Thursday, January 04, 2007

Francine Prose:

THE FAILED APPARATCHIK

I.) First Impression.

What would we have thought if top literary bureaucrats in a Soviet-style country, seeing that the populace isn't interested in their bland, machine-like works, suddenly announce that the public must be retrained to read in proper fashion: taught to read "like writers"?

Wouldn't we laugh hysterically?

Wouldn't this be a sign of the complete bankruptcy of their cultural system, of their ideas?

Yet this is exactly what's happening in the United States today, as put forth in a new book by Insider's Insider Francine Prose: Reading Like a Writer. The book is a rear-guard action meant to rescue what little remains of the literary system's credibility. Prose's colleagues (most recently, Mona Simpson) admit that the public has scant interest in literary fiction and poetry. They blame not themselves, but the public!

In her book, Prose asks whether writing can be taught in MFA programs. She says that she's taught writing for 20 years, and so has to believe it can be taught. Picture the failed Soviet bureaucrat standing fretfully as the Berlin Wall readies to topple; "We've been doing things our way for decades, Comrades. We have no choice but to defend what is; our own existence; our bureaucratic survival!"

Prose styles herself a literary critic and theorist, yet strangely enough (or not so strangely), never exposes her ideas to criticism from outside the walls of the narrow world of status quo agreement. Being so embedded into the System and its failure, Francine Prose is incapable of stepping outside her box to view the cultural world as it exists in reality. A sad place for a critic to be.

Prose isn't a critic at all. She's a mouthpiece for the Machine, standing in a room of mirrors watching images of sameness bounce off the walls of the room again and again.

A question for Ms. Prose:
The investment in America's literary writers, through the System's programs, involves many thousands of persons and billions of dollars. The energy and expense dwarfs, a thousand-fold, the investment in art in Periclean Athens, or Elizabethan England. Yet where are America's great writers? Who can be pointed to, to justify the hundreds of MFA programs? Who rises above the interesting and competent? Maybe these programs help people to feel good about themselves-- but WHERE, Ms. Prose, are the great, moving, earth-shaking poems, stories, and novels?

When all is said and done, won't Francine Prose herself be viewed as no more than a System writer, well-rewarded with medals and ribbons-- or tokens of same-- pinned onto her chest from the internal bureaucracy, while having no relevance to the authentic culture, to the progress of the true stream of literature; her art never escaping the safe bounds of its craft, competence, and conformity? She talks of the love of language, but in her words I see no raging passionate VOICE; no out-of-control Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas, or Kerouac; no energetic unstoppable talker with an irresistably attractive love of LIFE. Instead, careful steps through the dusty corridors of literary priests.

Any reply to this, Ms. Prose? Hello? Hello?

II. Second Look.

Maybe I'm unfair. In her book, Francine Prose does admit the limits of writing programs. They don't create great writers. She accepts this. Why then the enormous expense, for society and the individual? Aren't the programs nothing more than ways to keep dutiful literary apparatchiks like Francine Prose employed?

Prose describes her efforts to impose her Princess-and-the-Pea sensibilities upon her students. To their credit, many have rebelled. Probably her lectures mimicked the "fictions" she applauds: refined murmurs from the mannequins on the sofa.

Prose's viewpoint is bourgeois and domestic. Petting a cat takes on deep significance. Such trivialities are important-- and so the immersion in details. The apt detail CAN be important for a narrative, but for Prose and writers like her they become an obsession. It's part of their fixation on their materialistic world. They've spent a lot of bucks on their possessions and so they'd better describe them!

It's an escape from thought. Prose loves Chekhov stories, she says, because they're non-judgemental. Writer, she admonishes, have no opinion on anything around you. If the world is corrupt; well, that's just the way it is. Blink at the furnishings. Let the world pass over you.

Francine Prose not only appreciates house cats-- she IS that cat, cataloguing the room's furnishings, quietly and delicately, with great feline sensibility, and stupidity, before pattering off into the sunlight for her afternoon nap.

Prose leaves the living room, of course, for funerals, conferences, trips to Europe and such, but wherever she travels she never leaves the confines of her comfortably ignorant mindset. Like others of her kind, there's no world outside her well-bred lifestyle. Her kind of writing, found in literary story after story, poem after poem, novel after novel, written by MFA-produced factory automatons, is fine up to a point-- but NOT when their stupid insular world is all there is; when such irrelevant generic craftings define our literature. Writers like Prose are blocking the way to the emergence of more authentic and original authors; to the realization of a greater art. Francine Prose has published numerous books-- 10? 12?-- while underground writers like myself have been allowed to publish not one.

