Friday, October 29, 2004

Reviving Literature

THE ULA PLAN is so obvious to me I forget that, because of the early moment of literary history we're in, it's not to others.

Take your minds into the recent past, to a similar moment of history, 1955, when self-taught musicians Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were recording their early singles; when Bill Haley and his Comets came out with "Rock Around the Clock."

At the same time, Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" was being created in New York City. The theme was street gangs. The play and its music were conceived to be state-of-the-art, trendy and "hip" in every way, utilizing the best trained, most talented young composer in the business. If one would've ranked Haley's recording-- done by an enthusiastic ex-hillbilly singer with a spit-curl and a checkered coat-- with Bernstein's masterwork as a momentous event in American cultural history, the person would've been ridiculed. The renowned sophisticated Leonard Bernstein, god of the culture! applauded throughout Manhattan salons; way up here-- and down far below, the cornball country troubador with the spit-curl over his forehead, backed by a corny but energetic band in saloons and roadhouses. (Haley's standing among musical critics and college professors of the era was zero.)

Yet Haley's recording, against all logic, represented the future of music, while "West Side Story," for all its celebrated success, was obsolete when it opened, already behind the musical zeitgeist racing away from it.

"Rock Around the Clock" helped spark an American musical revolution whose reverberations circled the planet. "West Side Story" was a coda to the approved American music which predated it. It led to nothing. Why was this?

It happened because Haley and his rock contemporaries were of the people. They played music natural and meaningful to themselves, borrowing ideas not from the artsy likes of Leonard Bernstein, but from one another. They followed no rules. Haley the hillbilly singer ditched his cowboy hat and began playing rhythmn and blues, while Chuck Berry adapted country songs and made them his own. One could say, "Anyone can sing and play like that!" And nearly everyone would, so that countless high school kids had hit records. (Phil Spector and the Teddy Bears for instance.) Music was taken out of the hands of the aristocrats and handed to the mob. The revolutionary moment was one of great release. Listen to the endless hit records from 1955 to the mid-Sixties and one senses great joy in them, the liberating energy of discovery, of awakening. America found its authentic voice. From ghetto girls in the projects of Motown to surfers in California to rockabillies in Appalachia to New Jersey doo-wopers, there was an explosion of song; as Chuck Berry put it, "across the USA." Music became not just an occasional distraction, but a necessary part of everyday life.

By contrast, "West Side Story" with all its many talented collaborators was culture brought down from on high. To watch the movie version of it today is an awkward experience. The music is pretentious and overblown. The production reeks of artificiality-- of "Art" with a capital A; not the genuine article. The movie was dated and fake when it was released, though middle-class audiences went to it in droves. Once it won its Academy Awards (undeserved, because it's a sluggish, poorly acted film) its moment-- its impact and influence-- was over. No one imitated it or built on it. No one wanted to. It was a pretty construction, a nice-looking dress to hang in a closet and forget about (then put rock 45s on the turntable and start dancing).

The solution to the problem of literature lies in a similar direction. David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen can construct all the massive artful novels they want, but the books will never excite the American public, because they don't connect with the unseen current of Americana. Their books are art created to win awards and plaudits; objects to worship from a distance: impressive and dead.

Overdog Hypocrisy

The literary Overdogs in all corners of the palace are rampant hypocrites. I've given three examples of this the last two weeks.

First we saw the concerned "Leftists" at the NATION on their annual luxury cruise pigout binge to the Bahamas.

Next, a look at the laissez-faire advocates at NEW CRITERION, who sustain themselves via tax shelter life support; i.e., welfare.

Third is uber-WASP "Lefty" writer Ana Marie Cox (who counts MOTHER JONES on her resume) eagerly grabbing her payoff from the monopolistic conglomerates.

They're all hypocrites; all fakes; all out-of-touch aristocrats.

It matters because American literature is in the grasp of these folks. They live in a world of themselves, hearing only their own glittering opinions-- sometimes intense debates within their glamorous rooms at the top of the pyramid-- their ideas dressed in metaphorical robes of silver and gold. But far below them moves the mass of the American public; this society's life force. As Overdog overseers of literature are cut off from America, as they move through their wine bars and cruises, so also is literature cut off from the life blood of American culture. We witness as a result the draining of literature of authenticity and relevance, leaving an embalmed, decayed, and useless corpse.


