Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Island

The sad fact is that the literary establishment lives on an isolated island. Nowhere is this more striking than in the poetry realm, where the stripped-down Bennington-style of verse is completely disconnected with the Beat-or-hip hop-influenced stylings coming from the lower classes, heard in dive clubs or on streetcorners. (The best underground poets do a synthesis of types, mixing in the knowledge of an Eliot or a Pound.)

The remarks here of Moody-mouthpiece "Harland" shows how out-of-touch the status quo's prose masters are as well; desperately clinging to a stale "avant-garde" left over from the days of Robert Coover and others of his ilk, with Gordon Lish/Thomas Pynchon wordplay thrown in. All very tiring. Overintellectualized; meant only for the pseudo-intellectual crowd. The Conformity factories known as universities continue preaching old dogma, while hundreds of DIYers outside the Ivy-covered walls are breaking the rules and the boundaries.

No, Harland; zeensters aren't submitting to literary journals whose focus is on the well-polished sentence while ignoring the deeper impetus of a work. These journals, like you, are micro-focused. It's not working. The answer for the art is to take a larger view, in so doing deciding upon a work's-- and literature's-- real goals, then adjusting the style accordingly, creating new styles which live. The answer for literature is right in front of us, has always been right in front of us, but no one can see it. Peace. Out.

11 comments:

Harland said...

King, I don't recall mentioning Coover, Lish, or Pynchon. I might have mentioned them, but I didn't. So again we enter the crepuscular world of your bitter inferences.

Well, time for another challenge! Another challenge for the King! Tell me, King, (a) which of Cooverpynchonlish's books you don't like, (b) what it is that you don't like about it/them (no, "wordplay" doesn't count as a substantive critique), and (c) which of their contemporaries you feel is doing a better job. I mean contemporaries who actually have been published, King. It occurs to me that now might be a good time to point out, once again, that I can't think of a time (certainly not in this exchange) when you've mentioned a single writer who is not either dead or a zinester who you've thought is doing good work.

Which brings us to Jeff Gomez, to Gomez' book, OUR NOISE. You're familiar with it, I'm sure, King. Gomez originally self-published it as a zine. It got picked up by a big house and published. This was right around when you were in the trenches with the zinesters, back in the mid-90s. That must be your favorite book of all time, being that one of your own made good. Jeff Gomez. OUR NOISE. Originally a zine. Published by MegaOverDog Books, dutifully reviewed, sold on the shelves of monopolistic chain stores. The King's dream, realized, way back when. Do tell, King.

Harland said...

Universities: it figures that everything would go back to hating and being threatened by intellectualism. In that sense, you're a real American, King. Richard Hofstadter, had he lived to do so, would have revised ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE to include a chapter on evangelical dumbness like the idea of a university as a "conformity factory." One Critical Thinking class would improve your argumentative skills about 100%, King. "Old dogma." You mean, if I go to a conformity factory and read GRAVITY'S RAINBOW then I'm being indoctrinated?

Literary journals: well, like I said, I know you guys must have sent some of your finest work ("screampoem II," "down with up," "kicked in the head with an iron boot") to George Plimpton and the kid who's the reader there sent it back with a "Does not meet our needs at the present time" note. Case closed! But surely there are journals not so focused on the polished sentence? Or is it that if your work is rejected, then ipso facto the journal is corrupt? If they do publish an unknown writer, that writer is "connected" through her overpriced studies at the Conformity Factory, or she lives on Fisher's Island next to Moody, or she writes lousy prose. If one name you recognize is in the TOC, then obviously the entire journal is one sorry example of the logrolling so rampant out there in Podworld.

Let me, in parting, sum up your points into one credo, for the sake of clarity. Be sure to point out to me the way my recapitulation of what you said is a twisted misstatement.

(1) Take a large view,
(2) decide on literature's goals,
(3) create a new style which lives,
(4) publish it in a zine.

King, now, I think this is fair enough. I'm not mocking you (here). So, once the large view has been taken, the decisions made, the style created, and -- oh! -- some fiction has been written, then published in a zine, presumably of one's own making so that no editorial contagion can creep into the process -- what then? What would you like to see happen with said creation?

King said...

-I haven't submitted to literary journals in fifteen years, once I quickly realized they don't read submissions (unless they recognize the name on the return address).
-I'm against pseudo-intellectuals, of which there are many around today.
-What next? The crux of the problem for the underground has always been marketing-- getting the word out. How does one do that?
This obstacle was the point behind the ULA campaign.
In this noisy, conglomerate-driven world, how does the independent individual have a voice?
My argument to zeensters was that we needed to cooperate. Alone we don't stand a chance, but if we all get up on our hind legs and shout together we'll be heard-- and will let people know what we're doing, as I'm attempting to do here on this blog.
Why are you against this? It's simple democracy in action.
Yes, in the process of making noise we were going to expose the corruption of the mainstream, examining how UNdemocratic our literary culture is today.
My arguments to the underground remain the same. Most of them I make privately.
I know that the movement is strong-- a moving undercurrent to literary culture; an underground stream that will burst forth and surpise many people.

