Friday, February 01, 2013

Missing the Boat

The New York Review of Books talks about great writers fifty years ago (Mailer and Company); “the shock and awe demonstration of intellectual firepower.”

That’s exactly what the Underground Literary Alliance wanted to bring to the scene. Some scorn me as “a maniac.” Why? Because, unlike them, I have verbal and intellectual energy. It’s why no one dares debate me—which would be truly crazy.

What’s noticeably lacking in authors today from both the literary establishment, and the big selling wizard/zombie/vampire novelists, is personality. Energy. Charisma. Who’s got it? The hyped big names, like Jonathan Franzen, represent more a lethargic anti-charisma, in their persons and their writings. Can anyone argue that Franzen’s Freedom is in any way kickass? Energetic? Explosive? Is there “firepower” in it? Intellectual or otherwise? When Jonathan Franzen tries to present ideas in his weighty tomes, they’re so banal and shallow they’re embarrassing. When he enters a room, he doesn’t enliven it. He puts it to sleep.

The ULA troupe by contrast had striking personalities in its lineup, whose writings, at its best, could be comic (Wred Fright), relevant (James Nowlan), or attention-deficit (Crazy Carl Robinson). I think of larger-than-life macho throwback Wild Bill, beat writing in a 19th century East Texas dialect. Or our original zeen babe. Or uncontrollable poet Frank Walsh, whose language sounded like Ezra Pound on speed and whose performances were never less than wildly entertaining. Original personalities. I’ll throw even much maligned Urban Hermitt into the mix, whose rules violation was authentically recreating the sound of punk kid subculture, breaking several constipated schoolteacher rules along the way.

Could the literary world have used what we were selling? Maybe. Unfortunately our protests, theater and noise panicked too many uptight overregulated literary personalities, including Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Beller, and Dave Eggers. “Hip” writers who it turned out couldn’t take or tolerate much of anything. PBS Lawrence Welk would be too threatening to them. What we’re stuck with then instead is self-important monotone meandering, or self-involved hipster posing—literary birdwatching—all of it lacking the spark of life.

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