Do we have anything to add to the national dialogue, Ms. Prose? I guess not! At least, not sofas, carpets, lamps, or cats; nothing so elevated as that.

29 comments:

jimmy grace said...

Francine Prose is bunk. She's not worthy of her own last name.

Chief said...

Please detail that point for me: how does a schlockmeister like Prose stand as an obstacle to the emergence of an original writer?

Maybe I'm dense, but the argument is kind of lost on me. Are you saying that if Prose and her ilk weren't glutting the market with unthinking, uninteresting crap, then there'd be more room for "original" writers, like yourself?

It seems obvious to me that if you have a superior, orginal product to offer, then the fact that bland, boring writers like Prose are all the same actually works to your advantage--that your genuine, high-quality writing corners the market all by itself.

Am I missing something here?

jimmy the hyena said...

The ULA doesn't possess the structures, resources, relations et alteris that they do. This has already been said here numerous times and you yourself in other incarnations have made similair reflections Timmy in Chief.

King said...

Well, yes, the trick is getting it to the market, getting people to know about it. That is ultimately what the ULA campaign is about.
Obviously, if the conglomerates had any interest in writers like us, the ULA likely would never have been founded. They don't know about us, they provide no access for us, and they don't WANT to know about us.
The fact is that writers like James Nowlan are much better, much more authentic and intelligent than the kind of whom Ms. Prose is typical.
Her feeble ruminations are readily published. Her novels are worse. Ever see her much-lauded award-winning "Blue Angel"? It's about a writing teacher! (Big surprise there.) If there is anything more boring and irrelevant than a writing workshop, it's a novel about one.
I could write a better novel than hers with my eyes closed.
My ideas about literature are on this blog. At least I have this outlet, against the closed-mindedness of established literary culture.
Her crowd of Insider writers (centered around places like Bennington and the New School) are all fakes; competence without art. I'm merely pointing this out.
Btw, please use your real identity when posting here. That's the request and I ask you to have enough principle and character to honor it. Thank you.
(Anyone who wishes to discuss these issues face-to-face will have the opportunity January 16th, when the ULA visits New York City. We will hold "Meet the ULA" events at various locations, making ourselves available to everyone. You'll see we're not monsters. Stay tuned for more details.)

King said...

p.s. Francine Prose threw her hat into the ring of public debate by writing her book. To have credibility, she must respond to those whose ideas are polar opposite to hers. Will she? Or is it rather instead a rigged game, where she's reviewed by people from her kind of education and background, and interviewed by people of her kind of education and background, to guarantee a sympathetic hearing, with scarcely a contrary opinion anywhere to be found.
The top 10% of society, which controls literary culture, are involved in an incestuaous circle jerk, speaking only to themselves, while the raging flow of REAL culture takes place outside their narrow world.
Aristocrats in carriages, talking at stray controlled moments to the sans-culottes and the peasants, thinking this qualifies as true knowledge.
IF Prose, Franzen, and others of their ilk posing as great writers, were in fact true writers, they'd gladly meet other writers-- writers like ULAers-- ANYWHERE, to exchange ideas and discuss literature. Just as ULAers will meet other writers anytime and anyplace-- because we have confidence in ourselves, in our message, and our art. We KNOW that we're the "true gen," that we have the goods. Can establishment writers say likewise? Or have they not instead pulled up the drawbridge, hiding behind their crumbling walls???

jimmy grace said...

Why would Francine Prose even know about the challenge you've issued? King always makes the simultaneous contradictory claims that the ULA has no resources with which to challenge the mainstream AND that the mainstream is too afraid of King to answer his challenges.

Good art can come from the underground and gain a following. Once it gains a following, the capitalist powers come a-calling. Artists who answer that call become mainstream by definition. If they don't, they fail to make a genuine impact on the culture. There's not really a middle ground.

Jeff Potter said...

The ULA is not at all powerless in these regards. We've already shown that we can make MAJOR impacts. Our trouble is that we are still so small, diffuse, weak. Our challenges strike paydirt...but then it takes us a year to get a book out. But have no fear: we'll get our ducks lined up, get a few cylinders hitting at the same time oneathesedays.

I just got back from a family vacation in NYC with the retired schoolteacher inlaws (and courtesy of them, too---thanks, folks!). I got some publishing inspiration there. It's a crazy, thirsty, "small town" kind of place where a clever "writer, artist, webdesigner" lady can marvel that the Great Lakes aren't salty. That town needs some uplift! The people are friendly, though, with some interesting exceptions.

My punchy ULA talking points were...

We see a need for writing that is: *not academic, *from the rest of the country, *truly indy---no grants, ID or org strings attached, *selling to wider/other markets.

