Thursday, March 16, 2006

How the Columbia "Howl" Event Celebrates Censorship

It was by lucky accident that a group of outsider writers known as the Beats became known, through the notoriety of Allen Ginsberg's censorship trial, but most especially because a fill-in-for-the-day reviewer gave Kerouac's On the Road a rave review in the New York Times. There followed a couple years of fame and mockery. A few of the Beats, including Ginsberg, were partly co-opted by the literary establishment, as curiosity pieces more than anything. Others, like Bob Kaufman, died at an early age. The Outsiders publicly sounded their drums for a few short tumultuous years-- then the placid ship of American lit resumed its placid course, in placid waters, a luxury cruise ship for the complacent and the affluent.

Amid an expanding media universe, most folk writers, America's genuine talents, have remained beneath notice. The journey of Aaron Cometbus, for instance, the underground success of his zeen, has been an important literary phenomenon of the last fifteen years. This stray outbreak of authentic culture (that not imposed from on high by institutions) received brief attention-- then Cometbus returned to oblivion, where he exists now, still riding buses and hand-writing his zeens, I'd guess.

What will the system-writers and mandarins of established lit be celebrating at Columbia April 17th?

They'll be celebrating their triumph over the underground, by raising up ONE token outsider and ignoring everyone else. ONE independent poet in a fifty-year period gains their recognition. They celebrate the fact they co-opted him. They show us, on an institutional stage, that their System is safe, the walls of privilege and hierarchy still stand around them-- still covered in ivy-- the undomesticated beast (as represented by a cardboard cut-out of Allen Ginsberg) has been tamed.

Do they care for an instant about the folk writers and outsider voices of our own day-- the Bill Blackolives Jack Saunders Urban Hermitts and Aaron Cometbuses? Will they spend one minute to find them? NO! Of course not. Present such genuine literary figures at their feet and they'd feign not to see them. It's not what they're about-- not what the Columbia circus show is about, which is to honor titles bureaucracy conformity and machine; to honor THEMSELVES, the survivors of American literature's homogenization process.

The gentrified audience politely applauds. Aristocracy triumphant.

The Underground Literary Alliance exists as the opposite of this. Our task is to record and celebrate the folk writers of our time; to create and announce this civilization's authentic literature.

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