Thursday, August 06, 2009

Gorbachev or Chernenko?

Here's bio info on PEN American Center's new Executive Director, Steven L. Isenberg:

The choice seems to indicate that the takeover of PEN by the establishment is complete. Steve Isenberg is as establishment as you can get. Is it fair to assume that he'll be a representative of money and power? I had hoped for a new face; forward-looking in attitude.

One interesting point in his resume: that he was President of the newspaper Newsday before it went under. He has to know that the world is changing-- and that literature needs to change also.

Will he reach out to the DIY movement? The door is open for him to do so. Continued stonewalling works for no one.
I find it humorous to see PEN's talk supporting "free expression" in this country. There is no "free" expression in America. You have the expression you can pay for-- and so plutocratic aristocrats have more of it. Others are required to buy their way into the system in some manner; usually by accumulating credentials to prove your conformity to things-as-they-are. It's the road toward stagnation. Classic democracy presupposes equal access to speech: a level playing field. This is what an organization like PEN should be working toward. Lately they've been going in the other direction.

See other thoughts on this topic, "Ignorance," at


Kevin Keck said...

This is the first time I've read your blog--not because I don't care, but because I make it my practice not to give a shit about writing on the internet. And I say that as someone who gets paid to publish writing on the internet; I don't even care or give a shit about myself.

I stumbled your way because of Keith Gessen-- someone whom I also don't give a shit about, but my former roommate and lover, Jeff Parker, says I should at least acknowledge his existence because we went to the same bourgeois MFA program which is dedicated to training writers in the art of mediocrity and selling out. (Syracuse University, for those of you left wondering.)

Keith Gessen apparently feels you have established a distinct and powerful style. Clearly, he feels that way about you because he has something to lose and your frighten him. I place a point in your column. I have nothing to lose, and yet I am charmed by your passionate monologues. I wish I could care about the literary establishment as you do.

But I don't care about it, and neither should you. You are better off xeroxing your work at Kinko's and handing it out for free on street corners, as opposed to having it published and marketed by people who will pay you for it. I've been there. It is a joke, and a fun joke to be in on if you don't mind swallowing your own spunk along with the backwash spunk of many editors and marketing types and agents.

I trust you will not "moderate" this comment, but will instead let it go as is, in the spirit of Detroit keeping it real.

King Wenclas said...

Thanks for your comment.
I couldn't care less about the literary establishment-- but I do care about American literature, which is being held captive by that establishment.
Everyone says they don't care about literature. Nobody cares! Yet at the same time many work very hard to maintain control of it.
(If nobody cares, they should abdicate now.)
Obviously Steven Isenberg cares about an organization, PEN, that nobody cares about. He has more credentials than God-- yet there he is applying to head the organization.
Those who gave him the job care very much to have to bring such a personage in to head the outfit.
But nobody cares! Nobody at all!
The fact is that in this media-saturated world, where the media is monipresent in people's lives and wields near-totalitarian power, the question of who controls the media-- including the intellectual debate-- is all. Literature is an important component of this struggle. Isenberg knows this. You should also.
In sum: if nobody cares, why is everyone telling me to shut up?!
Thanks again.

King Wenclas said...

p.s. There's irony in Kevin being published by multinational conglomerates, yet telling me to give my work away free on streetcorners!
The fact, of course, is that for many years on many, many occasions, like so many other undergrounders, I've done exactly that. (And when fronting the ULA was mocked in a satire by a Mr. Pollock for doing that.)

King Wenclas said...

Surprise of surprises: Mr. Keck turns out to have more conscience, courage, and integrity than many well-known writer "activists" (Thomas Frank and Barbara Ehrenreich to name two), by joining the ranks of literary heroes at the Petition to PEN blog. You just never know.
(He joined with a cogent statement that I'm tempted to post somewhere.)
Much thanks, Kevin. Welcome to the fight.

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