A need for writing that is: *up from the streets, *from the zeen scene (that's been blasting since the 90's), *from the working people, from those who've been foreclosed, homeless, who've lived in trailers, who've sweated, who've done real, dangerous things in the real world, *from writers who haven't sucked up or turned bitter but who've kept plowing and charging along robustly. They're out there!

Are there readers who aren't MFAers? Are there culturally aware cyclists, hunters, fishermen, canoeists who don't think that plot and style are everything? Who hunger for content? The percent of sharp, thirsty outdoorspeople out there add up to more than all MFAers. OYB can reach them (my turf). So ULAers think there are other markets out there...

Let NYC have its voice, let academia have its. Give the poser bookstores their cynical clerks and slinky customers.

We're going to add our scene to the mix. There's no need to feel threatened. It'll be a fair fight. There's room for everyone.

Is there a need for writing that isn't academic or from NYC and which has no strings attached?

Competition is an interesting thing. NYC is full of it, that was clear. We throw ourselves in the ring because we're both confident AND insecure. We want to please AND kick ass at the same time. It takes a strong scene to keep both of those necessary elements alive. The ringmasters tend to be most fearful of all---they want to throw EVERY fight. The winners in a free market are VERY risk averse and will do all they can to avoid surprises. But we're here to keep em honest. Are there other voices out there who even suggest that they represent the non-NYC, non-academic, no-strings, hardworking-yet-sensitive, grassroots view? I don't think so. So someone has to do it.

Just a few notions.

Jeff Potter said...

PS: "Jimmy Grace" is wrong. There is a middle ground. It's just disfunctional at present.

The situation is...

1. Indy voices have been given specialty niche markets on a platter---markets which are run like professional associations. ...Which wrecks their indy style. But there's at least room for unaffiliateds and freelancers in the niches, as long as they play by the rules. This is what poses as the middle ground today.

2. The general market is also being run like a niche market. This is the "big field" but it's being turned into just more middle ground.

I still think there's still room for a third option. A true indy voice. I can't say what size it can grow to. I know that I am doing it right now with my OYB. I get 20k unique hits a month and have a 5k print mag and that I'm stretched way too thin. But I exist! And it's working! And could work lots better!

It seems like an improved middle ground will have 2 main prongs supported by a third:

1.) a web presence (maybe a main base plus a bunch of offshoots---at least at first---or maybe an interconnected group of indy voices).

2.) a print presence on national newstands (likely a thin, easily produced color-cover main mag plus contributions in other media plus a bunch of zeens).

3.) attention will be gotten by way of grassroots noise made at all levels---in the national media, online and at events/shows (attended via hitchhiking and floorcamping---by the way, here's a message to national TV: it is safe to pick up strangers! There should be a dramatic TV show that puts the lie to all the other TV show lies, showing how much fun it is to hitchhike, how bumbling the cops still are, how much fun real people have, how boring clever people are...).

Any success might or might not be followed by bookstore presence. Bookstores might be ruined. Newstands might be ruined. They may be dodo's. A true indy voice might have to go direct to readers via web and print and skip the usual middlemen. It will start that way, in all likelihood. The establishment will have to play catch-up. Indy gots no time for phone-tag.

More ways that "jimmy grace" is wrong: Outside capital doesn't necessarily come calling upon the first/early arrival of success. It's not necessarily needed either. An artist doesn't necessarily become "mainstream" with success either. Of course this depends on what mainstream means. The ULA makes distinctions here. Right now it is required that the artist obey the rules of either the specialty niche or the general niche. He has to give up his indy voice and even his indy life (it's time to travel, sir!). That's a dead-end kind of mainstream. An artist could break thru to a better kind of mainstream while not giving up his voice. This would require a new structure and is a third element. It's at least a different career path, with a different developmental flow.

Thus it's not a two-sided problem, as "jimmy grace" suggests.

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

I don't understand this issue at all. Francine Prose is irrelevant. If her readers wanted something different then that would make a market demand. I doubt people are reading, say, her work followed by Bukowski.

I'm shocked that a ULA member would waste time on her. How many copies of her last work did she sell? 5,000? 15,000?

Unless the ULA is working on a platform of writing soporific, pointless fiction that costs publishers a ton of money, but helps one get a teaching job, then I don't see the point.

It would be more worthwhile to attack John Grisham, Neil Gaiman, or mainstream commercial writers. One could say that would make little sense, as fantasy/legal thrillers are outside the purview of the ULA, but to me attacking people with almost no readership, no talent, and no commercial success seems just as pointless.

