Saturday, September 30, 2006
HOW THE ESTABLISHED LITERARY WORLD REALLY WORKS.
The Concept of Literary Assigned Value may take place only in the subconscious of the lit-world, but it's there.
Points are assigned to writers based on a mix of variables:
G.) PREDICTABLE WRITING STYLE.
No doubt one of the highest scores ever recorded was by Susan Minot. My guess would be in the 95-100 range.
Examine the evidence when she broke into public consciousness in the mid-1980s.
BACKGROUND: Connecticut blue-blood Old Money.
SCHOOLS: Prep school; Brown; Columbia.
CONNECTIONS: Quick connections made with Insiders like Robert Silvers and Ben Sonnenberg.
MANNERS: Well-bred. Highest score.
CONFORMITY: Without question.
WRITING STYLE: A competent-enough imitation of Ray Carver. Some of her short stories were fairly decent, within their strict limitations. Her ability, anyway, was adequate enough to justify the ensuing hype. There was at least SOMETHING there.
We see a similar case today with Marisha Pessl. One can envision her editors: "Well, it's not all that bad, is it? Derivative, pretentious; but not completely bad. It LOOKS like it's a good novel, on the surface, even if it isn't."
Now, for contrast, examine the score for a typical ULAer: Jack Saunders.
BACKGROUND: Low-rent 300-pound 65 year-old redneck cracker from Georgia.
SCHOOLS: At least has schooling, unlike some ULAers, though in a field strictly unrelated to literature.
CONNECTIONS: Zero, obviously.
LOOKS: See "BACKGROUND."
MANNERS: See "BACKGROUND."
CONFORMITY: Not politically correct. See "BACKGROUND."
P.W.S.: His work is totally unique. Very original. Lowest score.
Though Jack once famously received a "0" from an arts grants committee, under L.A.V. he achieves a total score of "3"; points given for "SCHOOLS," though they weren't the right ones.
Many ULAers (Joe Pachinko, for instance) score even lower.
A hapless but willing ordinary demi-puppet like Henry Baum will score 25-30, most of the points given under "CONFORMITY."
Some demi-puppets, Lee Klein for instance, familiar with the game find various ways to bump-up their ratings, through getting to know Famous Writers, MFA degrees from Iowa, and the like.
Susan Minot's sister, Eliza, carries a high L.A.V., though her writing is less than negligible. How else but through L.A.V. was she able to get recent attention in both New York Times Magazine and the New York Times Book Review?
Publishers like Morgan Entrekin likely have the L.A.V. formula handy at their desks-- or at least in their heads.
(How to determine L.A.V.: award 0-14 points in each category. Grant two bonus points if the writer's photograph has appeared in The New Yorker.)
That's L.A.V.! Simple enough. Aspiring writers, save the $200 classes at writers conferences, like the one upcoming at Penn. The L.A.V. formula is all you need to know.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
DEMI-PUPPET OF THE MONTH!
Hands-down the September winner, the person who's done the most for status quo literature; who's made himself most subservient; is Jeffrey Lependorf, who has overseen the takeover of his own small press organization, CLMP, by the monopolies. (Part II of this story is upcoming at www.literaryrevolution.com
the ULA fan site.)
Richard "Beau" Nash of Soft Skull finishes in Second Place. When Jeffrey Lependorf said "Jump," Beau Nash quickly obliged. ("Give one of my own writers that assignment? A small press person writing about the small press? Can't do that. Bring on the Big Guys!")
We'll give Honorable Mention to Whitney Pastorek of Time-Warner for her mass e-mail, for all those who say we don't give enough attention to female demi-puppets. Wear the award proudly!
Finishing once again far out of the money, to his own shame and chagrin, is Lit-Machine Hatchet Man Phillip Lopate. Keep trying!
("Whino the Cat" portrays Whitney Pastorek. Portraits of Lependorf, Nash, and Lopate are unavailable at this time.)
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
1.) Foremost is the matter of blackballing a writer, as Whitney may have sought to do by sending out a mass e-mail to others when Tao broke one of her publishing rules.
How often does this kind of thing go on? How often has it been done regarding the Underground Literary Alliance? Anyone with inside knowledge care to comment?
2.) Tao's solution for dishonesty in the literary world is to meet it with more dishonesty, accompanied by self-serving statements about engaging in "civil disobedience." (Couldn't Nasdiij and J.T. Leroy say the same thing? They probably have.)
Tao's actions, however rationalized, will hurt writers, not help them. He breaks any bond between independent writer and independent editor. Whitney's request for first publication of all work may have been unfair, ill-advised, and misguided, but it was her request and she was upfront about it. Tao ignored it in the pursuit of his own self-interest, with fancy gloss put over it.
This, at a time when the small press is being swallowed up by bigger fish, when they're modeling themselves on corporate practices. Whitney, already total captive of the monopolies (intellectually and in fact) will run to CLMP. They'll tell her: "Contracts!"
Conglomerates require a contract for everything, which results in overlegalized, overregulated literature. It leads to heavyweight attorneys like those on CLMP's board calling too many shots.
I've operated without contracts throughout my ULA activities. Frankly, I've been burned because of it. Maybe I'm naive, too much of an anarchist, to believe we can be better than this; to believe that lit-folk can operate on a foundation of cooperation and trust.
When the writer shafts anyone who's trying to help him with a project, he's ultimately shafting himself. (Call it karma: a law of the universe.)
(I wonder if Tao has a contract with Melville House?)
