Wednesday, June 30, 2010
(Good pop submissions wanted. Be daring. Give it a shot.)
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
IT AMAZES ME that some lit writers still cling to obsolete notions of “avant-garde” which haven’t been relevant for fifty years.
In the chapter “The Avant-garde Dies” in his 1995 book, The Age of Extremes, historian Eric Hobsbawm argued that mass entertainment like rock n roll destroyed the old avant-garde. Some quotes:
“—the rise of a revolutionary popular entertainment industry geared to the mass market, reduced the traditional forms of high art to elite ghettoes, and from the middle of the century their inhabitants were essentially people who had enjoyed a higher education. The public of theatre and opera, the readers of their country’s literary classics and the sort of poetry and prose taken seriously by the critics, the visitors to museums and art galleries belonged overwhelmingly to those who had at least completed secondary education—“
“—higher education increasingly provided employment, and constituted the market for men and women with inadequate commercial appeal. This was most dramatically exemplified in literature . . . More dangerously, academic demand encouraged the production of creative writing that lent itself to seminar discussion, and therefore benefitted by complexity, if not incomprehensibility—“
“—in the 1960s a few intelligent critics began to investigate what had previously been overwhelmingly dismissed and rejected as ‘commercial’ or just aesthetically null, namely what actually attracted men and women on the street.”
“The achievements of post-war modernist painting and sculpture were incomparably less and usually much inferior to their inter-war predecessors. . . . It consisted largely of a series of increasingly desperate gimmicks—“
“The smell of impending death rose from these avant-gardes. The future was no longer theirs. though nobody knew whose it was. More than ever, they knew themselves to be on the margin. Compared to the real revolution in perception and representation achieved via technology by the money-makers, the formal innovations of studio bohemians had always been child’s play . . . What were concert experiments with electronic sound in modernist compositions, which every impresario knew to be box office poison, compared to rock music which made electronic sound into the music of the millions? If all ‘high arts’ were segregated in ghettos, could the avant-gardes fail to observe that their own sections of the ghetto were tiny and diminishing, as any comparison of the sales of Chopin and Schoenberg confirmed?”
Monday, June 28, 2010
It's longer than most of my tales, be forewarned. My goal with the story was, first, to present imperfect characters who weren't chic yuppies. Second, to give a sense, however imperfectly, of the nature of a city. Whether the result is successful I have no way of knowing, but I hope it's a decent read!
(Also be sure to check out other "Experiments in Pop" at the same blog site.)
An example of this is Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald presents a compelling storyline filled with pop motifs (the mysterious hero) within a complex narrative framework. Despite its simplicity, the presentation allows for the use of symbols and allusions toward greater meaning.
I've been discussing the art of movies at my premium blog, (www.happyamericaliterature.blogspot.com)
It's not an accident that two children's movies, "Wizard of Oz" and "Lili," have great reach into the subconscious. As do many superficially simple Westerns.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
EVERYTHING WRONG with the contemporary literary story is embodied in “The Young Painters” by Nicole Krauss in the current issue of The New Yorker and at http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/06/28/100628fi_fiction_krauss
The story’s subject isn’t young painters. Instead, the subject is the narrator; the always precious SELF. Note the point-of-view, which never leaves the narrator’s head. Context—society; the world—are mere vague ephemera, a distant chorus to the playing out of the eternal “I,” which is not just the center of the universe, it IS the universe. The story is nothing more than a monologue at an overpriced therapy session with “Dr. Lichtman.” Solipsism ever triumphant. Jonathan Franzen by contrast, for all his narrowness, appears broad and relevant.
WHAT’S HAPPENING is that, as even Bret Ellis admits (see below), the focus of The New Yorker is a narrow class of narrow interests. The magazine is one part of a society more and more geared to cater to the tastes of the affluent monoclass, seen in other cultural areas from burgers to beer—designer tastes—seen most of all in the nation’s literature.
THE TRAGEDY is that The New Yorker, for all its narrowness, sets the standard for the American short story, maybe because it’s the only venue which pays well for short stories. Workshop writers across the country model their art on the New Yorker’s example. The result is the severe narrowing of the short story art.
COINCIDENTALLY, my next story for the “Pop Lit” blog is about two young painters. “Kevin and Koreena” will be its title. I should have the finished story up a week from now. When I do, I invite you to compare the story with the story by Nicole Krauss, their viewpoints so different they could come not just from different parts of America, but from different planets.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
"Who cares! Who cares! Who cares about these writers? Sure, they're pretty good. But for the most part, they're white and educated, so they're The New Yorker's audience. That's why they choose them."
Let's put aside the fact that ex-Bennington student Ellis is from the same kind of background-- or that whether the writers are "pretty good" is debatable. His remarks are a sign that not everybody in the lit world is asleep at the switch.
Here's where we come to what the Franzen story is really about. It's politically correct. That's all we can say about it. What else?
