Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Some recent arguments against myself and the ULA:

1.) Underground books aren't reviewed by mainstream publications like New York Review of Books. In response, the ULA has criticized these publications, and called attention to them. Now we're told that they won't review us BECAUSE we've criticized them. It's a no-win situation. Sorry, but I'll take my chances with speaking up.

2.) I'm told I shouldn't criticize Francine Prose and her ideas, even though she's considered one of the top literary critics in the nation, because she's fragile and delicate, intellectually helpless, of no real ability, etc. etc. Really? Does anyone notice the absurdity of the situation?

3.) The literary world should be a place of civility and politeness. See #1 and #2.

4.) The ULA should simply disband and go away. Then, suddenly, all the lit-folks, editors, reviewers and such, who've ignored and scorned us for years, in some cases decades, will suddenly embrace us. But the world doesn't work that way.


King said...

One could add to #2 Paine's line:
"They pity the plumage, and forget the dying bird."

jimmy grace said...

Well, here are my responses:

1.) It depends on your definition of "underground." Small press books are regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, but these writers might not conform to your definition of "cred." But in the specific case of the ULA, you've been attacking them for years and only now are publishing your own books. So it won't be surprising if they don't review you. Personally I wouldn't give a fuck, but if you don't give a fuck you don't get to whine about it.

2. I think that criticism of Prose is a waste of time, even though I agree with it.

3. Nope, not politeness. I just think that speaking well of work you admire goes further than insulting work you hate. If you look at this blog you'll see you do a lot more insulting than praising.

4. Who in the world is asking you to disband?

James Joyce Is the Greatest Writer... Ever said...

1. Major book review organizations pass on a lot of books. Criticizing a publication is a fast way to get ignored. It makes sense. In a perfect world freelance contractors could insult potential partners, but it doesn't work like that. It all depends on what plan the ULA has. I personally don't care about the New York Review of books or book reviews period. If I want reviews, I would trust Amazon before a professional reviewer.

2. It's bad strategy and a waste of time to focus on Prose. It makes about as much sense as going after Harold Bloom. These people appeal to a certain demographic and that demographic wants nothing to with the ULA, or else they would already be seeking out underground lit.

Look at the difference in sales between Francine Prose and Neil Gaiman. Or Prose and King. Such numbers tell you where the public's taste is. Unless you are going to go after fantasy writers who have the public's attention, it doesn't make sense to waste time on Prose. She doesn't have to answer to the ULA. She loses nothing by ignoring you, me, or anyone who isn't working within a similar framework and seeking similar appeal.

3. I like Norman Mailer, so I would disagree.

4. It's too late for that. Plus, I doubt, from what I have read, that the ULA writes the type of fiction that appeals to many litmags. Most litmags, IIRC, are published by those connected with a University or are ran by upper middle class/rich people. They appeal to a certain demographic too, and the editors have idiosyncratic tastes. I can't see why they should focus on ULA or the Science Fiction Writers of America, for that matter.

King said...

