Friday, February 01, 2013

Bureaucrats and Bureaucratese

ONE THING the Underground Literary Alliance, as part of the DIY movement, sought to accomplish during its active history, was to find a way to readjust the relationship between system and writer. To begin to break down a widespread bureaucratic mentality, in which literature’s chief value—the WRITER—is forced into an inferior, hat-in-hand position of “Please publish me!” In so doing, when approaching literary journals, dealing with a thousand little dictators. When dealing with the publishing system in New York of agents and editors, ten thousand dictators, each one expressing his-or-her arrogance in as officious and dismissive way possible, as if they, legalistic system bureaucrats, were the artistic creators.

I received just a little of that yesterday, when I emailed Tablet Magazine to express my legitimate dismay as being characterized, in Thomas Beller’s 12/13/12 essay, as “a maniac.” A libelous, unfactual statement. A malicious smear showing Thomas Beller, like Tom Bissell or Johannes Lichtman before him, playing to an unseen audience of literary power people.

Here’s the response I received from Tablet Magazine, from senior editor Matthew Fishbane:

“I'm an editor at Tablet. Thank you very much for writing. I'm sorry to hear you differed in opinion with the piece, but I do hope that you'll find other things to like on the site. You are always welcome to participate in comments, repeating or linking back to blog posts where you have expressed your opinions. Do let me know if you have any trouble posting in the comments.

I regret your first visit to Tablet was an unpleasant one.”

This sounds like a form response from a computer program, more than from an actual person—a human being. Can we be certain that “Matthew Fishbane” is not in fact a fictional creation?

Yes, it is a bit unpleasant to be publicly called “a maniac.” I truly don’t much blame Thomas Beller, who has a tenuous position within the system to maintain. I know what he’s doing. Beller wants to still be able to write for prestigious publications. I understand that as a writer and thinker he’s a weak person who’s required to play the game.


Anonymous said...

I lived in NYC for a while and I've met more than a few people like Beller.

I don't know whether to feel sorry for them or just disgusted by them. They're all striving for influence that they'll never get, because they don't have the bargaining chips to buy it.

You don't have the bargaining chips, Mr. Beller, because 1) you weren't born quite connected enough and 2) what you publish is boring and I'd never pay to read it.

The Bellers of NYC have bought into a lie. The lie is that by conforming to lit crowd standards, they'll suddenly become worth something; that they'll somehow morph into the real writers; that they'll be justified. Art doesn't work that way.

Pseudo-intellectuals have a tendency to confuse the trappings with the real thing. There's nothing new about this: wannabe writers used to flock to Paris, now they flock to a fading city in the US.

What makes the Bellers of the world sad is that they are willing to prostitute their voice so that they can stand next to somebody 'important'. They're lost, hopelessly so.

King Wenclas said...

Well, he's interesting, in his way. Very typical of the literary scene. Not a bad guy, really-- wouldn't have a clue how to be a ruthless cat like Eggers, which is why TB's been superceded, tho he was somewhat the hip NYC lit guy in the 90's.
I see plenty of evidence, in Beller's recent essay and in his lack of ability to defend it, that my gently mocking portrayal of him in "The McSweeneys Gang" is spot on.
I hope he decides to make peace. He got his shot in. He wouldn't want me to fire back.