact, turned and stalked away) a couple years ago at one of the dull affairs.

(Then again, before last year's 215 event Ms. Graham was caught making derogatory comments on-line about Ms. Goddard, along with trashing their own poetry reading, so I don't know how good of friends the two women are in reality. Their kind can often-- not always!-- hide their true opinions with phony smiles.)

The Bottom Line: In this town the gentry's selfish paws clutch tightly to control of lit, and the snobs are still running things.

TV Journalism

This morning I stopped at a coffee shop which has big-screen TV's. I watched an advertisement for a local news team. The ad highlighted their backgrounds. One had been a stand-up comedian, another a cheerleader, another an actor in TV commercials, and another a contestant on a game show! Not a journalist in sight.

(I'm not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing. For a moment I thought I was watching a history of the ULA!)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Moderates or ULA Radicals?

Many writers still believe the entire MFA system of expensive degrees, seminars, conferences, retreats, grants, awards, agents, etc., can be saved, only improved on the margins a bit. This is nonsense! The system has failed writers. It's failed literature. It needs to be junked. Modest repairs to a crumbling structure of corruption won't cut it. Best to blow up the tottering tower of elitism and start over.

Even the most laudable of the new literary activists-- MobyLives, say-- are moderates reluctant to cut loose from the status quo. Some time ago I sent MobyLives a copy of Phillip Routh's Camellia City, and urged him to read it. The Routh novel strongly criticizes the present system of finding and creating writers. MobyLives wouldn't read it-- practically refused to-- as if afraid of its words. Only later did it dawn on me that Dennis himself was a "literary" writer, product of the system. He and his mouthpiece (alter ego?) B.R. Myers criticize the type of literary art the system hands us, while leaving the foundations of that system untouched. They don't examine too closely the rusted machine of literature, or draw up a different blueprint.

History shows us-- with Lafayette; with Kerensky; with Gorbachev-- that moderates who try to fix a broken machine inevitably fail. The design is too flawed, and the parts which keep the machine barely operating are worn.

The ULA is eager to work with other writers and lit-groups, but will do so without abandoning our principles. Those who wish to work with us have to leave their snobbery and their old suitcases of failed ideas at the door.

We're creating an entirely new, more democratic kind of literary machine, starting over from the beginning. To do things this way is a hard process. We'll take occasional steps backward. Ours will be no easy success. But what we build will serve the writer and artist, instead of the reverse. It will leave us with a literature more responsive and relevant to the public because it will be of that public, with as few layers of mediation, professionalization, and hierarchy as possible.

(Those who don't like the ULA way should instead purchase for $14.99 a book from Writers Digest, Some Writers Deserve to Starve, an apology for the corrupt lit-system by lit-idiot and WD shill Elaura Niles. I would subtitle the book "How to Be a Demi-Puppet.")

Left Out

Upper-middle to upper-class people (well-educated folks from affluent backgrounds) so dominate North American culture that even the "alternative" media consists almost entirely of them. They appear on Air America and NPR, write for the Nation, Clamor, Progressive, Adbusters, UTNE Reader,, and say many laudatory things about the inequities of this society. The only thing missing from these armies of activists is the working class itself! (Who are too busy working two or three shitty jobs.) The progressives on the other hand are sustained by their arrays of non-profit organizations-- tax shelters for the rich. Isn't there something slightly unseemly in this?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Hunter Thompson Mystery

Noah and Bernice have pointed out to me the cryptic nature of "Evil Journalista"'s last couple posts on this blog. The last goodbye one-- which I saw as referring to Hunter Thompson-- had to have been written either before he died, or not long after-- scarcely after, if at all, the news broke.

Could they have possibly come from him? It's an intriguing possibility.

I don't have enough time on-line to look into the matter myself, but would be interested to have others read E.J.'s last two posts and let us know what they think.

(FYI: As Jackie Corley knows, this person wanted to do an interview with us, but I refused my participation unless I or someone knew the person's identity.
These matters of identity seem to be a recurring theme!)

p.s. Before long I'll address the lit-world mystery concerning a well-known writer which when I uncovered it got my New Philistine a sliver of notoriety. Any narrative needs to have a climax or two, and that story might make a good one for this blog.

Maxim, Puritans, Cartoons, Photos, Poetry, and Other Things

A SPECIES of p.c. Leftist exists, spawned by universities, who are uptight-- almost neo-puritan-- about anything hinting at male ego and the willingness to treat men as men, women as women. One encounters this, surprisingly, even in the anything-goes print underground.

An Example is a new reviewer for Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press. He rants in a couple instances against macho "sexist" zeens (such as the fairly inocuous music zeen Fran Magazine out of Los Angeles). "Fuck you," the hysterical reviewer says to the mag again and again.

His review of the ULA's house zeen Slush Pile is more lukewarm, but follows the same thinking as he mentions "the dumb-ass cover (busty-woman with 'ULA' tattooed on her breast drawing). . . ." His opinion of the zeen itself is conflicted: "-- this isn't half bad. It's just, well, drop the 'we're saving literature' bullshit and just write your stories."

One million other writers in America "just write." The ULA was created to be different. It was meant to be a p.r. campaign for underground writers against the massive totalitarian noise of the conglomerate mainstream.

Many times the ULA's use of ballyhoo has upset timid undergrounders, despite their supposed punk backgrounds. When I've engaged in the simplest kind of promotion done a thousand times better in fields like sports or movies I've been called a "psychotic megalomaniac"-- as if hype has no place in literature, not even in the raucous underground kind. (The charges have been made even by those who could've benefitted by association with the ULA campaign.) Some undergrounders wrap themselves in their obscurity, in their infintesimal niche. They're really just afraid of making waves.

"Miss ULA" is nothing more than a small part of the ULA's hype. In truth, she's dressed more modestly than young women you'll see on the street in any big city on a summer's day. Her frightening cartoon bustiness is tame compared to, say, the photo of Jennifer Love Hewitt on the cover of the current issue of the wide circulation Maxim magazine. (I saw nothing in Fran Magazine to compare with that!)

The difference between Maxim and Slush Pile is this:
The interview with Ms. Hewitt in Maxim is a cartoon, revealing little trace of intelligence in the lady. Jennifer's use of words like "boobalicious" leads me to suspect that Maxim editors wrote her lines.

By contrast, if the Yul Tolbert cartoon drawing of Miss ULA could be interviewed, you'd find her to be articulate and exceedingly bright. She'd have to be! After all, she's part of the ULA star fleet blazing new paths for literature in the 21st century.

I've heard that Jennifer Love Hewitt is actually not as simple as she's portrayed; that her personality is as tied down as her, er, cleavage; that she even-- believe it or not-- writes poetry.

If that's true, then perhaps someday we can make an agreement with Ms. Love Hewitt: That we put her poetry on our site in exchange for her agreeing to play Miss ULA in the movie version of our literary enterprise.

(In the meantime, complaints are streaming in from the Ladies Tea Party section of the Neo-Puritan Literary Society about the photo of Wild Bill up on the ULA's fan site.)

New Blood Needed

The problem with American literature is that it's been dominated at its highest levels by Old Money New England WASPs like George Plimpton, Lewis Lapham, and Rick Moody, all of them too stupid to follow their fathers into corporate law or banking. Lit is run by people who are not "the best" even in their own families.

To survive in the 21st century, literature will need renewed drive and radical ideas. These are being provided by the Underground Literary Alliance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Naming Names?

I respect and applaud much of what Foetry stands for and is doing. At the same time, I've been looking on their site for who they ARE, and can't find a name.

