While searching on-line for something else, I stumbled upon an interview Rick Moody did with blogger Robert Birnbaum in 2005: www.themorningnews.org/archives/birnbaum_v/rick_moody.php. Reading it, I thought, "These two guys live in a bubble."
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.