Monday, March 25, 2013
I don’t get it. How can individuals like Dwight Garner and Keith Gessen (or Garth Risk Hallberg at The Millions) be strongly for cultural democracy, dissent, and freedom in Russia but not in the United States? If anything, they’re apologists for the literary status quo in this country; part of the monolith; supporters of the kind of crony capitalism a Kirill Medvedev would loathe.
Do these establishment journalists actually believe the political, economic, and cultural systems in both countries are dissimilar?
The difference is that the corruption, lies, and propaganda—the political and media games in the United States—are vastly more sophisticated. In Russia, the magician plying his trade is a crude amateur. The audience glimpses the rabbit in the hat before it appears. In the United States, the magicians are slick professionals.
If the principles of a Dwight Garner or Keith Gessen aren’t honest, aren’t transferable to our own shores, or their own field, then what are these highly placed apparatchiks up to?
Saturday, March 23, 2013
SOMEONE please notify Poets & Writers online editor Evan Smith Rakoff that they’ve posted a video as news that’s nearly five years old:
The video has Keith Gessen discussing Dave Eggers. It was first posted May 13, 2008. At least, at the site where I recently found it. See this post at my Crime City USA blog:
I had some hits recently on the same post. A P&W person might’ve googled Gessen or Eggers and found it, clicked on the link to Big Think, and posted the video without noticing or caring about the date.
Friday, March 22, 2013
I note that Russian dissident poet Kirill Medvedev is getting a lot of play in outfits like The New York Times and n+1 magazine. They applaud his attacks on intellectual and political corruption—in Russia.
Intellectual corruption in America isn’t touched by these organs. Political corruption, elitism, and cronyism in the U.S. is scarcely looked at by them. That both candidates in the recent Presidential election were Harvard grads—that every President from 1988 has been a graduate of either Harvard or Yale—isn’t something they want to think about. No. They’re concerned about democracy not here—but in Russia! So much safer.
Neither outfit, n+1 and New York Times, will give American literary dissidents the time of day. The Times recently called such writers, like those in the Underground Literary Alliance, “unpublishables.” Yes, I guess we are. Real democracy and intellectual freedom are in short supply in a lot of places.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The last time I spent a winter in Detroit, in ‘08-‘09, I penned the following poem. As I’ve frozen my ass off here this winter, I feel the poem is due for a repeat appearance.
Penguins and polar bears in the streets of Detroit;
Mountains of white, snowmen on skis;
The skaters on Woodward look like the Red Wings!
You tell me there's global warming.
Ice-covered windshields that won't defrost;
River is frozen, sun has got lost;
Thermal underwear rising in cost!
Now you tell me there's global warming.
Oh bring back the sweat and the melt and the heat,
Rising temperature, 100 degrees;
So we can take off our coats and our shoes,
and snuggle our feet
in the burning hot sands of the closest beach!
Bring back to us global warming;
Oh, yeah, global warming,
Yes we must have again global warming!
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Interesting to see the speech posted at a Columbia University web site, since high academia today has scant interest in intellectual freedom-- as well as holding disregard, if not disdain, for Solzhenitsyn's kind of spiritual ideas.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
EVER LISTEN to the late night radio show “Coast to Coast”? Much of it may be madness. 99% of the ideas discussed on the show may be false. (Flying saucers and such.) What I like about the show is that the host, guests, and callers are attempting to look behind the appearances of what passes for us as reality.
We’re trapped in a universe which doesn’t provide us with all the answers. The answers, if they exist, lay behind the appearances. Complicating matters is the way our senses are bombarded around the clock with a constructed, artificial reality, via many cultural mediators.
I’m not saying there’s no such thing as reality. I’m saying we have to test what passes for reality.
EVER READ the works of Gustave Le Bon? Though he wrote 100 years ago, his ideas remain ahead of our time. They may have been an influence on thinkers like Orwell and Lacan.
Le Bon pointed out that humans remain basically irrational animals. The stands we take, the ideas we adopt, are more often than not adopted for emotional reasons, more than because of reason and logic. We decide what side we’re on first, then look for arguments to justify the decision.
For example, people seem to either love or hate President Obama. The stance is that he’s all-good or all-bad. Either-or. However people view him emotionally, pro or con, they proceed to rationalize their viewpoint.