3.) There's the question of basic dishonesty involving Tao Lin. I'm concerned because the ULA was burned in a small way last year by two writers who misrepresented themselves to us; who knew our outlook yet joined regardless, then resigned in a flurry of fury and sound without a hint of warning. (They quickly set about shafting each other.) One of these writers is a good friend of Tao's. Tao and his friend are both very prolific writers, sound and think alike, and for both the main concern beneath their posturing is to be published as often as possible: the out-of-control WILL I've spoken about-- all else subservient to the writer's single-minded progress.
(Tao Lin, incidentally, appeared at the same time the ULA dissension occurred-- one of his earliest appearances on this blog.)
4.) There remains to me the question of his identity. In this day of J.T. Leroys, it's a question which has to be asked. What's his backstory? Has he posted elsewhere before his sudden emergence as if born full-grown from the womb? Is he an Asian-American writer? Where does he get the time for so much blogging and writing-- a tremendous amount which is not found often? (I wish ULAers, who never suffer from writer's block, were that prolific.)
Questions and more questions. Anyone have any answers?
Monday, September 25, 2006
Does he need the attention? Aristocratic Brit Hitchens writes for Vanity Fair and is a regular guest of right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
Meanwhile The Nation has never given one microdot of coverage to the Underground Literary Alliance, the most exciting literary group going. They've pointedly ignored our protests, e-mails, and mailings. Whose side are they on?
It shows that more important than ideology in this society is class-- being a proper Member of the Club.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
I'm used to it. What the person said gave a glimpse into that crowd's mindset.
They feel they were tricked by me. Our legitimate DIY literary movement, which existed before the ULA was founded, was given a smidgen of attention. A few stray words of independence broke through their totalitarian wall. Writers who would not in 10,000 years be covered by the literary totalitarians were written about. An author like Jack Saunders who's been ignored for decades was written about. Non-conformist writers representing 90% of American society were written about.
Panic quickly set in. "Ohmygod! We no longer have 100% of the literary pie, are down to 99% of it. How did this happen?"
Orders were quickly sent out to robotic demi-puppet lit-bloggers: "Re-institute blackballing."
Then: silence. No one making waves. No criticism of today's corrupt literary system. The totalitarian sea is once again placid. One can look across its vast expanse and see not a ripple. Anyplace. Peace. Harmony. Lobotomy.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
The ULA itself doesn't need to stoop to this, as we have as our weapons evidence, ideas, and facts.
If there's no identity behind it, it's not from us.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Roads into the mainstream for writers and artists without proper credentials, connections, or wealth are being closed. The need for strong Do-It-Yourself organizations like the Underground Literary Alliance has become greater.
The need for a revived zine scene becomes greater. Until lately the once-vibrant zine movement has been comatose-- at best, in a holding pattern going no place. The new ZineWiki project is a sign of new life.
Among zinedom's problems:
Too many zine people think they can remain in a steadily narrowing niche and survive. They're like Yahtzee players, pursuing an activity which long-since peaked. Their numbers dwindling, they're on a road toward becoming quaintly archaic. (If they're not soon outlawed altogether by the mainstream.) In a constantly changing world; as part of an ever-expanding media universe; creative people have to adapt or die. This was the impetus behind the ULA; taking the zine movement to the next stage.
B.) FLAWED NAME.
"Zine" has always been a flawed name for a cultural movement, not least because it looks stodgy. When I stop by this weekend's Philly ZineFest I expect to cringe, again and again, as I did last year, at the word's mispronounciation. It's time for an improved name plate if the movement is to revive itself. I've made this argument before, unsuccessfully-- which doesn't mean the argument isn't right.
C.) FLAWED FLAGSHIP PUBLICATION.
I receive each rare issue of Zine World now with disappointment. In ten years it hasn't changed, and reeks of staleness. The pandering to high school students who've all fled to Rupert Murdoch's MySpace is goofy. The cannibalization of fellow zinesters in the body of the pages is misguided. Such behavior was necessary in the '90s when zinedom was riding a wave. Then, it served to prove diversity and democracy. When you bring out one issue every two years it's self-defeating. The scorn shown by ZW reviewers for the literary activism of folks like G. Tod Slone or myself is without sense. At the present time we ARE the literary underground; its leading edge; its demonstration of fight and life.
Zine World appears dysfunctional. Going after one's own in a beaten-down niche is ghetto behavior; piranhas devouring one another in a fish tank. A publication like ZW should have two purposes:
1.) to encourage zinesters.
2.) to announce them to the world.
Find something good to say? Why not? It might be the only time anyone says anything good about these people and their efforts-- ever. (But this would go against the reviewers' "code" as "objective" journalists. Blind mice living without context; who don't notice their own marginalization. There's nothing objective about this society. In a skewed world of uneven playing fields, of Randian individualism gone haywire, "objectivity" becomes another word for self-importance.)
D.) ZINE REVOLUTION?
This was the promise given by Factsheet 5 and others in the 1990s. A few of us took the mantra seriously. Now: A revolution? Where?
Where's the noise, the success, the offensive, the strategy?
The only way to change the culture isn't through incrementalism without momentum. One will incrementalize oneself into nothing. Instead, one has to strike at the heart of the beast.
(More print publications, total pages, print ads, noise, buzz, influence, come out of the tiny island of Manhattan than the rest of America combined. This is reality. As we're seeing with the CLMP story, this power is becoming more concentrated.)
Study history and you'll see that movements which survive are those which can adapt to the always-changing world; who are always moving, never static.
"Static" defines zinedom and is why it's destined for extinction unless it changes (its main energies now involved in compiling and feeding off its memories).
The Underground Literary Alliance was formed because we saw zines/zeens as literature; as an important part of American literature-- as the one piece of literature best able to save it. I hope we still believe this. I welcome alliances with all zinesters who believe this; who believe in their talent and are eager to make real noise and change.
