Thursday, April 14, 2011

Literature and Myth

What I see missing from the bowtie play-by-the-rules publishing crowd who control American literature is any sense of, or appreciation for, myth. I'm talking about the giant mythic literary personalities of the past up to Kerouac. Any civilization, any endeavor, even any band of writers needs their myths. Their examples to model themselves after. To become like. Foundational stories, because then when you blaze a new path through unknown wilderness, you're not by yourself.

When I ran the Underground Literary Alliance I looked for underground writers who carried mythic personas, whatever their other perceived flaws-- Wild Bill Blackolive the classic example.

Would I want to be stuck in a safe secure air-conditioned office with the bowties, taking no chances, assuming no risks?

Not this dog!

If American history and American literature have been about anything, they've been about freedom. Striking out on the open road. This is what our best writers have done and what at least a few writers need to do now if we're to make the literary art once again great and relevant.

The All-Time American Writer Tournament continues at


Anonymous said...

So you're saying that the literary establishment doesn't sustain its aura by cultivating and maintaining "myths," that don't bear up under scrutiny, of bold, wild, or iconoclastic literary artists? Huh.

King said...

Who says they don't bear up? Have you ever met Wild Bill?
I'm saying there's no possibility of myth when literature is the produce of paint-by-numbers play-by-the-rules technocrats. Neither is there myth any longer in the work; that quintessentially American crazy vibration which comes from those who've broken out of the box and set out, like Kerouac, on the open road.
While putting together the American Writer Tournament, I've noticed that what American lit is missing today is the striking, larger-than-life persona; the mythic literary figure about whom much is said about that is true, much untrue, and much, no way of knowing.
The Kristofferson line: "Part fact, part fiction, a walking contradiction."

Anonymous said...

I guess I didn't express myself clearly. I was suggesting that the commercial literary establishment's entire rationale is based on a mystique, that of the mythical outlaw or dangerous prophet whose potent words are "caretaken" by a multibillion dollar industry. I'm saying that there's ONLY myth "when literature is the product of paint-by-numbers play-by-the-rules" etc. Last time I checked, they weren't marketing [fill in trendy writer's name here] by saying, "here's a new work by a calculating careerist who's been plotting his career since he first declared as a creative writing major at 18." Or were they? I think we have different definitions of "myth." Or maybe you think some myths are real and some myths are, you know, mythical?

King said...

Myth is a combination of the real and the not-so-real. Davy Crockett is a mythic figure who in his persona expresses the American character. he was a real person. He did indeed die at the Alamo. What makes figures like that fascinating is the element of doubt, the line between what we know and don't know. Please realize that myth isn't a word that can be put into a box with a strict dictionary definition. Entire volumes have been written, by people like Jung or the follow-your-bliss guy whose name escapes me, about the power of myth. It's my belief that a culture, a people, can't survive without myths. It's to America's detriment that we've systematically been killing off the nations founding myths, and mythic figures like Washington. Or trying to.
Re publishing. Sorry, but I reject what you say. Where are the literary "outlaws" you speak about? Who are they? Can you give me one name?
Even if the publishing world tries to market them that way, it's obviously false, if you see that person wearing a tweedy jacket and lecturing blandly to writing students. There has to be truth behind the marketing.
I remember that a young ULA writer traveled to east Texas wilds to meet Bill Blackolive in his element. It was a weekend of drinking, drugging, and wild storytelling, encounters with the law, and such, the writer escaped with an altered mind.
Or, here in Philly, anyone who's drank with the hyper-talented but crazy poet FD Walsh and gotten thrown out of bars with him or in wild arguments with him or in chair-flying fights with him knows there are real literary outlaws about in the world.

Anonymous said...

I guess you and I are literally speaking different languages, particularly when if I try to define something you tell me that it extends beyond any definition that can be agreed upon.

I don't know if "myth" is a combination of the "real and the not-so-real." There are patent examples of myth not being real at all (Mt. Olympus, anyone?), but what I'm getting at has more to do with what Roland Barthes is talking about when he refers to myth, not as a "combination of the real and the not-so-real," but as unexamined premises that comprise "what-goes-without-saying."

