Thursday, October 04, 2007

"Open, Sesame"

THE ACCEPTANCE by writers of the literary world's caste system is akin to the European masses who for generations blindly accepted the Divine Right of Kings. The aristocrats have everything and we have nothing because that's just the way it is. Their wealth, armies, and castles. . . .

The result is that, all literary bluebloods like Mr. Moody have to do is say the magic words, "Open, Sesame," and everything is handed to them.

Lo! the huge cover story in Bust magazine, copies strategically placed at chain store entrances, about rich Mayflower brat Miranda July.

The article, needless to say, is a complete unquestioning puff piece, full of gushy-gush golly gee isn't this great! kind of writing, the "journalist" too thrilled being in the presence of royalty to turn on her brain and think. If Miranda were wearing a dildo the Bust writer would've crawled under the table and tried to swallow it. I would not for one moment doubt this occurred.

Who are we to question the way the literary world operates? We lowly workers and peasants? This is the way things are done, time and again. That Miranda July hasn't a speck of talent-- no matter. All one has to do is compare her stupendously shallow New Yorker story "Roy Spivey" about sitting next to a celebrity during a plane flight with a story about a plane ride by a real writer, "Girl on a Plane" by Mary Gaitskill, to notice the stark, cavernous, distance-between-galaxies difference.

Who are we to judge? It's not as if such literary farces don't occur every day-- the well-backed movie version of Susan Minot's bland Valium-level Evening being stocked with every prominent actress in Hollywood from Meryl Streep on down.

The most amazing part of it all, simply astoundingly amazing, is that the delicate blueblood aristocrats accept the hype and accolades as their due without a smirk (which at least Dave Eggers has the sense to offer as he puts one over on the reading public.). Poor waifish rich girl Miranda rose immediately to the top of the heap because, well, I guess because she deserved to. Not a thought, not a momentarily flashed lightbulb, turns on in her brain to alert her that something's wrong with the picture. She stands before the flashbulbs of million-dollar hype as stupidly as Fluffy the blue-furred Persian at the local cat show.

Similarly, Rick Moody accepts grant money because I guess he needs it. Or could spend it. On a new car. Or a painting (wait, that's Franzen) or a trip to Europe or something.

The literary aristocrats are as unquestioning of the stratified nature of today's society and today's lit world as the unquestioning peasants, and so are at least as stupid. "Open, Sesame!"

THE CROOKED CASINO
This civilization, certainly the part of it concerned with literature, beyond the lies of its ideals and corrupted myths, is like a casino within which every game of chance is egregiously rigged.

For starters, have that $80,000 entrance fee ready or whatever it costs to obtain an MFA degree.

Somehow you make it inside the door along with the other suckers. You notice the colorful red-and-black roulette wheels are tilted. At the poker tables everyone knows one another-- except an empty chair strategically placed for the newly arrived rube: you. Can the dealer be trusted? I don't think so-- she resembles Maud Newton. In her distracted moments she seems to be listening via a receiver in her ear to instructions from above the floor.

The slot machines filling the room in endless rows, manned by thousands of MFA grads, never seem to payout. Oh, there's one. It gave back a handful of quarters.

What a joke of a place, you think. A waste of time and money. At least they have entertainment! You walk into a huge room to await the floor show. Out step Rick Moody and Miranda July in top hats and tails to do a little soft shoe. Their voices are weak and off-key. They stumble around, dropping their canes. Several stooge Bust and New Yorker magazine plants in the audience pretend to love it. Everyone else stares in bemusement, or incomprehension, stunned by the gall of it all. You notice half of the audience has left-- you're not far behind them.

Back among the slot machines, you blankly push money into one of them. Relief from the trauma of the comical truth. You notice Miranda July next to you on her break has decided to try one also. She pulls the lever once. A rush of noise: a tremendous payout. With no embarrassment she scoops the money into her top hat and winks at you.

"Open, Sesame," she says, then departs.