However, the man said one or two things in his rambling speech that were right, when he mentioned our "so-called democracy," "a democracy of elites."
Nowhere is this more true than in the literary community. The lit-world is becoming a closed shop of aristocrats and their servile flunkies. It's almost completely intolerant of dissent.
After a side detour or two, I intend to return to this theme-- with more documentation.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I was just thinking about how in 1999 I'd stopped writing altogether, was busy working sixty hours a week running a tiny import broker's office along Detroit's riverfront, after work I'd stop almost every evening at Third Street Saloon near where I lived for a burger with two or three beers, talk with friends, then usually head straight home, to wake up early the next morning and do it all over again. That was it! Just an ordinary working guy, as I'd been for most of my life; no past I wanted to think about and no future, only the present, existence, satisfying enough if one cares to know the truth about it.
Within a little over a year I was sitting at CGGB's gallery at a small table drinking beers with George Plimpton; as the leader of the ULA sharing views with him about the state of literature. Things can change very swiftly in this world.
People ask why we didn't go all the way with our campaign; why we didn't overturn the literary status quo completely, to replace their fossilized set-up with our writers and ideas?
The answer is that for one thing we didn't move fast enough to carry through our momentum before the solid steel walls of the castle's conformity came down to shut us out. But another reason is certainly that after every triumph we lose focus, like true bohemians, in an endless blur of celebration. This has been the case after every one of our events. I'm told it happened this year after Cleveland. It happened even with me at our Chicago show in 2003, at which I began a several-week nonstop drinking jag which wrecked my health; it took me over a year recovering. Our inherent out-of-control nature which makes us literary revivalists also makes us our own worst enemies.
I can't get out of my head how painfully boring was the official Miller Hall "Howl" reading at Columbia University this past spring, when Eric "Jellyboy the Clown" and I entered from the noise of the ULA's own outside hilarity. The deadening discomfort of everyone pretending to listen to an old recording of Allen Ginsberg was excruciating. They were there to celebrate "Howl"-- but no one was having any fun. It was anti-fun-- typical bourgeois going through the motions, a ritual of pretense. There's not a doubt in my mind that a couple people on that stage would've had more fun with us! We made a stir and left them to themselves, to their boredom, having first stimulated thought, disagreement, and excitement. We left a void, returned silence, and everyone there knew it-- this was the perfect way for us to get across our message about what's wrong with established literature now.
I'd bet there's a lot of lit-folks who'd like to be ULAers, to have our freedom of action and voice; to break free from their constricting art-stifling roles.
Someone speculated to me recently that Rick Moody himself probably wishes he were a ULAer-- which is why he's started pretending to be a literary radical, through such things as the Soft Skull foreword. Maybe he hired tutors to train him in the proper attitude and voice-- and still didn't get it right.
He'd like to be like fellow plutocrat Katrina vanden Heuvel. She liked The Nation so much, she bought it!
Unfortunately, the Underground Literary Alliance isn't for sale. We're well aware that any sum obtained for it by us would quickly be drunk, drugged, or gambled away, spent on women or what-not, and we'd soon enough be back where we started, with nothing.
The only route open then for Mr. Moody is to start his own version of the ULA. It would be the Ultimate Co-optation.
THE RICK MOODY SCHOOL FOR LITERARY RADICALS
Boot camp is set up at rugged Fisher's Island. Hired as instructor is a former ULAer. He wears green army-style clothes, including a small soft green cap. The instructor is tall and lean, late-30s in age, with a short dark beard and sunglasses, in either a cheap imitation of a young Che, or as a cheap disguise. The man scowls as he steps from the quonset hut to study the line-up of Moody's recruits. (Moody sits observing from a nearby parked limousine.) The Drill Instructor's task: to whip a collection of trust-fund preppies, Iowa workshop grads, and lit-blogger demi-puppet establishment wannabes into a passable facsimile of the ULA.
The D.I. walks up and down the line, scowling. The recruits don't look promising. He surveys them like Lee Marvin.
"You, you Not-So-Dirty Dozen!" he tells them.
Yalie Lizzie Skurnick puts her hand on her hip. "Do you have to speak so loud?" she complains. "I mean, like I really think you're kind of mean. I don't appreciate your tone of voice. Do you know that?"
"Back in line, recruit!" the D.I. yells. Skurnick clumsily trips as she complies.
The instructor's eyes narrow. This D.I. is tough! He's taking no guff. He wheels upon a staffer from n+1. "Speak with ULA clarity!" he demands from the young man, who in terror immediately begins speaking.
"Mixing the formal tradition with ostensibly realistic psychological insight in classical proportions with essayistic components flourished in baroque profusions the perennial novel attained by the promiscuous exactitude of Robbe-Grillet overrun by Musil's speculative exhaustive forays into the proportional dispositions peripheral perennial genre pasticheur metafictionist attennuated representations. . . ."
"Enough!" the D.I. barks. The recruit is still talking. The D.I. stands him in the corner of a fence with an upturned pail over his head, so no one will hear him.
The D.I. frowns. "Clearly we have some work to do," he says. The other recruits anxiously await his next command.
"Growl!" he shouts suddenly at Elissa Schappell. She blanches and runs away bawling.
The D.I.'s eyes narrow. This is not going according to plan. Stronger effort is needed. He faces down lit-bloggers Maud Newton and Robert Birnbaum.
"Say something critical of today's literary gods."
Maud: "Uh, er, um. . . ."
Birnbaum: "Rick Moody is a great writer! I don't care what you say. No, no, you can't make me do it! Give up my innate groveling? Never! I'm crashing out! Going over the hill!"