I was being sarcastic when I referred to mythical outlaws and dangerous prophets. Of course such attributes have nothing to do with literature. Obviously you disagree, or you wouldn't equate the ability to get into a fistfight with the ability to create literature. That's fine, but it seems like when you blend your arguments so that you're not really complaining about the inherent inequalities that exist between literary have and literary have nots but about the inability of the literary haves to portray themselves in a way that you find aesthetically pleasing (as barstool throwing literary outlaws, I guess, as opposed to blandly lecturing tweed jacket wearers), your argument starts to lose coherence.

I mean, in the formulation you've set forth right here it seems like you'd prefer the big publisher guy who fights and boozes and takes drugs, or at least "mythically" presents himself as such (uh...James Frey?), to the small publisher guy who spends a lot of time writing but has a mild tweed-wearing lifestyle supported by blandly lecturing at "writing students." I mean, clearly you think one (who sustains the status quo) is terrific, and the other (who is, at best, at the margins of the status quo) is a jerk.

Of course, your argument sort of unwinds even more the longer you look at it. What if the guy doing the lecturing is wearing a Schott motorcycle jacket? Is he still a drip, or is he a mythical lecturer? I suppose it's possible that you're *not* aware that during the '80s and '90s about seven million cultural studies PhDs turned up on campus wearing streaked hair and motorcycle jackets to teach their undergrads, but really -- I mean, if you're going to traffic in stereotypes, can you try to keep them updated, at least? Is it possible to lecture interestingly in tweed, or impossible to lecture boringly in leather? Is it possible to be an exciting lecturer, even to those poor straw-constructed "writing students," while never having gone anywhere near a bar fight? And so on.

Frank Marcopolos said...

The follow-your-bliss guy is Joseph Campbell, author of THE POWER OF MYTH and other works. His work deals with ancient and archetypal entities and how they tie in with storytelling and modern life. See also Robert Bly.

The institutionalized path to literary success that Karl is talking about isn't a hidden one. For example, Amy Hungerford discusses it pretty matter-of-factly in her series of lectures posted on AcademicEarth:

The issue is also discussed in detail by Mark McGurl in THE PROGRAM ERA: POSTWAR FICTION AND THE RISE OF CREATIVE WRITING.

King said...

There's a frustration in discussing these matters with the excessively detail-dictionary literal minded, who are unable to see things beyond the narrow parameters of the way they've apparently been trained.
The idea of myth, in the way I use the word (if you know a better word, tell me) is that which is unable to be fully explained. The mythic means the penumbra of meaning surrounding a character-- a historical figure like Hemingway about whom so much is said and believed or disbelieved that it's impossible to any longer know the true person-- it's the myth or legend itself that becomes important.
You need to avoid constructing simplifications of someone's argument to serve as a straw man that you can then knock over, to your own satisfaction.
We live in an era where everything is endlessly scorned and mocked. See the Onion, or South Park. This is an intellectual and spiritual dead end. Cynical people who believe in nothing and scorn everything. That seems to be how they see the world. What a negative viewpoint!
Why is myth important to literature?
It's important to any art which wants to connect with a population-- connecting on more than just an obvious, conscious level.
Rock n roll, for instance, was built on rock mythology, the rock persona, and truly mythic characters like Robert Johnson and Ledbelly. Watch an early rock movie like "Jailhouse Rock" and you see it utilizing, even then, many aspects of the myth.
If lit is to truly connect with the American public again, yes, it needs larger than life characters, or at least characters who live on the edge in the same way figures like Francois Villon once did. The air of unknowingness and unpredictability and explosiveness. This is even more important today, when no bourgie writers live on the edge, which was my point about the tweedy, who are surrounded by security blankets of university salary or trust fund. Yet there are writers today for whom survival is always in question-- like poet Walsh-- who in their lifestyle push themselves to the brink, who would NEVER be acceptable in personality and ideas and writings to those who anally regulate academia and literature.
Until you leave the intellectual box you're enclosed in, you won't have a clue what I'm talking about.

King said...

(Frustrating are those who try to put me and my ideas into a box. This seems to be the only way they can understand what I say. It's a two-dimensional way of thinking. "If this, then not that."
Yet the world is three-dimensional.
My ideas can't be boiled down to one phrase of "equality versus inequality," or anything like that. As with any writer, I'm the totality of everything I say.
Beware what systems do to people, which is to categorize and classify everything-- to put every person and thought into a safe little box, which can be stored away and forgot about. But then when they encounter arguments which don't fit into any of their existing boxes, they're lost.)

Anonymous said...