King said...

p.s. It strikes me that you have nothing to offer, RM. (Rick's Mouthpiece.) You're reduced to trying to establish in your own mind that I might possibly be as venal and selfish as yourself.
Beyond this, your only defence of literary aristocracy is that "Things have always been that way; remember the slaves."
Not a very compelling argument!
Your side has nothing to offer. As you know, I can look much further into the machinations of money in literature than I've been doing.
You really are a Montezuma-- a flailing mandarin on the wrong side of history.

Harland said...

Well, I'll agree with you about literary journals. They don't often publish people who don't have some kind of connection. I'll also agree with you about banding together. I don't know if you know anything about the history of the little magazine in America, but magazines like Big Table, Yugen, Origin, The Floating Bear, and many, many others were founded by writers and poets (unfortunately, mostly living in New York City) who knew that they had no chance of appearing in the sorts of journals you complain about (a complaint that, let me repeat, I believe holds a lot of water in principle).

I think the difference, though, was that the editors of and contributors to those little magazines didn't spend nearly as much time posturing about revolution and kvetching about how *they* weren't getting a big enough piece of the pie. They quite simply drew a distinction between their goals -- writing what they wanted for a like-minded audience -- and those of the New Yorker, etc., which actually bear more of a resemblance to your own goals: to publish work that resonates with large audiences. Unfortunately, I think your approach (as others here have pointed out) alienates the people you might actually reach. And, once again, the writers publishing in those little magazines of days gone by were some of the most interesting writers and poets of the time, including people you've cited favorably: Ginsberg, Kerouac, Selby, and so on. That they went on to greater success had nothing to do with their calling the editors who acquired them, the publishers who brought their work out, and the reviewers who reviewed them favorably pod-people, or overdogs, or puppets, or any of the insulting names you use to characterize anyone associated with an entire industry -- scratch that, an entire city.

I'm not against democracy, or against writers who exist outside the mainstream working, publishing, existing. I just happen to wonder why you feel it necessary to "expose corruption of the mainstream." It's possible, though I have trouble believing it, that it hasn't crossed your mind on more than one occasion that the idea of the "corrupt media oligarchy" is essentially a cliched way of viewing things -- which doesn't rob it of its truth, it simply underscores that your observations in this connection are hardly revelatory or even interesting, and, moreover, that conflating this wearisome and redundant message with whatever fiction it is that you and your fellow undergrounders seek to create only dissipates any interest we may take in that creation. That's all. I'm perfectly willing to accept that someplace in America a great literary genius is self-publishing as we speak -- in a zine, on a blog, wherever, and that this genius will create his/her works off the treadmill of academia and in seclusion from the famous cocktail party. In fact, I'd bet on it. But if that genius devotes even a fraction of the energy that you do to telling everybody how stupid, how corrupt, how robotic, how fabulously wealthy, how stoogelike they are, not only will nobody be in the least bit interested (with the exception of other pamphleteers retailing in caricatures of the obvious) but it seems to me that he/she won't be writing any of that ingenious fiction that will change the face of literature, etc. Just a thought.

Harland said...

"p.s. It strikes me that you have nothing to offer"

And you're offering what, exactly? You can't even respond to my challenges.

I think, King, that you're afraid of me.

THAT'S why you bury the posts containing my comments under asinine new posts.

THAT'S why you HIDE from the TOUGH QUESTIONS I PUT TO YOU ABOUT THE UNDERGROUND.

I think you're the CORRUPT ONE, King.

YOU'RE AGAINST EVERYONE EXCEPT FOR AN UNDERGROUND ELITE!

Yes, the same names, over and over. Wred Fright. Bill Blackolive. Jungle Jim Macallister. FUNNY HOW NO ONE EVER SEEMS TO CRACK THAT EXCLUSIVE FRATERNITY.

DEATH TO THE UNDERGROUNDERS' HEGEMONY!

DEATH TO THE UNDERGROUND ELITE!

DEATH TO FAKE REVOLUTION!

King said...

