THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY
When the Underground Literary Alliance was in its heyday, an oft-heard criticism, coming from outside the ULA, but also from within it, was that our campaign was “quixotic.” Several of our members were panicked out at the very thought.
(If our campaign were truly quixotic, the ULA would not have been so feared by the literary elite, as it remains to this day.)
The ULA strategy was no doubt risky. It was also early, anticipating changes. But it was never quixotic. The campaign was based on an objective analysis of where American literature was, and where it needed to be to survive as a relevant cultural happening in American society.
I once worked for an independent commodity trader. I learned how to make a logical assessment of a gamble’s risk-reward ratio.
The risks involved with taking on the nation’s literary establishment were high—but potential rewards were unlimited.
It’s not as if any of us had much to lose. When you’re already at the bottom, and likely to stay at the bottom, downsides are few. All one has to do is look at the writing careers of those who bailed from the ULA—or even those who betrayed it. Where are they?
The situation I observed in literature twelve years ago is more true now. The publishing system is kept afloat by insubstantial “young adult” novels about wizards and vampires. Top-heavy bookstores are closing. “Literary” fiction hasn’t changed one comma in decades. The literary scene is fronted by anti-charismatic stooges like Jonathan Franzen. No excitement anywhere. An art form and scene waiting to be reimagined. To be dismantled and replaced by the radically populist, the radically new.