Recruit Birnbaum is last seen escaping across the polo grounds of the private club the Literary Radical Camp is based at.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
For the first two hours I thought it a mildly interesting flick. Then with a few short scenes in a ten-minute span the threads of the theme come together at once, exposing surprising depths of meaning. I was knocked back in my seat. "Whoa! There's more to this. A lot more."
I'm sure many people who see the movie won't understand it. The meaning is conveyed in a subtle way. Once it's noticed it seems obvious-- yet few film critics if any have remarked upon it. (Those at the Venice Film Festival must've understood it.)
The movie starts slowly. The detective played by Adrien Brody is an unlikeable character, until more is revealed about his background. I came to identify with him as he comes up against the mindless strength of a monolithic industry. A studio p.r. chief tells him that what matters is not what's true or false, but what's good for the business. (See a parallel anyplace?)
The acting is superb, notably by Diane Lane; Joe Spano; by the woman who plays the final girlfriend; and by whoever plays the agent of George Reeves; the agent whose sudden lit-up smile and words give away the game.
Oh, and what of Ben Affleck, who plays 50's TV "Superman" Reeves? The film after all isn't much of a film noir. There's not a lot of action. It's a character study of Reeves. At the same time it's a study of a civilization.
Affleck's performance is masterful. The "home movie" footage of him at the end reveals something of the mystery of the plot, maybe. It gives away the mystery of the theme, which is America itself.
America! That mythic name, representing the ultimate dreamland civilization. It's as magical a name as that of Atlantis; representing so much more than a mere physical landscape. One has to understand that, to understand the best American art, including great American novels like The Octopus or The Great Gatsby.
The movie's characters are effective in themselves, but also effective as symbols. Affleck as Reeves represents America: beefy, clunky, hypocritical, simple, and amazingly idealistic. Reeve's death in 1959 represents the end of the 50's, the death of American innocence. This is expressed by the other home movie shown at the end, that of the detective's young son.
We never stop our cycle of idealism and disillusion, do we? With every generation the cycle begins again. We want the American dream to be real. We cling to it desperately, fighting for it in our different ways for all of our lives. It's what it means to be American; what's best and worst about us at the same time.
Stay tuned to this station!
On Other Fronts:
--will be a new feature on this blog, wherein I examine the current condition and possibilities of zeens/zines.
Note: I consider myself not a writer, but a zeenster. There's a distinction. Yes, I write, in almost every form: essay, fiction, poetry. But I enjoy creating vehicles for my writings. What started as a necessity to get my thoughts out there became a pleasure, in many ways a vocation. I love creating titles of large graphic letters; designing covers; laying out my words on pages in unique ways. I enjoy marketing and selling my own products. By the nature of their craft, zeensters are more well-rounded than mere writers, with better understanding of the full production of the literary art.
I've never stopped producing zeens, throughout my tenure in the ULA; from ambitious projects like Zeen Beat to quick one-shots like War Hysteria! (which sold extremely well), to simple double-sided one sheet free broadsides like The ULA Herald and New Poetry Express.
Up Next: I begin work soon on Literary Fan Magazine #3.
HEARD ON THE RADIO
"Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James. Is he in the Rock Hall of Fame yet?
Non-rocker James Taylor is. Unbelievable.
NY TIMES SCHMOOZE REVIEW
The new issue out today (I read someone's copy at a coffee shop) includes these thrilling highlights:
1.) A rave review of the lethargically-paced memoir The Mystery Guest by self-obsessed French writer Gregoire Boulliere. (Earn chi-chi cred by buying a copy now!)
2.) A positive review of a new book by fake-zinester Pagan Kennedy, a mediocre writer whose zine work in the 90's was far outdone by more explosive zeen talents, including many "riot grrrls." What Pagan had going for her were enough connections to get her flimsy zine work excerpted in Village Voice; that's all.
3.) A laughable review by Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff of a book about "How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges" by Daniel Golden. (Sounds like stating the obvious.) Wolff, who admits he's spending $1.7 million for his pampered snots' "tuition and other unavoidable add-on," makes comical assertions throughout, including the ridiculous statement that "you probably can't get elected if you went to Harvard; George Bush is president in part because he made himself so anti-Yale." In other words, Wolff says that neither school counts.
Really!?? But, Mr. Wolff, nine out of the last ten major party presidential candidates were graduates of Harvard or Yale-- or, as with George W. Bush, of both.
Friday, September 15, 2006
While listening to the radio this morning, I heard a report about a failed merger between energy giant Exelon and a small company in New Jersey. A p.r. flack for the smaller firm spoke about how beneficial the merger would've been for them. He sounded like Jeffrey Lependorf. He was disappointed they couldn't come to terms of agreement.
Mergers and buyouts have been the economic story of this country the past thirty years: consolidation within each industry into a handful of giants. Corporations are now multi-nationals, more powerful and influential than governments; operating on a larger and larger scale.
Why would we think things are different with the production of literature? They haven't been. Random House, with unstoppable will, gobbled-up book company after book company-- then itself was swallowed up. Charles Scribners Sons, once the proudest and best of all book companies, is now simply "Scribners," a small piece of Simon & Schuster, which is in turn a small part of Viacom, or someone.
The merger of the giant pieces of culture, through the interchangeability of their members and the standardization of their thought processes-- regulated foundations; corporations; universities; government agencies-- goes unreported, but it's happening in front of our eyes.
The takeover of the small press is part of this. The once-independent agency has been invaded by ruthlessly strong members of the larger industry. They'll drive the CLMP ship-- will drive it inevitably toward themselves. The two entities will be sharing information and will be sharing a lot of things. They're in the process of merger; what the two energy companies were unable to accomplish.
