The old Cher hit could’ve been the theme song of the zine explosion of the late 1990’s. In the form of the self-made zine, American writing achieved new excitement and freedom. Foremost, from a literary perspective, were the personal zines/travelogues of Aaron Cometbus, Bill Blackolive, Jen Gogglebox, Urban Hermitt, and many others. The style was the presentation of raw experience, unrefined, direct and immediate.
Zines are an example of how the kind of vehicle used to present writing—the package or product—determines the style of writing. Prominent zine writers, like Wred Fright with “Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus,” or Hermitt, or Doug Holland of “Pathetic Life,” or Cometbus, sold their art to the general public through unorthodox outlets—often to segments of that public who weren’t reading anything else. Zinesters sold through the mail, at zine readings, punk rock shows and art fairs, on buses and in coffeeshops: everywhere. Those zines which didn’t build an audience didn’t last. The criteria for survival were readability, verve, and personality: creating, and connecting with, an audience.
The situation of lit-blogs of the past ten years has been different. Lit-bloggers haven’t been of the vagabond, punk, desperado personality. They’ve not been hawking their wares out in the world. Instead they’ve been domesticated, operating through approved channels, mainstream in focus, almost obsessively conforming to the trends and touchstones of the academy. Run down the list: Maud Newton, Mark Sarvas, Daniel Green, Lee Klein, Ed Champion—one could easily list a hundred examples. Lit-bloggers without MFA’s, like myself, can be counted on one hand.
The lit-blogger audience consists of A.) suits within the publishing world; B.) other lit-bloggers.
The art, then, isn’t outward-directed, as with print-zines, but insular and inward. Inward into the existing lit-world, and into the self, both. The objective is to confirm, and conform to, the standards of the status quo. With no need to create a new audience, readability is a low priority. Often it’s scorned.
Missing is risk, originality, true creativity. The wild vagabonds of the 90’s have been replaced by conformists.