Sorry for so much time spent on NEW CRITERION, but its history is a cautionary tale. The original mind behind the project was Hilton Kramer's. Acolytes parrot Kramer's idiosyncratic neo-conservative arguments without understanding them. The appeal for followers is being able to tie Kramer's ideas into conservative politics-- ignoring the fact his ideas aren't conservative, but are built on the same garbled Clement Greenburg-style modernist foundation that's been part of our culture's problem. Or, David Foster Wallace and NEW CRITERION are branches of the same diseased elm.

Kramer's perspective and criticism still had relevance (barely) in 1982-- but the world has moved on its axis since then. His abstract-expressionist gods, along with the then-fashionable modernist and postmodernist philosophies, have fallen away from the globe. No one any longer believes any of it.

Kramer's parrots had better worry that when he moves on, the contradictions in his quirky ideology-- between the Classics and modernist junk, for example-- will be nakedly exposed, and his brief movement will fall apart.

(The foundation of Kramer's ideas are decayed European. The ULA takes its ideas from the independent ungarbled ethos and essence of the American continent.)

The McSweeney's Saga: Appropriation


The final element in the Dave Eggers bag of tricks was his D-I-Y pose. Wasn't that what he sold from the beginning? He borrowed his independent attitude from the zeen scene of the 90s.

Backed by Simon & Schuster, Eggers represented change from above; an attempt by the System to co-opt the stylings and motifs of the authentic happenings of underground literature.

It may have been Eggers's shrewdest move. It would fool many people, and give David the title of "The Pat Boone of Literature."

(To be continued.)

Thursday, October 28, 2004


I don't expect the refined "intellectuals" in bow ties at TNC to understand ULA writers, anymore than Mitch Miller was able to understand rock n' roll.

However, the ULA has pointed out how today's literary system has failed EVEN BY ITS OWN STANDARDS.

The best writers of traditional novels are publishing through Xlibris-- yet they get no attention from anyone; no reviews even in NEW CRITERION.

I'll give two examples: "The Secret Family" by Lawrence Richette; "The Camellia City" by Phillip Routh (yes, that's his name).

Instead of keeping your heads in the sand, NC Overdogs, and endlessly fawning over Henry James, why don't you squeeze from one of those rich dowagers who support you a couple Twenties and buy these (admittedly overpriced) books. Then let us know what you think-- and if they're good review them in your publication. THEN you'd at last be serving a useful purpose. I believe they're both available through Amazon.

I use them as examples that the present System is failing across the board, even by its own standards.

Story Report: Aimee Bender

"Debbieland" in the $12 BLACK CLOCK magazine celebrating MFA writing.

Stupidity is everyplace.

"Debbie wore the skirt all the girls had been wearing, but she wore it two months too late."

Here we see right away the typical MFA regression into adolescence. The prose is appropriately simple-minded, without question because the writer is simple-minded, and has nothing to write about. She's a designated "writer," her vacuous story merely an excuse for the designation, credits, and job teaching creative writing at the University of Southern California. (A pretend job where she teaches simple-minded wannabes how to write pretend stories similar to hers.)

"And today! The girl has something for her! Something for Debbie!"

Reading this "story" is embarrassing. Its author exposes herself as fully as the emperor without clothes.

"We do not speak to our mothers. Long ago we gave up on our mothers."

Goo goo ga ga.

The story is filled with an obsessive solipsism, analyzing every trivial detail of human interaction.

"She is, apparently, in between eyebrow maintenance."

This has import solely because it's something that happened to the narrator. The event has no importance in itself-- but because the narrator (read: the writer, Aimee Bender) is the center of the universe, it has to be important, no matter how trivial; no matter how stupid.

"Yes. Oh, we are sorry, we say, because at this age it is appropriate to say, even though we do not know if we are sorry."

I wish Aimee Bender would be sorry for having written this idiotic story! She ends with a typical "literary" riff that means nothing, but sounds good:

"There are endless tears to hunt down and possess. To provoke or extract or soothe. We are delighted with this new world, this world full of possibility."