Has the growth of energy giant Exelon been a good thing? For profits; for the corporate bottom line: yes. Tell that to the people who live around the decrepit old nuclear power plant in Oyster Creek, New Jersey. If the owners and decision-makers of the plant lived in that community, they'd feel some obligation to it. They'd be subject to community pressure, to lobbying. But the plant is owned by Peco Energy, with offices in Philadelphia, which is in turn part of Exelon, with headquarters in Chicago. The real decision makers are far removed from their customers and constituents. They're virtually unreachable, sitting in guarded glass structures, the officers having no public identity or address, beyond a post office box, or a 1-800 number with a recording and numbers to punch.
Tell me who now has more influence on the editors at Graywolf Press: the isolated writer with a manuscript, or wealthy trustee James L. Bildner?
Who are a Jeffrey Lependorf or Richard Nash more concerned about, and answerable to, you writers in the hinterlands: you, or their swanky powerful friends in New York?
The Underground Literary Alliance is a threat to the larger literary organism, and perceived as such. ULA writers (as zinesters and e-zinesters) developed outside the body. What's more, we've challenged the larger body at all points. We're in open competition with it, and have announced this. We're NOT on the same side. Our writers and products, our perspective, our goals, our non-hierarchical non-credentialed set-up, are very different from the status quo. We're in no way alike.
This marks us as very different from a "progressive" lit-journal like n+1, whose editors were educated within the greater organism; who already write for the most esteemed most deeply-embedded sections of it. Whether they realize it or not, their standards and values already conform or WILL conform to the larger body they're part of.
The demi-puppet cells of the larger body are unconsciously loyal to it, and hostile to us. They know that if the ULA can't be absorbed it must be destroyed. This is nature's will.
The only way for the ULA, literature's true alternative, to survive is to find more allies; more individuals of integrity and conscience to join us, and help us grow.
Who can deny it? When I've talked of American literature becoming one unthinking monolithic machine I've been right.
To misquote Burke, I'm surprised 10,000 demi-puppets haven't rushed to Lependorf's defense. But what could they say?
Their ranks are arrayed inside the castle, in glittering finery. Their leaders-- Moody, Gerald Howard, Ben Marcus, Geoffrey O'Brien, Tom Beller, Jon Franzen, and so many others-- sit on impressive steeds. The glow of armor in the sunlight is blinding.
Colored plumes rise from steel helmets! Confident followers ring the inside castle walls, waving silk scarves at the arrogant heroes readied for battle. The mighty horses pace anxiously, their anticipation relieved in bellowing snorts. Outside the walls wait only the vagabond bands of the Underground Literary Alliance. The expensive heroes will stomp them into the dust! Let them out! They await only the opportunity to show the eternal truth of their much-lauded greatness.
The castle gates open; the drawbridge comes down. The heroes put their hands to their scabbards and unsheath their swords-- to find they're toy imitations made out of cardboard.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
No doubt people employed by the conglomerates believe this childish nonsense. Just as Wal-Mart might believe that their growth and corporate practices are healthy and good for everybody. Wal-Mart is on the side of small business also! (Look at Sam's Club.) But what it's really after is increased influence, power, and control.
Jeffrey Lependorf says that Rick Moody is published by small magazines as well as by the gigantic houses. That's the point! The guy is everyplace. Lependorf uses a circular argument. Moody is chosen for writing assignments because he's well-known. He's well-known because he takes so many writing assignments.
At some point the small press has to develop its own stars. There are plenty of talented, even known underground writers who could've written the foreword. (Lyn Lifshin or Aaron Cometbus.) There are better, more authentic writers than Rick Moody on Soft Skull's own staff.
(Instead the Great Rich White God Moody steps down from the heavens to bless the small-press project. Small press people look up with wonder and gratitude.)
To say that no one would buy the book without the endorsement of someone from the monopolies is inferiority-complex slave mentality of the worst sort. Rather better I think to introduce someone real, exciting, and new, than just the same-old MFA same-old. Who's next? Joyce Carol Oates? She's missed out on one or two writing assignments of late-- has some open time on the 18th of next month, at 7 p.m. She'll try to squeeze you in.
(I'd think most struggling writers need to vomit, as I did, upon seeing a Rick Moody or another of his fashionable ilk feigning to speak for them.)
(One can't really blame Jeffrey Lependorf for his opinion. In the swanky Manhattan rooms through which he circulates, the writers he meets probably WOULD buy a book if Moody's name were on it. They're hardly representative of the nation.)
Lependorf states that writers take their cues from the literary establishment. In some lap-dog demi-puppet circles this is true. There are a few trendy lit-journals, founded by literary Insiders like Elissa Schappell, Tom Beller, or Dave Eggers, whose sole purpose is to publish the same prepster authors the big guys publish. They exist as little more than promotional extensions of the big houses. (If there's no disagreement between these journals and the big guys, it's because they're from the same schools and backgrounds, carry the same mindset, have the same premises: can't for a moment look outside the walls of their privileged assumptions.)
For some, it goes beyond imitation. Beller's Open City is published, distributed, and promoted by Grove-Atlantic. McSweeney's Books does numerous joint ventures with the conglomerates, to the point it's become an embedded part of them. Do its journals qualify as independent? What do you think?
What we're being handed by the literary world as "alternative" is not.
I'm reminded of the end of Orwell's book Animal Farm, when the animals outside the house look from the farmers to the pigs, the pigs to the farmers, and can't tell the difference.
Jeffrey Lependorf's remarks (below) sound reasonable enough-- but, strangely enough, they're the point-of-view of the monopolists.
What do small press people themselves think? I'd like to hear from them.
I'd think it's like owning a small diner, and joining a cooperative business group to lobby for the cause of small business-- then at the first meeting everyone is settled in their chairs and the Vice-Chairman from McDonald's steps to the front of the room.