If readers want something they go get it. In this day and age one can work through word of mouth and lulu. The problem isn't the literati, the problem is that the literati has support from readers, whereas the average joe isn't doing too much non-commercial reading.

Actually, it appears both camps (ULA and the Literati) are doing the same thing, writing for writers (or in the case of the Literati, English lit majors).

James Joyce never sold well when he was alive. Like all the modernists, he made similar complaints as the ULA (except they admitted to disdaining the masses).

jimmy grace said...

Jeff Potter, I guess it depends on your definition of "mainstream" and of "success." I make visual art, and I think it's successful because I throw it up on walls and people see it and I'm happy with it. But I'm not making any money off it, I'm not known at all, and I can't argue I'm making a big impact on the culture. I'm cool with that...but I'm not claiming that I'm about to start a major revolution, while dissing any artists who get corporate support.

You seem to be about the same way - you want artistic success for the writers you publish, but not necessarily riches or fame. You know your books won't sell like John Grisham or even like Francine Prose, but you're not about that. That seems like a healthy indy attitude.

What I don't get is whenever I stop by this blog it's all about attacking the NYC insider bigwigs. King himself says he protests Moody's grants because the money ought to go to underground writers. But underground writers who got Guggenheims wouldn't be underground any more - even if they retained their same style and wrote books that people actually liked. The James Joyce fan proves this point: Joyce is a great writer, beholden to no MFA structure, but he was first published through old-money dilettantes and now is part of an enormous corporate empire, taught in Universities, and is the subject of much high-culture wankery. I don't think it makes any sense to call him underground - and I don't think that takes away from the experience of reading him.

Raising a profile in a capitalist society inevitably requires money - whether it comes from Joyce's dilettantes or corporatations. People can make their own boundaries for that, from never accepting a cent (and thus remaining underground) to lining up at the trough (thus sacrificing indy status in favor of more exposure). To me, that has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Francine Prose is a sitty writer. Denis Johnson is awesome. Both are mainstream. And you can find awesome writers and shit in the underground.

The ULA seems to believe that where you are on the mainstream-underground spectrum is more important than the work that you create - or that where you are on the spectrum inherently makes your work better or worse. That's just bullshit.

Chief said...

"Well, yes, the trick is getting it to the market, getting people to know about it. That is ultimately what the ULA campaign is about."

Perhaps: it could be as simple as that. However, I think the main roadblock the ULA keeps running into is that you guys insist upon legislating what sort of writing is valid and what isn't.

The only writing that's valid from your perspective is that which has grown out of the '90s 'zeen culture.
It shouldn't reflect much education on the part of its maker; it shouldn't overtax the intelligence of the average worker; it shouldn't appear too fixated upon plot or style--the writing you guys want to get behind, from what I can tell, is aggresively raw, from the streets, and aimed at the sensibilites of the American working man.

Fine. I'm all for it. Writing that fits that bill sounds like it might appeal to me as well. The thing is, no legitimate literary movement in the history of the world has ever been that inorganic. You can't write a bunch of precepts down and say, "Okay guys, write like this and we'll take over the world." Art is (wait for it) a personal expression. what you guys are currentlu producing is little more than aesthetic propoganda.

Even the most inorganic literary movements have had enough sense to write their manifestos AFTER they had a few, key texts to use as examples. Surrealism, for example: Breton didn't legislate the "rules" of Surrealism until several, disunited books, novels, and poems had been already been published that fit the bill.

You can't design an artistic movement a priori.

And the other thing you can't do is bully people into liking your stuff. Either a reader responds to it, or they don't. You can't go they extra step of calling my non-responsiveness to ULA writing "reactionary" or "pre-conditioned by corrupt cultural forces." I mean, you can (because you do anyway) but not without insulting me.

Art isn't some flowerly, less bloody version of politics. Art is art, and it operates wholly on the "take-it-or-leave-it" principle. Attempt to ram it down someone's throat, and you've violated the one and only rule of it.

King said...

Raising a profile in this society does not INEVITABLY require money. The ULA is following a different strategy.
Will our works sell if given attention? They won't if NOT given attention. Unfortunately, marketing is an essential aspect of this society.
Why does Prose and her book matter?
Because she's one of the more influential commentators today on the literary scene; her ideas circulated in mainstream publications, all which reach an audience of far more than 15,000 people.
She is one of a circle of writers who decide what is considered acceptable as literature-- what is given attention by the mainstream critics and media.
She's also representative of the entire system of creating literature in this country, which consists of hundreds of writing programs, as I've stated, and many many thousands of would-be writers. She reflects the prevailing mindset which the ULA stands against.
As has been pointed out on this blog, the ULA is not just an advocacy group; it's a campaign of ideas.
Prose expresses the ideas of the status quo, which we stand against.
How will Francine Prose hear about this post? The real question is, how did you, "Grace"?
I guess we'll have to make enough noise when we're in New York City next week to make sure writers like her hear about us.
Making noise, getting the word out about ourselves and our ideas, is what this campaign is about.
(Please use your own identity when posting here. Why don't you? Why the intense NEED on your part to confront this tiny group which you say no one knows about?)

