ONE THING noteworthy about the literary elite, based mainly but not exclusively in New York, is they’ve been untouched by raging societal storms which have buffeted most of us. Look at the editors of both n+1 and the McSweeney’s empire, or a Thomas Beller, and they’re society’s privileged.
America has suffered from a deep recession the past four years. The downturn has easily damaged a third of us. Yet those who control the nation’s literature have been untouched.
We know the stereotype of the writer in a garret. For underground writers—including many once-active members of the Underground Literary Alliance—it’s more than a stereotype.
The literary establishment can’t admit this to themselves. That organizations like PEN give $40,000 to Philip Roth, instead of to struggling writers for whom the amount would make a difference in sheer survival, is something they can’t think about. That writers today in America live in unheated hovels and druggie hotels, and some of them homeless, to the swanky set isn’t a thought.
I encounter poor writers, young writers, even in a brutal town like Detroit. Their writing is fresh and distinctive, giving a necessary different perspective on America from the monothink monotone bourgie mainstream. If the ULA is ever revived I’ll show this.
Who writes about the harsher realities of life now?
To dismiss the realities which exist, mandarins construct a narrative to keep their minds comfortable.
The narrative is this: The Underground Literary Alliance was a collection of “bad” writers; “unpublishables” who deserve to be scorned. Cheaply bought hatchetmen use snarky phrases to “prove” this contention. In the cushy world of elite literature, all becomes well. The Harvard professor who writes lifeless criticism can return to his afternoon snooze in the Harvard Room. I don’t know if there is a Harvard Room, but at such an uber-elite school there should be a Harvard Room, with mahogany paneling around medieval windows, plush burgundy carpeting exuding warmth, and thick leather armchairs. There, in one of the armchairs, observe our professor, sun across his face as he snoozes. He dreams. It was a delicious lunch!
The hyper-mad Manhattan bloggers whose careers consist of sucking-up to the system and its products have one more item not to think about, their minds directed by the standard narrative.
The trustfunded Brooklyn hipsters can continue planning their next snoozefest literary event, without thinking for a minute of the thousands of long-time residents they’ve displaced from their neighborhoods, who now have nowhere to go, as gentrification has driven up rents—and the price of beer at the corner saloon! The hipsters’ minds also are directed by the standard narrative.
Bad writers! They smugly delicately smirk at the thought. Sure, the ULA’s writings were different enough, out of the norm, to be ignored or mocked.
In the history of art there is always to be found moments of closed-off systems, or “salons,” caretakers of status quo artistic deadness assuring one another of their wonderfulness, while outside the palace dwell other kinds of artists, Francis Villons eking out an existence among the beaten-down populace while struggling to create anything BUT a work of the salon.