"Grace," given that Jack Saunders and Bill Blackolive wrote their best novels 25 years ago (SCREED and TALES FROM THE TEXAS GANG respectively) and have been ignored relentlessly since, your argument is ridiculous to the point of absurdity.
And what of Fred Woodworth, who's not even in the ULA?
His DREAM WORLD is a kind of American "One Day in the Life. . . ."
Unlike for Solzhenitsyn, no one in this society will give Woodworth even the slightest ray of daylight.
If by "small press" you mean bourgeois collections of MFA writing normally funded by universities or foundations, or trust funds, then, yes, some of them receive occasional reviews. It remains disheartening to see even THE NATION reviewing mainly books put out by the conglomerates.
As for NYR of B, their relationship with Random House was covered years ago by Richard Kostelanetz, who remains something of a pariah to this day.
Re Prose:
Now wait a second.
Is she or is she NOT considered one of this nation's top literary critics?
Yes? No?
If not, then why does she receive space for her opinions in the most influential mainstream publications?
I'm criticizing her non-fiction ideas more than her novels-- but, again, if her novels are really so bad, and reach so few people, why are they so highly praised by outlets with millions of readers (like the NY TIMES) and receive many end-of-the-year awards-- free publicity which apparently still doesn't help them sell copies?
Should she be free from criticism?
If she's as bad as you suggest, the criticism should instead be intensified.
You've failed to answer the point of my post regarding her.
Yes, she's free to ignore me and my ideas-- but if she's truly interested in the free exchange of ideas: SHOULD she?
Shouldn't she rather enjoy the criticism, the exchange-- if she really believes in the truth of what she says, and in her own ability to communicate?
You're admitting she'd have no chance with me in a free debate, which says a lot about the literary establishment I've been attacking.
Besides, I have ways of getting my ideas out there. I could mail her a copy of the relevant blog post, couldn't I?
I could mail it all over the place.
As for the ULA's occasional insults against the mainstream (which began as exposes of corruption which, if I recall, were originally ignored by 300 top literary people; shortly thereafter began an anonymous hate campaign against the ULA):
Speaking out against an establishment means banning? That seems to be what you're saying.
OF COURSE apparatchiks will be offended.
let's transfer your argument to another society; again, to the past days of the Soviet Union.
I can imagine the conversation.
"Comrade, these samizdat writers, who applaud regime critics like Solzhenitsyn, have insulted us and our publications! we can never address them, publish them, or acknowledge them in any way."
Doesn't this system in fact laud those who criticized, even insulted, past literary establishments? Mark twain and H.L. Mencken are idols. But dare not criticize their own present words, reputations, and publications!
It's the height of hypocrisy.
All we ask for is equal and fair treatment-- and hope someday the literary establishment will contain people open to our kind of outsider writing.
That it doesn't today is an indictment of the present literary world far stronger than anything I can say.

jimmy grace said...

My points stand, "King."

1. It's true some authors have been ignored by the NYRB - big fucking surprise. I don't buy that your favorite zinesters are the equivalent of Twain and Mencken. Those guys both worked for newspapers. Your guys didn't, right? So they're outside the system. So the system ignores them. Complain about this all you want, but complaining about it isn't going to get them to review you.

2. I didn't say Prose should be free of criticism. I said that criticizing her is a waste of time. Let's put it in the world of music: you're criticizing David Byrne, a media darling who sucks. He doesn't sell as much as Britney Spears, but you're criticizing him anyway. How does this help your punk band, even if they're better than Elvis? Aren't you better off putting on more shows in garages? (And yeah, you've put on a couple of shows, but nowhere near as much as you've complained about others.)

3. I never said you had to be polite.

4. You never told me who's asking you to disband.

Jeff Potter said...

Re: #2--- We don't criticize the likes of Prose to win her over, or people like her.

What a daft idea.

Part of our audience is watching the lit scene. They see Prose and cringe. They also see no one calling her on anything, no one challenging all the dominators of the supposed best in lit culture. Until we came along. The contrast of our attacks give hope to thirsty readers that something worthwhile is finally ready to come down the pike. Again: we're not trying to convert those who we attack. We're trying to defeat them. We're trying to revive lit's natural fanbase.

Also, we're not focusing on bestsellers. The pulps are low profile. They just crank out the volume. Big deal. Who cares if there's money there. There's cash in any commodity. There's nothing to get traction against there. No potential for noise. (Not right now anyway. Who knows, we might be able to dig something up sometime.) Is a debate against a warehouse full of book pallets of any interest? Nah. What's interesting is a debate against a fancy lad who's sitting on the top of the cultural heap and who's taken lit out of the warehouses and led it out to tiny, dainty enclaves of irrelevance.

We're going for the title. Or for a title fight anyway. Against the supposed best. We're making noise on the level of big ideas. We're widening the range of voices on that level. Everyone else has a say there. We're going to get the DIYers added. Our writers have something to say. We say that the best can once again sell in volume to a wide audience.

But we might dig into the pulps sometime, too. I like the idea of lit being displayed in truckstop racks...and selling.

jimmy grace said...