King said...

Chief says: "MY non-responsiveness. . . ."
But who are you? You have no existence.
Artistic movements can't be constructed a priori? Tell that to Ezra Pound.
The fact is that most if not all cultural movements throughout history were intentionally created, from Christianity to Islam to Bolshevism to rock n roll, which was created by a handful of entrepreneurs, to punk, the vision to a great extent of Malcolm McLaren.
The zeen movement is very organic; it was not created "a priori," but happened as an explosion of authentic diy writing and publishing. The ULA is a continuation of that movement. Given that context, your argument makes little sense.
Your "legislate" comment is absurd-- it turns reality on its head.
You overlook the fact that the writers in the ULA have no power in this society, in this culture, other than our ability to make noise. Our opponents sit in positions of power throughout the cultural hierarchy; in academies, corporations, and foundations.
Again, please have the integrity to use your real identity. It's obvious you have a stake in this matter. What is it? Are we in some way attacking your position or privilege?
(Why does the ULA campaign bother you two persons so? Don't we have a right to express ourselves? We're writers also.)

King said...

(Funny, isn't it, that writers ignored by the mainstream culture-- ignored before the ULA was ever thought of-- somehow suddenly have the ability to "ram" our art down people's throats.
You can't have it both ways.
Either people have heard about us, at least that--
or we're this all-powerful entity imposing our vision of literature upon the rest of society.
Well, SOMEONE is imposing their vision of literature upon society, and has been for decades; steadily restricting access to non-credentialed unconnected independent writers; but I really don't think it's us!)

jimmy grace said...

Everyone has a right to express themselves.
Nobody's interfering with your expression.
When I see something I disagree with on a blog I like to argue with it. I argue all sorts of points on all sorts of blogs - I'm basically killing time at my stupid job - so don't flatter yourself that the ULA is the only one I pick on. You should see what I say to devout Catholics.

I've answered your endless demands about my identity and explained myself accordingly. If you're still unsatisfied you can block me, ignore me, whatever.

Chief said...

Right: give you my name so that you can track down my book, or the few articles I've got online, and then hold me up a the ultimate pinata of evil.

You're like the worst chess player in the world, King. "Give me your Queen so it'll be a fair contest." Not on your ever-loving life.

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

I have a distaste for contemporary literature, although, I have grown into a Cormac McCarthy fanatic ;)

I just don't see the point in wasting so much time on irrelevant writers. The Moody grant scandal is different, that didn't get enough attention.

As for the status quo, most of these snobbish, "literary" writers aren't selling. I heard that a couple of years ago a book nominated for a National Book Award had only sold 200 copies. Rarely, do any of these dry, pomo, academic books sell.

I don't care about Prose. She appeals to people who want to write in a style similar to hers, those who share her values, and of course the bourgeois. I like to fancy myself a literary writer, but I prefer urban weltschmerz, as I have always been broke and have no interest in reading about rich people all day (another reason I like James Joyce, he wrote about common people in an uncommon way).

The problem is not unnecessarily the "establishment" it is their supporters. If Dave Eggers, or the New Yorker for that matter, gave me free ad space I would sell less than 5 copies of my work (in my estimation). I simply don't write the type of material that appeals to those in the establishment. I can accept that.

Most of the greats, even those elitist modernists, did not sell all too well. In the age of the internet one doesn't need a huge financial backing. Just look at all the huge advances that are handed out, followed by huge marketing budgets, and look how the books tank.

I deal with the working class everyday, seeing as I am a member of it. And reading is something rarely done amongst it. It has nothing to do with the establishment, it just is not entertaining to many of us. A lot of people prefer escapism instead of hardcore realism, which is understandable.

John Martin, the founder of Black Sparrow press and Bukowski's publisher, said it best:

“There have always been two streams in American literature. First, the ‘insiders,’ the ones who conform to accepted standards. Some of these insiders are very good writers . . . but their work is of interest only up to a point, [because] they completely satisfy readers’ expectations of what literature should be. On the other hand, there has also been this second, parallel stream of ‘outsiders’––mavericks, beginning with Walt Whitman. To my way of thinking, Leaves of Grass is the first great modern literary statement . . . and to this day, perhaps the greatest and most astounding.”