I'd think it's like joining an upstart political party intending to offer a different voice-- then discovering the small party is in fact run by the Republicans or the Democrats.
Lependorf's words sound reasonable-- but one catches glimpses of ridiculousness.
Note the reference to "real" literature. This man KNOWS.
Or, the comment that writers seek publication only with the big guys. (Not true. Even my mailbox is often jammed with unsolicited manuscripts and books.) To Lep's mind, they do so because of their "illusion" about achieving "fame and fortune."
But maybe, Lependorf, they want to make a living at their craft. Maybe, for those who actually have something to say, they seek to reach a wider audience.
He's right though that for the writers and poets who'll be buying the book, publication with the big guys IS an illusion, as it's a rigged game through and through. Which the author of the foreword surely knows about. (Curious that, to solve this fixation of "fame and fortune" by writers, Lependorf is going to put a model of fortune and fame at the front of the book.)
Contradictions everyplace. What Lependorf's remarks reveal is HIS attitude, and that of the monopolists.
"What can we do?" he explains. "Everybody loves us."
Call it the Wal-Mart Syndrome. Monopolies exist because they're good. People would rather shop like cattle in a mile-long warehouse, part of a mob. It's a matter of choice! "People love us," Wal-Mart says, forgetting that everybody else has been underpriced, or that their customers are economically hurting and need any discount they can get (for most the ONLY reason they shop there); or that all the small-town downtown business districts which used to exist are shut down and there IS no other choice.
Apparently there's no other choice for the small press, when they see the Big Fish swimming toward them, than to be swallowed up.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Hi King. I'm happy to answer your questions. I've placed answers below:
(Mr. Lependorf, two questions for a report I'm writing.
1.) Who made the decision to ask Rick Moody to write the Foreword to your 2006/2007 Soft Skull directory?)
I did. Each year we ask a well-known writer to dontribute a foreword to our Literary Press and Magazine Directory. Past writers have included Kimiko Hahn, Grace Paley, and Sherman Alexie. The primary purpose of the Directory is to allow writers of poetry, literary fiction, and creative non-fiction to find out about and best get their work to the publishers who care most about what they do, the mission-driven, independent literary publishers that make up our community. That said, our community doesn't operate in a vacuum, but rather as a vital part of a much larger publishing ecosystem that includes bottom-line-driven conglomerates, booksellers (both independent and otherwise), distributors, marketers, librarians, etc. Many fine writers sadly seek publication only with the conglomerates, either because that's all they know about, they have illusions about fame and fortune, or they aren't aware of what an indie publisher can offer them. We ask a commercially well-known writer to create a preface for the Directory to attract attention to the book, and to hopefully write something of value to those just seeking publication. The writers we have asked have all demonstrated great generosity to the small press and literary magazine community. We tend to ask writers who got their start in small publishers, or who go back and forth. While Mr. Moody has published several big house books, he's also a regular in literary magazines and he's very generous with his time in supporting causes like CLMP.
(2.) What's the explanation for the transformation of the CLMP Board of Directors the last few years, from small press folks to chiefly monied people with tight connections to the big book monopolies?)
If only my board were awash in "monied people!" What you have interpreted as a transformation is in fact an expansion. The CLMP board still has small press publishers and writers on it (poet Kimiko Hahn, for example, has just cycled off the board and another writer will be invited to take her place), but now also has members of the larger publishing community who care deeply about literature and independent publishers and wish to help. The primary responsibility of any board is that of fiscal governance and fundraising. This was lacking in the past and we're working to widen our field of support and expertise. One of the new programs to come out of this growth, for example, has been a number of programs through which small publishers have been able to work with literature-friendly folks from some of the larger houses, many of whom entered publishing because of a love of literature and "ended up" working in larger houses for any number of reasons. These big house folks have been quite generous in sharing marketing ideas and information on issues like foreign rights and other brass tacks equally important to well-functioning small publishers. Small publishers do not operate in competition with their larger, commercial counterparts. In fact, it's often the case that, contrary to what one would assume, literary titles at large houses get less support than equivalent books at small houses. In any event, the CLMP board hardly consists of big money folks wielding power; the CLMP board members who are associated with commercial publishing publishing have strong interests in real literature and want to assure that literary publishing remains vital and vibrant. CLMP exists to help small publishers achieve a common goal of getting the work of writers they serve into the hands of readers. We invite help from all who wish to help in carrying out that goal.
I hope that's helpful,
Monday, September 11, 2006
A few suggestions:
1.) BILL GATES.
Why not the best? No one knows better how to create a business from scratch. Gates could further standardize the industry, so that ALL writers are interchangeable and alike, with the technical efficiency and smoothness of Microsoft. (Many believe author Jonathan Franzen has reached this level of robotic accomplishment.)
2.) WILLIAM FORD JR.
Now that this scion of wealth has run his family's company into the ground (as well as the Detroit Lions football team) and stepped down as Ford Motor CEO, there might be a place for him with CLMP. He well fits the pattern of privileged lit-folk like Rick Moody: a modestly talented well-connected "nice guy" with an effective smile.
3.) THE WALTON FAMILY.
If CLMP is embarked on the direction of whole-hearted embrace of monopoly, why not go all the way? If nothing else, Wal-Mart's owners would help regain literature's audience. Of course, they might offer too useful advice: put all American writers out of business and import poets and novelists from China!
4.) KARL ROVE.
