Originally uploaded by King Wenclas
Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
THE CRUX of the problem was that the ULA's attitude and aesthetic was a bridge too far for the ultra-standardized lit world. We asked lit-folks to open their minds too much. It was more than the processors could process. This is why I've pulled back my aesthetic goals, and am now looking to promote writing that's only part punk: "pop." Think Shonen Knife. I still seek an art "Explosion!"-- one done in more subtle fashion.
ART AS RULES.
ART AS INTELLECT.
ART AS EMOTION.
These are the choices-- or a mix of same. The key is how our minds as writers are set up. I don't care about the first. I understand the second. I look for writers who can do the third.
Too many system-trained writers are just about the first. The postmodernists seem about only the second (think David Foster Wallace, who pushed the envelope of intellect so far his brain exploded). The literary journal n + 1 is about only the intellect, and it's boring as hell. Intellect, training, and form are relevant to art only in how far they go toward achieving the third part of the equation.
In looking over the "Three Question" responses so far, I find interesting each writer's different approach. Higgs's answers are purely intellectual, as might be expected. Others' are more personal. Wred Fright shows the pop/punk attitude, in that he's purely relaxed and involved in the concept of the art-- he's not looking objectively at art so much as plunging into it, and so his answers are lively.
I especially like Ms. Lacey's answers also, because they're honest and convey emotion without trying to-- a person who lives on the edge of her emotions, is my uninformed guess. Someone with upside as a writer.
These are random speculations on my part which likely mean nothing.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
What's known as avant-garde today is the posturing of a highly-placed artistic aristocracy, who've been through the academy, whose thoughts and actions often take place within the academy or other approved institutions such as government regulated non-profits. Which turns "avant-garde" into a contradiction.
Those who work toward the unpopularity of literature; those who make the literary art more jargon-filled and inscrutable, follow a concept of avant-garde which has been out of date for fifty years.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
MINI-INTERVIEW: Catherine Lacey.
(Catherine Lacey writes, has written, and will continue to write whatever makes sense at the time. www.catherinelacey.com)
1.) What makes you a revolutionary?
CATHERINE LACEY: I don't think I am a revolutionary at all. I guess you would have to ask Matthew Simmons why he chose that title for the chapbook to which I contributed for Happy Cobra. I have never thought to ask him why he chose that title. Maybe he chose it because Ellen, Chelsea and I are all women publishing stuff on the internet and that's not very common and Young Anomalies is less sexy sounding than Young Revolutionaries. The story that I gave him is very un-revolutionary, very Lorrie Moore-ish. I think I knew then that it was very Lorrie Moore-ish and I still think that's ok. Since then I have been overwhelmed (in a good way) by a nonfiction project and I haven't completed hardly any fiction.
2.) Is there such a thing as hipster lit?
CATHERINE: I guess that all depends on a person's definition of hipster and literature and their stance on genre. The more books I read, themore I realize that non of those distinctions are all that important to me anymore. In particular, the debate over what 'hipster' means becomes exponentially more boring every minute, so I think the only answer I can really give is that while there certainly are writers who are called 'hipster writers' it all seems pretty inconsequential to me and more an issue of publicity and marketing. Calling something 'hipster lit' seems to be a really lazy, short-hand way to not confront what's actually in the text.
3.) What’s your ultimate goal as a writer?
CATHERINE: Basically, it's to put something in the space that is between other people and me. Complete strangers, close friends, people who dislike me, people I dislike, other southerners, people who come from a totally different world than me and every other person in the world. For me, real communication is equivalent to what other people call God. It's that important and expanding and huge to me. More specifically, my goal is to finish and publish what I am working on right now, a book about the contemporary Protestant South and its enormous failure to cultivate the kind of peace that is supposedly the core of any religious practice. It's a very personal book that I ended up writing by accident, or rather out of the failure to not write it. Does that make sense? It think that's another goal I have-- to fail to be able to write anything other than that which feels most urgent.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Once, some of the biggest celebrities in America were writers-- dynamic talents like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who were popular as well as literary.
What went wrong? Blaming everything on TV or computers isn't good enough. The rise of the Internet means more people are reading and writing. Other art forms like popular music have thrived in the past fifty years, while literature has stagnated. The real cause can be found in structural flaws-- including the prevailing philosophy and aesthetic used as foundation for the literary art.