Run to the nearest washroom and throw up.

Sucking Up to the Overdogs

It can be distressing browsing among glossy magazines because so many of these expensively produced consumer items waste their contents sucking-up to the same New York City Auster Hustvedt Moody Julavits Bender Foster Wallace literary aristocrats.

The latest offenders are BLACK CLOCK, wasting tons of money of the California Institute of Arts, and the Brit "magzine" ZEMBLA. Many thousands of dollars of someone's money spent on these silly confections of corrupt civilization. For anything meaningful or different within them they're fit only for the trash.

(The nadir of ZEMBLA, aside from its foppishly pretentious letters to the editor, is a Rick Moody fake interview with Jimi Hendrix, which reveals some arrogance from the rich kid.)

Fueled by massive amounts of money, the aristocrats in their stupidity are running amok.

Troubling Signs in the Universe

I don't know what it means that all the cults are coming out fanatically and hysterically for John Kerry: the Lyndon LaRouche crowd; the Communist Party USA; and the gang at McSweeney's.

I was just nearly attacked by LaRouchies on the street who were yelling at people while waving Kerry signs. (Has Bush paid LaRouche off to do this?) More fanatic in their support, however, are the Eggersites, who have put John Kerry on the cover of THE BELIEVER, depicted amid glowing rays as if he were Jesus Christ. (And here I thought they saved such adulation for Eggers himself.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

What's Wrong with Publishing Today II

The first question is whether there IS something wrong with publishing-- or if the present System is working.

The ULA says it's not. For fifty years the System hasn't produced a great writer, despite massive investment in the literary art. Our argument is that the Establishment Machine is flawed from top to bottom; from MFA feeder programs to which authors receive large publicity backing.

The results speak for themselves. Literature has become less important and necessary to the average American's life. The ULA is offering not just a comprehensive criticism of the present System-- but a solution. We're putting the pieces into place for an alternative, more credible and representative machine.

In so doing we've reached out to writers who've been overlooked by mainstream literature, to American literature's loss.

During the ULA's debate with George Plimpton and his PARIS REVIEW staff at CBGB's in 2001, I pointed to a large poster of Wild Bill Blackolive. While Plimpton had been promoting marginally interesting trendoids like Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz, Bill had been ignored. Yet with the right encouragement and push he could've been another Hemingway. His persona, even today, is unique. His prose is dynamic and multi-faceted. His uneven "Tales from the Texas Gang" novel contains passages of action unsurpassed even by Hemingway. Yet he can also write in the stripped-down style of "Madame Z and Billy," a short novel about an intense relationship between an artist and her model, an excerpt of which is up on the ULA's fan site.

Wild Bill, like Lisa B. Falour, with whom he's now collaborating (and whose photo graces the cover of LIT FAN MAG #2) could've been a literary superhero-- the kind of figure American lit has badly needed to compete with the Michael Jordans and Madonnas of its cultural competitors.

Compete in this culture? Most literati don't even try. They look for financial umbillical cords which allow them to settle into cozily comfortable and quiet niches where they're unlikely to upset anyone.

Because those who run the Machine, the conglomerate book publishers and glossy magazines, come from the upper and upper-middle class, they look for writers who appeal to their Ivy League selves, within their walled island of Manhattan. Who do they fund and hype? Smirky but basically clueless ladder climbers like Ana Marie Cox, a conformist System player (U of Chicago American Prospect Chronicle of Higher Education who has just received a six-figure advance-- and is unlikely to advance American lit's reach beyond its present hip smug trendy unrepresentative audience.


Against the New York Yankees the Boston Red Sox baseball team in their comeback achieved the greatest feat in the history of team sports. That SI didn't put the team which everyone is now watching on the cover of their magazine is a blunder of major proportions.


Stefan Beck replies to my latest points on the weblog. Except he hasn't replied at all-- ignoring the substance of my remarks and staying on point regarding the few points he feels he can make against the ULA.

