Monday, June 23, 2008

Allied Media

I stopped by the Allied Media Conference on the Wayne campus in Detroit Saturday, where I sat for a bit with Mr. Potter and Yul Tolbert at the ULA table. The ULA books presented there looked great. (I like the blue cover of Steve Kostecke's Wasted Angels.) I formed several new observations about the alternative press and its possibilities from my visit; too many to write about now.

A shout-out to everyone I met there!

(For more about Detroit, see my new post at

(p.s. I should be able to stop by the Peter Markus reading at MOCAD this Thursday in Detroit, 7 p.m., if anyone wants to meet me in the flesh.)


Pete Houston said...

A stab in the dark:

I was reading Ben Marcus's "The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories" this past week. (It was dreadful, by the way, a study in bloodless academicism). Anyway, I was reading Marcus's introduction, and all at once I got this weird deja vu feeling that this could be Harland. Marcus was on and on about how diverse the stories in the collection were, which seems to be Harland's line (although the actual stories tended to prove exactly the opposite). Also, we know Harland teaches at an Ivy League School, and Ben Marcus is at Columbia. Marcus also thanks Harland's buddy Rick Moody in the acknowledgments, which are like a who's who of people you've attacked on this site (Boss Eggers, George Plimpton, and all the other members of the literary conspiracy Harland tries to deny exists). Am I seeing things, or is there a chance my intuition was right? And if I were to guess right, would you tell me?

King said...

Good guess, but wrong.
Ben Marcus is an "intellectual."
Harland is a genuinely intelligent person and a much better writer.

Harland said...

What does the Pete Houston Book of New American Short Stories look like? Whose work would you be excited enough about to include?

This is where I came in, oh, about 95,000,000 years ago. A conspiracy such as ours usually has as its object something being conspired against. So, other than this ominous notion of unjustly excluded "outsider" writers, "zinesters," and others laboring over their mimeograph machines to "deform the ideogram," as that disgusting bloodless literary elitist Roman Jakobson put it, who is in this book?

Maybe Pete can actually give me the answer I've always, and completely ingenuously, sought. Maybe Pete has a dozen writers he likes. The King, well, the King says YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHO I MEAN, HARLAND. I MEAN THE WRITERS WHO ARE TOO HONEST TO BE HEARD FROM. THE WRITERS WHO SCARE THE ESTABLISHMENT. And that's the end of that constructive (CONSTRUCTIVE?, says King. WHY SHOULD I BE CONSTRUCTIVE? I'M TRYING TO TEAR DOWN THE ESTABLISHMENT HERE!) exchange. Either that or I suggest, well, maybe such-and-such might be a good example of an underground writer we can all agree has been admitted into the Cocktail Party ("All aboard! Next stop New York City! Grand Central Station, 125th Street, ALL NIGHT COCKTAIL PARTY!"). Here he is, published by JumboKrautCo, yet he spent his apprenticeship living in a pup tent under the Embarcadero Freeway, eating booger soup with fleas. KING: HIM?? HIM YOU CALL UNDERGROUND? WHAT ARE YOU, FERKACHTER? THAT'S NOT AN UNDERGROUNDER! LARRY RICHETTE IS AN UNDERGROUNDER! THAT'S NOT AN UNDERGROUNDER! SNAKEPANTS MCGILLICUDDY IS AN UNDERGROUNDER! And so on.

So, Pete. I don't know who's in Ben Marcus's anthology (and I'm not Ben M.), though I'm sure I'd like some of the work and I'm sure I'd hate some of the work. So, if you want to get into the spirit of things here with an old collaborator, tell me, lad: who would you include?

Pete Houston said...


Honestly, the only writers who give me any hope for the future of American literature are the ones I discovered either directly or indirectly through the ULA. Noah Cicero used to write for the ULA. Reading reviews of Noah Cicero's work, I happened upon Tony O'Neill's name. By way of Noah Cicero's blog I discovered Tao Lin. This is not a long list, and hopefully I will be able to expand it. I don't know if the King approves of all of these writers, but they are the only ones I've read recently whose work didn't seem like a dead academic exercise.