If you're going to recruit high-priced political consultants, then instead of bringing in someone whose last client lost his election by a record margin, go for a man with a track record of success. Word is that Rove is feeling the heat and may soon be available. Who better to restore Rick Moody's glamor? He's put W across as a populist "man of the people." All banker's son Moody has to do is learn to mispronounce a few key phrases, wear cowboy boots, squint a little bit, and his lectures to small-press folk about rugged individualism and how to make it through the obstacles of life might be believable.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Note: For space reasons I summarized the credentials and actions of the publishing heavyweights described. The companies they oversee or have been involved with, their credentials of power, are much greater. The Report barely touches on the influence the book monopolists already have over the small press realm.
I'll discuss more of this-- and post Jefferey Lependorf's letter-- as soon as possible.
Friday, September 08, 2006
In his note, Lependorf reveals to me that "Small publishers do not operate in competion with their larger, commercial counterparts."
Really? I guess, again, we're all on the same side. Jeffrey Lependorf's remarks show complete harmony between the small press and the monopolists. There is no questioning their dominance. Everyone thinks alike.
Lependorf is expressing the perspective of the Big Guys. The small press isn't even trying to compete with them. (The small press is more in the role of helpless dependents on life support, grateful for anything which comes through the tube.)
"Small press publishers do not operate in competition with their larger, more commercial counterparts"??
Lependorf can say this because the monopolies totally dominate the market. They have no competition. (An industry without competition?) NO ONE is presenting competing ideas.
No one except the Underground Literary Alliance.
The one key point is the Guggenheim grant Moody received. Our Protest against this was the ULA's founding act. The six founding members signed that in Hoboken-- our act of defiance against the corruption of the literary art. We faced the slings and arrows that resulted. Many of them. (Arrows to my psyche are in my head, my chest, my legs, and my back.) No way can we ever go back on that-- until Mr. Moody gives the funds back.
Or does anyone really believe that people from the top 1% of this society should be granted scarce tax-sheltered monies which were originally given tax-free status in order to help struggling artists? That made a mockery of the original Guggenheims who did so much philanthropy to aid the underprivileged of this country. Does a successful blueblood from the top 1% (top 0.001% really) qualify as underprivileged? Yes, this action of his was a slap-in-the-face to unconnected writers every place.
The truth is that Moody and his buds control 90% of the literary pie-- and are unwilling to give any of it up. Of course he wants to maintain the present lit-world as is!
They have 90%-- and are now going after the rest of it.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
They chat on and on about the literary world, but nowhere is there any sense by them of the lit world within context; part of the skewed economic system of America.
And so, their trivial complaints come across as pathetically clueless. The attack nature of letters now is so mean! Moody says, "What's good for books is if we all say we are on the same team and we start to recognize we are on the same team."
??? But we aren't on the same team, Rick. We weren't born on the same team. Jack Saunders isn't on your "team," nor is Frank Walsh, nor is Joe Pachinko, nor is James Nowlan, nor is Yul Tolbert, nor is myself, nor for that matter is any ULAer. We didn't dictate the teams-- for many of us they were chosen at birth. To not recognize this is to know NOTHING about your own country. (A sad state for a writer.) The gaps between rich and poor, connected and not, in this society are enormous, growing more so every year.
To Moody's empty statement-- words in a void, divorced from reality or truth-- Birnbaum fawningly replies that literary conversation should be "collegial and constructive." Their discussion is collegial and it's also worthless at uncovering any truth or meaning. (It's also boring!)
When I started my zeen New Philistine in the 90's, the literary world was completely collegial. "Where never is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day." The strong criticism my newsletter engaged in-- speaking unflinching TRUTH-- dropped like a bomb on the established literary world. Not that this was publicly acknowledged, except indirectly once or twice, but I quickly had many of the lit-world's trendiest and most respected writers and editors as paying subscribers. (A dollar a copy!) This was before the Internet; before Foetry and MobyLives. If you wanted revelations of corruption, my zeen was IT.
Characters like Dale Peck and James Wood who followed wrote criticism without context; without knowledge of America; without a sense of the world as it is. They stayed within one tiny boxed-in corner of it.
In the Birnbaum interview Moody complains about blurbs on books and about boring chain bookstore readings-- but these are symptoms of exactly the "everyone get along" mentality the two advocate: literature as an Episcopalian church service. Moody knows first-hand the charged atmosphere which results when a portion of disagreement and conflict enters the hall, but pretends not to remember. Maybe he doesn't.
Reading his words, one has to believe a portion of his brain applying to himself and his actions is cut off from the rest. There's no sense that he's done anything wrong; that maybe he shouldn't have accepted that Guggenheim after all. He's like an acquited serial killer complaining about being hounded. He lives in a land of make-believe. Birnbaum, a poor excuse for an interviewer-- more whiffleball pitcher-- allows him to, gently steering the discussion away from any area potentially troubling to his guest, like Fisher's Island, or the way well-connected preppy writers, musicians, and artists abuse this nation's grants process. Not one strong question is asked. "Collegiality" at its worst.
Birnbaum moans about IKEA and giant monopolies and vanishing independent gas stations. But wait a minute, Robert! Isn't the man sitting in front of you the darling of literary monopolists?
To ask no hard questions; to insist we're on the same team (really? I get the sense ULA writers are excluded) is to leave rigidly in place a stratified and corrupt system which has failed literature; a system whose inability to tolerate tough criticism and loud noise has led to the art's marginal role in the culture.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Rick Moody, aka Hiram F. Moody III, first crossed paths with the Underground Literary Alliance in late 2000 by applying for and accepting a scarce $35,000 Guggenheim grant-- though he may be the last writer in America to need such help. Our Protest against this action led to articles on the subject in Village Voice, the New York Post's "Page Six," and elsewhere. No matter! Months later Moody was sitting on a National Endowment for the Arts panel, where he awarded scarce tax money to well-off buddies Jonathan Franzen and Donald Antrim. This also caused outrage and press coverage.
