Saturday, April 26, 2008

Establishment Weakness


Once again it's been demonstrated that establishment literature is a house of cards awaiting collapse.

What happened: a preview of my review of Susan Nagel's Marie Therese was posted on this blog more than two weeks ago, followed by the review three days later which demolished the book's credibility as history. (A tepid, half-hearted "pan" followed in the New York Times many days later.) The review here was a direct hit on the protege of one of established print media's most powerful figures, Tina Brown, who even hosted a release party to celebrate Nagel's book, with premature smiles in place before the splatter of embarrassment disturbed the cozy plastic-surgery faces. To this date, Ms. Brown and friends have been unable to put the pieces of the book back together again. The only attempt to counteract my argument, in a discussion on the World of Royalty blog, ended in quick failure; their defense of the book so swiftly blown apart by myself that the blog's managers hurriedly deleted the entire thread. (Traces remain on Google.)

Don't think there's not a battle going on. The establishment has lost every encounter. They're able to respond only in underhand fashion, through hackers, moles, and anonymous posters-- signs of weakness and panic.

If the underground took its view of things higher than one inch above the sidewalk, if it united and organized, it'd put the bankrupt philosophy of the print media monopolists into flight. The insular Overdog mindset should be grabbed by the collar and tossed out. (Tina Brown first of all. She should better exult over privilege from London.)

As I've said many times about New York, nothing is there. Money and superficial smiles, maybe, but no ideas, originality, character, honesty, integrity, belief in what they do or ability to generate lasting literary excitement.


Doug Bassett said...

The idea of a coterie of writers, all of whom basically belong to the same mileau and all of whom have a vested interest in keeping a certain kind of power/distinction/access to mammon in their hands remains true -- but I've come to the conclusion that's a historical accident only.

Not enough space here to fully go into it, but it's a combination of the Sixties radicalization/infantilization of academia, with it's tendency to embrace anything edgy that smacked of anti-bourgeosis values, and the general decline of the middlebrow novel through the Sixties and Seventies (and in fact the midlist novel), which caused a siege mentality and gave rise to "stars" with such limited range. Consider your old friend Tom Beller -- that was his name, right? I remember that guy -- who gives a fuck about him now? Hey, frankly, who gave a fuck about him then? Outside the 27people who were on Tin House's subscription list, of course.

Does that magazine even exist anymore? These guys have a short shelf life, and who really cares about a cool once it's cold?

The point I'm making is that these guys are drifting away as we speak, nobody's manning the gates at all. I understand the need for rhetorical reasons to produce an enemy, and indeed Rick Moody and his ilk are good ones -- condescending, poor writers, vapid in person, etc. But I think this particular well has given you just about all it can give you anymore, I think it's time to look at the future.

And I suspect the future will be much more wide open, both good and bad. Harper Collins has announced they want to get rid of returns; others will surely follow. The economy has changed and the old ways are dying as we watch, while new ways are being born. I am not a big admirer of ebooks like the Kindle, and don't think they'll ever replace the book -- but their very existence does open up possibilities. Combine the web and the proliferation of print on demand technologies and we're looking at a very different world than we did in the Nineties. We are now looking at something much more akin to 1830's - 1840's America, a time of pirate editions and starving writers, basically.

I would suggest that less time be spent worrying about the Establishment, as they're meaningless now, they'll dry up and blow away of their own accord. Rather, the opening here is for somebody who has a sense of how to market people and for somebody who can filter talent reliably to an information-inundated public.

One would think that would include a major talent hunt; a sense of what the literary world will really look like in the future; and some of your typical marketing skill.

Just some thoughts to spur you on. I think you need to take things to a higher level -- the old battles were fun but they've been won.

all the best,

Doug Bassett

Doug Bassett said...

So I go over to Brady's blog just because I wanted to see what Mr. Balgobin's big contribution was.

He's right of course, and I thought about putting something much the same here. When I say "a big talent search" I mean a new one with new blood and frankly, with more talent. Sterzinger could write, although that was mainly the output of a brittle psyche. Blackolive's novel is at least unique, and even though Potter's a putz and has seemingly remained such, sadly, even during these years I've broken off contact with him, he deserves some credit for getting that guy's book published in some form. And Saunders is a nice guy, on an amiable level. Blog kind of stuff.