15 comments:

King said...

p.s. I have nothing against Bust-- or Miranda July herself, for that matter; she's a pawn of her mentor Mr. Moody who's trying to get as many bluebloods to the forefront as possible. (See Lily Tuck and others he's given awards to when sitting on grants panels.) But, the hyper-promotion of a fledgling writer like Miranda July, whose attempts at stories are wastebasket material; who should spend some time learning what she's doing, is a crime against the universe. Especially when there are extremely talented legitimately DIY young women zeen writers out there who survive and write completely unknown.
p.p.s. I'm writing a story, soon to be posted on the ULA's Poetry and Fiction blog, that may not be very good but will be ten times better than anything of MJ's, in that it uses the tools of literature, which include characters, setting, the world, a story, and an intelligence.

Brooklyn Frank said...

Well said, homie.

Michael said...

Hmmmm. "De gustibus non disputandum est." I happen to find Ms. July's work to be consistantly insightful and moving.
I am glad that there are diverse voices, including yours. Have you seen her film?

King said...

??? You should do more reading.
Feelings; all feelings. If you can find an actual ida in her work anywhere-- or can articulate what those insights you find are-- please let me know.
As I've said, the stuff of literature is missing. Characters? There are no characters in her fictions. There's a sensitivity-- that's all. What you get, at all times, is her. The inside of her not too cluttered head.
The characters are vague, as is the world, which is nothing more than a blur.
The point is that there are many, many better writers who are completely ignored-- including those in the Underground Literary Alliance.
Anyway, I suggest not provoking me, as I'm putting the finishing touches on Ms. Bluebird in Parts II and III, and am trying very hard to be gentle.
(If I say so myself, Part I is a textbook example of how to begin a story; laying down plot threads which later will come to the fore. Stay tuned why don'tcha.)

King said...

p.s. One should read a story like "This Person" and then consider the baby mentality which could've written it.
In one or two stories, okay, it kind-of works; you feel kind-of sad afterward. With an entire book of such the effect becomes stupefying.
Again, understand the mentality which wrote that story and the others. It's a retreat from the world, from life itself.
Besides, it's already been done, for decades, by the likes of Peter Cameron and Amy Hempel.
Most hilarious are the blurbs on the back of the book, including one by "genius" writer George Saunders. He can't be honest; can't really believe what he's saying. It sounds like he's been sucking on the dildo-- of the contemporary literary world. (Well, yes, compromises must be made I'm afraid.)
It shouldn't be up to me to expose such hoaxes.
A Question: Why is such insipid, truly insipid work like that of Ms. July what the literary world values???
Or the nothing poetry of John Ashbery.
Better writing is out there. Oh yes; much better.
(Start with books by ULAers Wred Fright, James Nowlan, and others.)

Michael said...

I understand that you are very passionate in your support of serious writers. I also support your desire for intellectual rigor.
I do not see things as a competition. That is what I was referring to with the Latin quote in my first post: "In matters of taste there can be no argument." I would have included a translation but I assumed you would be familiar with it. No offense intended.
Miranda July has her audience just as all of the fine writers you identify have theirs. There is room enough for everyone.
Although I have read most of the folks you recommend I appreciate you helping to introduce them to the rest of the world.

King said...

"There is room enough for everyone."
That's so much bullshit.
I hope you get one of the points of my "Bluebird" story.
Sorry, but we live WITHIN A CONTEXT-- the context of this civilization, which we're all part of, like it or not.
In the literary realm, all the noise, all the backing, all the buzz, goes to a certain class of writer.
The rest of us are like Alex Skarski sipping from whiskey bottles in the rain.
Ms. Miranda is backed by MONEY-- by foundations and conglomerates, not to mention well-connected friends, and always has been.
I knew many, many struggling artists in Philly-- worked with them in low-pay call rooms. They would love to have gotten the kind of art exhibitions at prestigious galleries and museums which Miranda received right off the bat.
What's being harmed s art itself.
Literature itself, definitely, because the said-context (only America itself) is excluded from the work of the trendies. (Not just Miranda; think Lethem and so many others.)
And so the resulting fiction seems washed out, and weak-- compared to the great writers of the past like Conrad; Scott Fitzgerald; certainly the Naturalists.
Which is also the point about the Paris Review exposes-- a point a certain undergrounder completely missed. That yes, the editorial policy of PR WAS affected by the ideology of George Plimpton, who came from a certain class, with a certain mindset, and lived within a definite CONTEXT of his Cold War era when there was a battle within the American literary world to push back the direction achieved in the 30's and 40's of literature with a social context.
The problem is that Plimpton and his ilk pushed things too far back-- they eliminated their compettion altogether, so that we're reduced to living in poverty, working exhausting jobs just to survive, and most of the time publishing our work in xeroxed zeens or posting it on obscure blogs.

another michael said...