The strength of the ULA is that we've stood behind our attacks with our names (and in person)-- put our asses on the line from the very beginning, notably with our Protest against the Rick Moody Guggenheim award. (Our petition was signed by around 40 print-undergrounders-- but not one of 300 established lit people we sent it to.) The six ULA founders crossed the Rubicon when we signed it. It was a daring, unprecedented moment in American literature.

When one attacks a System, and its leaders by name, then putting your own out there seems necessary to have credibility. It's been the way of writers from Zola to Solzhenitsyn.

From the outset I've made myself available to anyone-- Eggers, Moody or any of their friends can come to Philly and meet me for a beer if they want. We've discussed and debated the ULA campaign in every kind of public venue-- have never hid from anyone.

The Foetry people-- whoever they are-- have questioned why Adam Hardin is in the Underground Literary Alliance.

First, he's supported what we're doing, publicly putting his name behind our campaign.

He's written public letters and Monday Reports for us.

He's a person of subversive thought; a born activist. My only worry is that we'll have to restrain him.

Lastly, he has real promise as a writer. I think he'll be a good one.

That some of his taste in literature is different from mine means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The ULA is not a monolith. There is no orthodoxy-- though some types of writers have to go further and wait longer to prove themselves to us. (So far we have only one Ivy Leaguer on board.)

We're always on the lookout for talented literary activists-- provided they exist, have identities, are not just Internet ghosts.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Blandsters Part II: The Elitist Mindset

The elitist viewpoint was displayed in a recent N.Y. Times article by Charles McGrath. McGrath said that a literary magazine "almost by definition is one that operates on a shoestring and is read by just a few."

Part of McGrath's statement is misleading, as The Paris Review, the main topic of his piece, has from its beginning been backed by one billionaire or other. But, "read by just a few" shows the true mind of the literary establishment.

In the article, McGrath says that many litsters are upset at the Paris Review changes.

Elizabeth Gaffney: "I don't know anyone who actually does read it who was dissatisfied." (What: all five of them?) Referring to the critics, she says, "I don't think they understand the literary world today."

Maybe they understand it too well. But the aristocrats wish to keep literature in their perfumed clutches. McGrath mentions Rick Moody, "who like so many important writers of his generation, got his start under Plimpton." Remarks Moody, "George and I used to talk about this all the time, and he knew exactly who his audience was. Three thousand people in the creative writing programs-- the teachers and the students-- and then those odd persons on the outside who actually take an interest in literary culture."

Moody, an important figure in the literary establishment, with the kind of behind-the-scenes clout George Plimpton had, truly believes that literature, in a nation of 300 million people, belongs to a select 3,000 or so who "understand" literary culture. (Note he's not talking about all writing programs, but the upper level of them.) People like Moody don't WANT literature to reach the mass public. They're content with the way things are now, with lit's role in the world becoming smaller and smaller.

Aristocrats younger than Rick Moody are also fighting hard to dominate the literary art, as shown in a Feb 13th New York Post article by Tom Sykes about the 107-year-old "tradition-steeped" National Arts Club. The Accompanied Library, a new literary tax sheltered private club located at the N.A.C., held an "intimate reading" by poet Saul Williams for Accompanied Library's well-screened chi-chi members. Quite disappointing to see someone with Williams's street cred so used by "young, fashionable New Yorkers." Fifty years ago in the movie "High Society" Louis Armstrong shuffled and grinned for an "intimate" crowd of very rich white people at one of their mansion hangouts. I don't see that we've much progressed.

The article quotes young rich bitch Accompanied Library co-founder Iris Brooks as asking, "Where is the cafe society, the salons?"

Where indeed? The salons! Give us more literary salons! More aristocrats in ruffles and powdered wigs! Bring on Marie Antoinette! The Scarlet Pimpernel! Return to 1788; turn back the clock. Present to us the ever-lovable "beau monde."

But outside the walls of the well-guarded literary mansions in the snow and cold stand as always the grubby "gutter press" pamphleteers of the Underground Literary Alliance, a growing mob with quite a different take on literature.

(From inside the pillared stone walls of the National Arts Club in Manhattan's Gramercy Park floats the sound of the young aristocrats clinking crystal wine glasses and singing "The Blandsters" anthem.)

Pod People: Columbia Grads Are Everywhere

I was going to ask The Believer to help protest the Paris Review poetry award consistently going to Columbia University grads (where PR Poetry Editor Richard Howard is a professor).

I thought, why not?-- but wait! Editor Vendela Vida is a Columbia grad, as is Heidi Julavits, whose husband Ben Marcus (a terrible writer and regular Believer contributor) is a Columbia prof.

We don't have to fight to drag the lit world out of the entire Ivy League's clutches. Just getting it away from Columbia for a moment would be a start.

Hunter Thompson

A post for anyone who wants to comment on the gonzo journalist's death. "Evil Journalista" seems to have already weighed in. I've also received many e-mails about the guy.

I respect the energy of his writing. Thompson was a 60's counter-culture icon-- a favorite of Gary Trudeau and such. Thompson and Tom Wolfe's styles were heavily influenced by the Beats and by Norman Mailer. They didn't create anything new, but were astute borrowers. Hunter Thompson borrowed his persona from William Burroughs.

Thompson's manner of death was fitting. I was always struck by his adolescent attitude toward firearms; always waving them around and such. Real gun enthusiasts (coming from Michigan, I've known a few of them) have a different, more respectful view of weapons and what they can do.

Unlike Wolfe, Hunter Thompson never wrote a novel that I know of, for good or ill.

TV Versus Lit

I just saw a large ad on a bus for a new television series about a blind detective. How many times has that been done? 400? 5,000? I'd say the medium has run out of ideas.

Literature is able to encompass an infinite number of ideas.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Eminent Domain and Fiction

Big in the news this morning is the fight over "eminent domain" in this country. This is where developers decide they want a local neighborhood (to build a Wal-Mart, or condos for rich people) and through their power and influence get local government to seize the property of the residents and evict them. It happens all the time.

This is the kind of battle that zeenster Anthony Rayson of South Chicago ABC Zine Distro has been fighting for many years, trying to save an area of low-income homeowners and small farmers from special interests with powerful connections (including the much lauded Obama Barack in their pocket) from seizing the land for a planned unneeded congestion-spawning airport.

"Eminent domain" was the major plotline of the greatest American novel, The Octopus by Frank Norris-- in that instance, based on a true conflict, a monopolistic railroad was fighting for land held by ranchers in California. The ranchers band together and form a "league" in their effort to save their property. The battle over eminent domain has been one of the major plotlines of American history since the beginning of this country, from the struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson to define what America would be. Jefferson wanted a nation of small farmers, small shopowners, and craftsmen. Hamilton wanted a system of monopoly-- of gigantic banks and commercial interests, fast-paced growth, large-scale trade. The battle over the ratification of the Constitution between the Federalists-- an alliance between New England trade interests and large southern plantation owners-- and the Anti-Federalists was the expression of the conflict between these two competing viewpoints. Hamilton and the Federalists of course won the fight. Imperial America which we see today, including the ongoing war in Iraq, is the natural fulfillment of his ideas.

This is a subject important to the ULA, because we see ourselves involved in the same kind of fight. The Underground Literary Alliance was created by a group of micro-scale self-publishers in an attempt to level the playing field with an art which had already been completely taken over by the forces of monopoly-- the intertwined relationships between conglomerates, academia, government, and tax-shelter foundations which cause literature to be controlled by a narrowly focused elite. It's been our contention that when you have such a System, it will be inevitably manipulated and controlled by those with the most connections, usually from the wealthiest backgrounds. The examples we've put forth (Rick Moody's control of grants panels) demonstrate the proof of our claims.

In other words, we want to open up the system and destroy the monopolies.

The cause is nothing more than the idea of independence and freedom. That's the side on which the ULA stands.

