YET ANOTHER ASIDE
I finally listened to the Bat Segundo interview with Tom Bissell. I have to give Ed Champion a grudging nod for pressing that cut-rate Eggers wannabe on the ULA and the current stagnant literary scene, which the Underground Literary Alliance unsuccessfully sought to change. The interview was interesting to me for a couple of reasons.
I noted Bissell’s innate superiority complex. He actually believes he was doing us a favor by trashing us in the essay—and maybe he was, because the prevalent view was to give us no notice whatsoever. Most of that crowd would rather have kicked us into the gutter. Tom Bissell by contrast threw us a few pennies-- “here, you peasants”—and thought he was being generous. Forget all the distortions in the essay, Tom. “Classocide.” We should be thanking you. Do I exaggerate? Slightly—but notice that the tone is to treat us as the Other-- “from that social milieu”—and not in any way approaching equals. His phrasing accepts, contrary to his misleading essay, the hierarchical power relationships that do exist in the literary world, of which Ed seeks to give his audience a glimpse. Tom Bissell states that I’d be impossible “to negotiate with,” because I’d “never be satisfied,” whatever that means. That I’d expect to be treated not as a hat-in-hand beggar, but an equal? That’s not how that world operates. “Negotiate.”
Bissell goes on to claim that one could “negotiate” with others of “that” milieu. Yet no one negotiated with the ULA after I broke with the team. An alternative outsiders group was created by former ULAers expecting to be accepted by the lit scene with open arms, once they were free of evil me. Boy, were they disappointed. They’re still waiting for their negotiation, I think. At least four individual ULA writers left the ULA in hopes of cutting a deal. There’s no point in naming them. They’re quite sad stories. Their rewards/payoffs were ridiculously minor. One of them was allowed to place a fawning essay on an insider website. Another is the token poor guy someplace. That kind of thing.
Tom Bissell and Ed Champion at least implicitly recognize that the world consists of leverage and power, where terms do need to be negotiated. The premise of the ULA recognized this—that only by creating leverage, by applying pressure, would we be allowed any kind of a voice. It’s the way of the world. The altruistic empathy of characters like the Dave and his various low-priced Bissell knockoffs is a pose for the gullible, nothing else.
p.s. A small correction to the interview. George Plimpton didn’t invite the ULA to an event. We invited him—to debate us at CBGB’s in New York City. To his credit, the establishment literary warrior showed up. Unlike all others of his breed, George Plimpton was fearless. He and his preppy staff were badly out of their depth, of course. Like throwing well-groomed poodles in with pit bulls. The Underground Literary Alliance then was the most exciting lit group on the planet. After the debate George and I, as respective leaders of our teams, had a polite chat over beers, while the old dog’s eyes popped-out at the see-through dress of our at-the-time zeen babe. George and I had an interesting talk, in which he probed my commitment to the ULA’s ideas. Not quite the way it’s portrayed. There were other dynamics going on. The real story is more interesting than a third-hand hearsay version.
Have a good day!