Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Prisoner of Planet XYZ

AN ANONYMOUS poster on this blog questioned whether the literary establishment fears the literary rebellion.

The truth is that every action of theirs shows they're terrified of it. The panic we've faced has been palpable-- as on the radio show I did last year in Philadelphia. The host and the callers ascribed to the rebels untold powers we didn't have. We were going to shut out the Ivy Leaguers! US! We rag-tag rebels living in poverty. Heavens! Dangerous!

We received the same reaction in 2006, at Columbia's Miller Hall, from the Overdogs on stage. It was hilarious, really. These prestigious, much lauded writers, going into sudden unhinged hysterics as soon as I said one word under my breath: "Hypocrisy." Phillip Lopate stood, flummoxed and flustered, hand shaking, pointing, putting aside his prepared remarks to denounce us from the stage.

Fearful? The lit establishment? They're terrified! Petrified that their cozy world of corruption and insularity might be shaken by mere words, ideas, voices-- which is all the rebellion has for weapons. THEY control the institutions of literature-- the big money corporations, universities, foundations. Yet we're confident while they're frightened.

Frightened? Yes! Why else have I been so isolated?

I have a bit of a name-- received ample press attention when the ULA was at the peak of their activity. Yet has there been any effort to utilize that name? Have I received one offer to write one scrap of opinion for anybody? Not one! It might be too dangerous an opportunity to let a literary revolutionary speak.

Legions of line-ups of fearful little puppets, whispering beneath their strings. . . .

(Plimpton the only Overdog who wasn't fearful.)

Where have been the Overdogs willing to debate myself, or my recent allies in the ULA? (The radio debate last year, I faced a biased host, a stacked-deck of hostile callers, and a turned-down microphone, yet won anyway.)

The main portion of the literary blogosphere has blacklisted me. Scan all the bigger names and try to find any links to me. Gawker recently pointed to a post of mine-- but made certain not to mention my name.

Terrified? Terrified!

Using the planetary analogy from Literary Mystery's "Plutocracy USA," I'm a prisoner on a tiny planet in a faraway corner of the literary galaxy. That's what you're visiting right now, you know. An isolated little corner of the lit scene. Haven't you noticed? I'm under quarantine. The situation has been arranged so that I'll be no further trouble to the powers that be. I dwell on a far, desolate planet, depopulated-- which is what central Detroit feels like. Allowing the noisemaking, the articles, the attention the rebels received a few years ago is acknowledged far and wide by the mandarins as having been a mistake.

Ah, but what if by chance I should someday escape from exile on Planet XYZ? What then?



jimmy grace said...

You know why Lou Reed hasn't asked me to play guitar with him? Because he's afraid of me! It's not because I'm a shitty guitar player.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Jimmy. I can't decide if this is satire or not. Here's a tip, King: Try to learn the difference between people being afraid of you and people being incredibly annoyed with you. Unless it's malarial, a mosquito buzzing in your ear is pretty harmless. That doesn't mean it's a pleasant thing to experience. You're a mosquito, basically. You're annoying.

Brooklyn Frank said...

All hell would break loose is my guess. A fun event, no doubt.

Brooklyn Frank said...

Plus, anyone who thinks Karl is a shitty writer isn't paying attention. Karl's one of the best, most honest lit-reviewers out there.

And his fiction is compelling and fun, also.

King said...

Thanks, Frank.
Some folks just don't want to face the fact that the literary world is incredibly closed-minded and corrupt. I've been documenting this since before the ULA was started-- had my WORDS censored at such places as Bennington's Summer Writer's Conference, when copies of my zeen were pulled from mailboxes and publicly destroyed. (An issue which discussed the incestuous relationship between the AWP and NEA.)
Many people would choose to remain ignorant about this. . . .
Even in the face of the Ray Carver/ Gordon Lish revelations, which were kind of a glimpse behind the curtain of the authoritarian way the publishing world operates in regard to writers.
For those who don't want to keep their heads in the sand, I have a four-part series beginning perhaps as early as tomorrow at the Happy America Lit site about today's publishing system.
Don't miss it!
(Blogs for now are cracks in the System of blacklisting.)
p.s. Isn't the test of free speech accepting that which annoys-- or even outrages-- you? Some folks have flunked this test big-time.