The greatest novels are those which retain their relevance. The Octopus is as relevant today as any American novel ever written. It remains a necessary read for anyone who wishes to truly understand this country and the thinking of its various people.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Blandsters Part I: The Acolytes

At the bottom of the lit-establishment pyramid of elitism are the wide-eyed MFA true believers in the System. One can tell them the odds of making it as a writer the accepted way (unless you're a billionaire's son or friend of same) are 400,000 to 1. They don't care; they're going to try anyway. Their "trying" results in generic art and in stampedes of competitive fawning. These are the people who subscribe to Poets and Writers and the like. Some work as proofreaders in Chicago. Others live in Iowa. Many have become lit-bloggers.

I refer to these people as demi-puppets. (They're not substantial enough to count as puppets. More like puppets-in-waiting.)

The ULA exists to promote our own zeens and books-- our writing and that of other underground writers. For example, I'll soon be discussing Philly novelist Larry Richette's latest work on this blog. Then Tim Hall's novel Half-Empty, as prelude to the next release from Tim's Undie Press. And so on.

By contrast, what are the lit-blogger marionette-wannabes hyping on their web sites with their current "novel tournament"? Their own books? Of course not! They're giving attention to really bad establishment novels which have already received too much press!-- Lily Tuck's patrician Paraguay book, or Philip Roth's "Plot Against American History." (Watch for my next blog post about that!)

The conglomerates have billions of dollars to spend on their books, and on promoting them-- and here come the abjectly stupid demi-puppet lit-bloggers to do their work for them!

One could investigate whether the lit-bloggers are being paid for their work-- but these fools are too feckless for that. It's all of a piece with their groveling. Their brains have been captured by the establishment. They've turned themselves into intellectual slaves, mindlessly pulling Pharoah's pyramid blocks. The only explanation for their behavior is that they have no talent and know it. They therefore fully qualify as. . . .

(Sing "The Blandsters" theme song.)

Introducing the Blandsters

This blog will be presenting a four-part series examining the domination of the lit-world by elitists and their sheep-like demi-puppet followers. I can't call this crowd hipsters-- they're really not (though they pretend to be)-- so I'm calling them instead the Blandsters. This includes the lot of them; all the fakes-- from Jon Franzen to Vanity Fair's Elissa Schappell and plutocrat Rick Moody to Moody-wannabes Eggers and Bissell to Maud, Lizzie the Poet and the other yuppy-scum lit-bloggers.

I've given these zero-charisma people their own theme song.

"The Blandsters"

Yuppy kids so hip and cool,
The Blandsters, The Blandsters,
Play the game, get A's in school,
The Blandsters, The Blandsters!
School for them will never end
Always being the teacher's friend,
Call them just The Blandsters.

Faces eager, noses brown
polishing apples, going down
sucking-up without a frown,
Don't ya know that they conform
Because they're The Blandsters!

Certain they can get ahead
parked beneath the publisher's desk
New thoughts from them are never found
Traveling soon from town to town
Our literature's geeky world of clowns!
The Blandsters!

la la la la la la la here they come,
The Blandsters.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Shakespeare Movie Review

Since one of the themes of this blog is Shakespeare, it's time I posted a review of the latest film version of one of his plays, "Merchant of Venice."

I prefer the plays on stage, according to the original vision of the actor who wrote them. (I hope to show someday how they should be played.) This is a personal preference-- akin to the question of whether Beethoven should be played on original instruments, and other stuffy notions.

That said, while the film "Merchant of Venice" has its flaws, and isn't for everyone, there are several reasons to see it.

1.) Al Pacino as Shylock. If you believe as many do that Pacino is the greatest living American actor, then seeing him recite the classic lines of Shakespeare is a treat. For all his sin of vengeance, Shylock is a sharp contrast to the self-involved dilettantes-at-life he contends with. His pain at the way the world treats him is palpable.

2.) The Venetian setting. At moments this is a Botticelli painting come to life. The gritty period look is enhanced by Renaissance-inspired music, which overwhelms the mood by the finish.

3.) Portia. This is the strongest (and most beautiful) of Shakespeare's women characters. Even Pacino's Shylock, with every aid given him by the film, is secondary to her. At one point of the movie I was struck by what a perfect match Portia and Bassanio seemed to make. First appearances are deceiving. By the end, she's revealed to be ten times more intelligent, crafty, and mean than her mate. One is left wondering how long she'll be satisfied with her charming fop. Portia is truly her father's daughter. We understand, through her, the unforgiveably harsh character of the man who acquired their family's wealth. (Through Portia, the dead father controls the plot.)

Does the actress fulfill the role? Well, she's beautiful enough.

About Art

Since the topic of contemporary art (which may be in worse shape even than contemporary literature) came up on this blog, I thought I'd throw out there for comment a piece written about our friend Roger D. Hodge, Number Two at Harper's, and his critical abilities.

See, if I got that right!

My own opinion is that self-absorbed obsessions masquerading as "transgressive" art is a cute way for the establishment to keep the spotlight away from truly transgressive art-- that which confronts the evils and machinations of this society.

McSweeney's Cult Expansion

Some folks in the general lit world are hyper about Dave Eggers's latest tactic (826NYC) to recruit more unknowing young people into the Church of the Dave. In the critics' thinking, it's unfair for McSweeney's to offer book contracts to teenagers when many qualified adult writers are shut out by the current publishing system.

Since ULA writers aren't part of the system, and aren't exactly bouncing manuscripts at the Eggers publishing empire, I don't see how this concerns us. We're not opposed to everything this clown does-- no matter how evil and corrupt he truly is.

Or-- if McSweeney's wants to make blundering moves to enhance their tax-shelter status, what's that to us?

The truth is that the McSweeney's group long ago became tiresome. We're running out of things even to mock. The next step for them is to build their own version of Neverland Ranch. Ho hum.

The image the McSweeney's people project, and have always projected, is extremely bland. The very first issue was oppressively nerdy. That they're mutating into hapless church-like social workers is in line with their development. It's hardly the image of folks who pretend to be "rock n' roll."

The ULA by contrast has never claimed to be trendy or "hip." We're the opposite; society's outcasts and rejects. I'm beginning to question whether the demi-puppet writers who've grouped themselves around McSweeney's are the "cool kids" either. They keep telling themselves over and over relentlessly how hip they are-- these bright-eyed eager-beaver rule-following "A" student ladder climbers-- maybe because they fear they're not. It's why they posture and parade safely among themselves but forever avoid the ULA. They'd be quickly revealed to be frauds.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Corruption of Universities

An excerpt from the Fall '04 issue of the ULA Herald:

"Visit the contemporary university-- U of Penn, say-- and one discovers an institution of enormous wealth; sprawling campuses filled with massive edifices. And always growing, spreading, gobbling more territory like a beast which must be fed.

"This is a gigantic industry whose purpose is not to produce art (which it does to a pitifully limited and lackluster extent), but to require certificates for entry into monopolized, professionalized positions. It's an artificially created gimmick-- the impressive campus and buildings part of the show. It's really about the money: the certificate is the necessary justification for the layers of inept professors and administrators; to keep the game operating. YOUR money.

"There are many fields where this can be rationalized, if not as the most efficient means of conveying knowledge, then at least better than nothing. But-- for the writer or artist who can learn more from art communities; from doing; from interaction with the world?

"Pay your money. Sleep through classes. Learn in the library or on the Internet. Receive the diploma certificate. Necessary? Not hardly.

"People attend writing programs not for what they learn in them, which is negligible, if not stifling and detrimental. They attend them, and conferences and seminars, in order to attain access to the established publishing system. Mere access!-- and for most writers anyway after all that trouble and expense it's still a dream."
(End of quote.)

