Friday, May 23, 2008

Two Undergrounds

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

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.


Harland said...

The King is a literary impostor!

Demand that the King publish some of his own fiction!

Demand that the King demonstrate that he is qualified to run this revolution?

WOULD YOU allow someone who is not a dentist to lead the dentists' revolution?

WOULD YOU allow someone who is not an insurance salesman to lead the insurance salesmen's revolution?

WOULD YOU allow someone who is not a hot dog vendor lead the hot dog vendor's revolution?


The King says, "Let them read Wred Fright." I say NO!

monica reilly said...

This morning I was reading about a lawyer who exposed a colleague's breast and then forced her to touch his crotch.

I thought about the story and then realized that what's so familiar about it is: it's how I feel when I read "King" Wenclas's blog.

His hands are all over our bodies no matter how we try to slip out of his grasp. He has no respect for us as colleagues.

A respectful blogger, anarchist or not, would remove a post wishing for multiple wives.

Or write a story about having multpile wives to bring his vision to life.

Wred Fright said...

Though he's probably better as a literary critic, the King is a pretty good storyteller/fiction writer himself. His War Hysteria zine from 2001 is great. King, if you have that typed up somewhere on the computer, then you should post it. America could use a little redose of that zine before the Bushies try to bomb Iran for one last hurrah. And, Harland, I'm biased obviously, but I think YES! people should read Wred Fright! I think someone can score a print copy of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus on Amazon now for $5 or whatever and the ebook direct from ULA Press is about the same cost. If someone still can't afford that, then this summer he or she can read the next novel for free (provided he or she has access to a computer and the Internet) because if all goes well, then I'll probably be serializing it on a blog (Emus was serialized as a zine intitially).

Harland said...

OK, Wred. I'll read it. I downloaded your doctoral thesis, by the way. It looks very interesting.

And, King, you should post it, if you don't mind.

(See: Wred can make his points just as emphatically without turning everyone into an insect or demi-puppet.)

King said...

To Monica: I've made the change.
We see by your comments the standard liberal's conditional commitment to free speech-- which is the prevalent attitude in today's literary community.
If we remove everything which might possibly offend someone, then what's left?
Hi Wred. Thanks for the remarks.
I have a copy of "War Hysteria" somewheres back in Philly. I had a copy anyway when i read excerpts from it for a "Live from Kelly Writers House" radio thing on zeens about a year ago in that city. I move so much it's hard to keep track of everything.
Re my writing and myself. of course I'm caught between a rock and a hard place. I was called too much of an egomaniac in the ULA's early days, so I've tended to step back with my own writing, as there are plenty of undergrounders who are better, at fiction, for instance, then I am. I pursue my strengths.
(That said, there's plenty of my fiction on-line. As I've mentioned, my "Zytron" series isn't bad,and there's always "bluebird" and Literary Mystery. I suggest "Harland" also look up the essays I published in lit journals in the 1990's.)

Pete Houston said...

I just discovered the King, and I find the scenes on his Literary Mystery blog pretty vivid. More compelling, in any case, than the products of the MFA Industrial Complex. I recently read "Beautiful Children" by Bennington alum Charles Bock, for example, and "Gilead" by Iowa luminary Marilynne Robinson. Wow, those sucked. Page after page of deadening exposition. Neither was as lively as King's stuff, and both were (unfortunately) much longer. It was scary that either of those people had ever studied--much less taught!--literary writing.

I also find Monica Reilly's analogy to dentists and insurance salesmen to be symptomatic of the very problem the King is diagnosing. Is that really how you people think of the avocation of the writer: that predictable, that routine, and that dull? When I get a root canal, I want it to be done the same, competent way every time. But thousands of stories and novels that are exactly the same--that sounds dreadful. And unfortunately, that's exactly what Iowa and the other formulaic fiction factories seem to be giving us.

John said...

What literary journals are those, King?

King said...

??? I've mentioned too many times a couple '94 essays in North American Review, which don't seem to be archived on-line but can likely be found in a good university library. Some other things-- like a hacked-up essay in Open City, of all places, aren't worth reading frankly.

monica reilly said...

It was Harland the crypto-fascist who made the remark concerning the insurance salesmen's revolution.

Peter, listen to me as you would to your mother: I have been involved in radical feminism for all too many years to be swayed by empty sweet talk like that of "King" Wenclas. I have heard all the promises. You may be unaware of this, but woman is the most oppressed of all oppressed peoples of this earth. And long have I awaited a true literary revolution that would bring with it the changes and revolutionary literary things that would change literature in a revolutionary, hopefully feminist-shaded, way.

Now, I'm not some lesbian in a colorful tunic and a bowl haircut. I happen to be an autodidact who learned things at the University of the Streets, back in the '80s in New York, when a woman entering a store might get what she'd asked for -- or she might be dragged into the backroom and forced to perform deviate acts! I know about these things. I had it both ways, before I started my first Zine -- It's Just a Handle to Turn Them Over With When They're Dead -- the title referring to you know what.

So -- no lectures, please -- just plain revolution, straight up.

Pete Houston said...


Sorry for mistaking harland's words for yours. I read your two posts attacking the King in quick succession, and I guess I got your critiques confused. Pete