King said...

p.p.s Have to note how establishment-minded writers view the underground kind-- as mosquitos. Again, their narrow viewpoint never ceases to amaze me. They float like butterflies through their precious world, not realizing they've ruined the art form-- after all, things look fine to THEM!
To these people, moving, briefly, to the heartland from the coasts is a daring and "infamous" move. Wow! Getting down with regular folks. Slumming a bit before running back to the swirls of parties. . . .

FDW said...

free speech is bad for business it would seem.
St. Augustine! recently passed an ordinance against street musicians, buskers and performers.
The trick is as a poet since I'm expressing myself thru speech I'm hooking up with those other artists to make connection and challenge the Man at the most basic level of their breaking the constitution.
Expressing yourself thru wds. (check out Ted Sloan's Monday Report over on ULA main web- page)Front line resistence.
Point is that we've got the corruption of fascism in this country full blown. For one thing recommend that people get to watch Bertolucci's 1900, an excellent period film beautifully made about Mussolini's regime but more importantly the Italian working class.

Anonymous said...

Learn to read, pinhead. I said YOU'RE a mosquito, not "underground types." I know as head of the Underground Literary Alliance you like to conflate the two . . . but oh wait. You're not anymore! (oh, too soon?) Which proves that no one can stand you. Keep telling yourself that the reason you eventually alienate everyone is because your truth is so terrifying.

FDW said...


the parenthetical in my commet here of Feb. 29th should read:

...(check out Tod Slones Monday Report over on the ULA main page}

frank walsh

King said...

One thing we know for sure about you, "anonymous," is that you're too frightened to give us your name. . . .
Whether I alienate anyone or everyone won't change one iota what I have to say. That's not what this is about. The "go along to get along" mentality is for you guys.
(I remain on good terms with most ULAers, by the way.)
Stay tuned-- I have some exciting posts lined up for next week.

jimmy grace said...

Art is about change. If you won't change how can you hope to make art?

FDW said...

Change is about change
Art is about art
all things change already
put yr horse before the cart

King said...

Why won't the literary world change? It's been stagnant for decades. The ever-copied "New Yorker" story is indistinguishable from what it was forty years ago. (With many of the same regular writers, like John Updike.)

John said...

I think literature as a whole is pretty stagnant right now, and I can respect what you're trying to do, but you're being as close-minded as the "literary establishment", just from the opposite end of the spectrum.

You think literature should be a certain way, should stop being fake and repetitive, or whatever, but by advocating your views to the exclusion of theirs, you're being close-minded. Shouldn't John Updike be able to write whatever he wants however he wants? You talk about censorship, but aren't you trying to censor them (that is, the literary establishment)?

You're fighting a war with a country no one knows exists. 99% of the book-buying public has never heard of you or the ULA. I don't mean that to be offensive, but it is true. Hell, most of the book-buying public buys genre fiction and not literary fiction anyway. At least literary fiction is written for love of the form rather than just to make money, which is the case for many genre writers.

But the point is, if literature, or art of any kind, is to be open and free, than how can you condemn a group of people for pursuing their art in the way they like?

I also think that if you want to influence the impact of literature on culture, you need to deal with the readers, not a select group of literary elites. Go after the masses to change things, not the aristocracy. Mao Zedong became a cultural icon by appealing to the masses in the countryside, not by asking the existing government to adopt his views.

I think NaNoWriMo has done more to open up literature than the ULA has, for the simple matter that I know little about the ULA, yet over 100,000 people participated in last November's NaNoWriMo, and they were writing, not protesting.