"'s the myth or legend itself that becomes important."

That would explain the lack of interest in the writing.

"We live in an era where everything is endlessly scorned and mocked. See the Onion, or South Park. This is an intellectual and spiritual dead end. Cynical people who believe in nothing and scorn everything."

Gee, you sound just like one of your favorite whipping boys, David Foster Wallace.

"If lit is to truly connect with the American public again, yes, it needs larger than life characters, or at least characters who live on the edge in the same way figures like Francois Villon once did. The air of unknowingness and unpredictability and explosiveness."

Uh, James Frey...?

"This is even more important today, when no bourgie writers live on the edge, which was my point about the tweedy, who are surrounded by security blankets of university salary or trust fund."

It says a lot that you equate "bourgeois," "tweedy," "university salary," and "trust fund." It seems as if, in your case, the delicate social antennae that should pick up the distinctions between such things have been lopped off.

"It's a two-dimensional way of thinking. 'If this, then not that.'
Yet the world is three-dimensional."

Yet you're the one drawing the reductive conclusions here, and you're the one whose one-dimensional idea of literature has nothing whatsoever to do with writing and everything to do with the cult of personality. Interesting.

King said...

?? Where and how do I exclude the writing? You're proving my point, dueling with what you interpret my ideas to be.
Writing is an inseparable part of the author's personality. When I was running the ULA I attempted to promote wrters who were very unique. Nobody writes like Bill Blackolive, or Frank Walsh.
No, I don't acknowledge minor distinctions within system writing. The literary story and poem are generic, and can be shown to be generic. Doesn't much matter if they come from the New Yorker or a non-profit lit journal New Yorker wannabe.
Okay, some distinctions within the system. What-- five styles? Including the "experimental."
I find none of it interesting or relevant, sorry.
When you say "writing," of course you mean approved, acceptable writing. Approved by the clean and the saved.
Re authenticity, living on the edge, university salaries and trust funds:
Yes, there is a clear distinction in this society between all those who live comfortable safety net lives, and those who don't. Those who don't, jump from couch surfing to sleeping in transient druggie hotels or vacant buildings in receivership and jump from part-time job to part-time job, using check cashing places, prepaid phones, and other devices of life which don't require the everpresent everywhere credit checks and bank accounts. There are huge numbers of Americans who live this way. believe me, it's a clear distinction.
When I returned to Philly from Detroit two years ago during a global warming-free cold february I stopped by Walsh's place to pick up some things. The rowhouse he was living in in Philly's "bottom" had no heat and an inoperable toilet. Walsh himself was just a tad more unshaven, and beaten-down, and authentically mad-voice crazy (by bourgeois society's standards) than the last time I'd seen him. He also had some fresh missing teeth.
When I lived in Detroit's Cass Corridor in the 90's, at a time it was a Wild West neighborhood of gangs, whore houses, after hours places, and the human refuse good and bad of the entire metro area, we had a way of knowing which hookers on the street were undercover cops and which were the genuine article. The quickest way was to look at their teeth. No true resident of the Corridor had unembarrassing teeth.
(Beyond this, many street hookers have druggie bodies which are feeding on themselves, noticeable by the skinniness of their legs.)
No, you can't mimic living on the edge by wearing a leather jacket in front of a class, or by being james Frey.
Sad to me is the fact that most approved American writers, who mainly come from the very highest levels of American society, are blind to real distinctions in this mad civilization. A keith gessen remarking that no writers work as waitresses??! Much less seeing that some writers live lives just as tough and depraved as a Francois Villon, in the most obscure spots of this country.

King said...

"delicate social antennae"
Repeat that phrase a few times, and consider how many places in this country have people with "delicate social antennae."
A few chic rooms in Brooklyn and Manhattan, I suppose. Scarcely anywhere else.
Not all writers are, or should be, or live like, Henry James.

King said...

(Btw, writing which depicts some of the brutal realities of this society is excluded. That, anyway, was my experience. In the 90's that's what I most wrote about. I wrote a massive essay for a lit journal, about Detroit. The strongest parts were cut. Even though another essay of mine from that same periodical is now online, about baseball!, the more relevant and meaningful one isn't. Ya know, even the Believer attack piece on the ULA said a few positive things about an essay of mine which examined the working poor in Detroit. Yet that essay appeared in my own zeen, and on the ULA's now defunct site, nowhere else. The literary community has no interest in the underside of America. After all, anything said about it isn't "writing.")

