THE LORDS OF OBSOLESCENCE
Events over the past two weeks have demonstrated to me the intellectually bankrupt condition of status quo literature.
Their Book Expo was a hopeful display in a metaphorical Green Zone in New York City; impressively staged panels of mandarins debating literature to themselves, filled with discussions over trivialities while their ship sinks.
Huge arguments took place over minor deviations from Elder John Updike's outdated "Rules for Reviewing." Minor deviations!-- when to save literature the Updike Rules should be dynamited.
Emanating from the affair was the overwhelming stench of mediocrity. We see now from established literature a parade of tiny-voiced caretakers; priests of an obsolete religion carrying on the handed-down rituals and dogma but no longer sure why. They clutch to weak connections to the Great Ones of Literature Past. They cannot create out of their own ranks new Great Ones. Their minds are too fearful and closed to look for them outside their halls of exclusion.
The National Book Critics Circle web site screams about failure and collapse-- THEIR failure as they finally notice the public has abandoned them. Instead of embracing change they clutch to things-as-they-are, using rusty buckets to bail out water gushing in from all sides, in place of escaping in lifeboats to start over. They seek to save a ship which is mortally wounded.
PANELS OF APPARATCHIKS AND PUPPETS talking to themselves, headed by the most reactionary of their number like new PEN head apparatchik novelist Francine Prose. It's a System without hope of redemption or reform.
NBCC President John Freeman represents the UNdemocratic forces of literature; refusing to respond to outsider e-mails; keeping only those posts on the NBCC blog he approves of. What makes him special? Anything beyond the trappings of his bureaucratic role? One finds from him recycled thoughts in recycled modes. Not a trace of originality or independence is to be discovered. Sure, he makes the proper noises. "I Care!" this garden-variety Ivy Leaguer wears as a label pinned to his chest-- but push him just a trifle and his innate exclusiveness comes out. He's unwilling to give up the Privileges of the Club.
Which can be said for the lot of them. The Book Expo was a staged puppet show with simulations of democracy sprinkled amid constant affirmations that All Is Well. "Believe us!" the puppets cry as the shaky cardboard box they're in threatens to fall over. The Continuance of Literary Empire is the goal. This bad theater resembles more and more the puppet show from Baghdad; a series of paid-off puppets there representing the illusion of independent government while the real world outside their Green Zone palaces falls apart. Is the Book Expo fiasco any different? How? While it keeps the real forces of literary democracy, the voice of dissent, outside its walls?
Steve Augustine, friend of a leading co-opted lit-blogger, recently sent me an e-mail assuring me that he's for literary revolution also. But what does this mean? Is he against elitism, privilege, corruption, and monopoly? The NBCC's leading figures have embraced monopoly in the person of Carrie Kania. They've embraced the embedded corruption of the lit-grants process in the person of Prince of Corruption Mr. Moody. They've embraced censorship by shutting out the ULA and its books. They reject change, blaming readers and the culture itself for their blindness, instead of admitting failure, firing those responsible, removing their walls and allowing new ideas into their shrinking forum.