Nobody said you were trying to convert Prose. (Does the punk band try to convert Byrne?) You think dedicating your energy into attacking hacks, because then armies of people who love lit but hate Prose will hear you and join the revolution. That's always what I hear around the truckstops - "This Francine Prose is BULLSHIT."

James Joyce Is the Greatest Writer... Ever said...

I can't believe the ULA even cares about literary criticism. That is the equivalent of inveighing against genre fanboys. Jimmy sort of hit the nail on the head with the truckstop comment (which I take as a sarcastic remark). It seems the ULA is somehow sublimating a desire to be accepted within the academy. Let's be honest, there is very little relevance in literary criticism outside of the academy.

You don't take on the critics while you are still alive. Rarely does that work. Shakespeare was considered low-brow. Dickens commercial. James Joyce could not even get published commercially, and needed friends to bail him out.

Literary criticism/theory is notoriously insular and conservative. It's a huge waste of time trying to challenge them. As there is little to be gained. Literature is supported by readers, i.e consumers, and the consumers have their tastes.

And yes King, for the record, I think you would defeat Prose in a debate. I'm not disputing that. I am standing firm in the belief that if you debated it would still be ignored by those who prefer bourgeois literature. Dave Eggers got busted, and IIRC Tom Bissell went into some sort of shady criticism of you. No matter how right you are it won't affect the preference of too many people, anymore than the "brilliance" of academic "literary fiction" would sway you into their camp.


James Joyce Is the Greatest Writer... Ever said...


Ironically, you have taken an elitist attitude. Which is odd considering the mission of the ULA. Genre =/= Pulp. King's latest is a wonderful crossover. Neil Gaiman, as well as many others write wonderful and relavent genre fiction. Literary fiction authors are crossing over into mysteries because it takes skill, and is a challenge.

The ULA will have to see the illogic of their approach soon. You spend so much time attacking a small segment of the publishing industry, a sub-industry where clocking 100,000 books sold is considered a monster hit. A sub-industry that mainly serves as masturbatory exercises for professors. The public has revealed their tastes. The Da Vinci code sold over 50 million copies. Something that is impossible for contemporary literary fiction.

You are attacking people who are simply figureheads, propped up by their fans/supporters, who don't care what you have to say. The upper class wants to read hardcore underground lit about as much as the ULA wants to read upper class/bourgeois lit.

It makes about as much sense as launching an attack on the SFWA because Sci-Fi isn't relavent to the working class and won't publish hardcore, non-sci fi,underground lit.

King said...

Sorry that you disagree with my tactics, "Grace," but I'll continue following them. Why does it matter to you?
As I've said, this is a battle of ideas. I intend to force the leading ideologues of the status quo to debate, or at least address, the Alliance. In fact, I'll soon be issuing the ULA's yearly Challenge to debate us, publicly, any time and anywhere.
"You" don't exist, of course, and so aren't worthy of a response-- but why haven't "you" addressed the points I made about Prose?
Is she or is she not one of the leading literary critics in this nation right now?
If not, WHY do people publish her?
In fact, she's part of an insular system, recirculating stale ideas, which must be broken if literature is to move forward in this country.
Decisions as to what constitutes literature, what books and authors are given recognition-- or even published-- are made at the top, by a select few.
It's much easier to direct the attack against these few, whether to convert them, wake them up, embarrass them, or in some way make them see that by shutting out the true and original voices of their day they're wrecking literature.
Tell your friends at McSweeney's headquarters that on these issues I'm immovable.
By not coming to terms with the ULA, on OUR terms, they're risking the chance that we'll grow stronger.
Will it happen?
It could.
In the 90's my newsletter was subscribed to by many of the leading "hip" young writers in America. They didn't take me and my ideas seriously; saw me, I suspect, as kind of a joke; "Napoleon in rags"; or like a talking dog. They stood aside as my newsletter was ripped to shreds at Bennington, among other issues.
Who would have thought this newsletter writer would have found ways to break out of the box he'd into which he'd been put?
The ULA has made a lot of noise in the past. Look it up. We'll do so again-- starting soon. One right we still have as citizens of this country is the right to speak out.
If more than a few of us underground writers stand on our hind legs and shout together, we can make a lot of noise. You and your buds had better prepare for it.