In Philadelphia, U of Penn behaves like an expanding, sprawling beast, spreading gentrification, gobbling up neighborhoods. Generic chain businesses appear to serve the well-scrubbed Ivy Leaguers. Monstrous new construction goes up everyplace. Diverse neighborhoods containing small ethnic businesses (Ethiopian restaurants, say) are pushed out; more are threatened. The attitude of the "liberal" university seems to be that there are too many poor people in the vicinity. Such residents are being removed or contained (massive police presence) to protect Overdog U of Penn students-- the area's future leaders.

Where does U of Penn get the money for all this activity? Either the students are being ridiculously overcharged, or Penn has alternate streams of funding. It's a fact that major universities serve as R&D arms for government and for major corporations, who pump huge amounts of bucks into them. Students and profs engage in token gestures like protesting ROTC chapters-- but can't keep out the flow of MONEY.

To what extent are universities becoming mere extensions of the Defense Dept., of mad-scientist genetic companies, of corporate monopolies-- of even the CIA?? It's nice that Professor Noam Chomsky and others make placebo speeches-- but isn't his own college, MIT, the biggest recipient of CIA money? I wish him success in cleaning up smelly messes all over the planet. There may be one to clean up directly behind him.

If we're seeing a merging of big government, big business, and big academia, it can't help but have a bad impact on intellectual freedom.

No one inside the sparkling temples of learning questions the existence and expense of the academies THEMSELVES. It's curious that all the many students and graduates feverishly using the Internet have yet to construct the virtual university. To what extent are brick-and-mortar campuses already obsolete? Does one really need to spend $100,000+ for the alleged "educations" the schools provide? How much would be lost by superceding them? (Beyond the nice-looking buildings and the ivy?) These are questions which aren't being asked.

For literature anyway, universities have been a noteworthy failure.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Big Trouble at Paris Review

That (as the ULA's Adam Hardin has exposed) Paris Review's Poetry Editor Richard Howard over the years has been handing out poetry awards to his former students is only a small part of their problem.

The real dilemma the rag faces is a limited talent pool to draw on in order to run and promote itself. Instead of being an anything-goes lit journal like those of the Lost Generation of the 20's (George Plimpton's original inspiration), Paris Review has chained itself to today's culturally in-bred and harmless literary aristocracy.

There is no one available anymore with Plimpton's charisma to run the journal, sympathizers like Charles McGrath bemoan! Of course not-- not among the department-store mannequins in the Ivy League temples they adore. Their day is over-- the charisma, artistic hunger, and imagination is with the underground.

The ULA can sit back and laugh at whoever PR chooses as new editor-- we know it'll be some well-groomed well-bred toady inocuous enough to meet with Robert Silvers and Company's approval-- with scarcely the thought and nary the visceral drive to make that museum relic of a publication exciting.

Remember that I met their staff when the ULA was in its infancy, when we hardly had our feet on the ground. Combined they had not the energy of their aging now-departed leader, much less of the undergrounders who stood in front of them. Since then the ULA has gotten better and stronger, with ever-growing skills at editing, writing, graphic design, p.r., and marketing. We lack only the Paris Review's reputation and money-- which is fine, because we don't want our ultimate victory to come too easily; we hope to have some competition from the powdered aristocrats, no matter how feeble.

Lit-Blogger in Performance

In the interest of determining the worth of a Yale education, we hereby examine a poem by noted demi-puppet lit-blogger Elizabeth Skurnick. The poem is titled "Persephone in Hades."
(We're off to a good start. One could be only an Ivy Leaguer and come up with a title like that!)

"First we spread out like two twin sheets.
These were white sheets, unberibboned,

and I smoothed them with my bare
hands, ticking off the vines, the pachysandra,"
(Pachysandra! Good! Here we see evidence that Ms. Skurnick received her $120,000 worth. $120 worth anyway. $20 for a good thesaurus?)

"each winter solstice beyond the flowered
bedroom curtains. An acre of soil spread

into a thumbnail of garden: piled and wet,
heaped thriftily. Two moths drifted in the distance

and a dandelion bloomed like a whisker
on the summer side. For years we had grown flat

and placid as the Atlantic, marred only
by an India wind, occasional natterings."
(--"an India wind, occasional natterings"-- it sounds impressive, but haven't we lost the audience?)

"On August evenings we set sail,
I the lookout and you at the helm

traveling faster and further
until we tumbled to the bottom, swallowed

by Neptune in the wake of one enormous burp.
Just above our heads, the sun drifted hazily"
(Man, that was one enormous exciting metaphor.)

"Like an inverted, ninety-watt bulb.
We burned off our eyelashes.

That was us in the days
before a paper bag covered the candle"
(One can see this shit being read before an audience, who are falling out of their seats in boredom.)

"and the wax burned down to a black stump stick.
(Also: two sieves side-by-side

in the moonlight, while the stars
wept busily at the pluck of a mandolin.)"
(Maybe it's "good" poetry-- but what does it say to anyone? Where's the emotion and relevance? It reads like the rarefied impressions of an Ivy Leaguer, who's paid huge sums of money to become so rarefied.)

"Have I used up all my shots?
Four fillings, I broke, cracking the ice

in my drinks. You favored gin.
Some nights you'd take a sip and look

up, startled, as if I had entered--
or was suddenly leaving-- the room."
(I'd put the enormous burp right here, at the end.
Well, they liked it at Yale.)

--Stolen with apologies from the Fall 2003 Melic Review.

Harper's Stonewalling

Interested readers of this blog have been sending me examples of policies regarding plagiarism that publications like the Seattle Times have been laying down. But that won't solve the plagiarism problems at Harper's until they establish some kind of policy. Given that Harper's is a closed world run by dictatorial fiat, this isn't likely to happen.

Lewis Lapham became Dictator-for-Life 28 years ago (before many ULAers were born, and when Bissell and Eggers were in diapers). He seems more insulated from a real world this blue-blood never knew much about to start with. Now he hides in his office immune from criticism, papers brought in to sign by designated successor Roger D. Hodge, Andropov to his Brezhnev. These are smug bureaucratized individuals unlikely to change.

It's been argued on these threads that staffers at Harper's are paid stooges with no stake in their jobs or the publication-- not even a moral stake-- and that their sweat equity counts for nothing. Obviously, they keep their mouths shut and wait for the next directive from the Boss and his henchman. (For all we know Lapham has already passed on, and Hodge plays the old "talking through a half-open doorway at someone who's not there" ploy.)

Regardless, the way the magazine is run is a stark contrast with the ULA, where we want everyone who joins to have a stake in the organization. Indeed, the ULA belongs to all free writers-- they just don't all know it yet.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Dylan the Visionary

"America was changing. I had a feeling of destiny and I was riding the changes."

The most interesting parts of Bob Dylan's awesome book, Chronicles, Volume One, are his insights of his early struggles to make it as a musician, particularly when he was in New York in the early 60s. He conveys well his timing, his sense of the musical zeitgeist-- for instance, when he says about Ricky Nelson at the height of his fame, about Nelson's "bleached out lyrics," that Dylan "still liked him, but that type of music was on its way out. It had no sense of meaning anything. There'd be no future for that stuff in the future. It was all a mistake." (Dylan goes on to explain the "power of spirit" of roots music.)

This is exactly the way ULAers feel about the current literary scene!

To me the most poignant moment in the book is when Dylan meets his old friend Bobby Vee. Dylan had played with Bobby's rockabilly band in North Dakota in the late 50's. Vee quickly went on to become a huge pop success. When he arrived in New York, Bob Dylan went to see him perform at the famous Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, fighting through mobs of teenage fans to talk to him.

"He was on the top of the heap now. It seemed like so much had happened to him in such a short time."

