The established literary world today is dominated by hypocrisy and manners. All corruption, all venality, is allowed as long as the public image of those involved remains clean.
The Stephen Elliott matter is an example of this. He can attack the ULA insurgency relentlessly on this blog, month after month, day after day, and this is fine according to Overdog etiquette, because he does so under a fake identity. If I turn off comments, I'm "stifling debate." When we point out that Stephen Elliott was on the same tour the fake identity was on; that Elliott was at the same reading as his alter-ego; that Elliott is best friend to those who've attacked us previously, our major opponents; that there's no one else he could credibly be, this is engaging in "personalities." It's gauche. It's not done.
Reality is turned on its head. In the eyes of the privileged, underdog writers become the bad guys. The pristine faces at the front of the castle have been cleaned.
One should never get "personal." The ULA has been condemned for getting "personal." Our examinations of corruption should be sanitized:
"Mr. X, scion of wealth, who lives on the most exclusive private island in America, X Island, has received an XYZ grant. He also sits on a XYZ panel giving taxpayer money to his rich buddies, unnamed."
This, in fact, is exactly how literati want it. Everything is fine as long as no one is named. A little more polishing to the glowing faces at the front of the building.
Manners have to do with class and dominance. When you enter the mansion, dear writer, do so obsequiously, with hat in hand. Never for a moment imagine you're anyone's equal. The entire system of producing literature is built on the premise of the writer-- the artist-- existing in a position of inferiority. (Submit your manuscript to the phalanx of agents at the front of the lobby. Do so politely. Make sure it's clean. Take a number. LEAVE THE BUILDING.)
Which is why an organization like the Underground Literary Alliance, where the writers themselves are the decision makers, is thought so dangerous.
We're crude and loud. We tramp into Faulkner's mansion with muddy boots. We dirty the carpeting and the furniture of the rich people who have all the power and own everything. We don't ask politely. We sit down at the table without invitation.
In everything we do we're upfront and honest, which is a sign of strength. Like us or not, you know who we are and where we stand. By contrast, our powerful opponents skulk around like mice. It's been the standard practice of the rich and powerful for centuries: let others do your dirty work so you keep your hands clean. Even if it's done by the other side of their monstrous personalities. A bit more retouching to the faces.
Established literature today is a line-up of clean hypocritical faces, while in the closets behind them are the portraits of Dorian Gray.