King said...

Well we're mavericks, outsiders. Part of that role means not rolling over and allow the world to grind us into the dust. We at least are going to say, "We protest!"
Re Prose: If she's so irrelevant, why are mainstream publications so eager to publish her opinions?
In fact she's a leading ideologue for status quo literature. Why would we NOT engage her on the battleground of ideas? (And make some noise for ourselves, and for literature, in the process.)
That working class people don't read contradicts my own experience, and that of other ULAers.
Regular people read a lot.
Re: ULA writing.
There's in fact great diversity of writing within the small organization of the ULA. In many ways, more diverse than "literary" writing. My own work tends toward social realism. I aspire to write books like those from Hugo, Dickens, and other giants. (I'm also not averse to plot, or I wouldn't have laid down plot threads in the excerpt I posted.)
Will social realism sell?
It always has, whenever it's been allowed into the marketplace.
Recall the great difficulties Dreiser had in getting his books published and known.
More recently, Erskine Caldwell's novels sold a gigantic number of copies, mostly in paperback.
Social realism, as well as some other kinds of writing, is discouraged at the first points of contact-- such as in writing programs, by people like Francine Prose. It's discouraged by agents and editors, who are unable to understand it.
When I was doing my newsletter, several prominent editors and writers told me things like "one shouldn't impose ideas upon the narrative" or "one shouldn't use characters as mouthpieces for ideas" or "one shouldn't be in any way polemical." (George Plimpton made the last remark to me person-to-person.)
Such an attitude of course excludes the work of the greatest novelists, including Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

jimmy grace said...

Tolstoy was a fucking Count - the modern-day equivalent of, say, Moody. Of course, Tolstoy could fucking write, but the point I'm making is that we wouldn't know about Tolstoy if he'd been a laborer.

You can make all the noise you want in NYC but if you don't publish a book or two then noise is all you'll make. Publishing a book means making copies which means spending money. If you can't afford making many copies, the work can't get out there.

Witness the current AMS bankruptcy hoopla. How can small presses get to their readers without a framework? I did the cover for a friend's book that now might be cancelled because of this. He's a nonMFA guy from a fucked-up poor family. Is he an underground writer? Oh, wait, he got published in a mainstream lit journal. So by your rules he can't be any good. The good people are those who don't get any help from rich people or corporations. You know, like...Tolstoy.

King said...

We are publishing our own books (see our site) and we intend to make noise about them. That's what the trip to NYC next week is about.
Do you think mainstream publications will review our books-- as they review those of Prose and other mainstream writers?
Will our authors be interviewed by Terri Gross?
We intend to continue lobbying until this occurs.
To "Grace":
Why can you point to no post of yours anywhere before you began posting on this blog?
Why did you make up that story about Oakland poets supposedly scorning the ULA? How did they find out about we unknowns?
Why are the bulk of your posts apologias for the status quo?

jimmy grace said...

No, I don't think mainstream rags will review books published by an organization that spends time insulting mainstream rags. Funny how that goes.

I post all over the place. The Oakland story is true - you've made enough noise that some writers have heard of you, as you admit yourself, but I'm not giving you names for your hatemail blacklist. I make no apologies for the fucking status quo but I don't wander around whining about them either. This is absolutely the last time I'm answering your paranoid questions. I'll post here or wherever the fuck I want. Argue, ignore, delete, whatever you want, your Highness.

Jeff Potter said...

Strawmen.

1.) We already have books. We've had enough good work to stand on for decades now. The work we admire has been given astounding praise and vituperation both---a good sign, I say. It's already impacted hundreds if not thousands of lives. (Offhand, I'm thinking of Saunders, Blackolive, Bennett, McElderry, Ackerman---just among the oldtime mailart and street-artist crew.) It's just been prevented from making the next steps up that it deserves. We're trying new tricks to bust it on thru. Great work by old and new writers alike, who all have fans and who all have proven their merit already and who represent a common strain.

2.) There's no litmus test. There are those who we particularly choose to help, however. Those whose voices and methods synergize with our own. Other voices already have PLENTY of help. Think of another sector that gets less help than the unacademic/unaffiliated/unNYC/ungranted.

****

I say that we've challenged people based on their past work but we've never "stalked" anyone. No one can say they've had legit reason to fear us knowing who they are. Unless they truly do not want to stand by their own work.

