It never ceases to amuse me that members of the literary establishment remain terrified of me and my ideas, as if I were the carrier of a communicable disease. (The disease of independent thinking.) This, despite the fact I remain the most powerless of writers, a pariah under quarantine. That, at least, is the way I feel, staying (temporarily?) in the desolate moonscape of Detroit.
Case in point: trendy writer Sheila Heti. Recently I set up a new twitter account, @literarycircus, whose intent is to promote, in a marginal way, my satirical blog, The Literary Circus—
The idea is to follow the doings of today’s literary people, and on occasion comment on them, often satirically or tongue-in-cheek. Sense-of-humor assumed.
Follow a few literary sites and Twitter will then give you suggestions of people to follow. Leading literary tweeters. It’s how I began following Sheila Heti, who I know of in a vague way only as a variety of McSweeneyite writer. On January 19th I made a cogent, informed reply to one of her tweets. Shortly thereafter she began following me—something she likely does automatically with anyone who responds to her tweets. It’s a standard way of building outreach. Anyway, I saw the note in my list of emails: “Such-and-such is now following you on twitter.” Hmm: Who would’ve thought it? A broad-minded McSweeneyite person, I said to myself? Perhaps the literary world is finally changing.
I noticed a couple days later that Ms. Heti was no longer following me. Okay. This was more predictable. Someone may have told her who was doing the Literary Circus blog; that you’re not supposed to have dealings, direct or indirect, with that person. A week later, checking my vast list of followers (all of twenty), I saw that Ms. Heti was again following that twitter account of mine. Curious. I imagined there were Soviet-style debates taking place behind the scenes. What’s the acceptable line to take with this guy? Or, as George Orwell would put it, “Are we at war with Eurasia or Eastasia today?”
Then, with another day, Ms. Heti was again not following me, and what’s more, I wasn’t following her account. In other words, I’d been blocked.
I’d done a dozen-or-so tweets during the week in question, all fairly innocuous—not one directed at Sheila Heti, beyond that original reply of mine to a tweet of hers, which she must have approved of, because it got her inadvertently following my new twitter account in the first place! Usually (I almost said “Normally,” a word which is un-p.c.) a person is blocked for sending a series of harassing tweets. Or at least one. Not for merely existing. Ah, but the quarantine!
I gather that Sheila Heti is an uber-feminist of some kind. Curious then that she’s made her way as a writer with an outfit run by the most ruthless literary patriarch of them all, though that patriarch presents himself as a benevolent dictator. Ironic as well that my former “gang,” the Underground Literary Alliance, got into trouble with the literary establishment beginning in the year 2000 by criticizing the so-called “New White Guys”—that well-hyped group of affluent and trendy postmodern male writers named Franzen, Moody, Antrim, Foster-Wallace, and Company. We called them “the Big Money Boys,” among other things. A few of these individuals were abusing the literary grants process; we pointed this out; the established literary community looked the other way. We’re back to George Orwell. All white guys are equal, but some are more equal than others.
While the benevolent dictator who leads the McSweeneys Gang presents himself to the world as an anti-totalitarian, the truth is that the literary scene is totalitarian. No criticism of the major players and their ideas is to be found anyplace. If a contrarian such as myself dares knock or mock these people—the essence of free expression—the person is considered a madman, and consigned to the farthest reaches of the literary universe. Zorxon, or Zytron. Or at least Detroit. At the simple existence of such an individual, obedient literary people become terrified, and scurry away. “Danger, Will Robinson,” the robot screams. “Danger!”
Myself, if I see anyone treated by his fans and acolytes like a substitute god; or see any ideas or premises put beyond the reach of disagreement, I’m going to say something. That’s the task of a writer. As I said, I’m a contrarian.
(I have a suspicion there’s another answer to the mystery. The real story. Which is that the “stars” of the literary scene are more-or-less manufactured. They’re intellectually challenged. They can’t even write without the help of workshops screening their mistakes—Jennifer Egan and Vendela Vida have admitted this publicly—or without the help of editors and agents. They’re not even sure what to think. What’s the consensus on that question? Which way is the literary herd going? Throw into this mix a critic like myself who wants to question or debate them, who requires them to be honest or to think, and even the best of them run the other way. Ergo, all the protections and barriers. That’s my latest theory, anyway.)
(Be sure to read my mad ebook novel, The McSweeneys Gang, still available at Nook or Kindle. If I were “playing the game” and trying to please people I’d take it down, but as Lee Marvin says at the end of the 1960’s movie version of “The Killers,” I just don’t have the time.)