REFLECTIONS ON ANCIENT LITERARY HISTORY
THE THING TO KNOW concerning myself and any possible attempt to revive the Underground Literary Alliance is that the ULA exists within the culture in a kind of prison camp, surrounded by guards and watch towers. Not a physical camp, mind you, but a mental construction of one. The image of the ULA which exists within established literature’s mind is the creation of distorted narratives about us. No one can see the reality—or wants to see it.
Within the prison camp I exist as a Hannibal Lector figure. Confined to a straitjacket while strapped to a chair on an open concrete floor, observed by spotlights. The writer pariah, untouchable by the literary community. It’s an impossible situation, because the more you try to escape from the straitjacket, the crazier you seem.
I realized this over a year ago, when I attempted to counter gross distortions and lies about the ULA which were perpetuated by a republished essay about the organization. The essay was receiving glowing reviews from a score of reviewers—including in the New York Times—despite its inaccuracies. In the essay, the ULA’s grass roots DIYers are portrayed as would-be totalitarians, simply for wanting to have any kind of a voice in this hectic society. (The fate of the Underground Literary Alliance of course well proves who are the real totalitarians.)
As I contacted various editors to present the other (real) side of the story, I encountered in almost every instance a priori hostility. I knew none of these people, nor did they know me, but on the question of the ULA their minds were settled. The accepted narrative, false as it was, had become the hardened reality.
The conflict between the Underground Literary Alliance and the larger lit world was a difference of temperament and ideas. The warm morality of the ULA cause, our uninhibited freedom, versus the cold expediency of inflexible cultural conformity. Against indoctrinated system writers marching in lockstep and single file, there was and is no room for those who occasionally step out of line.
The flaw in the original ULA strategy was thinking that our actions and revelations would provoke the conscience of the greater literary community. We couldn’t comprehend that said animal has no conscience. That it’s an unthinking beast concerned only with its own survival.
If we play-acted as radicals, our opponents play-acted as persons of integrity.
The result was that we provoked the literati’s monstrous true face. We were quickly ostracized.
Banished! Which leaves me unable to aspire to any kind of a normal writer’s life. Should I begin any association with other writers, no matter how tame and innocuous, they would be tarred by the association. The paranoid fear of possible dissent existing within the established literary community would quickly again reach levels of hysteria. Anything we said would be received through a prism of mendacity and dishonesty.
Within the cultural straitjacket, then, my possible actions are constrained. The script has been written—”abandon all hope, ye who enter”—which means that if I’m to do anything it must be in the guise of the crazy. Extreme. Possible colleagues would have to be themselves outcasts, those with no possibility of being accepted themselves, for whatever reasons. It wouldn’t be the ULA which existed ten years ago, with its amateur theatrics and—when all was said and done—rather tame personalities. It would be the Underground Literary Alliance gone nuclear. With no quarter given, none would be asked. Balls to the wall writing and activism done on speed.
Not that this is going to happen. I’m simply saying that given the circumstances, the closed walls faced, it’s the only way of operating that could happen. A cultural scorched earth policy with intensity matching that of the ULA’s ruthless and unmovable enemies.