Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death of an Apparatchik

This is the truth: the established literary world is so corrupt, so immersed in the sewage of cronyism, cheating, lying, and hypocrisy, that I could post here every day on the subject and not come close to relating all of it.

An Insider's Insider killed himself this week, director, at a small college in New England, of a nest of literary corruption; a mentality of System success at all costs.

This man was at the center of one of the most disgraceful literary happenings of recent years. In 1995, at a summer writing conference at his college, he pulled stamped, sealed, posted mail out of faculty mailboxes and publicly destroyed it. The envelopes contained a zeen which outlined the then-incestuous relationship between the Advanced Writing Programs (AWP) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The issue described the musical chair process between the two organizations, in which the givers of grant money would the next year become the receivers, accepting funds from those who the previous year had been recipients. A nauseating story, but well documented. Made clear was the how and why workshop poetry and fiction had achieved such overwhelming dominance in the tiny literary world.

The zeen publisher had contacted the now-dead writer about the matter, asking for an explanation or a response, not receiving one, before the issue was created and mailed. He heard about what happened later, from three separate individuals; one a student, the other two well-known writers teaching at the conference (one of whom was outraged, the other amused). Many of the most prominent names in the business, renowned writers and editors, were present when the destruction of the copies occurred

What recourse did the zeen writer have? He was an insignificant nobody who likely would never be heard from again. That he could be so ruthlessly censored was thought unimportant.

For more details about this you could obtain two issues of my New Philistine zeen which covered the affair-- #28 and #36 (if my memory serves me). Remaining copies must still be out there. With the subject of the issues now ingloriously dead, perhaps they have some value, and could be found on E-bay.

The dead writer, beyond his actions, is a perfect example of everything wrong with status quo literature. A celebrated poet, he wrote what could hardly be called poetry at all, as there's no poetry-- no music-- to any of it. It's bland, usually self-involved, prose.

The dead writer achieved his positions and celebrated status in the literary system because he was adept at gaming it-- and knew this. Among his poems were several which expressed the contradictions he felt; which addressed the subject of how to attain awards and success. I'm sure he was conflicted by what he did at the 1995 summer writing conference.

I think he's an object lesson for his friends of how not to conduct oneself. For a writer, a real writer, nothing is more important than honesty and integrity. It's the writer's job in this society to speak the truth. One can't pretend to do so and at the same time live a lie, buried in misdeeds like a stained Dorian Gray portrait-- and not have the contradictions run through every part of your being, your reputation, and your art.

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