King said...

Two other points:
1.) To those who say we should be only positive: We'd love to!
Curiously, it's when we're most positive, such as after the 2005 Medusa show, that we're most ruthlessly attacked by anonymous opponents.
One could as well have asked the Jacobins in France, or the Bolsheviks in Russia, why they weren't more positive as their countries were being invaded, as they were attacked by powerful internal and external enemies trying to strangle their revolution in the crib.
The same happened with us, almost from the moment the ULA was born.
Change is difficult to those who've adjusted their minds to a decaying present. It's difficult but necessary.
History is on our side. We represent new ideas; are the only ideas even admitting the present system of literature is failed; certainly the only literary group working actively to change it.
We offer the death of hierarchical structures which put the writer and the artist at the bottom.
In our organization, the writer is in charge.
2.) Keep in mind that those Grisham thrillers-- which really aren't very good, a steep fall-off from the days when good fiction was popular-- that are read in truck stops, are still published in New York. The million-dollar publicity campaign behind them originate in New York. The heart of the beast is in New York.
Yes, we are going to wake up individuals in those power centers.
To do so we may have to shout very loud!

Jeff Potter said...

It's funny how you guys don't get it.

We attack the demi's because it's a good way to make noise and to get PR response. It creates a hot new storyline out of something that WAS stale and boring and only for professors, etc.

And, as I said, attacking the demi's is t the only thing we do. It's one tactic. Aiming at the top in NYC. It works. We've gotten some good noise out of it and we'll get more.

And the truckers will indeed start laughing about our attacks and projects when we finally get the storyline over to the Nat'l Enq, People and USA Today. They'll get it.


The ULA has always been elitist in the sense that we're aiming at the top. We are into the zeeen scene but we also freely declare 99% of it to be no good. In the sense of lit. It's not intended to be. It's great in terms of expression and sharing. But some very few zeensters aimed higher or at least hit higher and are worth singling out and rallying behind. The masses like their heroes and antiheroes alike. But it's not really about the LCD.


jg, I think the "disband" idea comes from your bizarre insistence that the art scene is a meritocracy. You keep saying that if we made work that people liked that word would get out, we'd find backers, and we'd find ourselves *ironically* in the mainstream. "That's how it works," you say over and over again. (At least I think that's your line---I might have the ghosts mixed up.) Meaning: there's no need for the "one big union" of the ULA to amplify our voices and make noise and offer distro alternatives (see PGW's current bind for the other view).

King said...

I guess I have more faith in the intellectual integrity of ideologues like Francine Prose than most people do.
I assume she has an intellectual conscience.
"Grace," on the other hand, appears to be a sociopathic robot.
Note that this supposed outsider has no interest in the work and plight of undergrounder Fred Woodworth, who's another Solzhenitsyn. How does anyone know or not know how good a writer and thinker he is if they've never read his book!!!???
"Grace" doesn't care-- he simply seeks a way to derail us. He isn't interested in literature at all.
Status quo writers and ideologues are disgracing and debasing themselves. Future critics will ask them, "My God! What was the matter with you? Someone was trying to hand these great writers and personalities to you to read and notice and you wanted nothing to do with them."
What about Bill Blackolive, who's not getting any younger? A totally unique personality, a larger-than-life character who commentators and critics should be flocking to. The word-play, thinking, and sense of excitement in his prose is like nothing else seen-- a pure love of language, a joy in words, seen only in the greatest writers.
Much the same could be said of Walsh the Poet.
What shitty times. What a bankrupt literature. If it won't change, it needs replacement. That's why we're here.

King said...

