Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor?

One doesn’t exclude the other.

Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were the two legendary screen actresses/sex goddesses of the 1950’s. Which was the better actress?

Technically, Elizabeth Taylor was the more accomplished, more disciplined actress. She could play Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee without a hitch. Everything Marilyn Monroe played was with extreme difficulty. Yet Monroe could go places emotionally, subliminally, that Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t. Contrary to what some may suggest, art doesn’t exclude emotion. Art IS emotion.

The same principle holds true for literature and writing. System writers have this idea that because they’ve learned, technically, the current model, their style of creative writing is the only style there is. They’re eager to exclude all others. Which is what the war against the Underground Literary Alliance was about.

No art can advance if it allows nobody to take a different path to that art. No art can live if it permits no one to be different.


JeffOYB said...

The ULA often got the retort: "It's a free country. If your work is good people will buy it. And you can't expect fancy-lad reviewers to like underground work. They like what they like and you can't make someone read or like work they don't want to." Well, people did like and buy our work, and review it in zines, but this line was used constantly to justify our exclusion. Since when do reviewers base what they cover on perceived popularity? Sure, a reflection on that might be a component. They're usually (pretending) to search for overlooked work that they can get the scoop on. What about media exclusion of work that isn't carried by major distros? Reviewers just shrug and say what they're allowed to review isn't up to them. They're given a certain group to consider and then their own druthers guide them to the few in that group they deem worth liking or scorching. They have no compulsion to review against their privilege in any way (reviewing in contrast to some aspects of things like whiteness or wealth is fashionable today as long as the work is backed by elites in some way).

They never did respond to our assertion of Orwell's Law -- that the market is a worse censor than a dictator and that suppression is worse than censorship.

The good thing that the Believer article did was give us any attention at all: underground lit hadn't been covered before and hasn't been since, I bet. Even better: Bissell quoted some of our writers. He called them bad but even the few words he reproduced put the lie to him. The System likely learned its lesson from that article. Giving any attention to the shunned is a mistake. Now, the reviews of Bissell essay-compilation that just smear us truly do only that. Some readers out there, though, will soon learn that whatever those people like they won't and if they hate something, well, there might be something good there. I recall a local movie reviewer that I learned that about. It's an odd experience, but can be as reliable a guide as someone who agrees with you.

JeffOYB said...

PS: They STILL are missing the biggest scoop of the 90's: the zine revolution. A generation opted out of reading or participating in the Lit-Scene or any official scene of any kind. It's history now, safe. Zines have been given *some* props. They can't be finished with this period yet, can they? They certainly ignored it at the time. They have explaining to do. Their readers would be interested. I think it's fairly well accepted that zinesters pre-dated the Web and blogging. They had the need, the desire, and no other option but BEFORE there was a Web, so they made their own, and it worked, and it animated the lives of THOUSANDS and created its own global web. Kinda neat. For free. Nobody owned it or any part of it, really. It was all voluntary. Mutual enforcement. Honor system. If someone was bogus it was reported and exchanges were publicized and people responded as they pleased. It was a parallel universe that was actually real in contrast to the fakery going on around it. All any reviewer would have to do is pose the situation of energetic 20-somethings in the late 90's and provide some zine titles and then what the mainstream Lit offerings of the time were like and anyone today would understand why sensible people were forced to their own devices. They could see how much fun it was. How free. And, of course, the zine scene responded in detail to the mainstream/elites, sketching that reality clearly, even while the reverse was so embarrassing, zines painted in Time as highschool hijinks, say. Of course, for some of us, things got even more lively after the Web hit, but the Zine Revolution is still ripe for Literary rumination. Magic Hours? Those were magic years.

King Wenclas said...

Two points:
We received much better, more fair write-ups. In Moby Lives, for instance, as I've been pointing out, but in many other places, from Page Six to Shout NY to Village Voice to Soma Magazine to the Poetry Foundation (in '06) to even the big Black Book spread.
Second, you underrate the damage the Bissell did-- how it created the standard narrative on us. It became the "text" on the ULA.
It was very astutely done in a way to cut us down. Readers remembered the "ghastliest" quote, or the Urban Hermitt takedown-- utterly unfair by the way. They remembered, vaguely but strongly, the characterization of us as authoritarian Bolsheviks. An outright lie, by the way. When I was interviewed on a PBS station in '07, the interviewer was quoting from that essay, and asking absurd questions, like why we wanted to shut out a certain wealthy novelist, who happened to be one of the "New White Guys"/ Big Money Boys who Bissell was most determined in his essay to protect.
Still, we didn't mind the publicity when it occurred, in '03. We were in a situation to defend ourselves, and had enough standing to survive the hits. But now??
One can blame the gullibility of reviewers like Bustillos and Lichtman only up to a point. They take the essay at face value-- and it's a distortion from start to finish.
We can't revive the ULA unless we destroy that narrative. This is a must, if we're to go ahead. Please realize that. Everything in this media saturated culture is the narrative.
Who writes it?
What does it depict?
This, in fact, will be the subject of my next ebook novel, which I intend to soon begin writing.

JeffOYB said...

For sure a revival would mean both strides forward and defense. Why doubt that?

We were good back then about coming at those who attacked Indie Lit from a wide variety of views and from many walks of life. We exposed the monolith for what it was. It must've been shocking for them to not get away with their usual derision for the first time.

Yes, it is lame that now there is only you speaking out against the latest hatchetjob.

Of course the Lit Powers will always be against art and freedom. Our supporters -- as well as those who've covered us neutrally -- have always come from outside their sphere of lockdown, including from the straight news. Regular reporters sometimes recognize corruption when it's shown to them. (Not that any of them found it themselves before the ULA came along.)

But there have to be weakpoints in the System armor. Generals ready to defect. Also, there's the whole popular uprising to consider. Roiling and boiling, eager for Lit that speaks to them, deprived for so long. The fact that their art is weak and in decline hasn't been enough to dethrone them yet. But they have to be nervous.

If a group were to form or revive it just might be able to push things to the tipping point. That will be actually hilarious to see. What relief! And it could work! Film and music, after all, finally broke through despite -- you can be sure -- huge resistance from the System. After it happened the System itself accepted the wider scenes. The lemmings could settle back down and do their work again but with a more realistic palette available. That's all we ask: to be included. For art again. OK, I suppose decoration, detail, cuteness and nanny stories can be art, but I mostly mean art that a wider range of people can relate to, art for folks beyond the Towers, for folks who aren't in the Towers or even wanting to be in. Heck, even art that does it all. It's happened! Just not in recent decades. I'd like to see a chance for it again.