To answer those few points:

What makes the ULA controversial is that we're the only folks in the lit world discussing the operation and funding of that world. How did we first gain attention, Mr. Beck? It was through exposing the Guggenheim award of 35 thou to a very wealthy guy named Hiram F. Moody III who lives on a private island. This gained us attention on Page Six, among other places, as did subsequent exposes we presented (such as the NEA award to Jonathan Franzen, from a panel on which sat his good friend Rick Moody, that master at manipulating the grants system). (This occasioned enough outrage to leave me with a stack of hate mail.) Etc etc. You pointedly ignore the fact of NEW CRITERION's own funding. Are you conservatives? I say not. You are, in fact, socialists. And so, any statement you make that you "make a living" at NC is ridiculous. You receive tax free money from rich people, who allow you to posture as free marketers. A nice scam. The ULA, by contrast, is completely independent.

You mention your mission. What exactly is that? I've been trying to find out. What do you represent that's different and new? What distinguishes YOU from the NY TIMES book reviewers; from the artistic opinions of the NEW YORKER and the NY REVIEW OF BOOKS?

The ULA's mission, btw, isn't to be "less irritating." As an advocacy group for writers, we seek to be as irritating as possible! Sorry if I'm not properly polite, respectful of my betters, or mindful of the rules.

I'm disappointed that you avoided, Stefan, my direct question about whether this society-- and the lit world in particular-- is hierarchical. It's a topic I wanted to do a riff on. Why the ULA can attack BOTH the NATION and NEW CRITERION is because we see that you're both the products of affluence, of America's top 1%, having intramural squabbles among yourselves about your elitist Yale grad representatives, but increasingly out of touch with the American public.

Which is fine, because you leave that public to us!


King Wenclas

America's Writers?

No lit-group can lay better claim to that designation than those in the Underground Literary Alliance. We're grass roots people who've created our own movement, an offshoot of the populist "zine" scene. We represent art not imposed from on high by experts, but spontaneously created, organic, from the ground up-- the authentic voice of America now.

Dave Eggers by contrast has dropped any pretentions he once had (which were always phony) to being alternative. He has fully embraced the large conglomerates and the most esteemed stuffy or stale Insider writers around, such as Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates.

Neither does the Eurocentric gang at NEW CRITERION represent the pulse of the streets alleys trailers rivers roads noise voice of this diverse great country-- if anything they're more refined and privileged than the snobby MCSWEENEY'S crowd.

Whether the ULA is the engine of change or not, that change is coming-- American lit has so boxed itself into a corner of marginalization in this society there's no other choice than authentic D-I-Y lit. It might come from a long-time folk writer like Jack Saunders-- or maybe indeed instead from a teenager writing today on a LiveJournal. Someone out there uncorrupted unbought will set the spark to kick off real literary revolution to rescue the American word. The ULA wants to be there when that moment occurs, that's all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Addressing Beck Part II

On the Enchanted Island, demi-puppets lurking in the shadows.

(The actor takes a pinch of snuff and tosses his handkerchief about. "I was so deadly in my killing response to the 'underground' post," he says to his confident friends at their "dive" hangout, the Thermidorean, in that "dive" neighborhood known as Manhattan's Upper East Side. "As we're 'slumming' tonight, compreres, may I suggest we order the exotic proletarian dish, the 'pizza.' Once called a 'pizza pie,' to be exact." Affirmations around the table from the Young Republican frilly dress and bow-tie set, each person looking freshly unpacked from a department store box. "Here, here," someone adds, tapping sterling knife to crystal glass. . . .)

6.) "Self-publishing."
Writing a blog isn't publishing. There's no reality-- no independent existence to the work. Flip a switch and it vanishes.

Self-publishing is what ULAers do and have done for years.

7.) "Hierarchy."
Do you deny that we live in a hierarchical society?

8.) Pizza
(Looking at, one sees that these are populists only inside their own heads. On free foundation money they flit around Manhattan and Washington, involved with their conservative causes and arguments, a mirror image to establishment liberals; simply on the other side of the Harvard debate room, with nary an original un-preprogrammed Hugh Hewitt-style thought among them. They're enwrapped in literature alright, as it exists in the Great Books Museum, behind a thick oak door in a high dusty room in an ancient marble building behind the quadrangle, an isolated part of campus to which visitors seldom travel, or even know about. To the NEW CRITERION Overdogs who hang out there other publications and blogs are just so much amorphous indistinguishable noise.)