It's not enough for me to state this. My task is to find or create new writing to rescue the art.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Anyway, I was thinking about the matter last night. I did a little self-examination. What I've concluded is that we're all constructs to some extent. (What songwriter said "Part fact, part fiction; a walking contradiction"?) Sometimes we're contradictions because we're our fathers and mothers both-- often those are two very different personalities, as in my case.
I've realized I'm a product of my parents. I am them. I can't be understood without knowing about them. But then we need the background to the background, plus other influences. In my case, Detroit. In my parents case, Catholicism, and more their Polish heritage. Which opens up more contradictions, because like many countries, Poland has been a contradiction, a strange mix of high and low.
There wasn't a Poland for a few centuries, so that "Poland" was a realm of the imagination. And then, which Poland? Austrian Poland? German Poland? Russian or Ukrainian Poland? Then there are the smaller tribes within the Polish identity, such as the Kashubians. It's all a mess. Even the Polish racial identity can be questioned, as one sees a mix of types. The red-haired German-looking Pole (my father), or the dark Asiatic cast Tartar (my mother). Those mixes of course are inside me. Thinking about it, I was programmed more by my mother, who was very much a striver. Oh, very much, and wanted to live her ambitions through her children, and as she told us many times, we failed her.
This is a subject likely of interest only to myself and my siblings, who anyway would disagree with everything I say. I may expand on it anyway in the comments to this post, along with a discussion of other things.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
(Christopher Higgs is the humble author of an amazing novel called The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney at http://www.satorpress.com/)
1.) Does American literature need to be overhauled?
CHRISTOPHER HIGGS: The idea of “American literature” is too vast to be reduced to a single homogenous unit from which one can make the claim that it does or does not need to be overhauled. Am I in favor of experimentation? Yes. Am I in favor of challenging persistent paradigms? Yes. Am I an advocate for the burgeoning field of small press/independent publishing? Yes. But I’m not sure what exactly one would overhaul, were one interested in overhauling. If you mean: should other people win awards besides Rick Moody? I don’t really care about that. I just do my thing.
2.) Is the professionalization of the art a good or bad thing?
CHRISTOPHER: If by “professionalization” you are referring to academic creative writing programs, I would say that in my experience those institutions are machines that tend to produce other likeminded machines. They rarely produce artists. More often they produce entertainers. But I don’t make distinctions between those who have formal education and those who do not, when evaluating literature. I only make distinctions between boring material and interesting material. Many boring works come out of writing programs, and many boring works come from autodidacts. Similarly, many interesting works come out of writing programs, and many from autodidacts.
3.) Is the literary world open to contrary ideas?
CHRISTOPHER: Like the real world, the literary world has different neighborhoods. There are gated communities housing literary aristocracy; suburbs filled with midlist writers; gritty inner city scribes, and those who write from the projects. There are those who write from property on the edge of town, or way out in the wilderness, and then there are literary nomads who move between or away from other neighborhoods. Obviously the ideas found in one neighborhood won’t necessarily correspond with another neighborhood, and within each neighborhood there will inevitably be levels of differentiation. Probably some neighborhoods are more open to contrary ideas than others.
Both dada and surrealism, for instance, were responses to the chaos of World War I. They were of their time. The two arts movements were intentionally and specifically revolutionary, seeking a cultural revolution and also political revolution. They're understandable as avant-garde art within their historical context.
An avant-garde attacks the cultural precepts, institutions, and lauded icons of its time. It stands out against the mundane crowd. Otherwise its rebellion has no meaning-- isn't rebellion.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I have no plans to see the current “Robin Hood” movie. Dour Russell Crowe; ultra-violent CGI battle scenes—not in the spirit really of the legendary tale. Ridley Scott made one movie masterpiece-- “Blade Runner”—because it fit his brooding artistic personality. The subject of Robin Hood is his opposite.
I’ll take the 1938 Errol Flynn version; a storybook legend come to life. The spirit of anarchy and rebellion portrayed there (like the free spirit of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which itself was inspired by the same ballad-and-broadside legends) was an influence on the creation of the Underground Literary Alliance. I wanted the same mix of playfulness and commitment, comedy and seriousness, as found in the film. We were as much a different class as the Saxons confronting the overdog Normans. We faced our opponents, bursting into their camps, with a similar attitude.