****

I reject the idea that if someone breaks thru (to whatever extent) that it takes away their underground status or validity. True, if they break thru and get their own voice heard finally then they may no longer need help, but we don't disparage them due to their success. And we would welcome any assist from them. We only challenge ideas and methods. We love hearing good things from the big shots. I read a couple recent collections of Jim Harrison interviews and such---he rails against and trashes the MFA concept. In every interview he uses his bully pulpit to rant against an out of touch system. He only survived thanks to a chance meeting with Nicholson and a Hollywood hackwork connection, something that he's clearly not always proud of. But at least he was able to persist and get some good stuff out there. Offhand, it seems like he's pulling punches and enjoying plenty of comfort in much of his work. A convenient Buddhism of the elite, in effect. But he also has a wonderful spark sometimes. I'm happy for him. I wish he'd do even more bully pulpit action, but whenever chatty folks come to him he seems willing to bite that hand that never fed him... :)

***

A certain kind of writer fits into the sad PGW system. And that system is sick. (Actually, PGW might make it out of the tank, I think is the situation.) We're trying to figure out another system. We are trying to build our own readership, our own way of getting out our word. You're right: a free ad for a nobody in the New Yorker wouldn't do a thing. A series of ads mentioning the ULA *WOULD DO SOMETHING*. The ULA has already stepped up quite a bit higher than the sum of its parts. We're going to try to build on this.

jimmy grace said...

"I reject the idea that if someone breaks thru (to whatever extent) that it takes away their underground status or validity."

Validity, of course not - great art can come from anyplace. But your underground status is in fact revoked if you become a mainstream artist. If you write a Hollywood movie, you're mainstream.

I fail to see how ragging on Prose is good for your artists, but good luck with that strategy. I think all good art should get more exposure so it reaches more people. I wish the ULA lots of luck in getting its work to the--gosh, what's that word for real people who comprise most of America? oh yeah--MAINSTREAM.

Chief said...

I'm a maverick. Say that to yourself in the mirror thirty times in a row.

You know who else thinks he's a Maverick? Donald Trump. I bet if you polled every CEO in America, they'd all immodestly consent to being called "mavericks".

Good grief...

Nothing says hapless more succinctly than waving one's fist around in the air and shouting, "I'm a one man revolution!"

The best part of all your revolutionary bluster, to me, is that, should your goofy rebellion actually succeed, you guys will probably start up numerous product lines like "King's Maverick Brand Bar-B-Q Sauce,". There'll be endorsements for Apple (Steve Jobbs, another great American Maverick)and Harley-Davidson, and then King will be elected mayor of Detroit!

Tell the truth, ULAers: when you guys take over, who'll be the first man up against the wall? George W Bush or Rick Moody?

Numbskulls.

Jeff Potter said...

Ah, the squabbles over terminology.

More strawmen.

I don't notice as we've ever gone there.

We don't quibble over minutae.

We take everything for our own. If it fits, we use it.

We're generous, too. Everyone knows there's no rules in zeendom.

At the same time, we'll blow raspberries at Lord Dave and his Icelandic presses.

Start with the content. Take it where it leads you.

Faye Dunaway helped Barfly get made. If it had won Oscars it still would've had the term "underground" flying around it, and rightly so.

We never put too fine a point on it. There's too many glaring hilarities to deal with first.

As I said, the content we're starting with emphasizes nonacademic, nonNYC, realworld, DIY-style, guidebook/lifesaver stuff. Authentic, compelling, takes a stand. Whoever delivers this kind of thing, fine. It's what's been missing, in my view. I think a healthy chunk of America might enjoy it. They might be missing it, too. Who knows what kind of action it'll bring down. We'll get as much attention for it as we can. We'll compare and contrast it to all kinds of other lit forces out there---such as those represented by F. Prose. A *useful* comparison.

Noah Cicero said...

In The Manderins by De beauvoir they talk about how people didn't read during World War 2. When people have problems they don't read.

America has problems not related to literature that cause the working class not to read.

our public schools are more interested in tests than learning. I graduated in 2000 the first class involved in that testing shit. You spend four fucking years learning what an antecedent is so you can take a twenty minute test once when you are in ninth and once when you are 12th.

Instead of giving working class kids Post Office or Tobacco Road they give them The Catcher and The Rye. And there is no attempt to intro modern literature to students. you read books that were written fifty to 500 years ago. There is no positive reinforcement to read modern literature in high school.

Our schools have become mediocrity machines. Learn math, learn math, learn math. That's school. Look at our IQ tests, they don't ask if it is stupid to hate a gender or race, they ask to add and do long division and put blocks together. Wow, a country that determines who is intelligent by who can put blocks together fastest. Wow, what a surprise Desperate Housewives is a hit show.