Regarding Jeff's "title" analogy:
I'm reminded of Jack Johnson, the great black heavyweight of 100 years ago.
How did he ever get a title fight, anyway? How was that even possible?
He got it by following the "champ" from fight to fight, country to country, demanding one. He embarrassed the status quo. They turned out to have just enough of a conscience, just enough integrity, beneath their backward racism, to eventually give him a shot.
Can today's literary world do that? Are they worse as individuals than circa-1900 fight promoters? Do they have less belief in themselves? Are they more backward, MORE corrupt?
I guess we'll find out.

Jeff Potter said...

PS and then some:

I meant to type that attacking the demi's is NOT our only tactic, just one of them. (Only the "t" got out.)

Now I'll expand on that...

Our main tactic for high impact is ACTION and AMPLIFICATION. On any target or project.

The ULA is a group of *people who are already kicking ass in the media world* in some form, at some level. We are experienced. This is not theory for ANY of us! --I note that this is in TOTAL contrast to our detractors.

Whups, jg says he's a graffiti artist---cool. That's something real. Maybe he'll add a line about lit to his repertoire. "Why is today's fiction so boring?" --That's a good one, a ULA sticker. His tag impact would be amplified due to the ULA connection. If he cares about impact. (I thought that taggers did.)

Someone else says they did a book but won't say which one---cool, too, but totally chicken and useless.

But that's what we're about: what we're doing. Actual projects. We share energy there. We team up. We combine voices on dozens of diverse projects to get more impact than we can alone. We're game for advice, too: based on experience, based on offerings of what someone is willing to DO or TRY. What have you done, in ANY arena, that's worked better. How to apply it to the lit mission. Suggest it, sure. Better yet, try it and report back. Let us know what you're DOING and we might chime in. We're willing to let the ULA name be attached to projects if the shoe fits (well, members probably should be involved, but we do have several worthy allies).

jimmy grace said...

Dude, I'm in an art collective. We put up art all over the Bay Area in public spaces. We try to promote an ego-free environment for political and nonpolitical art. That's what I do. I don't think it makes much impact but I fucking like it anyway. I don't think we'll ever get mainstream response but I don't care. That's why I don't obsess over art magazines or gallery shows. And it's why I don't think that getting drunk and shouting at people is a revolutionary act.

Sorry I don't "support" your writers enough. What am I supposed to do? I scarcely have money for my rent. You could publish your favorite writers right here on this blog. You have like six paragraphs of Saunders on the ULA site, but endless rants about Rick Fucking Moody.

The bulk of the ULA's tactics are talking shit about superstars. To which I say: whatever. King's points about Prose? "Is she or is she not one of the leading literary critics in this nation right now?" Yeah, I guess she is. Do I think she's good? Um, read my first comment on the Prose post. Do I think it's revolutionary or helpful to the underground to say she's an idiot? That's a big fucking no. I have a blog where I rant about books I read that I hate. But I don't think that makes me a mighty culture warrior or anything.
I'd debate you whenever you want. I live in Oakland California. Let me know when you're in town or fly me out to Philly on the ULA jet.

King said...

Um, we need to know who you are, first!

jimmy grace said...

I told you, King: The identity conversation is over.

You were doing so well for awhile there.

Jeff Potter said...

JG, you do graffiti, right?

You're into literature, right?

What do you think about my suggestion for some graffiti? Have you done any graffiti with literary references? When I talk about making impact with your art I don't mean mainstream necessarily, just more than usual impact. ULA keywords would do that. Game for trying them?

A collective for ego-free political and nonpolitical art...hmmm...

Anyway, do you see where graffiti and lit could merge? Graffiti and the ULA?

We've flown writers places before. We've taken dares. So we should fly you to a debate without knowing who you are? That would be funny. It might nicely represent the kind of lameness we deal with online. Crazier things have happened in the ULA. That's what the ULA is about. Maybe we could invite all the shadow people who've done their repetitive ragging on us. It would be a weird crowd. Would any be brave enough to show? To get on the plane?

M.D.G. said...