But that's it. The rest wasn't up to snuff, and there's no way to gild that lilly.

Your central problem, as I see it, is that you are immensely skilled at marketing people who do not lend themselves to being marketed. Writing, even shitful writing, takes time, is done in private, is engaged with in private. It does not lend itself easily to ballyhoo. Plus, it's worse with writers of any quality -- they take forever to develop and in doing so find themselves resistant to group activities. Because hey, let's face it, if they were good at groups they wouldn't be angry old lonely sods bitter misanthropic recluses, would they? And make no lie, that's what it takes to do real quality work. You think you could pull Kingsley Amis into group activities? Or, to keep the commies in the crowd happy, how about Dashiell Hammett?

Now, that doesn't mean you could NEVER do it -- I don't think that. Nor am I as pessimistic as Mr. Balgobin is about some of the possibilities of what could be done -- but I am a long term observer of that world, and have my own biases, to be sure. What I think it DOES mean is a longer, slower term project, wherein

you think through what your aesthetic really is (am unconvinced you have one)

survey the coming future and see if you can spot a couple who really embody it

and then promote the fuck out of 'em.

And then see what happens. Maybe it could work -- I suspect the future is probably going to go something along these lines, although I don't think your first couple of times will probably do it.

I guess I'm almost suggesting that you rethink your position to be something almost like a literary agent, but not in the traditional sense of the term. Mr. Balgobin is quite right that it was the lack of talent, ultimately that stopped things where it went. If you could get a success it would probably work as a cascade effect where each ensuing one went easier -- the trick would be to get the first one and I think you need to think about stepping back and really putting the work into making that happen.

Not your normal tendency, I know, but surely sooner or later someone else will. And frankly I'd like to see you hit hard, just once, in that world.


PS. See the Hard Case Crime paperback series as a rough, early example of the kind of thing which I think we'll see more of in the future; surely something like that could be molded to your needs?

Cinderella said...

I'm surprised to hear that I am part of the literary establishment! I had no idea. I hope royalties are soon to follow.

As you know, I didn't defend the book because I haven't read it. I was interested in what you had to say, and still am, but I removed the post because you were being unnecessarily rude and I didn't want to give you any further publicity.

Not that anyone actually reads my blog, but I think you know that already.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Thanks for the intelligent comments.
Cinderella's remarks remind me that my campaign is ultimately about more than literature-- but also about our culture, and the society which frames that culture.
I've sought to change the society through changing the literature.
Cinderella, yes, represents a small number of people blind to what's happening in America (I invite her to read the "Context 2" article) and what must be happening throughout the world.
In that sense, my attacking print media power centers is appropriate.
However, I see Doug's point.
Yes, the underground HAS to progress to the next level.
Yes, it needs, ultimately, more marketable writers.
The dilemma is as he states-- unlike musicians, writers are by and large unwilling to be aggressively marketed.
The ULA campaign began with three charismatic writers-- talented writers, in different ways, albeit not without their flaws-- and where are they today?
All three ran away from the stress of possible (and sometimes real) attention. In different ways, as far as they could possibly run from the centers of media.
Or what about George himself?
He certainly is far higher on the scale of talented writers in this country than possibly talented lawyers! (Of which there are only millions.) He has the imagination to pursue ways of leveraging that talent, but has failed to do so.
Literature's problem-- as I think Doug is saying-- is to attract talent and charisma to its ranks. Which to me means finding them not in writing programs-- guarantees, by their very nature, of mediocrity-- but elsewhere.
I've used the example of Jim Morrison; a poet who was talked into being a rock star.
Now the reverse has to happen. (The music biz is at a dead end, I think-- while lit has room for explosive growth.)
The ULA encouraging Eric Broomfield to write is one example of what we can and should do in the way of getting new young talent into our ranks.
Yes, I have much to consider. I hope to address these questions in future posts.
Thanks again.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

p.s. Excuse me, I meant "Context I." Or a post I'm about to put up at my Detroit blog:
Moving back to Detroit has reminded me why I became activist to start with.
p.p.s. The academy embraced the pose of anti-bourgeois values-- yet remains thoroughly bourgeois.
Think of your standard Sixties-bred tenured Ivy League prof. Ridiculous figures, really, who dwell in the upper socio-economic reaches of America yet still posture as being somehow radical.
(And of course they've cranked out clueless kids like Miranda July who take the phoniness to a wholly new level. I like my first part of my "Bluebird" story, though I couldn't really sustain it through the entire narrative.)