Other factors:

I have bought a lot of books from used book stores.

I have books from the fifties that cost 25 cents, books from the seventies that cost 75 cents, and books from the 80s that cost 1.50. How do new books cost 16 dollars now?

How in twenty years did books get marked up 6 times the price they were twenty years ago. I'm not even talking about hard covers which are 24 dollars.

If you make less than 15 dollars an hour and have some kids you can't afford to buy a new literature book.

Another question why is some romance novel like seven dollars and a non-genre book 24 dollars?

the working and poor are busy, our jobs have been outsourced, labor starts people out less than did ten years ago. You can't get hired into a factory without going through a fucking temp service.

And our children have gone off to war.
it is isn't the upper classes at war, it is the working and the poor.

There's something i realized about Tales of Two Cities, Madame De Farge didn't read Voltaire, Dickens was trying to say through De Farge that the peasants revolted and killed and stuck heads on pikes because of concrete anger, lack of food, knowing those who were killed for no reason, having relatives being stuck in prison, facing death themselves.

Literature did not cause The french, Russian, and Cuban poor to revolt, it was starvation.

For the working class to read again, a lot of their problems would have to be gone.

The biggest problem facing the damned world is global warming, it is January and it only snowed once in Ohio. It usually starts snowing and freezing late November. It has only dropped below freezing like three days.

there is a damned war on, the economy has gone to shit.

There's that show DEAL NO DEAL, what the fuck is that? That is like RETARDATION OUT OF CONTROL. Our culture has gone to shit when they play games that don't require skill, just random guessing. Poker has more fucking skill than that, and the key to poker is not moving your face.

Our whole damn country needs an overhaul.

And they the NYC rich kid writers only sell like 400,000 copies if they get a movie made, that is like .3% of the population.

Even if someone sold a 1,000,000 copies that is still like 1% of the population of America.

Wenclas or anybody else, i'm not screaming or trying to contradict anyone.

But i'm sitting here not thinking about literature, i'm freaking out wondering, "

Noah Cicero said...

"WHERE'S THE FUCKING SNOW?"

"WHERE'S THE FUCKING SNOW?"

"WHERE'S THE FUCKING SNOW?"

"WHERE'S THE FUCKING SNOW?"

King said...

"Grace," I love your mock outrage. Amazing how someone can get so intensely into a fake identity and fake role.
Tell your friends at McSweeney's headquarters that we're not going away. We're only going to become louder and stronger. The way to change this country is to change the culture-- and that starts with literature.

Victor Schwartzman said...

This debate appears endless. I've made my own comments previously. The ULA is what it is, a special voice that is scarce. Don't keep spanking it for being what it is. The ULA performs several different functions, and exists in several different "wings", one of which is this blog.

Interestingly, if one looks between all the lines on these postings, there is a general agreement that most "mainstream" literature is not as thought provoking or stimulating as we have the right to expect it to be--given all of the resources which go into it. People have the right to read for entertainment, sure, but there is no reason for "entertainment" to settle for only doing that, is there?

As for MLA programmes, yes they do not appear to have produced many if any "special" writers--but such is the same for most academic programmes. My own real concern is that such programmes utilize resources which arguably could be better put to writers who truly have something to say which might change society.

While it is important to remember that there should be room for all sorts of writing, I think everyone posting here would agree that there is a lot of published work that settles for being second best, that can be easily forgotten a moment after you've read it. Again, there is no reason to settle--you can be entertaining and provocative at the same time, if you try.

I agree that pseudonyms are not the best way to go: if you have an opinion you should be prepared to put your name behind it. On the other hand, if everyone knows who "Chief" is, what difference does it make? I have been very surprised in my totally-non-ULA experiences at how some people react to their own names being in print (in a graphic novel, shaped like a newspaper, I never failed to be surprised when some people turn down the chance for their names to be attached to a "letter to the editor", where there is nothing personal involved, no comment that could in any way be negative--they just don't want their name in print, or totally want to control their name...who knows?)

That said, I suggest "Jimmy Grace" is not who many seem to think he is. After the last very lengthy series of postings, where I let myself get out of hand with the paranoia, I wrote a snail mail letter to Arms Akimbo in San Francisco. No response to date, nor was the envelope/letter returned from the address posted by "Jimmy" (he acknowledges it is not his/her real name). I can only assume if there was no one Arms Akimbo knew who was using the name "Jimmy Grace", they would have told me by now. If I do eventually hear different, I'll let you all know.

As for Ms. Prose, frankly I'd never even heard of her until I read the blog posting. I have no personal idea if her writing is good or bad or whatever. But I admit I am not well informed.