The story presents an acceptable moral-- rape is bad; equality is good-- which of itself isn't art. The competent, dispassionate way Franzen treats the subject ensures it's not art. The genteel audience's beliefs are confirmed. Sexism is bad. Patriarchy is bad. Our society used to be flawed. But we're not.
And so with this story Jonathan Franzen is an American Sholokhov, writing what the Overdogs of Literature want, presenting a reliably correct story reliably in synch with the standards of the status quo.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The literary world is closed minded. To say this brands one as a crank. This is itself a marker that literature does NOT welcome harsh criticism. It flees from it.
The current literary system should be questioned on two points. 1.) The system which produces our literature needs to be questioned. 2.) The artistic standards of the current system need to be questioned.
For example, the novels, stories, and poems which have been designated by the system’s authorities as the “best” or most significant of the second half of the Twentieth Century aren’t the best or most significant. The standards are wrong—which is why American literature today is irrelevant and flawed.
If your standards produce a chair that’s crooked and which no one wants, you’ll question your standards, your blueprint. Likewise, we should question the literary world.
I’ll examine this subject in more depth on my ideas blog at www.happyamericaliterature.blogspot.com. (Access restricted to real people.)
Among the points I’ll touch on is that the problem isn’t confined to literature. Even with a healthier art form, like film, one finds among well-schooled critics a failure to understand the nature of the art.
EXAMPLE: On the stands at bookstores at the moment is a film magazine proclaiming its selection of the 100 greatest Western movies of all time. The magazine’s top three choices, in order, are
1.) "High Noon.”
2.) “The Ox-Bow Incident.”
3.) “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
Have you seen them?
Fine movies all—but their selection is revealing. Think about it. What defines film as film? What distinguishes the art form? What characterizes a Western as a Western?
Answer these questions and you’ll be on the right road.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Originally uploaded by King Wenclas
(DEPICTED: Mysterious mutant creature photographed near the Philadelphia Free Library. Question: is this creature the product of a New Jersey toxic waste site, or an offshore oil spill-- or what results from reading too many brain-exploding postmodern novels?)
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
“Soviet writers, far from reflecting the vital processes at work in the social context during all these years, have continued to behave like dusty engineers of musty minds. The country has passed them by. . . .”
--Giovanni Grazzini about the state of Soviet literature in 1971.
THE QUESTION is the health of the American literary system. The American literary art has been frozen place for forty or fifty years. Today’s avant-garde is yesterday’s avant-garde. Which means, it’s not an avant-garde at all.
The inhabitants of the system are complacent. All is okay. Many insist there is no literary system, though they have their costly MFA degrees just in case. The apologists of the status quo, of literature-as-is (see Francine Prose) are utter mediocrities hailed by other mediocrities (see B.F. Myers) in the system’s collapsing organs.
The literary elite peer out from blinkered towers with fissures in them, hostile to alternate sources of literary activity but confident that the New Yorker New York Times walls will remain against approaching storms.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
THE PROBLEM with the New Yorker “Twenty” is that their stories aren’t hitting the New Yorker’s own demographic, much less going beyond it. The Twenty are writing their stories for themselves—the Twenty, as if they were another workshop group. Few non-literary readers will be interested in these concoctions. The only other folks Jonathan Foer’s piece could possibly be written for are hard core academy lit critics. “Genre busting” in this instance means a work nobody could read. Joshua Ferris’s is written for arts social climbers, with tacked-on stock literary ending where the character ruminates through his own stupidity while falling, falling, through something. (Which has been done only 5,000 times.) With the others, you see them being read in some class or Brooklyn apartment with hipster members of the workshop nodding their heads in a pose of significance.
A business woman, say, on a plane, headed for an important meeting involving complex machinations will find in the stories: nothing. The stories are either stupendously boring or they read like childishness, because they reflect the mentality of children.
Say what you will about my own fledgling pop story attempts at www.americanpoplit.blogspot.com, they’re written for people to read; from “Mr. Box” to “The H Group” to “Jezebel” to “Saturday Night in Detroit.” Perfectly accomplished or not, they aim at a general demographic every writer should seek.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
In the past I've been challenged to discuss art and ideas, in objective fashion. Okay-- let's read the stories in the much-hyped issue. I'd like to see your honest assessment of them. I've read several of them so far and formed some opinions. But I want to know what you think about them.
Monday, June 07, 2010
IT’S ALMOST COMICAL the way The New Yorker and the New York Times (which hyped the affair) proceeded with the unexciting “Twenty Under Forty” writers as if this were fifty years ago, and what they said matters. Intently they mark up their “special issue” (see the Times photo), unaware, apparently, that the buildings themselves within which they work are collapsing. Their circulation and ad revenue are, ahem, dropping. Plummeting. The nature of the writers they chose to spotlight will do nothing to turn this around.