Anonymous said...

Well, you don't seem to be talking about the writing. You seem to be talking about the personalities of the people who do the writing. You say that "writing is an inseparable part of the writer's personality," but you really seem to be saying the opposite. Am I wrong, or do you think the two are equivalent?

Speaking of which, what do you think of Thomas Bernhard, I wonder? I think you might love "Woodcutters." Just a suggestion.

I don't know if "the literary story and poem are generic." I think the generic literary story and poem are generic, but that, too, isn't saying quite the same thing.

Not that I'd begrudge a writer's making a living, or come close to agreeing with you that a "trust fund" in the lavish sense you imply is the same as a "university salary" earned for full-time employment tweedily teaching, but such a salary could conceivably place one among the bourgeois. But I've never really seen you make a distinction between the "university salary" of, say, an adjunct and that of a full professor. Do you think they're the same? Or do you just think university instructors should work for free?

I agree with you that many "approved writers" come from high levels of society, although with this I'm trying, in the spirit of your protests, to adapt my conception of "high levels of society" to mean "educated at elite private institutions," which is, I'll grant you, a class signifier. And that's too bad. And I'll definitely agree with you that Keith Gessen doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. And I'll also agree with you that millions lead lives of privation. I can't, though, agree with the conclusions you draw regarding the relationship of the parties occupying both spheres to literature, namely, that the first can't write it because they haven't lived it, and the second necessarily can write it because the have. I don't think it's true. I also think your conflation of the "highest levels of society" with the sort of literary apparatchiks you might find teaching creative writing full-time at, say, Ohio State Universtity is just silly. They may write shitty prose, and they may be worth excoriating on that basis, but your argument is simply dissipated by your insistence that drawing a $50,000 salary to teach three classes a semester and do all the advising, committee work, and other horseshit academia requires -- whether you're a literary genius or a literary hack -- makes you a member of the upper class. You may not think of it as work, I know in fact that you don't think of it as work so let's spare each other the blue collar war stories, but it doesn't make you rich. Nor does it, in itself, make you a bad writer (bad writing does that). I would be willing to bet that if someone were willing to take Bill Blackolive or Frank Walsh on as a lecturer or an assistant professor, they'd take the job. They'd be stupid not to take the job. Would that make them rich, or sellouts, or worse writers? I don't think they'd be any of those things. Guys living as low as you claim them to be would probably become better writers with decent food, housing, and medical benefits -- just a thought. I don't think poverty enables great art. I think that's romantic twaddle. That's the "myth" you're celebrating.

King said...

Uh, we were talking about writers living on the edge. My point was that neither the tweedy prof making 50 thou for a cake job spilling coffee over himself in front of sleeping students in Ohio, nor the trust fund Ivy Leaguer walking around in a leather jacket, are living on the edge. They can create good art, but that's something else.
I don't "claim" some writers live on the edge-- or, brutal lifestyles in which their next paycheck or meal or shelter are in question, often drinking and drugging to keep their anger in check. I give merely the barest hint of what living like that is like.
There can be no "myth" or interesting backstory about 500,000 programmed system writers who in their lives and art make sure to color within the lines and play by the acceptable rules. This should be obvious. There may in fact be more chance of being a mythic figure from a trust funder-- but sorry, James Frey is a joke.
Where is there great writing from an apparatchik? Which of them is a larger-than-life character?
How does literature compete with pop music (itself in the doldrums) which has created mythic figures, at times in bunches, when the face of lit on one end is Stephen King and on the other end, Jonathan Franzen? You'd have to work hard to discover two more boring personas. I can't believe I have to waste so many words explaining what to me is an obvious point.
Your example with Bill and Frank doesn't work, because neither man would be able to conform both their personalities and their art into what's considered acceptable in the academic literary world. You don't seem to understand that underground writers are a different animal. The difference between an alley cat and a house pet. Those who will and those who won't conform.

Anonymous said...

