THE TOTALITY OF A MINDSET
Those who saw what they wanted to see in Tom Bissell's essay on the Underground Literary Alliance live in a world of professionalization. Of offices, deadlines, work. The system they're in has a tangible reality. They work very hard. Nothing is assured. Criticisms of the system, then, especially those which address the inequities and hierarchies of the system, appear to come from another planet. They, personally, those working within the reality of the system, are doing nothing wrong.
The tangible reality of their careers gives total credibility to system ideas; none to ideas outside it. The ideas and premises of the tangible reality can be the only ideas. From Day One of their contact with literature, they are the only ideas, and they're everywhere. This includes writing styles, and kinds of approved and applauded writers and writing. The all-encompassing nature of literary reality gives that reality credibility, yet at the same time, it's everything that's wrong with literature, because a new reality, new ideas of art, will never arrive. Things are done and believed because that's the way they've always been done and believed.
The conformity of bureaucracy is how any system maintains itself.
How could these writers, editors, agents et.al., not scorn the ULA? It'd be like asking lawyers who spent years, much study, and much money obtaining degrees of certification, then passing the bar examination-- all the difficulty; all the necessary conformity to the jots and dots of the law-- to accept on an equal footing self-read self-educated backwoods rubes from log cabins with no certifications or standing at all.
Doesn't this make perfect sense? It makes sense when you're talking about something meant to be contained by bureaucracies, regulated, monitored, and controlled, carefully practiced by intensively screened professionals ready to carry forward an official doctrine of precedents, judgments, consent.
It might be great for law, but it's not great for ART, which wasn't meant to be contained anyplace, but to flow free. To break on occasion from any precedents and consent.
It's easy enough to jump into the head of the system writer; to see as they see, from within the system machine. Far more difficult for those whose minds are placed within this special realm to see outside it. To credibly jump within the head of a literary rebel; an intentional actual outsider.
This kind of "empathy" Tom Bissell failed at, as did his reviewers and praisers.