We also were a kind of outcast—literary outlaws, in a way—and came, many of us, from the untamed “forest” of the zine scene. Those writers of passion and energy wanted nowhere else found a home in our ranks. Our kind of writer WAS different—the aforementioned James Nowlan only one example. (I’m thinking of the scene in Nowlan’s “Security” when his character is hired to guard a prestigious French cultural institute. He asks who to watch for—who not to allow in. “Well, someone like you,” comes the reply.)
When you sell your own work, you wonder how to get it more attention. This is marketing.
Fact is that one of my blogs is now devoted solely to a discussion of marketing--
Access is free, but you have to ask for an invite. I generally allow everyone to read it, with the occasional exception of pods, moles, spies, ghosts, bankers, Nottingham sheriffs, Sholokhovs, O'Briens ("How many fingers do you see?") and the like. The current post is "What Is Talent?"-- in which I present my unique perspective on what I look for in writers, which I guarantee is different from the strictured criteria of the mainstream.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
TRADITIONALLY artists have been the most disordered of personalities; the least likely to stay within the lines. What we get now from our writers, however, are individuals most likely to conform in order to make it through the long MFA winnowing process. They’re not living in unruly bohemia. They’re raising their hands, for years, at the head of a class. They’re taught that the process, the rules, the obedience, is more important than the art. The survivors of the endless hoop-jumping are those best able to put their personalities and their craft within a box. They could just as well be bankers or accountants.
The result is the creation of bureaucrats more than artists. To the bureaucrat, following the regulations is all. Our literary bureaucrats can produce spotlessly clean well-regulated manuscripts. What they’re not giving us is great art.
I’m proud of the fact that when I ran the Underground Literary Alliance I recruited many writers from the underside of America, underdogs who’d been otherwise ignored. Those who came from broken families and broken worlds—truly broken—who’d been kicked in the head once or twice and hadn’t known only achievement and success. Who’d viewed this mad society from the bottom up and railed against it, seen the disordered world, knew the inequities, brutalities, and tragedies so fully part of the world and wrote about them.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
“Looking at the world through the eyes and with the intuitions of the artist, the writer discovers many social phenomena before others and in unexpected forms. Therein lies his talent, and from this there follows his duty to tell society what he sees, or at least to tell it what is unhealthy. . . .”
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1967
THERE’S A GROUP of well-hyped well-esteemed well-approved American writers whose identity and credibility are based on their stated scorn for commercial publishing. They disapprove of the “McWorld” nature of the industry which places profits and sales over quality.
Their argument and their credibility are undercut by the fact that they themselves are published by this same industry. Though their books don’t sell all that well (most are awful) they’re the industry’s favored pets.
They have their own power base, of course—this group of writers. Their own bureaucracies, if you will, namely the literary nonprofits like PEN, National Book Foundation, National Critics Circle, and the like. Do they use these bases of leverage against the detested book monopolists? Not at all! In fact, these foundations are so intertwined with the big book companies as to be indistinguishable from them. (Think of the ending of Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”) PEN gets its books published through outfits like the Murdoch-owned HarperStudio, for instance. Their monetary awards go to writers published by the bigs.
When you examine the individuals who work as publishers and editors for the conglomerates, you find they’re largely the same crowd as the group of writers who feign opposition to them. They attend the same schools and frequent the same swanky parties and benefits. There’s no actual opposition to the giant corporate bureaucracies anywhere to be found. The opposition is feigned—a fiction.
Bureaucracies strangle art. Ever has this been so. Our literature today is captive of various sorts of bureaucracies—corporate, foundational, academic—whose memberships overlap and feed one another, and whose aesthetic premises are of one piece. If our literary culture is stagnant—there are no great writers visible anywhere right now—then the blame can go only onto them.
Friday, May 07, 2010
MINI-INTERVIEW: Jaime Fountaine.
(Philly writer Jaime Fountaine runs the "Toiling in Obscurity" reading series and is at http://www.jaimefountaine.com/ )
1.) Is today's literary world too bourgie oriented?
JAIME FOUNTAINE: The “Literary World" has always been pretty bourgeois. When you put together any group of people who are relatively educated, intellectual, and convinced of their own creativity, one can assume that they are either of a certain mindset, or aspire to it in one way or another. This is not to say that anyone that considers himself a writer is therefore bourgeois, but that to assume that much of the world revolves around your idea of creativity as self-worth is reductive, and, well, bourgeois.
2.) What are the challenges of being a writer in Philadelphia?