We weren't, really, talking about writers living on the edge. We were talking about "myth." "Living on the edge" seems to be part of that myth, but then you start talking about rock and roll. Like, which "mythic" rock and roll figure did you have in mind whose life on the edge didn't stop when they were around college age? Or is the edge beyond economics, a kind of mythical Life Force that some have and some don't? Hard to tell. But it's hard to tell generally what we're talking about. You mentioned a tweedy prof and I suggested that the tweed stereotype was outdated, so now you're talking about both Professor Tweed *and* my leather-jacketed CultStud prof, who now is an Ivy Leaguer with a trust fund. Really? A trust fund PLUS that munificent college salary? Astonishing. But they both can create good art, you say. They just don't have an interesting "backstory." So I guess you're agreeing with me that the art is completely immaterial to you? What's the point? You might as well have a blog celebrating the lives of truckers if all you want is a colorful "backstory."

What is a "programmed system writer"? Given the proliferation of roman a clefs and memoirs coming directly out of creative writing programs whose market appeal (or, at least, the hook that got them published) is their "authenticity" and "color," their depiction of "marginalized lives" and "minority viewpoints," it seems like the creative writing departments are a veritable rainbow of colorful, mythical "backstory." So what's the problem? They lost their street cred? They're lying? They're follow-the-dots writers? Ah. But if they embrace the "mythical" aspects of their own "interesting" "backstory," then in your very own formulation they can't be UNINTERESTING writers. According to what you're saying, they're INHERENTLY interesting writers. So, since I'm anticipating that you're going to disagree with this, I'm guessing that your criteria for what the "interesting" consists of life on that edge you mentioned. How deeply empathetic of you to wish a life of privation on the writers you most admire. Do I need to point out that to fetishize poverty as somehow ennobling is one of the most pervasive, the most pernicious, of bourgeois "myths"? Again: that's the myth you're celebrating.

King said...

No, I'm stating that there are stark differences between people in this country, and therefore stark differences between writers. You seem incapable of grasping this.
The tipoff is your thinking that (re musicians) living on the edge ends at college age. Oh, really?
I guess that, er, depends. I was using as examples Francois Villon, and in our day, Blackolive and Walsh, who are middle-aged or older and still very much living on the edge, distinctly not teaching in front of a classroom to bourgie or bourgie wannabe students. (Old Bill in fact still having encounters with the law.)
Your view of writers and this society is excessively narrow. Should we allow reality to intrude?
That those who get a master's degree of any kind is a small minority of the population.
Look at a recent essay in n+1 which posits the opposition of MFA versus New York. Yet neither side in this set-up is representative of the nation as a whole.
My point was that those who jump through the hoops of the MFA system are conformist, and have to be conformist every step of the way to get that far.
You talk about the backstories of these writers, but when one examines the actual art, as I have, one finds a very watered down and boring version of these lives. "Dirty realism" of the 1980's, I guess, which is a caricature of the other half, a far cry from outlaw lit of the underground, or the excluded kind of big picture naturalism I'm attracted to.
Literature is giving us a very narrow art.
My point stands that there are no great writer personas-- again, the premise of my original post here being that the writer's persona is an instrinsic part of the overall presentation of the art. Forgive me if my point of view comes more from that of a promoter than a writer. I see the writer and the work as a whole-- in the same way an A&R person judges a rock band. Why is it so difficult for you to grasp this simple point?
No, this doesn't mean I exclude the art. How can you make that jump? It's sophistry. It's illogical. Because I say A equals B and C, and you say A equals only B, doesn't mean I say that A equals just C.
It's very simple, ya know.
The fact remains that the system which you espouse has NOT created a literary persona combining the person and the art to create a mythic figure on the order of a Hemingway.
Why is it that not one of your endless stream of MFA profs fit this role? Is it that they're tamed, domesticated creatures caged in a classroom while creating safe art which outrages no one-- NO ONE-- the explanation? I've suggested this. I may be wrong, sure. What's your explanation?
I know that when the ULA read in front of the public, whether myself or Frank or A.S. or others, the interchange with the audience was a given. If you've seen Walsh read you'd know this-- his very being and persona, combined with his words, are a provocation.
Myself, I can outrage an audience within two minutes.
It's one way to inject excitement into a moribund scene and art.
Lit today shrinks into a narrower and narrower box. Until we try to understand why we'll never find a solution.
My solution of course is to tear down the castle, the system, raze it to the ground, and start over.

