Just as no established literary persons, or writers of any kind, dared publicly debate the Underground Literary Alliance after we destroyed the Paris Review staff at CBGB’s in New York City, February 2001—so not one of the many thousands of wonderful status quo writers, critics, and literary persons will to this day contest myself and my ideas anywhere, at any time, in any forum.
Has an art throughout history ever been so congealed with a mass of unquestioning conformity? Contrary opinions not only aren’t allowed. The possibility of their very existence is not considered. Writing academies produce waves upon waves of writers, throwing them upon the culture-at-large, yet you’ll look in vain for any who’ll dare disagree with the accepted gods and ways of doing things. It’s a prescription for obsolescence. The public still reads—mass market junk produced without thought. But said public has no longer any concept of American literature. Literature, in that sense, no longer exists—except on the rare occasion when the monopolistic media marketing machine can present an Insider writer like Jonathan Franzen AS IF he’s one more of the mass market crowd. His works frankly are mediocre enough to get away with it.
Nowhere are there any advances in the art. Nowhere are new ideas tried, or wanted. There’s an “avant-garde,” but it’s an avant-garde mimicking in every way, every sentence (but absent the radical intent) of avant-gardes of ages past. Of 100 years ago, really. Which means, not an avant-garde at all.
No advances are wanted, no criticism, no tests, no aesthetic combats. All is frozen. Sclerotic. Impregnable, but at the same time at any moment able to collapse, like the corrupt and complacent French empire of a Louis Napoleon, bolstering its arrogance on the glories of sixty years past.
I note that a frenzied and feverish literary intellect like Joyce Carol Oates, for instance—who’s been frenzied and feverish since 1960, and whose work and mentality haven’t budged one microcentimeter since then—is still taken seriously by following generations of well-indoctrinated literary scribblers. Not just taken seriously, but lauded, though her “ideas” and violently confused works could sustain no serious scrutiny, and never could, beyond some early short stories since then endlessly, year after year, reproduced with slight variations. The standing of Ms. Oates being one example of the refusal of new writers to artistically challenge the received artistic gods. Countless other examples could be given—but while other examples of the staleness of the art might surpass Oates in willful and obstinate mediocrity (see Franzen again), they’ve lasted not nearly so long.
Here I stand like a lonely knight, my flag planted, still waiting for the contest which will never come, while the vast armies of stasis, innumerable in their glittering yet cheap pot-metal armor—but not very confident—continue to keep their far distance from where my sword and flag stand planted as continuous challenge in the ground.