The two friends talked, one in a slick pop suit, the other scruffy, the air of struggle about him.

"I told him I was playing in the folk clubs, but it was impossible to give him any indication of what it was all about."

Two friends who'd taken very different paths.

"Standing there with Bobby, I didn't want to act selfishly on his time so we said goodbye and I walked down the side of the theater and out through one of the side doors. There were throngs of young girls waiting for him in the cold outside the building."

Dylan remembers this moment so well! Undoubtedly it had a huge impact upon him. Did he know then that within just a few years, Bob Dylan would be more important in their field than Bobby Vee ever dreamed of being, and Vee would be a has-been? Such is the way culture can shift very swiftly and radically. The trick is being half-a-step ahead of the change.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Under Construction: Club ULA

Beginning in March, ULAers Pat Simonelli, Yul Tolbert, Steve Kostecke (with input from others like Noah Cicero and Jeff Potter), will begin making modest changes to the fan site, to make it the most exciting location in literature. We'll have more action, more fun, and will do a better job of highlighting underground literary stars. A little remodeling project, you could call it.

We hope to do such renovations every year. One year ago Yul Tolbert began working on the site, and made it a much happier venue. Our ambitions for it go higher. We expect it to swirl with eager crowds coming to watch thrills a minute, once the renovations are over. We'll keep you posted on how it goes!

New ULA Members

I want to announce three of the more recent recruits to the mad ULA cause:
-Patrick Simonelli;
-Leopold McGinniss;
-Bernice Mullins.

All are expected to play useful roles on the ULA team in coming months.

We have other candidates under review. Steve Kostecke and myself review possible candidates to become official ULAers. We look at many factors, including underground cred, rough agreement with our ideas, talent and personality, and the ability to play roles and find a quick place in the organization.

To all those waiting I can only say: Be patient. We'll be bringing more people in as this campaign goes along, at those times which will best benefit both the candidate and the organization. Or: we're not ready to grow any faster than we can keep up with. Other names will be added soon.

While in the future we'll have more bio information up on the fan site, for now I'll invite new members (if they want!), to say a little on this blog about themselves and about their own ideas regarding the renewal of literature and the lit world. (We don't pretend our ideas are written in stone. One reason for us to bring in new people occasionally is to gain different perspectives on the problems with literature.)

Addressing Several Points

To respond to a few points made by one of the abashed anonymous ghosts who post comments on this blog:

1.) Shakespeare's reputation was made not by academia, but by wildly popular performances of his plays through the years by outstanding actors like Ed Kean, Edwin Booth, John Barrymore, and Richard Burton. In fact, his reputation is suffering now greatly among the populace BECAUSE he's currently thought to be a creature of academia. The best favor universities could do Shakespeare at present is not to teach him! (I hope to produce an abridged version of "Hamlet" in Philly later in the year. I have several candidates in mind for the roles.)

2.) Regarding fundamentals in literature and in sports: Fundamentals are all well and good (I'm even occasionally aware of them), but the problem we have in lit right now is not a lack of fundamentals. Natural talents like Wild Bill Blackolive and Urban Hermitt are not dominating our literature (though they will, they will!), but instead, careful and cautious craftsmen like John Updike, Munro, and their ilk.

The problem is that literature is filled with wannabes who so much want to be big league players they assiduously learn the fundamentals, but have no talent to go along with their desires. It's like the a young baseball player watching video and learning the rule books, becoming through hard study a very mechanical version of a baseball player. The coaches applaud his effort, but shake their heads when he delivers a pitch and it hardly goes anywhere. Then another kid comes along, some rawboned unlearned farm kid, winds up awkwardly and delivers a 100 mile-an-hour fastball.

Basketball may be a better analogy. In the affluent burbs parents drive their children to basketball practice once a week, and wait in the cars while the darlings receive professional instruction from an ex-athlete Phys Ed grad who needs a job. At the same time, in the hood kids are out on the courts playing their game on playgrounds, day and night, hours upon hours, without any instruction at all.

What I noticed about standard lit writers when I began corresponding with them in the 90's (through the modest success of my newsletter), was how little actual writing they did. For a Tom Beller or even a Mary Gaitskill, writing a story seemed a laborious process, entailing numerous drafts. A couple 5,000-word stories a year was a major effort. (Indeed, for all her incredible talent, Gaitskill's production over the years has been noticeably small. Where are the novels??)

By contrast, undergrounders are always writing-- doing nothing but. Wild Bill and Jack Saunders crank out hundreds of issues of their zeens. Larry Richette is always writing novels. Frank Walsh writes poetry like breathing. E-zinesters do nothing but write and write and write. None of us needs to take expensive courses to find the motivation or energy to produce a few much-sweated-over pages of prose.

3.) Regarding libertarians: I don't know why the ULA wouldn't appeal to them as much as to other groups. Our D-I-Y philosophy must have some attraction for them-- we should certainly appear better in their eyes than conformist bureaucracy-laden lit realms.
I do know that many libertarians have their minds too much within the mindset of the corporate world, just as many Lefties have their minds inside government or academia. (As I'll point out in an upcoming post, these bureaucratic entities are in the process of merging.)
Anyway, to my knowledge there already are a couple actual libertarians in this outfit, but don't tell anyone.

4.) Finally, about "rational pragmatism," what history shows us is that those who change the world are seldom rational and only intermittently pragmatic. The most influential movement of them all, Christianity, was hardly rational!-- but was pushed by a small collection of wacked-out fanatics, whose ideas to rational people seemed fantastic. The notion that a group of semi-illiterate fishermen and farmers would transform the world with their message appeared at many times in their history to be totally nuts. Their enthusiasm was enough.
One could say much the same thing about many other historical figures and movements-- like the small band of Bolsheviks hiding out in coffeeshops like stray bums in Vienna or Switzerland before World War I.
One never knows who is going to cause change-- or how it will occur. But unless people get out there in the world yelling, advocating, pushing, making noise, nothing will happen.
The rational pragmatist spends $100,000 or more getting an MFA diploma and still by and large can't get published. How rational! How pragmatic!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Lit-Blogger Report: Back at the Pet Shop

Bernard Grebanier on Shakespeare: "-- habitually he transformed adjectives into nouns, nouns into verbs, verbs into nouns, and in general played havoc with grammatical tradition."

I'm endlessly amazed by the staggering stupidity of demi-puppet lit-bloggers. I get a quick image in my head of resting beribboned cats in cages behind glass, pretty and unquestioning of their limited but brightly-lit pet shop world. They're waiting for some human or publisher to come along and pluck them out! And take them home to some comfortable mansion where they can go on resting blinking luxuriously, perpetually acceptingly unquestioningly unquestionably not thinking about anything.

Leaders among the fluffy stupid animals are bad enough, exemplified by the tedious torturous reasonings of Daniel "Polonius" Radosh. Other lit-bloggers, the followers, don't even bother to rationalize their stance, making no effort toward showing a glimpse of original or independent thought.

As example we have "Old Hag" blogger Lizzie Skurnick, who chastized me recently for bad syntax. Bad syntax! Wow! Criminal behavior in lit-blogger land. There stands the fifth-grade schoolteacher, ruler in hand, ready to chase away any and all enthusiasm for language with her book of constipated precepts. "Let's eliminate originality and verve from your sentences, students!" the teacher insists. "Remember the rules!"

This is a person whose mind stays within acceptably narrow corridors of thought. The ship of literature is sinking as swiftly as the Titanic, but Lizzie the Hall Monitor of Language is ready to squelch every solution that doesn't conform to Chapter and Section specification of the properly designated code. It's a mentality adopted by writers who have no talent. All they have is their rules. Language to them is reduced to rules. Shakespeare himself didn't care overmuch for syntax (or spelling, for that matter), but we live in a more sophisticated more regulated more ridiculous era.