King said...

p.s. Part of what the ULA did was demonstrate the genteel, unreal nature of today's approved literary world. This was what our "crashes" were about. In my "End of the Pods" essay I tried to explain this, how bourgeois life has changed the presentation of the art. It can be a tweedy college reading or a chic trust fund writer affair, but the polite gentility remains the same. Don't talk too loud! No interruptions, please. This is serious business.
The objection to the ULA wasn't what we said so much as how we said it. The very fact of brining up lit-world corruption, for instance, was the problem. It's not done! The clean and scrubbed beneath their spotless and refined surfaces-- as refined as their prose-- may be completely corrupt, as rotten as a Dorian Gray portrait, but that's not what matters in their world.
Manners over morals.
You're not going to create a unique persona, ya know, if everyone's an obedient pod.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I think I acknowledged that there are stark differences between people (and writers). I don't have any "thinking" on the subject of "living on the edge." In my experience, it's something to be avoided if possible and corrected as soon as one's able. I don't have any illusions about the virtue of poverty. By musicians, I was just referencing your odd assertion re/rock being built on "rock mythology," and suggesting, if it wasn't clear, that most mythic rock figures became famous, wealthy, and celebrated by the time they were in their early twenties, and so their lives on the edge had pretty much ended -- unless, as I said, your sense of the "edge" doesn't have anything to do with one's economic circumstances.

That's funny about Blackolive and Walsh and their distinct lack of teaching in front of "bourgie or bourgie wannabe" students. Has it ever occurred to you that your hostility toward formal education is, aside from being unseemly, absurd? That by equating the Harvard guy with the UMass-Boston guy, the UIC student with the University of Chicago student, and suggesting that their experiences are devoid of any value except the ability to transform them into "bourgie" "pods," you're ignoring the real distinctions between an "elite" education and a public one?

I don't believe I've expressed a view of "writers and this society." That's your department. I was responding to that view, which, if I remember, was that the literary world needed some "giant mythic literary personalities." I demurred. I shall demur again. The "myth" of Kerouac doesn't make VISIONS OF CODY any less terrible a book for having inscribed one version of itself inside its pages. And now for some intrusive reality:

Kerouac went to Columbia.

So did Ginsberg.

Burroughs was the scion of a rich family, went to Harvard, and was provided with an allowance throughout his life.

Corso audited classes at Harvard, where the students underwrote the publication of his first book.

John Clellon Holmes taught at Yale and Brown.

Lucien Carr went to Philips Andover, then to Bowdoin College and the University of Chicago.

Herbert Huncke, maybe, lived "the myth." What did Herbert Huncke write, again?

An A&R person. Hmmm. Every read Steve Albini's essay, "The Problem With Music"? Instructive reading. But, that aside, shouldn't the writing promote itself? I.e., shouldn't good writing be "promotable" to its ultimate audience simply as that, and the personality of the author irrelevant? The way you're putting it -- and I know you've dismissed Frey, and for good reason -- such a reality would leave the territory wide open for aggressive self-promoters with well-honed public personalities. Oh, right: not that different from the way it is.

I haven't espoused any system. You're putting words in my mouth. And why should ANY "system" be in a postion where it can "create" literary persona to substitute for, uh, literary merit?

King said...

??? Again, where do I say persona should substitute for the art??
It's not either-or.
Are you defending the system? You seem to be. As long as you remain anonymous we won't know where you really belong.
Uh, Kerouac dropped out of Columbia. He spent many years in the wilderness. On the Road's success, as you know, was something of an accident.
Ginsberg was kicked out. That he was allowed back with open arms after he was successful shows the hypocrisy and egregiousness of such institutions.
You can argue that there are distinctions within academia, but one doesn't see it in the work. A topic I've examined before.
Bourgeois lit remains within the gray band of the color spectrum. You're embracing fine shadings, while I'm arguing for the color red to be acknowledged.
Literary merit?
The current moldy standards of "literary merit" have left us with a moribund art.
They are in fact the standards of the apparatus, and the class which dominates that apparatus.
Again, a topic I've covered often.
(Someday I want to have a discussion of the sad condition of classicaL music, symphonies, and such. There are striking similarities with the literary world.)
Re aggressive self-promoters: surely you can't be speaking about Dave Eggers. Can you?

Anonymous said...

"??? Again, where do I say persona should substitute for the art??"

How about:

"...that quintessentially American crazy vibration which comes from those who've broken out of the box and set out, like Kerouac, on the open road."

"...the mythic literary figure about whom much is said about that is true, much untrue, and much, no way of knowing."

"...anyone who's drank with the hyper-talented but crazy poet FD Walsh and gotten thrown out of bars with him or in wild arguments with him or in chair-flying fights with him knows there are real literary outlaws about in the world."