EVEN among the apparatus there must’ve been more compelling personalities, more thrilling writers, to grab onto. You know that when your centerpiece is Jonathan Safran Foer, you’re in trouble.
The opportunity is there for a new course—for writers of vision to realize what’s happening and work to turn the stagnant condition of American literature around. A rare opportunity—one that calls for a blare of trumpets to awake the literary community, and alert the greater populace.
last year. It came to my attention because my name is dropped in the middle of it.
Sunday, June 06, 2010
THAT few of the New Yorker’s “Twenty Under Forty” are known to literary people, far less to the general public, shows the extent to which literature has become marginalized in American culture, pushed into a smaller and smaller corner. Every decade the condition deteriorates. The trendline is clear. Yet establishment promoters insist that “All is well.”
THINK that once such a list could’ve consisted of the names Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, DosPassos, Steinbeck, Porter, among others, and you realize the extent of the drop off.
THE MANDARIN PROCESSORS of literature insist that I accept established lit’s failed standard—the old aesthetic. But with the ULA I was bringing, from the outside, a NEW aesthetic to the table.
In a way I’m glad that the ULA’s publisher didn’t clean up James Nowlan’s short novel, “Security.” As is, the work stands as a blatant assault on literature’s regulators, on the processing system. “Security” is a demonstration that a work can be unprocessed yet at the same time literature.
Art isn’t something that can be contained inside a box. Art breaks free of all shackles. Art demands that we continually view it with fresh eyes.
I invite everyone to buy “Security” and read it in its entirety, and tell me it’s not literature. It’s the essence of literature. If you nitpick this word or that word you’re missing the point.
What we have now in lit-journal after lit-journal is synthesized lit. Processed. Plastic. Dead.
Take a standard award-winning literary story and place it next to Nowlan’s novella. One work is clean and tidy: processed. It takes no risks, offers no narrative strength. No artistic vision. Alongside it, “Security” is a mad chaotic mess. All it does is speak the truth. It rips the mask of cleanliness off the world around us, to show us things as they are.
The Processors are great rationalizers. Like arts apparatchiks of any era, they have turf, jobs, and reputations to protect. They have much to lose if their system with its narrow vision of literature is overturned. They will fight hard to protect the status quo. They’ll squelch all outside ideas, all dissent. So fearful are they, there’s no room, in their eyes, for a single contrary voice.
As we’ve seen in comments on this blog, and may see in more of them, they’re able to exert pressure to conform. If even I’ve felt the pressure, it’s easy to see how young writers are swiftly brought into line. Every lever of power lies in the hands of status quo apologists.
Their chief justification for the refined art they offer is “language.” For them, “language” is a euphemism for the processed article.
Truth and immediacy are rejected. Instead, endless revisions. The first emotion or first view are lost within layers of processing.
A punk rock band is allowed to attack the listener with raw, untrained emotion. With lit, all the reader is ever given is a Mozart string quartet.
Accept the Nowlans of the world as writers? Impossible! The Processors, Synthesizers, and Regulators fluster. “Illiterate! No talent!” Dare someone write without system training and approval? No. Not in their eyes. Literature belongs solely to them, kept in a well-guarded glass museum case at Columbia, Princeton, or Brown.
Synthesized lit dominates literature. In bookstores it sits packaged in slick lit-journals which, with one or two exceptions, are never sold. There’s no excitement to a one of them—certainly, definitely, not the excitement of new art.
Literature’s highest purpose is the presentation of truth. Ever has it been. That purpose is bolstered by powerful words, by strong writing.
Yes, I understand this isn’t the only standard. Some writers follow less ambitious paths. They’re content simply with the play of words. They accept the sole criterion of language.
You’re free to follow that standard. But please don’t try to impose your narrow vision upon myself!
Friday, June 04, 2010
The New Yorker Twenty Under Forty by definition can't be punk; not just because they were selected by the Ultra-Approved snob magazine, but because they went through the selection process, jumping through hoops as they have their entire lives. Do I have to read all their stories to know it's bland unsurprising ultra-approved pod shit??
These are society's anti-punks. The kids raising their hands in the front row, eagerly, many wearing bow ties (see Jonathan Foer) beaming with approval of the teacher and the system, sucking up to power and approval their entire lives-- it's all they know-- leaving twenty polished apples on the New Yorker desk in their wake. Pets. Toss them a dog biscuit or give them a ribbon. They don't need my approval, certainly. It's ridiculous for anyone to ask for it. Exactly how much conformity does the literary world need?
Possibly it's the David Foster Wallace influence. The Artist so consumed with his Art it destroyed him. Art with a capital A. The broad humor of what had once been the main stream of American writing (see Mark Twain) which so captured the American con-man personality, has been pushed to the side. And after all, let's face it. "The Jumping Frog" story is simply not very literary!
Serious literary writers today write important "Fictions." Serious Serious! Important! Well-wrought. What they don't do is tell stories.