True, true, there's just no socially realist work being published right now, ever. Can you picture a writer like Denis Johnson, for instance, ever getting published by a mainstream house, let alone being nominated for the National Book Award?
There's lots of writing published by big houses that fits your criteria. It just doesn't fit your argument, so you conveniently ignore it. Even your nemesis DAVE wrote book this year exploring the realities of a new immigrant - hardly a book without ideas or character. If this story is all you can bring, then the reason you're ignored by the literary establishment isn't because of your themes. It's because of your prose.

King said...

Sorry, Denis Johnson may be a decent writer, but I don't see him creating work with the outrage and passion that the Jack Londons, Norris's, Steinbecks et.al. once brought to American literature. He's certainly not stirring the public.
I suggest you study the history of American lit-- the real history-- and realize that what I say, with the exception of a few token writers, is true. Tokens who've completely bought into the literary establishment, as Denis Johnson apparently has, and say not one word about its intrinsic corruption.
The Dave? Oh come on-- how is his book different from the actions of a Madonna or an Angelina Jolie? Helping Africans is very hip these days, don't ya know. It says, "I Care!"
Meanwhile they benefit from the stratified class system in this country and do nothing but reap its benefits-- ignoring in their feeble prose, for the most part, the real happenings in their own land. To do that would mean confronting themselves.
Please don't get me started on the McSweeney's Gang. Their ideology is rotten to the core.
Re my story: Say what you will, but it achieved my goal of writing a story ten times more ambitious and accomplished than anything "Bluebird" has.
Incidentally, it's better-- with more of the "stuff" of literature in it-- than Mr. Lethem's recent novel about a rock band. And he's proclaimed as a genius??
FYI: What really proves the point of my argument is the blacklisting of the ULA itself.
We can have peace with your crowd when that's dropped. Otherwise, there's a LOT more to talk about.
Again, "Michael" spoke total bullshit. "You have your fans and we have ours." That would be like the billion-dollar New York Yankees of today competing against the Negro League New York Grays of 1930 (all they had was great players); shutting them out of all publicity and media; not acknowledging their existence in newspapers-- no mention of their games; no box scores-- then telling them, "You have your fans and we have ours."
Who's hurt? The game (of literature) itself, because many of the best writers in the country aren't allowed access to the public.
The most exciting writers in America are being published, on a tiny scale, by the Underground Literary Alliance. It's a start. It's the only option we have.
In the meantime, what else is there to talk about?
The recent revelations about Ray Carver-- a good example of how outsider writers are treated by the publishing industry; destroyed by them, really, even when they play the game and become circus ponies-- would be a good start.
Should we go there and elsewhere?
Let the Eggers and Moodys get some sense into their heads.
All the ULA asks for is a seat at the table of American literature.
A real seat.
Details can be negotiated.
Otherwise this will continue.
Please don't underestimate my writing ability. . . .
My voice is all I have, but it's a strong one.

King said...

p.s. Of course, the real evidence of the emptiness of the arguments of the "Michaels" of the lit world is that they have to hide their identities. Predictable intellectual cowardice and phoniness.
Is that all YOU can bring, chump?
Will you crawl like a mouse or stand up like man?
It's apparent that you have nothing; NOTHING. You and your arguments are vacuous, spoken by ghosts. By demi-puppets. . . .

Michael said...

I stand corrected on several points. You are probably right in saying that there is not room for everyone at the table, if the table you are referring to is public acclaim and financial success. Sadly, history is rife with unrewarded brilliance. I would agree that this is due to nepotism, the vagaries of a purely profit driven selection process, and good old fashioned ignorance.
My name is Michael Keenan. I did not intend to hide in any way. I couldn't sign on in a way that would allow me to identify myself.
I am the "first Michael" and I still enjoy Miranda July's work. I am a writer as are many of my friends, none of whom have received large grants or huge book deals. We toil in relative obscurity. I say this so you know that I am not colluding with the enemy.
I will consider all of the things that you have said and will endeavor to broaden my horizons.

King said...

