The most interesting article in the new n+1 (#5) is the essay "The Argonaut Folly" by Joshua Glenn. Glenn examines the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts and similar missions of a "ship of heroes" or "ship of fools," from the Dadaists to the X-Men.
Much of what Glenn says inadvertantly echoes the strange adventure of the Underground Literary Alliance; "they seem more like exiled criminals than heroes: to be an Argonaut is to be simultaneously a superior type and a misfit, a loser, an outlaw." Elsewhere: "outsiders, crooked sticks." Or, "a noncoercive band of flawed but heroic individuals. . . ." Or, "a team of violently quarrelsome heroes."
Glenn quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne's Coverdale: "We had broken through many hindrances that are powerful enough to keep most people on the weary tread-mill of the established system, even while they feel its irksomeness almost as intolerable as we did." Glenn quotes Hugo Ball: "How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, Europeanized, enervated?"
Maybe Glenn would be embarrassed by the comparisons I'm making. The community he envisions isn't like the ULA at all, but a grouping of well-educated intellectuals who would presumably sit around thinking and talking. We're about nothing so much as action.
But then, the Argonauts weren't intellectuals. Despite their flaws and hesitations, they were persons of action.
The Underground Literary Alliance was created in 2000 to be a gang of zeen superheroes. (My influences were more the J.L.A., Fantastic Four, and the Iliad, than those Glenn cites.) I originally recruited into ULA ranks the five most interesting and talented personalities I could find from the zine explosion of the 90's. For charisma I had beautifully disturbed Ann S.; brawny punk street fighter Michael Jackman; and swaggering ladies man Steve Kostecke. (Strong writers all.) Added to the mix were intellectuals Doug Bassett and Joe Smith. (Only Steve remains as an active member.) It's an old story: after six months of hectic activity which obtained for us a flurry of press coverage, we turned our psychotic personalities upon ourselves, engaging in a knock-down drag-out year-and-a-half internal battle which almost-- almost-- destroyed the ULA.
Since then we've kept growing and have replaced our original heroes with some equally energetic and talented people, like James Nowlan, Wred Fright, Jessica "Disobedience" Wilber, and poet Frank Walsh. We even have a real-life Hercules in the person of novelist Wild Bill Blackolive, from the Texas wilds, and another legendary underground icon Gargantuan in both size and word output, Jack Saunders, author of 250 novels. Some of our youngest writers are unclassifiable, like journal-writer sideshow clown musician Eric "Jellyboy" Broomfield, who fearlessly accompanied me into Miller Theater a year ago when we crashed its stodgy Howl Anniversary reading.
Heroic action! Few writers groups in history have engaged in them as eagerly as the Underground Literary Alliance. We're foremost a group which believes in action-- acting within literary history, then writing about it. We've set ourselves improbable odds, and proclaimed a gargantuan goal: taking on the entire established literary world and toppling it. What could be more adventurous, more heroic?