If I had to name the single greatest failing of today’s status quo literary scene, I’d name its intrinsic, thoroughgoing dishonesty.
The first victims of this dishonesty are the purveyors of dishonesty. The first victim of a false presentation is the person who created it.
For example, Johannes Lichtman created a false presentation with his 11/27/12 review of Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours, in the way he presented the Underground Literary Alliance. Virtually every sentence or phrase pertaining to the ULA is false. I’ve shown them, at this blog, to be false. Does Lichtman admit this? No. He doubles down. He ignores all evidence countering his false narrative, willfully refusing to look at any evidence, while continuing to insist on the lies he’s presented. (The ULA is “generally untalented . . . conspiracy theorists” etc.) His mind is made up. Closed. From the start—and never can he be prodded to open it. Two plus two equals five, in his mind, simply because it does. It’s what he’s been told.
Who is he hurting by his false presentation? Mainly himself. He’s taking his intellectual integrity and blowing it up.
For what price? What reason? Lichtman admits the Oxford American web site (despite large sums of money pumped into it), has few readers. His payment for the piece, he’s said again and again, is $25. What’s the payoff? As far as I can see, merely in being allowed to be part of that creature known as “mainstream publishing,” a dying animal.
Johannes Lichtman is a victim of false presentations in the micro. His mistake is believing wholeheartedly in Tom Bissell’s false essay. That essay has been shown to be false. Does it matter? Bissell’s fans cling to the essay—but so, apparently, does Tom Bissell himself. Which makes him his own victim. He, like Johannes Lichtman, is content to take his intellectual integrity and dynamite it. The payoff: Being part of “mainstream publishing,” but on a somewhat higher level.
Above Tom Bissell is Dave Eggers, who has his own false presentations to perpetuate. In his case, a great many of them.
The ultimate victim of all the falseness is literature itself. Failure in the macro. Can a status quo literary scene maintain itself as a construction of lies? When you build your reputation on lies, you’re unable to defend yourself. You can blackball, censor, lie more, but the one thing you can’t do is engage in honest and open debate. You’ve created a legacy of dishonesty. A record of untruthfulness.
Some day someone will come along—whether a renewed ULA, or others—and knock down the tottering house of cards.