The cliched revolutionary rhetoric you use makes it hard for me to take you seriously. It is obvious you care about literature, but I think your efforts so far have been misguided.

John said...

Oh, by the way, I'm not John Updike. Didn't want any insinuations of such to distract anyone from responding to the points I made.

King said...

Put your argument in context, John.
AM I excluding John Updike?
Do I have that power?
Do I have one smidgen of publishing or literary power?
This is the same argument I faced in the radion show I was on last year in Philly.
How can a shut-out and excluded underground writer exclude anybody?
Your argument is absurd.
Am I not allowed to criticize the John Updikes of literature?
I start out with both arms tied behind my back to begin with, and you want me to follow the System's rules of gentility and politeness?
Here's the truth: I don't care if John Updike publishes whatever he wants until doomsday. I'm lobbying for OTHER writers to be given a seat at the table. Good writers, with new ideas. I'm arguing for another side of the story; a different slice of American culture, to be publicly viewed.
Are you against this?

King said...

Regarding the mass public argument:
The fact is that John Updike and writers like him receive much publicity and backing. For starters, his stories appear regularly in a journal with about a million circulation, which isn't bad.
He always receives great publicity backing for each one of his novels-- stories in glossy magazines with, again, large circulation.
His words are taken seriously by the nation's opinion makers, those with access to the mass media; NY Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today-- and reviews of his books are syndicated in newspapers across the country.
Yes, genre fiction is fine-- but is the leading romance writer taken seriously by anyone? Will her books be read by anyone twenty years from now, or taught in courses, as Updike's are already?
Yes, the general public, outside New York.
My man, that's the world the literary underground came from.
In the 1990's the zine scene was a real grass roots spontaneous movement, funded by nobody.
I don't know anything about your NaNoWrites thing-- but I'd bet some tax-shelter nonprofit or other is behind it, which then would make it just one more arm of the upper classes. Affluent liberals.
It doesn't make it bad-- but I'd wager it presents just more bourgeois (boozhie) writers with bourgeois outlooks.
For many people-- for many writers-- in this country, that simply isn't good enough.
There's the bottom half of society, most of whom are completely alienated.
yes, I'll continue trying to reach them, as I've done for years-- I created the ULA out of a pool of authentic roots writers.
BUT, the underground has to xplore other avenues of reaching people, which the ULA at times has successfully done. (Check its press kit someday.)
thanks for your remarks.

King said...

Okay, I glanced at their site.
They want "laughably awful" prose??
What is this?
Just what we need-- 100,000 more novels clogging slush pile rooms.
That's certainly NOT what I want or what I'm about.
I want this nation's authentic writers to find an outlet.
IS the alternative to John Updike the "laughably awful"?
Not in my book!
Please read my four-part series at the Happy Lit blog to get a clue what the underground is about.

John said...

I think all writers should be taken seriously, and I am not against any writer getting his fair share. But what is a writer's fair share? I listened to that radio show you mentioned (the one with the woman from Philadephia Stories, right?) and you said that you wanted a bigger piece of the pie. Who doesn't, right? But if you have the same level of attention as them, wouldn't that make you the mainstream? You wouldn't be part of the underground anymore. So it seems like, rather than wanting to destroy the literary elite, you want to become one of them, albeit with writing which has different and better qualities than the literary elite.

You say you have no power, but if you want to influence literary culture in a way to get you and writers in the same vein the kind of exposure they deserve, then you will need to get some power, some influence. The question is, how do you go about doing that?

You do have some measure of influence already, given the numerous media mentions you've received. My own feeling is that the reason you haven't had more influence is because you are being divisive rather than trying to bring the community together.

The interviewer on that radio show asked if not the ULA and the mainstream could coexist, and you said they could, but you also said during that interview that you wanted to provide an alternative to traditional publishing and put those guys out of business. Doesn't sound like coexisting.