JAIME: Philadelphia, like anywhere else, is made up of cliques that cross over each other like Venn Diagrams; they intersect, but just barely. This is especially true of writers. Because it’s always easier to work with yourself than others, and because in something so insular otherwise, small differences can divide people widely, most groups keep to themselves instead of overlapping. Short of battling it out, the only way to interact with various others is to be diligent and reverent, which is difficult enough when you're interested in what they’re doing, and much worse if only for the sake of networking.
3.) What are your goals as a writer?
JAIME: I would like to write stories the provoke the wrenching feeling in my stomach the first time I read Joyce’s “Eveline,” Flannery O’Connor, Light in August (and Faulkner in general), and The Easter Parade. To quote Richard Yates, “I don’t want money, I just want readers.”
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
The ULA (Underground Literary Alliance), of which we're both past members, went farther in its promotion than any lit group ever has. Those raised inside a preppy bubble-- like the Eggers crowd-- were completely thrown. (Refer once again to the Tom Bissell Believer article.) Yet what the ULA did was mere literary theater-- done in the great American carny tradition from Barnum to Screaming Jay Hawkins.
The post below this one is hyperbolic-- obviously so. Hyperbole wrapped around a core of truth. Literary people have so disdained the creation of entertainment for so long they've lost all notion of how to do so. They can't recognize a story which is intentionally melodramatic, nor criticism which is purposely provocative. Should we all be super-serious Sven Birkerts and James Wood standing self-importantly behind Harvard lecterns destroying through sheer blathering dullness the minds of their students?
(The Eggers era, by the way, will someday be seen as a phenomenon of WASP chic. If you've seen one of their self-congratulatory events you'll know what I'm talking about. The Dave's well-advertised excursions into the Third World, or Third World America, pith helmet and compass, are part of this. I think The Believer will be used as a kind of zoo exhibit of a particular insular American cultural mindset.)
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
WAS I TOO TOUGH ON HTML GIANT?
Not if, as seems possible, the HTML Giant site is one piece of a megagimongous media monopoly that extends across the planet and controls millions of minds.
Not if, as seems likely, the HTML Giant site is a cynical operation pushing establishment machine thought under the guise of DIY.
Not if, as seems certain, HTML Giant readers and writers so buy into the puppet monstrosity they’re incapable of seeing the reality.
One can never go too far in revealing the truth about how the current mad monopoly system of media and culture operates.
Hans Christian Anderson left out part of his story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In many respects it was the most important part. This is when, after the boy reveals the truth about the naked idol, the angry mob grabs the boy and stomps him into the ground.
Monday, May 03, 2010
(Wred Fright is the author of the ongoing novel Blog Love Omega Glee at http://www.wredfright.com/)
1.) Are there too many writers in this country?
WRED FRIGHT: No. In a democracy everyone should be a reader and writer. Of course, earning a living from one's writing is made more difficult when everyone can do it though, and that's where some, indeed many, people are going to be disappointed if they are expecting to be the next Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling. We're probably there already, and have been for ages. However, I feel the same way about scribblers as I do about garage rock bands: I wouldn't mind at least one on every block. It makes life more interesting. It's why I like blogs and zines. Hundred!
2.) Should a crazy writer like yourself become more or less crazy?
WRED: Both. The crazier the work gets, the more interesting it gets. However, the crazier it gets, the more it scares the timid reader away. In retrospect, wearing a Mexican wrestling mask for the author photo and putting a toilet on the cover of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus book probably weren't the best career moves, but both still delight me to this day. Writing a 250,000 word novel about conspiracy theories and professional wrestling and serializing it on a blog while everyone else is writing six-word memoirs and writing Twitter and cell phone novels also was a bit mad. Hundred!
3.) Why is pro wrestling more popular than literature at the present time?
WRED: Well, I'll tell you what, brother. A lot of people are saying that literature is down for the count, but I know my peeps and they're still in its corner. Literature is going to get off the canvas and piledrive many more readers and give them the 1-2-3 or make them tap out. Wooooo! There's nothing in any wrestling ring like a story smackdown, a poetry palooka, a drama drilldriver or an essay eartwist. I'd tell you some more brother, but I have to go watch on the TV Team 3D put their opponents through a table. Hundred!
Wred Fright is a figment of your imagination and you have just hallucinated this entire blog post and the doctor in your skull is telling you to stop drinking so much damn coffee so maybe just once you ought to listen, but instead you'll ignore it all as usual and click on instead to http://www.wredfright.com/