Funny. You're the guy who won't tell us his real name.
An underground elite? Typical disinformation. We're not excluding anybody-- we don't have the power to exclude anybody.
Your crowd are the ones gobbling up the big advances, and financial grants.
I haven't seen any of the undergrounders you've named on any NEA panels lately!
Yes, continue turning reality on its head. This seems to be the only argument you can make.
You want me to stop making noise, because I'm "alienating" people.
But there are many hundreds of undergrounders out there writing away diligently, not alienating anybody. Where are they?
By economics alone they're shut out of publication and publicity.
This is what I'm trying to remedy; why I'm making noise.
Your kind of ultra-rich writer is wildly overrepresented in this country. Attempts to solve this are inadequate.
yes,we get now writers who are immigrants from india and China, or Iran, coming from the highest or wealthiest levels of those societies, so they blend in here nicely!
You can't escape the reality of context-- and the context within which this discussion is taking place is a class-based society where the bottom half of America is falling farther and farther behind.
To correct this, you want grant money to still flow to the most privileged people in this country.
Yeah, that will help!
You want those sitting on such panels, or on boards of organizations like PEN, to be either A.) upper-class; B.) properly screened.
The writers I represent have received NO breaks in this country. None. Nada. They don't have the money for expensively exclusive MFA programs. not to mention all the other seminars/retreats which must be attended to collect, as you acknowledge, the proper connections.
This is something you know NOTHING about, RM. You've never been behind the eight ball of lfe, really behind it.
The voices of the Other America are NOT being heard-- at least not heard in any unscreened, independent way. Your literature is a joke.
I realized that in the early 90's when I did begin to get a few essays published in legitimate lit-journals, through the attention my zeen was receiving. Polemics, the things I wanted to say-- incendiary language sometimes-- gutted. My best essay had a THIRD of it cut out.
Yeah, some writers, the Ray Carvers will kowtow to this.
But why should we?
It results only in a conformist, homogenized, controlled literature which isn't good for anybody.
That's the reality, chump.
Yes, we need revolution to take back our literature.
That can only happen through leverage-- through MAKING noise, exposing mendacity, and turning up the heat on corrupt characters like the person for whom you're a relentless mouthpiece.
WE have nothing. No connections into the established halls. No glittering credentials. No financial backers. No money.
All we have is our own voices-- are ability to make noise.
I plan to make a lot more noise.
I'm just getting started.

Harland said...

You still haven't answered any of my questions. What is it about your revolution / argument that makes it both unnecessary and impossible for you to respond? I mean, I guess I've been trying to answer your points one by one, whether I've been sarcastic or whether, as on this set of comments, I've been quite serious. But why bother? You don't hesitate to traffic in generalizations. The art form you claim to love is marked by nuance, whether it's made by the rich or the poor. (Art doesn't care about that. Art doesn't ask whether your life is "authentic" according to some Soviet-style yardstick by which we measure "People's Art.") Your sense of nuance is black and white. You're colorblind to all the shades of grey, which is why you don't respond to my comments so much as throw up the same old softshoe. Maybe I'll try to generalize.

Your guys don't get into positions of influence because you can't get published.

You can't get published because by any standard -- from that of the biggest publisher in the world to that of a blogger working out of his living room -- your writing stinks. It's so bad it's beyond critique.

Other people aren't afraid of you, they get bored of you.

There's no conspiracy against you, except for the familiar conspiracy hatched against the incompetent in every field of endeavor. Just because you share being unpublished with great writers who buck the system and work against convention doesn't make you a great writer.

The "wealthy" writers you refer to work hard, but they work in fields not open to you (teaching, freelance, etc.) because they're competent. Your work seems harder because it is; you probably have a shitty job because you have an unlikeable personality.

You remind me of Dostoyevsky's underground man: making of his own misery and misanthropy a pseudo-"philosophy." Like him, you're walking back and forth, back and forth in front of the fire, "ignoring" the rest of us, delighting in the spectacle you're causing -- until, one by one, the people you're trying to shower with contempt stop paying attention to you.

Do everybody a favor, King -- publish a story, right here. Not that lame "satirical" shit you usually post, a real story, one that doesn't start around word three talking about Dave Eggers and the cocktail party. Let's see what you can do. Come on. You either suck or you don't. Show me you don't suck.

John said...

King's not a storyteller, he's a noisemaker. He's the white noise between stations when you're channel surfing; you can only leave the white noise on for so long before you have to change it. Yeah, it catches your attention, but you don't like what you hear, and there's nothing to see.

King will continue to throw out the same stock answers/responses he always does.

Harland said...

Hey, King, I was feeling a little uncertain of my last post in this thread (unlike you, I'm uncomfortable with sweeping generalizations). So I checked out every link on your blogroll.

I take back what I said: many of those people have been published, or could be published -- at any rate, they probably would like to be, aim for it, but don't brood over it constantly.

They all, in other words, seem to have lives.

Another interesting thing I noticed, King. Those links which lead to online magazines or sites to which there are multiple contributors subject to the vetting of a blog administrator or editor? You're not included as a contributor to any of them.

Do you simply not actually write fiction? Or is your fiction not, as I suggested previously, up to the standards of any reasonable person?

King, are you a literary impostor? Where is your fiction?
And, no, don't point me to that shit on one of your other blogs.

King said...

??? I'm an underground writer who publishes through my zeens and my blogs. I'm also primarily an essayist, not a fiction writer. Sorry if this bothers you.
I've been asked to publish on on-line sites, but declined, mainly because from 2001 through 2007 I wanted all my work going only to the ULA.
One of my stories was posted at the ULA Poetry and Fiction blog; can also be accessed through my Detroit blog, which has a link to it: "Bluebird."
I'm an activist and a publicist for the cause of underground literature.
(You seem to be getting panicky, "Harland." Signs of desperation? Peace is an option-- but you'll have to budge.)