This is the Age of the Bureaucrat. Those who prosper within the regulated Machine aren't the nonconformists, but the bureaucrats. Quick investigation reveals that Lizzie fits this category well. Her unremarkable blog is devoted to rumors thoughts information and gossip concerning who's been or will be published by the corporate book world. (Or, which of her waiting pet-shop mates has found a home.) Play the game by the accepted rules-- step by slow step. Ascend the narrow staircase of conformity level by level. This is exactly what Lizzie did. She has a B.A. from Yale (not an easy school to get into, I'm told) and an M.A. in Poetry from the John Hopkins Writing Seminars-- where she learned not to take joy from the wild uninhibited use of language, like ULAers, but simply how to follow the rules. She did learn about syntax!
(One can be certain that Lizzie Skurnick as a child always colored strictly within the lines of her coloring book-- and still does. Her crayons are well-aligned, and always go back exactly the same way into the box.)

The only problem with worrying about "syntax" is that when you do, you immediately turn off 99% of the public, who were turned off to literature and poetry by having declensions, gerunds and syntax in school shoved down their throats!

Down with syntax!

Power to the Underground Literary Alliance, reviver of language, savior of literature!

Harper's Hostage Crisis Update

Still no word has come out of Harper's headquarters at 666 Broadway from captive employees. Not even a video! I thought by now we'd see Lord Lapham in turban and long robes justifying his magazine's crimes against writers; or lead henchman Roger D. Hodge in black hood brandishing a leaky pen if not a knife.

We await evidence that the Harper's staff is NOT held prisoner with hands tied and gags over their mouths, prevented from exercising independent thought and speech.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Scandal at Paris Review

As has been pointed out by ULAer Adam Hardin in a post on the previous thread, Paris Review Poetry Editor Richard Howard has awarded the Bernard Conners Prize to two of his former Columbia University students. Kind of a closed little world, isn't it?

How many demi-puppet lit-bloggers will have anything to say about this? (Or about other facts of lit-world corruption disclosed in Adam Hardin's Monday Report, currently up at

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More Phony Rebels

Tin House, Vol 6 No 2.

We see from this yuppie lit-journal an eagerness to co-opt the real thing. The cover depicts social-revolutionary art with the phrase: "Readers of the World Unite: Twelve Revolutionary New Voices for 2005."
"The Shock of the New" the back cover announces. A glance at the Contributors credits reveals an Editorial Assistant at Paris Review, grads from Vassar, Berkeley, Iowa Writing Workshop, teachers of creative writing, awards and fellowships from Provincetown, Guggenheim, Lannan, Whiting, Chappell, Djerassi, etc etc etc.

There is hardly anything new in any of them. They and their writing are not going to shock anybody-- it's just more of the same. (When plutocrat Rick Moody is on your masthead, you're hardly revolutionary. But go on-- keep debasing language.)

p.s. Inside the issue is a large ad announcing "The Tin House Martini" at esteemed Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. Why do I believe we'll see few revolutionaries there drinking it?

The Cost of Football

Pro football came from virtually nowhere fifty years ago to dominate the culture-- because of its aggressive marketing posture and because it knows how to engage and entertain people.

One sees the effects of the Philadelphia Eagles football success, as library branch locations across town cut back their hours. As was well-documented by the "PAW" Philadelphia Arts Writers publication a while back, the city pumped a billion dollars or so into new stadiums. SPORTS is a greater priority in this country than reading!

Events like the Superbowl have become playthings for monster corporations, whose executives jam skyboxes for tax write-off "business meetings" while watching the game. When it comes to scamming taxpayers, unlike arts scammers, these players are truly Big League.

Next year the Superbowl will be held in Detroit, at a glistening new stadium standing amid a sea of poverty in that most devastated of American cities, while the city shuts down schools and bus service because it has no money. Cameras at the event should be pointed not at the game on the field, but at the corporate bigwigs stuffing their faces-- then cut to shots of the reality of the wasteland of a city outside.

When I lived in Detroit in '98 I co-edited a lit-zeen called Pop Literary Gazette. We promoted it with rah-rah in-your-face pro sports-style noise and attitude. The journal got a sneering review from the then-arts editor at the city's weekly "alternative" paper. (He also worked as an English prof at the local university, as did his equally snobby elitist "language poet" wife.) This character mocked our zeen for its noise (a forerunner of the ULA, obviously), and put us down for behaving like sports fans! When fans and noise is exactly what literature needs. We had dared move words out of their quiet safe and stuffy mothballed closet and this bothered the museum caretakers.

Literature's imperative is to energize the populace, to get people other than the homeless and impoverished mothers looking for cheap daycare to care about libraries. Yes, reading is a personal experience (though public reading events sure aren't)-- but that doesn't mean words can't still connect with the heart and soul of individuals; that books and zeens can't move people!

(There will be a protest in Philly about the branch library closings at the Main Library, 20th and Vine or whatever are the cross streets, 10 a.m. this Saturday.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Barbara Ehrenreich: Not So Nickel and Dimed

Interesting is the $100,000 Puffin/Nation Prize given to affluent author Barbara Ehrenreich, in part for her novel Nickel and Dimed, her story of slumming for a few months as a minimum wage worker.

This shows how the lit establishment operates. To them, the lower classes are a strange, scarcely known phenomenon. They send one of their crack journalists to play at being poor for a short time-- always able at any moment to return to her Overdog lifestyle, which she of course did so she could write her book and receive tons of plaudits. Never would this class of people think of asking poor people to write about THEMSELVES-- or believe the non-elite would be able to do so.

Then the Overdogs turn around and award 100 grand of tax-sheltered money not to a writer who might actually need the funds-- but to one of their own; to the slummer. Big ads accompanied the award-- "Author-- Advocate-- Activist." It sounds to me like a TV commercial. It's an ad for the glorification of Self; the bourgeois liberal proclaiming, "Look at me! How great I am!"-- not caring really about the poor but about her role. As the wealthy shuffle tax-free funds and scantly-earned glory among themselves. (I'd like Ms. Ehrenreich to try being poor when she has no one to call on; no safety net; no easy way out.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Lock-Down at 666 Broadway

Strangest phenomenon of them all is the total silence coming out of Harper's headquarters at 666 Broadway in New York. Not one staffer, anonymous or otherwise, has come forward to condemn or defend the plagiarism charges. Is it conceivable that not one of them has an opinion?

Speculation is that the entire Harper's staff is being silenced by Editor Lewis Lapham and evil hanchman Roger D. Hodge. The workers are held prisoner, chained to their desks with gags over their mouths; their computer screens closely monitored so that no communication with the Underground Literary Alliance can take place. In this environment not one thought critical of Hodge's curious elevation to heir-apparent, or about the magazine's use of Bissell the Bumbler, can happen.


Should ULA commando teams be organized to free the Harper's hostages-- to allow them to once again exercise their right of free speech? The situation is being closely watched. If one brave Harper's staffer is able to remove the gag and make contact, this blog will be the first to report it. Stay tuned for updates.

The Ideology of Snobbery

The current lit world is infected at all levels with snobbery. Snobbery, snobbery, snobbery; all styles and kinds. Overdog snobbery demi-puppet snobbery Left and Right-wing snobbery prose and poetic snobbery even divisions between undergrounders due to the societal disease of snobbery.

