PICTURE the heyday of the Soviet Union, when kitchen-produced samizdat was the only outlet for independent literary activity disconnected from the state-approved literature of the bureaucracies. What if the state had countered samizdat with its own fake version of underground writing, controlled from on high?
This is the situation in America today, where two undergrounds exist side-by-side. One is the authentic version, grass roots "zine" publishing, a spontaneous activity sparked in reaction to the oppressive dominating noise of the media monopolies. Genuine roots art; an organic cultural happening.
The Fake Underground is a Frankenstein monster produced in university and government laboratories; part of a reactionary move begun in the 1950's to misdirect the American literary mainstream. Its funding has come from various sources; from NEA grants to big-money foundations to, yes, in some instances, the CIA. (See post below this one.) Study where the support comes from for what's handed us by anonymous posters on this blog as "avant-garde" and you'll see it comes from the highest levels of society.
Locating the financial sources isn't easy, as they often operate through many layers. One of the players today is the "progressive" Creative Capital Foundation. Further digging shows CCF is funded by giant tax shelters like the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.
In the 1990's, for my zeen I looked into the takeover of the U.S. version of Critique by the Jeane Kirkpatrick-run Heldref Foundation. (Kirkpatrick was a notorious neo-con ideologue.) Connected with this, curiously enough-- perhaps innocently-- was noted "avante-garde" lit figure and FC2 editor Larry McCaffery.
I covered a more recent takeover, of a small press organization, for the ULA. Check the Monday Report archives at www.literaryrevolution.com
Throughout the Substitute Underground (straight out of Orwell's 1984, by the way) are the fingerprints of the wealthiest, most powerful individuals in this country.
I consider it a reactionary phenomenon. For a similar occurrence one can look at the art world of the 1950's when the Rockefeller family, stung by an encounter with populist Mexican artist Diego Rivera-- who created works of striking social relevance-- went in the opposite direction with their enormous financial backing and promotion of abstract art. American art connecting with the people was shoved aside for art representing a heavily Europeanized elite, art which by its very nature viscerally touched nobody.
What's called literary "avant-garde" today is merely window dressing. Despite the sums of money behind it, it's moved no place. It exists to displace the real thing. It's one more part of a stagnating literary present whose other manifestations-- Cecily von Ziegasar's "Gossip Girl" and its offshoots; literary flagship The New Yorker's still publishing John Updike and Updike wannabes, or John Ashbery and Ashbery wannabes-- show status quo literature to be reactionary, regressive, and dead.