Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ULA Party!

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.

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.


Adam Hardin said...

This is by Hemingway, and if the ULA had a writing school, this would be on the wall, and nothing else. There would be no teachers and no students in the school, just a small white room with this on the wall, and writers would stop by occasionally to remind them to continue on:

Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

jimmy grace said...

Bad books suck.