You said the literary elites are not being discounted, and that is is underground writers who are not being counted enough. That's a good point. But how to get these writers more respect, more attention? That seems to be the main question, and it's obvious the right solution has not been found yet. I just think that attacking the elite is not the right way. Whatever the right way is, I think it involves attracting readers, regardless of whatever the elites think, because they have authority only insofar as we give it to them by agreeing that they are the elite. But there are a lot of people who feel that literature is stagnant and stale. Appeal to them, and in this day and age it means the internet. Exactly how, I don't know.

With all due respect, you are misconstruing what NaNoWriMo is all about. The point isn't to write terrible prose, but to write period. To not worry about whether it is good or not, but just to write, for the fun of it, and by doing so you will get better and learn more about writing. For someone who talks about literature being about raw emotion and truth, to the point of not caring about typos, I am surprised you would look down on this endeavor. Writing without regard to quality, yet concentrating on getting out what you want to say is as raw as it gets, isn't it?

NaNoWriMo is not about being an alternative to John Updike. It is about writing because you like to, and setting a deadline and a goal for yourself to help you actually finish something.

I believe there is no such thing as an inauthentic writer. By setting a standard to determine who may qualify and who may not, you are becoming a gatekeeper yourself. Whatever lack of power or authority you have does not change that principle.

BTW, NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit, formed by Chris Baty who started out with a few friends and it program grew naturally. A year or two ago it became s nonprofit organization, but its origins are as amateur as you can get. Maybe having the legal status of a nonprofit is distasteful to you, I don't know, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad. Having never even heard of NaNoWriMo is surprising to me, since you talk so much of the underground. Maybe your definition of "underground" is different than mine.

John said...

Just to clarify: When I said you exclude John Updike and his kind, I meant that from the point of view of your idea of what constitutes authentic writing, or good writing, or however you want to label it.

The fact that you have no power doesn't matter. You are saying that his kind is no good, and I am saying that to make such a qualitative judgment, to not want such writing to exist, is exclusionary.

Anonymous said...

King's definition of "underground" is people who agree with him.

King said...

John, I appreciate your intelligent comments. They're far different from what I'm used to.
You keep making wild leaps in logic.
Because I wish to compete with the John Updikes of literature-- even that I don't care for his writing-- doesn't mean I wish to eliminate him or wipe him out. That's ridiculous. Maybe knock him down a peg is all.
You raise a question that I wrestle with constantly.
HOW do we get America's good underground writers attention?
I've used old-fashioned ballyhoo-- which means, in part, proclaiming OUR products as better than the other guy's. Sure, I'll knock product #1 (Updike) to get our products attention. That's part of the game.
But-- think of a new hamburger joint, independent, with waving pennants and signs and loudspeaker which says, "Our burgers are BETTER than McDonald's!"
Are you going to tell him to cut it out because he might put McDonald's out of business?
The idea is ludicrous.
No one is easily going to put Updike, the New Yorker, and the literary establishment out of business.
Again, we the underground are attempting to gain a sliver-- a mere sliver-- of noise and market share. Updike is in every B&N and Borders in the country. I'm in none. I have no books published at all. I hardly think Mr. Updike is truly in any danger from myself.
To pretend that he is, to want to stop criticism (turning your argument on its head), is to shut out alternatives. This statemet isn't a stretch, because alternatives ARE shut out.
Re; NaNo. The authentic writer doesn't need to be prodded or encouraged to write. It's an essential part of his being. I wish sometimes I could stop writing. When I cease my blogs-- it's coming soon enough-- I'll go back to zeening, because I can't NOT write. This applies to every undergrounder I know, from Michael Grover to Frank Walsh to Blackolive to Jack Saunders (certainly!) and on and on.
Underground? What is underground?
Well, Anonymous, I've been underground for real in this country-- working and living completely off the books. That's underground.
Being regulated by the government through a 501(c)(3) tax shelter, sorry, is in no way underground.