Okay I have honestly tried to keep my mouth shut and stay out of this. Karl, what do you hope to gain by ratteling the cages of the writting elite? Attention? Good god you idiot are we writers and artists or are we PR people. (You know me I don't like artists that are PR people and I always see the art suffers.) And you people will call me bitter and angry. You had better look in the mirror brother. What do I do for literature? Lets see I host a reading twice a month, I support other readings, I host a website which is a portal to alternative news and culture around here. I print broadsides and put them around. I do all kinds of shit man and it is all to do with the art. Beats ridin' on the space shuttle huh? You are not gonna force yourself into a door that no one wants you because you bitch and scream. Frank Walsh is not the worlds greatest poet no matter how many times you say that he is. Stop the propaganda and shit Karl and just be an artist. Lead by example if you can.

King said...

What, like you? Giving readings on the beach in front of pigeons and seagulls?
Curious that you never hesitate to attack me, but will never say "Boo!" to anyone who has real literary power. A fake radical with Che posters in his bedroom.
No, "brother," change is made only by confronting the empire at its source, at the heart of the beast, which is what we're doing.
(Clueless people like Grover don't realize that the literary Overdogs want everything; ALL the attention and noise, as was proved with the recent small press forward I did a Monday Report about.
Grover, hiding in Florida, thinks he's safe.
The Poet on the Beach, wearing his Hawaiian shirt, and sandals, in front of his Poetry Shack. He may even wear sunglasses and play bongoes! Cool, man. Far out.
But wait! What's that sudden roar?
Here he comes, Rick Moody III, driving a huge yellow new steamroller.
There goes the Poetry Shack, crushed into the sand! Nothing left of it.)
Haven't you learned anything by the coffeeshop experience in Philly, Starbucks taking over ALL the territory? get a clue.
The literary Overdogs are the same way. There's no escaping them. One can only FIGHT them, with ideas and words.
One can only go on the offensive.
It's the only way to win.
I'm confronting their intellectual weakness on their home turf and exposing it to the world.
Watch when the skyscrapers begin toppling.

M.D.G. said...

Gee Karl since I'm so phony. I took down my Che posters to paint my room thank you (Or is it that I never had them?). Just keep throwing your assumptions and steriotypes. No, no, no wait. I see things clearly now Karl. Thank you for opening my eyes. You're right this is not about the art and talent means nothing. Screw all this spreading of culture. The seagulls and pigeons will certainly miss it. Karl from now on I am gonna write like shit and go after rich guys. Not really Karl just kidding. Don't throw a chair. You have no competition. You can try to insult me all you want. The fact is I like being underestimated. You wanna meet the pigeons and seagulls, come on down. I'll throw in some cranes and pelicans too. Yes the cranes and pelicans feel discriminated that you left them out. Just keep believing that shit. Maybe it'll come true.

Jeff Potter said...

MDG, the ULA supports local action plenty. We also aim at the big scene. We can do both and work to connect both.


About the oft-repeated charge (from "james joyce bla bla") that I (or the ULA) am elitist, I want to add to my reply.

Sure, we're insisting on a shot at the arena of biggest ideas and best art and not everyone is up for that---fellow artists know that better than anyone. The ULA line has always been that we're not for everyone. Not everyone appreciates a generous, inclusive view of talent. It's too scary. There are more comfy niches and styles out there. We insist that the indy voice get play at the highest levels but we know that it's not the whole market. Not everyone is into the biggest game. Fine. --It's just going to end up with a far bigger audience than what it's got so far by word of mouth while being prevented in most other directions. So there's all that, which we've basically said a million times.

I want to add that I think there's more room and respect deserved for the midrange voices---and we're going to get it for them. A folk writer might not have elite talent. They might be quite rough. But they still have something better to say and more bravery in saying it than the clever/polished/stylish crowd. The ironic, glib midrange bloggers (along with the cat-fancier and skin-care bloggers) are coming on strong these days in getting midrange audiences. I say that the folk writers will soon do better. In both the midrange AND at the top. They may not win but they'll finally get their hearing and they'll end up with a far bigger slice of the pie than they're now getting.

So I see our movement as being BOTH populist and elitist. (Also, I say that populism includes respect for the best.)