I hear stories that certain bourgeois punks aren't interested in the ULA because we're too loud crass Barnum Bailey in-your-face breaking out of punk ghettoes megalomaniac difficult to deal with, but I attribute the problem simply to snobbery. Professional journalists high and low turn up their noses at us our Wild Bill Jack Saunders Tom Hendricks members they may not really be journalists only glorified desk-sitters proof readers make-the-coffee grunt workers but they embrace themselves in their bubble island of snobbery. Snobbery is all they have. That many highly-degreed literati who've been certified by society to be culturally safe or that many literary wannabes feel superior to us goes without saying. I'm not just a writer I'm a talker promoter organizer hypester this offends purists in cultural ghettoes all over the map I'm not a poet don't live the lifestyle full-time play the role I only write it is all! And the gentry run the other way at all of us we're not predictable we have no manners are too gauche our prose isn't regulated we complain we argue offend contend they throw up their hands ignore us scatter flee close the windows lock the door call security protecting themselves from the growing noise presence of this cast of crackpot hokey neanderthal grubby pamphleteer characters who call themselves the Underground Literary Alliance.
Many lit-folk are "too good" to give us merest respect-- when in truth no one is too good for anybody. (One has to be knocked down a time or two in life to realize this.) One of the codes I try to impress upon ULAers is not being embarrassed to be part of this group; to accept all of our writers and characters. Humility-- soul-- is a quality the greatest writers had in abundance-- Dickens, Dostoevsky, Dumas, and such. It's the most important asset a writer can have.

Super Bowl Narrative

One of the strengths of sports like football is that it borrows the use of narrative from drama and fiction. There's a distinct plot line, an ebb and flow, involving various strong personalities, to the games. Such was the case last night.

I was watching the game at a bar in one part of town, then left to walk to the other side. As I walked through the city I heard shouts from apartment buildings during various dramatic portions of the contest between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. People on the street, or doormen, would tell me the changing score as I passed, so that I sensed the progress of the narrative, though I wasn't watching it, because the entire quiet city was watching it. This must've been a little like how the ancient Athenians treated their great dramas, the whole populace wrapped up in the course of an art's events. In the case of last night, the football game was a kind of civic art.

I arrived back at my place as a collective groan of heartache seemed to emanate from buildings, from all of Philadelphia, as the Eagles lost the game.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Analyzing the Demi-Puppet Mind

It still amazes me that many demi-puppet lit-bloggers and writers have never even heard of the "Do-It-Yourself" movement, which the ULA embodies. Apparently they were raised as vegetated plants, as in the original "The Thing" movie, within the walls of the book conglomerates. They therefore relate every question back to the narrow corporate world which they view as "literature" in this country, not realizing that outside the intellectual skyscrapers spreads a vast array of independent writers and self-publishers who value their independence.

The demi-puppet vegetables, within their carefully fertilized (much shit involved) box of dirt, converse about the strange entity known as the Underground Literary Alliance.

"Yeah, well, like, they might be at this reading right now!" one of the vegetables-- a potato-- says to his box-mate the carrot. (Morgan Entrekin comes around with sprayer to water them.)

"They heckled the tomato!" the carrot responds with outrage. "Why did they do that?"

"Man, they wanted a book contract!" the potato says. (As vegetables lacking brains, they can't figure out the ULA is then going about it in curious fashion!)

Mr. Entrekin carries the box of dirt containing the vegetables to the window in his skyscraper office. Even he finds their conversation idiotic. Maybe a little sunlight will, uh, enlighten them. But after all, they're only vegetables.

They continue chattering away, the potato, carrot, and a few petunias, among others. Entrekin makes out occasional words; "book contract" most frequent. He smiles to himself. Well-raised plants! Their entire box-of-dirt literary world is encompassed by thoughts of book contracts! With such vegetables-- er, writers-- his skyscraper empire is yet safe.

As reward the publisher gives them a few more hits of mist from his water-bottle plant sprayer.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Related Quote

From The Truth About Shylock by Shakespeare authority Bernard Grebanier:

"Shakespeare was later, in Measure for Measure, to write a play in which one of the wickedest men he ever created, Angelo, postures to himself as a model of rectitude-- and convinces almost everyone else that he is too-- only because he has never done anything in his life which is against the law. When his betrothed was left dowerless he jilted her and wrecked the girl's life. But there is no law against doing that, and hence he feels beyond blame for it. He has refrained from doing any act that might have landed him in jail: according to his lights, therefore, he is a good man.

This conception of virtue has always been far from uncommon. Yet a man might commit dreadful crimes every day of his life and still keep safely within the limits of the law. The greatest crimes are those against the souls of other human beings; for many of these crimes there are no possible legal punishments. This purely negative idea of goodness-- that one is good as long as he does nothing illegal-- enables many a scoundrel to look down his nose at his neighbor."

When reading this quote I'm reminded not only of the Roger D. Hodge letter, but of the actions of Rick Moody in corrupting the grants process so that philanthropic funds are awarded to very wealthy people. Strictly legal, maybe, but actions against the memory of those folks (like the Guggenheims) who set aside the money for the doing of good in the first place.

Hodge the Comic

I forgot to mention the most comical part of the Roger D. Hodge letter to David DeKok's lawyer. That comes when Hodge says, toward the end of it,
"Of course, your client may always write a letter to the editor, if he wishes. Please be advised, however, that our letters section is carefully edited for length and accuracy."

Why am I laughing?

Please check out my two posts on this blog last October 19th where I show what Harper's does to letters to the editor. (Further example that "truth" is an alien concept to folks at that magazine.) "Accuracy" indeed!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The ULA Train Is Moving

The most important moves in the ULA right now are happening behind the scenes. A few more important pieces in the ULA machine will soon be put into place.

One thing we need to do is bring other ULA personalities besides myself to the forefront. If projects underway by Tim Hall, Patrick Simonelli, J.D. Finch, Jeff Potter, and others work out we'll be on the way to doing this.

Come Spring we'll make more noise about Tim Hall's novel Half-Empty, in conjunction with broader ULA activities. Tim may even have another book planned, of mysterious subject (I hope he keeps mum about it), whose working title is "Our Bad Writers"-- whatever that means.

Yesterday I met Philadelphia's best and most overlooked novelist, Lawrence Richette, and discussed lit matters with him. (I've read his first two Xlibris books, available on Amazon. I highly recommend them. He's a traditional novelist-- no hyper James Nowlan!-- but always provides a great read, which ultimately is what literature is about.) No other Philly novelist touches Richette-- few do in the country. He has a far more focused and bullshit-free vision than your typical McSweeney's writer!

Richette handed me his newest book, The Abyss. We discussed ways I can help get out "the word" about it. This post is a start.

What is all this blathering from me about?

When I was very young on a chaotic job I had a frazzle-haired boss named Mitch. Mitch didn't seem to know more than anyone else how the system we were in operated-- he provided hokey maxims in response to our questions. I was a perpetual smartass who was always asking questions. "Why are we doing it this way?" I'd ask. "Why are we doing this at all?"
Mitch would stare at me, exasperated and puzzled, in his world-weary way, put his hands through his frazzled hair, and tell me, "Karl, just do it for the judge."
(What Mitch said didn't make much sense, and didn't have to make sense. His job was to get us into harmony with an illogical unknowable process.)
Another slogan of Mitch's was, "When the word comes down, get on the train."

I'm telling ULAers near and far that the ULA train is leaving the station. We're going to have an exciting year. No reserved tickets-- first come, first served. If you're not on the train when it pulls out you'll be left behind.
p.s. I hope to get the first part of my report on the other Harper's plagiarism matter up either tomorrow or Friday, so stay tuned to this spot on your lit-blog dial.

Talking About Writing Programs

University writing programs have been going full-steam for over forty years. Every year hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in the hundreds of them and the many related seminars, retreats, symposiums, and related ass-kissing bullshit.