We don’t know Obama, of course, not personally. We only know what we’re told about him by the media, mainstream or other. The arguments that we decide are right make rough sense to us. We’re still judging from appearances. We don’t know whether or not we’re being scammed. The tragedy is that each camp envelopes itself in its own viewpoint. They’re looking at the object of study—Obama—from only one side. They’re looking at the same mountain, but are looking at it from opposite sides, so for each camp, it looks different. There’s no perspective.
Lacan said that we can never eliminate God. In the same way, we can never eliminate religion. Those who think they’ve eliminated it, have merely adopted a new belief system. Say, secular materialism, which is the belief system of most in the media mainstream, and conditions their view of the world.
A good example of the need to believe is writer George Saunders, hailed by the literary elite as one of their leading intellectuals. Witness this snarky piece of his in a recent issue of The New Yorker:
George Saunders is playing to the crowd. The mere mention of Ayn Rand’s name brings on a reaction among the intellectual mob—the New Yorker readership—akin to Orwell’s Two Minute Hate. Saunders has no perspective about Ayn Rand and never had perspective. As he says, he went from “lover” of her writing and ideas to full fledged hater. There’s no in-between. This esteemed intellectual seems incapable of seeing that Rand and her ideas aren’t all-good or all-bad. He doesn’t realize that however true or false her ideas, her writing itself must be fairly terrific to hook so many acolytes—DESPITE the flaws of her ideas. (In truth, she’s a terrific novelist.) The herd, however, has condemned her whole. Every part of her and her work. George Saunders is nothing if not a herd writer. (I satirize him briefly in my new e-novel, The McSweeneys Gang.)
The Question: How accurate are the narratives we receive from the omnipresent media? Based on what happened with the Tom Bissell smear essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, on how journalists swallowed his distortions whole, then perpetuated them, I’d say media narratives aren’t accurate at all.
Think of two lines drawn from a dot on the ground. From the same starting point. The lines differ in angle by a couple degrees. If the lines extend a few feet or a few yards, this is a marginal difference. The lines appear to be on the same path. Yet the further the two lines extend, the greater becomes the gap between them. This is like the difference between truth and distortion. The distortions placed into the culture by a propagandist-masquerading-as-journalist perpetuate themselves and become more distorted versions of reality. As time goes on, more and more distorted. The false picture that goes into the herd’s mind, and becomes accepted as the true picture—whether of a watch, a mountain, or a writers group—is distorted to the point of caricature, and does real damage.
I hope I haven’t gotten too heavy with these “mad” thoughts. A few of them are better portrayed in my latest e-novel, The McSweeneys Gang. Buy it at Kindle Store or Nook Books now, before the real-life McSweeney’s gang gets it removed.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Nobody questions why the U.S. military and South Korea are holding provocative war games right after the North Korean leader reached out—granted, in an inept way—to Obama and America via the Dennis Rodman meeting. We know the guy and his country are paranoid.
For that matter, nobody questions why we still have 70,000 troops in the sinkhole of Afghanistan, when the people and its leader clearly don’t want us there. Are we in Afghanistan because of an oil pipeline? That’d make a lot of sense. We don’t build a pipeline here to bring in Canadian oil, so we can instead spend money the government doesn’t have getting our soldiers killed in a futile cause overseas.
Friday, March 08, 2013
The media elite see the Tea Party movement through the distorted prism of their own bias. They make no attempt to view it through the eyes of Tea Partiers themselves. Yet the movement is easily explained by the world that many of us were born into—the mythology of America, and of the settling of America. By myth, I mean a blend of fact and fiction.
Never was the myth better depicted than in a movie released fifty years ago: “How the West Was Won.” Here’s an interesting Youtube compression of highlights accompanied by the film’s classic Alfred Newman score:
That’s the great western movie actress Carroll Baker shown in the above shot. She also appeared in “Giant” and “The Big Country.”
What does the movie celebrate? A world that some Americans, like the Palins in Alaska, in many ways are still living. The taming of a wilderness and the settling of a continent. The westward expansion was one of the greatest feats in human history. That a tough land was settled and quickly became the greatest civilization the world has known should give any objective observer pause. Other civilizations like China or Rome had much longer histories before they reached greatness. America, like it or not, is unique. There’s enough accomplishment to be proud of, faults, flaws and all. Humans are imperfect animals. The struggle, the achievement itself is laudable.
(Here's a fascinating blog post about the John Ford portion of the film:
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
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.