"If lit is to truly connect with the American public again, yes, it needs larger than life characters, or at least characters who live on the edge."

etc. etc.

I'm not hearing much about the art, here, but a lot about swagger. Terrific. Eminem can become our poet laureate. He's from your favorite city.

King said...

??? Citing examples of my lauding personas proves nothing regarding the work. In fact, I'm a fan of Kerouac's writing-- as I also am of Scott Fitzgerald's. And Frank Walsh's.
"Favorite" city? I guess. I was born there. I soaked in its chaotic madness. It's in my blood.
Btw, at the All-Time American Writer Tournament, a commenter has suggested Eminem as an entrant.
One has to consider the prospect.
He's certainly a more vibrant poet than John Ashbery and any of that ilk.
There are real poets and then there are system apparatchiks.

King said...

p.s. Nominate your own candidates, Anon, but can you do it under your real identity? One would think you'd eventually get a backbone.
But then, you wouldn't be a demi-puppet! :)

Anonymous said...

"??? Citing examples of my lauding personas proves nothing regarding the work. In fact, I'm a fan of Kerouac's writing-- as I also am of Scott Fitzgerald's. And Frank Walsh's."

So say something about the work, already. What do you like about Kerouac's work -- not the road trips, the novels. What do you like about Frank Walsh's work? Not the barfights, the poems.

Fitzgerald, I have to admit, throws me. Fascinated to the point of obsession with the upper classes, most poignant narratives deriving from the tragedy of attempting to transcent class boundaries -- doesn't seem like your cup of tea. The life spent falling down drunk and struggling to keep up with the expense living beyond his means doesn't exactly seem the stuff of Wenclasian "myth," either.

King said...

Study both Kerouac's and Walsh's writing and you'll see a great deal of rhythmn and wordplay. They're euphonious. I don't have examples of either at hand-- but in my parody of what Kerouac would sound like at the Writer Tournament, I tried to mimic his euphonious use of words.
Blackolive did something similar.
When I was cranking out zeens I examined a number of underground writers-- and their work-- Blackolive among them, studying his "Last Laugh" in some detail.
That isn't the point of this post ya know-- or even of this blog.
But I'll consider doing more of it.
(I have a short post examining Fitzgerald's writing at "American Pop Lit," put up after I included him in the tournament.)
Sorry if I don't fit into your proper box. After all, I'm a polemicist. I have no desire to put on a tweedy jacket and become just one more one more.

Anonymous said...

Rhythm and wordplay. Check.

It would be kind of nice if you would differentiate between the rhythm and wordplay in Kerouac and Walsh and the rhythm and wordplay in the work of one of those foo-foo establishment writers. I'm pretty sure I've read posts of your condemning that sort of thing, the foregrounding of technique that is, as decadent or corrupt or irrelevant or whatever word might have come to mind on that day.

So what makes Walsh and Kerouac different? Can you elaborate?

King said...

Establishment writers? Meaning who? The postmodernists? DFW? You?
There's a clarity and immediacy in Kerouac's writing which can't be found in that of the Big Brain boys. Also something which can't be faked-- an affection for the people he encountered and this country. Kerouac loved America. This comes through in every sentence.
He was very much in the world.
Kerouac skirted the line between prose and poetry. In my opinion he got away with it.
That said, rhythmn and sound are the proper province of poetry.
Today we have too much poetic prose and prosaic poetry.
When I was crashing with Walsh we discussed the nature of poetry often, over quite a few beers. he knows as much as anyone has about the nature of the art, how it's meant to be spoken and heard.
His "Reagan's Brain" isn't just sounds. There are also ideas behind the sounds, and strong emotion.
He also celebrates Reagan at the same time he mocks him.
Any work is only as good as, er, the personality which animates it.
With a few exceptions, I prefer novels to be prosaic. That's just me. What do I know?

King said...

p.s. There's more than one way to create a persona. Fitzgerald did, selling the glamorous coupling of himself and Zelda and living the glamor to the hilt.
Only a few approved recent writers have tried to do likewise. Two discoveries of a friend of yours, Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz of the Brat Pack 80's, enlived the literary world for a brief time. Even got my attention back then-- maybe one reason I became interested in the art. Would that I hadn't!
Sadly, alas!, their work never lived up to the glamor.