By contrast, the investment in the ULA and its writers in its four-year history has been in the thousands of bucks, scraped up catch-as-catch-can. YET, there is already more edge, energy, and relevance in our writings than in that of the combined millions of sheep who've received their MFA degrees-- their proper blue-ribbon certification. At worst, we're competitive with our poetry and prose. (College poetry is so bad that any streetcorner bard beats it.) When it comes to performance and the presentation of exciting lit personalities, there are no MFAers who can even come close to us. We wipe the lot of them off any stage.

To say that MFA programs produce some or a few decent writers, given the investment made in them (the greatest investment made in writers in any society at any time of human history) is, given the context, no argument at all. There's a few "okay" ones out there. Well, I would hope so!

The simple fact is that the body of work over the years doesn't justify the massive investment. Since literature began relying on schools to produce its writers, American literature has steadily declined. The failure speaks for itself.

MFA writers insist they haven't been harmed by the programs. A steady parade of grads leave the factory, walking in straight lines, neatly attired, expressions bland if not blank; pod person eyes devoid of spark of intelligent life. They look the same and sound alike. "Affected? We were not affected at all," a few insist, then hurriedly get back in line. There they go, marching forward, marching, marching! onward ho! Where they're headed they do not know.

Pick up one of the many hundreds of "literary" journals out there and the sameness of poetry and fiction is instantly familiar. Conformist lit-- practically generic.

The purpose of the ULA-- an outgrowth of the D-I-Y "zine" movement-- is to provide an alternative way of producing writers; writers gaining a feel for their art through the production and distribution of zeens. We don't say we're the only way to produce writers. We do offer a sound alternative. For the ULA to suddenly begin to absorb some of the huge mass of MFAers who are out there would be to soon destroy the integrity and existence of this alternative.

The ULA at its outset was like a band of anarchist pirates. Our first presentations were outrageous. We weren't out to "get along" with anyone. (We couldn't even get along with ourselves.) That was our nature. While I'm sure we'll bring in some MFA writers at some point-- those who show they understand what D-I-Y is about-- if we open our doors too wide our little pirate ship will be swamped by bureaucratic conformists-- by demi-puppets. Our Manifesto is still relevant. To understand the ULA, that remains the starting point.

I've spent over twelve years, beginning with New Philistine, pointing out the many problems of writing programs, in too many words to post here. I've exchanged views on such with program advocates such as Madison Bell-- who having written a textbook is kind of an authority on the subject, giving the best defense possible from an establishment viewpoint. On-line outlets such as Salon and Ironminds (now defunct), have in the past pointed to me as a leading opponent of such production factories. (I haven't been the only critic of them.) I sincerely believe that they, and the entire system, and the accommodations demanded by it of writers, is harmful to the art. As proof I can point to the best MFA story writer of them all, Mary Gaitskill, whose strongest work yet seems confined in a kind of straitjacket of craft-- wanting to burst out of its limitations but not doing so; and whose more recent work, for The New Yorker and such, shows a noticeable falling-off. Our goal is to produce writers who surpass Ms. Gaitskill in the very things she does best; the strength and reality of her vision and prose. We're on the way toward doing this, and will do so, if we stay the course and not fall into institutional confinements.

In short, to ask me, of all people, to accommodate the MFA process, when I've made opposition to it a focal point of my noise, is ridiculous. It'd be like asking Lenin to become a capitalist, St. Peter to accommodate Nero about to crucify him upside down, or James Brown to start singing bland show tunes. Such accommodation will have to wait for some future stage in the ULA's history.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Madison Bell: How Not to Write Historical Fiction

The Stone That the Builder Refused by Madison Smartt Bell.

Bell is out with the massive third volume of his massive historical trilogy.

I actually-- stupidly-- bought the first of the three books, All Souls Rising, in paperback in the late 90's to read on a flight I was taking to California to visit my sister and niece. I pushed myself through a few chapters, none of it making sense. In-flight drinks and shitty meals broke the monotony. I tried chatting with my seat mates. Nothing there. I looked out the window at the clouds. I went back to the book, pushing through more godawful chapters of verbiage as I floated along. The next thing I knew the plane was at the gate in L.A. and I was waking from a deep nap.

Bell's latest edition of his Herculean task of writing this sludgy mess looks no better. I get the feeling he's punishing himself for the sins of his race (the trilogy is about the Haitian revolution); or making a statement to the world that he's an impressive writer. Impressive writers are supposed to have impressive books to show for their efforts, and yep, there they are. All three of them, large in size and heavy in weight. As they sit weightily on someone's coffee table or bookshelf they look very impressive indeed. That's no doubt how most people will leave them.

(I wonder if even Bell's coterie of friends have read these mind-slaughtering works. It could make for some embarrassing cocktail party moments.
"Yes, I loved the books," a pudgy dilettante tells him. "Great stuff! Very thrilling."
"What was your favorite part?" author Madison Smartt Bell asks.
"Er, umph, harumph, ah, er, yes, excuse me, I seem to have swallowed a sizzle stick! Frightfully inexcusable. Now what were we as we were talking, er, talking about? Look! Mary! Mary herself. Haven't seen her in years. Yoo-hoo! Over here! Er, excuse me, 'Mad,' we'll take up our train of dialogue later, I promise you."
The person makes sure that wherever he is for the rest of the evening, it's nowhere near Professor Bell, who at any moment is liable to start talking about his unreadable trilogy.)

Part of the problem is that Bell has no ability to create living characters. (Toussaint the hero is a statue; a self-flagellating liberal's dream of a black hero-- think Sidney Poitier in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?") Another part of the problem is that Bell smothers his complicated plot in words.

An example of Bell's difficulty connecting with the reader (forgotten him, haven't we, Mr. Bell?) is found in the well-written opening lines, when he should be grabbing us and saying, "This will be good!"

"Toussaint sat hunched forward, consumed by his shadow, which the firelight threw huge and dark and shuddering behind him on the glistening wall. He was cold, mortally cold, with his ague. Drawing closer about his shoulders the ratty wool blanket he'd taken from the cot, he thought of adding to the fire one of the three or four chunks of wood that remained in his cell. But his trembling would not permit this action. His teeth chattered with the vibration of his chill, so that the bad teeth in his injured jawbone shot a bolt of pain to the very top of his skull. The white flash seared away everything. He gripped the blanket closer. . . ."

Very well-written, no question. Toussaint in his blanket is likely to quickly take a nap, and so soon enough will we. Bell gives us the character from the inside; the man's feelings. (One suspects it's actualy Madison Bell inside that blanket.)

Contrast this to the opening of The Teutonic Knights by an author of historical fiction from 100 years ago, Henryk Sienkiewicz:

"At the Wild Aurochs, an inn belonging to the abbey at Tyniec, several men were sitting, listening to the tales of war and travel being related by a veteran knight who had come from distant parts.

The man was bearded, sturdy, broad-shouldered, almost gigantic in stature, but lean; his hair was confined by a net ornamented with beads, and he wore a leather jacket, dented by the pressure of his cuirass, and over it a belt made of bronze buckles; from his belt hung a knife in a horn sheath and at his side was a short traveller's sword.

Next to him at the table sat a youth with long golden hair and playful eyes, evidently his companion, or perhaps his esquire. . . ."

There is hardly a wasted word. Here, the reader thinks, could be the beginning of an interesting tale. The next several paragraphs confirm this as the knight and his nephew hear of a tournament in Cracow at which will contest the fiercest knights of the land-- including cold and fearless Germans from the dreaded Teutonic order. Before the short chapter is finished several beautiful women have entered the inn. The reader is transported to this mysterious tima and place; is there at the inn, at his own table, seeing all of it. He wonders how the aging knight and his callow nephew will fare at the tournament, and wants to know more about the women. He continues reading. . . .