Friday, January 28, 2011

Fear of an Idea

When I look back upon the history of the Underground Literary Alliance, especially my last year driving the outfit, 2007, I'm struck by how much fear such a small and powerless band of outcasts generated among those who hold the power in the lit world. You'd think they'd be secure with their institutional standing, their positions, the articles by and about themselves in the leading publications of American culture, their access to money, funding, and attention. But no! They were like an elephant in the presence of a mouse. That someone dared to criticize their premises, their corrupt behavior, and their preciously fragile art sent them into shatterings of confidence. Which in itself is an indication of the shaky state of literature now.

When the ULA did some street theater outside the New Yorker building in Manhattan in January of that year, waves of panic were regenerated. Billionaire aristocrats jumped on my blog to discredit me, and instead, on what remains this blog's most widely read thread, were royally trounced. What was left of the ULA lived in abject poverty, yet signs of panic among the literary intelligentsia and their interpreters and acolytes were everywhere. The foreword to the Black Book Anthology worried over what I thought of the mag's posings. When I was interviewed by an NPR commentator here in Philly, she expressed worry that this nowhere group called the ULA would somehow exclude multi-millionaire authors published and promoted by billion-dollar media conglomerates. This in 2007 when the ULA campaign was for the most part over.

What was the ULA's power?

Nothing more than the power of an idea, the reality of a few writers not going along with the program. The stance alone gave us enormous integrity and leverage which, clearly, the literary establishment couldn't deal with. The elephant desperately sought to stomp out the tiny mouse.

Aristocrat panic is caused by the inner knowledge of living within a tottering structure able at any moment, with the tiniest push or puff of wind, to collapse. This anyway is the message I got from the experience and history of the Underground Literary Alliance.

2 comments:

Rae Hicks Brozo Zimmerman said...

glad i got to see an incarnation of the ula...still one of my best memories...i had never experienced such a group of talent in one place before...ps: wonder if gwen is still around?

King said...

Thanks Rae. Yeah, we had Wild Bill Blackolive himself there in the flesh as the headliner.
I wonder about Gwen myself sometimes. Running that office was for me a great experience. I still remember fondly(!lol) our journey to Buffalo for the ompany Christmas party. Were you with us when we went to Niagara Falls? Coldest I've ever been, with the possible exception of Detroit January two years ago when the temperature hit 17 below fahrenheit not including wind chill. I escaped quickly back to Philly. In my ups and downs I'd lost everyone's contact info, and was in Detroit anyway more-or-less hiding out, getting my head together, or trying to.
All the old haunts I went to were gone or transformed.
The Detroit we knew even ten/twelve years ago is no more.