Monday, September 10, 2012

An Open Note to Dave Eggers


I previously mentioned Dave Eggers’ 6/20/05 public rebuke of his former puppet Neal Pollack. More interesting than the takedown itself are some of the things Eggers said to defend and explain himself. I quote:

“—my hope that whatever came next in the literary world would be different, mellower, less tense, less rivalrous”

“it . . . continues to be our goal at The Believer, that the literary world could be one of community, of mutual support . . . and that anyone pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world is mucking it up for everyone. . . .”

One can disagree with Eggers’ sentiments on several points.

1.) His is a plea to leave things as they are. The status quo. Which is fine from his perspective, because it leaves Dave Eggers at the center of literary power.

2.) What exactly does Dave Eggers mean by “community”? Who’s included? I’m reminded of the Orwell quote, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

3.) The mindset Eggers advocates could be likened to the stale peace of a totalitarian world. It’s like the word Islam, which means, “obedience,” and which some feckless souls take to mean “peace.” Peace equals obedience.

4.) I’ve always contended that the “very small” literary ecosystem Eggers talks about would grow in multiples A.) if it allowed alternative voices from different backgrounds and new, more populist styles of writing through its doors; B.) if it were more contentious and rivalrous; to make noise so that society knows it exists. For this you’d need to throw open the thick doors to the stuffy private club.

BUT, let’s take Dave Eggers’ statements at face value. If he was sincere in what he said—then why republish the Tom Bissell attack essay against the Underground Literary Alliance? The ULA had fragmented, in part because of the endless recession this country is in, which hurts those writers at the bottom most. Why kick us when we were down, and not a threat to anyone? The ULA campaign was in the past. Last decade’s story. We were now, all of us, struggling to sell our individual writings, and scarcely needed scornful attacks appearing across the literary landscape as a result of the reappearance of the Bissell tome. Attacks in the New York Times, L.A. Times, Guernica, Kirkus Reviews, and other places. What was Dave’s purpose, other than being “rivalrous” and “pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world”? Surely, no writers group was in a more fragile condition than we were. We have no trust funds, inheritances, elite connections, tax shelter foundations or banker daddys to fall back on.

I then ask Dave Eggers to prove he’s for real by repudiating the Tom Bissell essay. Reprinting that at this time was a slap in the face on a section of American writers. An assault on true representatives of the 99%. It says there will be no end of rivalries—that it’s Dave Eggers, no one else, carrying on feuds. For him to publicly disavow that essay is the minimum that can be asked. It was a mistake to reprint the biased essay and it will be a bigger mistake for him to stand behind that severely flawed document.


JeffOYB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JeffOYB said...

The Dave says he wants LESS rivalry? Rivalry is always healthy for a league. Debate elevates. But they're not even willing to admit there's another legimate voice. I think we still need to push them to accept this. Then we also need a reviewing voice, or movement in reviewing, that responds to populism to diversify reviewing away from the one-sided scene we have today. In the ULA we especially had that when that New York Post "Page Six" reporter responded to our exposes' of corruption in the Lit Establishment. He saw the humor of it. It caught on and resonated in quite a few other venues at that time. It's a ball that could be started rolling again. The heirs of Steinbeck, Buk, HST are out there in writers and in readers but we need to find them also in reviewers -- I include bloggers here. I suppose it amounts to them sticking their neck out as well, as reviewing is circular to the Establishment, but it's doable. Of course, we resonated better when we appealed to reporters OUTSIDE the Lit milieu. Really, all we need is someone with a contact to reality. Away from the insularity of academia. And then we're in. We have to find those who know the values of the street and how to appreciate that scene. We found them before and can again. They're out there. Heck, they did pretty well at finding us.

The Ivy Leaguers of the Establishment are defuddled by the everyday world and don't even know how to comment on what we do. This explains why Bissell stooped to such a clumsy, unimaginative analogy! He went: fresh voice > other > threat > Stalin. It astounded then and still does.

As regards old farts being bad representatives for our cause (as has been suggested): let the young keep up if they can! We're slow, it's true. It's low hanging fruit out there. C'mon!

King Wenclas said...

I want to see young literary dissidents, new writers with the will to remake American literature-- to rescue it from those who have greedy hold of it.

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