Thanks for being upfront.
Sadly, literature could be both more popular-- and profitable-- if it ended its narrow point-of-view.
Given a level playing field, the ULA would beat the trendies
straight up, because we're offering more different and exciting voices than the standard McSweeney's fare (not to mention the continual "Gossip Girl" paeans to money which the giants are currently producing).
American society, American culture, is much broader than the exclusive affluent realm of a tiny circle of privileged writers existing in plush outposts on both coasts.

King said...

p.s. What hurts the ULA is the fact that we ask embarrassing questions.
Such as: Why does PEN in New York-- which has a mission; exists for a purpose, to help downtrodden writers-- giving its largest monetary award to, of all people, Philip Roth?? (As it did this year or last.)
Does he really need the cash??
These are questions which have to be asked if we're to have a truly open and democratic literature in America.

Jeff Potter said...

Hi Michael Keenan... Yes, thanks for being straightforward!

You mention that maybe there isn't so much room at the table for public acclaim. I note that from the start we of the ULA have asked for nothing but a chance. "Asked" maybe isn't the right word--we've taken it. Insisted on it. Proven that a simple chance is the key missing element in a living lit for the USA. We're happy for just a chance because we're realistic about the acclaim. If we're bad, we're happy to be trashed. We insist on diversity in reviewing. Let EVERY major review include the full range of native/street/alternative/folk/indy/underground/DIY lit in their purview. Maybe they say there are only a few column-inches available---so they must give it only to cookie-cutter academic writers? Their excuses don't cut it. Even their range of public REJECTION is narrow, unhealthy---indeed, deadly.

Their clever solution to keeping their jobs and prestige (many don't need income) is to pretend that diversity doesn't exist. DOH! They're like GM in the 1980's. They will surely lose. The keepers of culture will bring themselves and our society down with them.

There's no guarantee that We The People can pull this thing out of its nosedive. But there's only one way to go to have a chance.

***

Too bad more participants in the back'n'forth of the blogosphere won't be as candid as you, Michael Keenan---but, truly, candor hurts one's prospects in a Sovietized system. You have a far worse chance of "getting anywhere" if you speak your mind or even sign your name. This is the only reason why people don't do it. Well, those going places tend to not participate in any give'n'take anywhere. What foolishness it is to do anything but march stepwise to a goal, following the rules.

Then again maybe we're crazy like foxes here. We of the ULA actually are moving steadily forward. Among other things, we've amplified our voices like we had no hope of doing otherwise. We don't labor in obscurity. (We appreciate the support of those who do, for sure.) But the scene watches for our next big moves. The global scene even. They're wondering what the little guys will come up with next, with all strikes against them, no resources.

(Talk about irony---these MFAer's miss their chances to expose the best irony, even though irony is never enough for art to lean on. They spend MILLIONS supposedly creating chances and resources for the poor. Well, we of the ULA are an actual group of actual writers who are actually living in poverty. And these "helpers" have explicitly cut us off from any access or resource. Because we refuse to be passive or victims. No one speaks for us but ourselves and our art. No one can process us in a grants-system. We're too busy, moving too fast. And we're for-profit. We believe in the worker getting the fruits of his labor. A garbageman's wage is our goal. Straight-up!)

Well, for my part in the effort, the ULA PRESS project that I'm doing is releasing books and ebooks (we hope to add audio books) that show a fuller scope of what reading can be. They're a vital missing link. These books are an antidote and counterbalance and new voice for pushing forward. If all you've been exposed to lately is academized introversion, you owe it to yourself to widen out. A big series of releases is forthcoming. http://ULAPRESS.com

Jeff Potter said...

PS: When any reviewer gives us a shot and either slams or praises us all I ask---and I think the other ULAers are with me on this---is that they quote us. All it takes is a sentence.

Thankfully, that's what Bissell did in his huge Believer piece. His analysis dismissed our work but he quoted us---and that's all it took. Maybe we weren't the writers that Bissell was looking for. Fine. But those quotes showed a style and content that quite a few folks might find compelling. Sure, on one scale they might flunk, but on another they're just right. No other writing like that has been quoted in the Believer. We represent the everyday person...the common hero...in writers...and readers. And that's just the way we want it. So let the slams come. Refuse us public acclaim. Just give us a chance and our mission is accomplished.