Rick Moody, by his own admission, has sat on dozens of grants panels over the years. Despite controversy, he continues to be appointed to more of them-- most infamously when he chaired the fiction panel in 2004 for the National Book Awards. The prize was given to New York City blueblood Lily Tuck, for a mediocre novel which has already been forgotten.
Rick Moody is the Insider's Insider, regularly attending black-tie affairs with $10,000 tables in Manhattan. He's the biggest promoter of the idea of literature as an aristocracy; has pursued this notion by helping found exclusive private clubs like the Young Lions. His selection of aristocrat Lily Tuck was an in-your-face affirmation of his belief that American literature belongs to a privileged few.
Moody has been assiduously hyped as a writer by giant organs of publicity in New York City like the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and the New Yorker. His conglomerate-produced books are backed by p.r. budgets given to few other authors.
The question is not only why Rick Moody was given the assignment to write the small press book's foreword, but why he accepted. Does he not already grab enough space? He appears at swanky soirees-- and now in other guises. Rick Moody for everybody! Moody represents the wealthy, but wishes to speak for the overlooked, from his house in the guarded east coast enclave for the super-rich known as Fisher's Island.
The protests his behavior generated have had no effect on the man. He's completely without conscience.
Note the patronizing tone in his Soft Skull remarks, from these excerpts:
"This is a foreword that means to incite!
"Do you think things are bad out there in the big bad world of commercial publishing. Me too! It is bad out there in the big, bad publishing world! . . . Unless you are surpassingly beautiful or you know someone in high places, you are going to have a rough time getting the message out. . . . This is the state of things!"
"Information is liberation!" (Etc.)
What perfect cynicism. Rick Moody of course not only knows "someone" in high places (a lot of them), he IS that someone.
In the foreword Rick Moody, who sounds like he's speaking to five year-olds, is mocking his critics-- parodying them-- and mocking the struggling writers who'll be buying the book. It's one more in-your-face move from him. Too bad the Soft Skull editors didn't notice.
After all, in his foreword to the recent Black Book anthology, Aaron Hicklin wonders about exactly that.
I don't know. What do you think?
Sunday, September 03, 2006
the ULA has been betrayed, attacked, scorned, ignored,
backballed, beat-up and stomped on,
lost good members yet always recruited more,
when it's most down it's at its meanest strongest most dangerous
because it represents the voice of the underdog.
Its most committed members have already died
have been killed by this society a dozen times
there's nothing more that can be done to us;
drag our carcass around your walls of privilege
again and again,
we'll only smile, because the ULA is not an organization
a tax-regulated entity
before all else it's an
Friday, September 01, 2006
I was reminded of my days bartending in Detroit twelve years ago, in a rough saloon amid shops and warehouses in an old section of town near the river. One of my shifts was Sunday night, which the saloon owner wanted to cancel because he said "nobody" came in during that time. In fact every Sunday I had a dozen or so regulars, nearby workers on late shifts who'd come in for meals during breaks, or for drinks before work or after. When there's a smaller group in a bar things are quieter; you engage in more soul-searching, in real conversation. I did everything: bartended, ran in back to cook-- burgers, wings, fries-- and waited on people at the few tables.
We were a tight-knit group. We watched a lot of bad movies on TV, like "Killer Klowns from Outer Space," the perfect bar movie. One time during a blizzard there were only four of us, laughing at the ridiculous wagon train segments of "Red River." (I closed early that night.)
On Easter Sunday I had a bigger than usual group, more workers from places like the large newspaper press plant down the street needing to have a drink, or camaraderie, on the holiday. We saw "The Ten Commandments" on the big screen TV: the movie big and clunky, a true crowd pleaser containing the greatest display of overacting ever seen; surreally beautiful Anne Baxter purring, "Moses, Moses!" while big Charlton Heston galumphed across the desert and Yul Brynner postured and proclaimed, "So shall it be written; so shall it be done!" to the giant music of Elmer Bernstein.
The saloon was a refuge for my customers against the harshness of their jobs and the stark hardness of the city. By eleven or midnight most were off work and would close the place.
Word got to my blue-garbed Sunday night-ers that the owner called them "nobody," so they began calling themselves "The Nobodies." They'd laugh about it every Sunday; "Hey Karl, the Nobodies are here!" A simple burly bearded worker who never spoke would slap his knee gleefully while uber-tough woman foreman "Mean Jean" would sweep her hair away from her pretty face, cynically grin toward her friend "Carol the Barrel," then growl, "Karl, make me another drink!"
At holiday time they presented me a Christmas card signed by all of them, big letters scrawled across it saying, "The Nobodies."
Then came the bloody Detroit newspaper strike of 1995, which I've written about elsewhere on this blog. It divided friendships-- such as between foreman Jean and union rep Carol. It ruined lives. The saloon soon-enough closed.
I still have the Christmas card, one of the few mementos I've saved of my past. I like to think we Nobodies in the ULA are achieving a similar kind of camaraderie.
Nash was generous to respond but the reply was stunning in its condescension. He said the CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) suggested Moody, but he approved of the selection. Nash called me "grandiose" for thinking anyone would consider the ULA before making such a choice, and found it "amusing" that I would think such decision a "slap in the face" to the ULA, as I'd put it to him in my e-mail; amusing that this notion should ever occur to him.
I have nothing against Soft Skull (even sent them an invite to our "Howl" protest), so I was taken aback by the e-mail's dismissive tone. I'll post it here when I can so you can judge it for yourself.
Meanwhile I plan to contact CLMP. Amazing the tight relationship Rick Moody has with so many foundations.