A related anecdote: I heard Tony O'Neill read last week. It was part of the Earshot reading series in Brooklyn, which explicitly privileges MFA students when choosing its readers (take a look at their website if you don't believe me). O'Neill was the only one of the readers who doesn't have an MFA (or at least he doesn't list one in his bio). He was also the only one who connected at all with the audience. While the MFA folks were reciting their preprocessed pap, the audience members either glazed or actually made mocking faces at each other. (One girl mouthed to another one: "Help!") O'Neill hypnotized them, though. Utter rapt silence. Which raises the question: Why does Earshot privilege MFA writers if the correlation between an MFA and the effectiveness of the work appears to be a negative one? Why do so many publishers now seem to privilege MFAs when they could be snapping up Tony O'Neills? I don't care if a bunch of rich kids want to spend tens of thousands of dollars of their parents' money on a scrap of paper that says that they're writers. I just don't want be at a disadvantage when I go up against them in the literary market place.

There are also two mainstream writers I like: George Saunders (who wrote the only good story in Marcus's anthology, and Marcus, I think, knew this, because he put it first) and Miranda July. Saunders has an MFA, but he was an engineer before he entered "the creative writing gulag," and I think this previous life helps account for the depth of some of his work. Miranda July: no MFA, so the goodness hasn't been schooled out of her. If there are MFAed writers you think I might like, I'd love to hear your suggestions. I'd also obviously love to give your work a try, although first I have to get better at guessing your identity.

Anonymous said...

mr. king,
nice post, "missing ingredient," on your detroit blog. once in a blue moon you actually get it right. there's all this talk about identity, and you do "put yourself out there," but in someways yourself are a mystery. is karl wenclas your real name... and spelling? are you actually living in detroit, or just visiting? sometimes when I read your blog I think to myself this is a guy who grew up in grosse pointe. true? you do go on and on about ivy league universities, but where were you educated? Wayne State, U Mich, or Kalamazoo. I read somewhere that you used to work as a broker in the chiacago commodites exchange? if true, that would be very sherwood anderson of you.

am just trying to adjust image to reality.

this post is anonymous, of course, but people who disagree with you, or criticize you, or people associated with those who've done so, have often gotten slammed or dragged through the mud here.

I mean given that you, for instance, suggested that Eggers's sister's suicide was an attention-getting hoax, why would anyone want to expose themselves to your flaming.

Harland said...


OK, I looked up O'Neill. I don't know whether I'd like his work or not, but it looks as if a new book is forthcoming from Harper Perennial (so he did get snapped up), and I'll check it out.

There are a couple of points to address. The first is that, yes, you're right -- the series does seem to "privilege" MFAs. Whether or not the MFAs always suck is another matter, and I'd ask that you suspend judgment. It's a compelling, though somewhat unexamined, picture to envision all MFAs as privileged rich kids seeking credentials in the form of a degree. To be sure, some are. But a lot of the MFAs I teach are in their mid-thirties -- at that stage in my career I'd been writing for nearly ten years, and I'd imagine many of them followed the same trajectory. They probably thought that entering an MFA program (usually, at least at that age, on their own money -- you may not realize how many graduate students work full-time) might provide something that working on their own hadn't. I have often thought that many of the missteps I made and blind alleys I went down in my own early career might have been avoided had I been subject to the more or less enforced camaraderie of a writing program. You make, you know, connections. I know that -- to some -- "connections" is synonymous with "conspiracy," but, really, they're not. Those "connections" do, indeed, sometimes result in the "privileging" of inferior work for no reason other than the familiarity of its author. I would submit that that is evidence of a human tendency, not a literary conspiracy. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether being invited to participate in a reading series is necessarily a big career booster, I'd suggest that it's always up to us to determine which work is good and which is bad. The girl mouthing "help" was making a critical judgment. The person reading was being judged. He put his work out there and someone didn't like it. Would you deny him the chance?

Re/O'Neill: I don't know how I'll feel about his work, but I'd be very interested to see what he does or can do once the motherlode of true tales of addiction from Hollywood's seamy periphery runs out.

King said...

??? According to you, "Harland," all if well and fine within the halls of literature.
The fact remains that all the many MFAers--conformists by nature and necessity-- are NOT producing any outstanding work.
Is an MFA degree really worth the tens of thousands of debt which those writers who aren't from money accummulate to obtain it?
If so, what does this say?
That the credentialization, the professionalization, of literature is what's important, and not the writing itself?
WHERE are the great stories and poems which should be created, given these programs enormous expense.
These are the questions you've failed to answer.
I'll address any other points you've made here, in time. But I'm not going to be stampeded on my own blog, sorry.
If you want to reply you'll have to contact me personally.
But you SO lack any character or integrity this is impossible, as we both know.