Doug Bassett said...

Just a few last thoughts. First of all, to make my position quite clear -- I'm not interested in getting involved again or anything like that. This is just friendly advice only. In my way I'm fond of you and I'd like to see this work for you.

-- When I tell you that the literary future is probably going to be a chaotic mess of everyone against everyone, capitalism run amuck, believe it. I have my share of faults, God Knows more than most, but one thing I've never been wrong about is this sort of forecasting of literary/cultural trends. It's just something I can do, the way some people can draw or sing.

So *that's* the future you have to deal with. It's actually a future that would work in your favor -- as long as you were prepared.

-- You've had trouble marketing writers, but so has everyone else. Everyone bitches about it. It's an unnatural thing for most writers to do, it asks of them qualities most of them necessarily don't have. So understand your problems aren't one of kind, only degree.

I don't have any particular advice on how to break out of this conundrum; maybe it's essentially unbreakable. I do think if you see it as a structural thing built into the very essence of what you're doing, and not a personal/individualized thing, you might start to find some answers for yourself.

-- You definitely need a crossover guy because the underground lacks the capital to make any investment worthwhile. You need to think, I think, in very hard core terms about what will $ell.

Much follows from this, most of which I'm sure you know, but here's one thing to consider -- you really gotta cut loose of all that internal fighting/backbiting. Fuck 'em. It's a waste of your time and energy and who give a crap, really? The ideas are what's important. The ULA is merely a superstructure built to house them; if you feel the tool is past it's usefulness, shitcan it.

-- Remember what I said about scaling back on your focus on the Evil Establishment. It's done what it needs to do, and is now pretty much common parlance. It's not going to give you any more traction than it already has. If anything, you gave Moody RELEVANCE, something he no doubt died for. He's probably wishing you'd attack him again.

Finally, think hard for yourself what your aesthetic is. I don't think you have one, in the sense that I (and people who likely will judge these things) mean it.

This is probably the hardest thing for you to do, but I think it's killer. Everything else -- money, people, pr -- can be played with. This can't. Why? Because this is the first thing you'll be asked and you'll need a coherent answer to the inevitable questions. Why? Because without them the whole procedure seems hollow -- see Mr. Balgobin's points again.

It doesn't matter if I like it, or George likes it, or the ULA likes it. It does matter quite a lot that it's well thought out and comprehensive -- and can answer attacks. It has to be more than "My guy/gal is the anti-Moody". That's fine as far as it goes, but it needs to go further than that. It needs to be affirmative.

Take a look sometime at those Hard Cases I mentioned. There's a lot to learn from them, but note this for now: they came out of a fandom aesthetic -- hardboiled mysteries -- which had certain folk motifs already associated with them. You don't have that luxury -- in fact, the other major weakness of this project (along with the essential unwillingness of writers to be marketed) is the sheer artificialness of it all. You can't help but transmit the feeling that you are imposing something.

I don't think there's an out for you in this regard either, but it's something to think about. Perhaps you can transform this essential weakness into a strength. You are very good at that.

Best of luck, and take care.


King said...

A final point.
I strongly disagree about the Rebellion being "artificial."
Doug knows that the movement it stems from, the zine scene of the 1990's, was very organic; spontaneous.
Study history though and you'll see that any movement which went further was a product of active will-- whether the Beatles (Brian Epstein); punk (McLaren); the Bolsheviks (Lenin and Trotsky); even Christianity, where Paul took the fledgling movement and molded it to make it successful.
Nothing just "happens." That's a current fallacy which is very widespread, which is good, because it makes things easy for the active person.
People today are brainwashed into passivity.
We have the eternal conflict of Cortez versus Montezuma. . . .