9.) "What a Critical Magazine Ought to Do."
Not analyze the same writers everyone else analyzes-- those System writers approved as fit topics of conversation.

10.) "Publicity Director."
Should undergrounders not receive recognition? Should they stay downtrodden for all time? I gather that you'd prefer that our aspect of literature stay out of sight-- even though it's a lively part of American culture. Our writers are underground, not really by choice. Most writers hope their words and ideas are someday noticed. My task is to get attention for overlooked writers who are different from the regulated mainstream "Seal of Approval" brand.

11.) Cultural Change.
Culture is changed all the time, sometimes radically, as happened with the advent of rock n' roll. It's done by entrepreneurs, through publicity. Sam Phillips, Alan Freed, Dick Clark, Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, Malcolm McLaren, all had enormous cultural impact.

We don't live in a static universe. The "everything that people do and make" depends upon role models and ideas. People don't exist in a vacuum! Do we live in airless bottles in a pristine laboratory? (Maybe NEW CRITERION does.) The sudden popularity of the Beatles in 1964 brought an invasion of similar British groups and spawned many hundreds of home grown garage bands across the United States. Within a few months American culture, and America itself, was transformed by one self-taught and not greatly talented working class Liverpool band.

12.) "Arts castle."
This is a metaphor. "Arts castle" is an apt metaphor because it represents the cultural isolation in which you live, evident in your e-mail. The main point of my 10/14 post wasn't the emphasis on the ULA's writers, but on readers-- how to connect with readers; how to create more of them. Print zeensters have been selling zeens to members of the public who otherwise wouldn't read anything. This is the only way to save literature. You believe literature can survive as an abstract entity in a world detached from general society. But literature should be a vital part of the everyday life of a people. Traditionally, nations were defined by their literature.

You wish to "preserve and celebrate"-- not caring whether the writing you celebrate is relevant or read. Celebrate to whom? To yourselves and a modest number of like-minded connoisseurs? I sense complacency, not ambition.

Time will say which of us is right. Our trumpeting expresses the ULA's confidence that we ARE going to change American literature. Our energy is our greatest strength. Faith and energy-- nothing changes without them. Yes, we're braver, edgier, more controversial, and more energetic than other writers. We've proved it time and again.

We have insane confidence (Jeff Potter; Tom Hendricks), we're egomaniacs (Wild Bill, Lisa Falour, Jack Saunders), we're purely insane (Crazy Carl and others). Put us together with our honesty and integrity and it makes us unstoppable. Even the most prominent most publicized establishment writers compared to us are tepid pets. (Why none will read against us.) We're a blazing fire and they're a flashlight. We're not at where we want to get but know where we're headed. Our writing is better than people think; our young writers' work is exciting; we're adding more and better writers to our ranks. Good reasons to be positive.

A word to the Crowd: Static-- or dynamic? Beck's language is one, mine the other. One has the inertia of immobility, the other of movement. If words have meaning, if they cause change, as history demonstrates, then we know with whose words history will side; where the future lies.

Addressing Beck Part I

On the Enchanted Island.

("Me? Moi? A snob?" the actor exclaims in surprise, feigning ignorance of everything said to him. Yet the role of beau-monde parlor-player was written for him.)

1.) "The business of delivering a magazine . . . is awfully busy."
A professional, I guess, because you're in an office; in the machine, part of the apparatus. You include a shot at zeens, a reminder that "I'm up here, and you're down there, somewhere."

But writing, making, and distributing a zeen takes more work than being part of a paid staff, financed by rich people, with the various roles divided among specialists. (Or do you design the cover yourself? p.s. Does anyone?) A zeen is more of a challenge to one's creative talents.

I'm currently making a poetry zeen. I designed the cover, have begun hand-coloring the copies of it, each with different colors so that each will be unique. The writing is my own, as is the layout on the pages. Yes, I'll do the actual "production," including stapling. Then I'll get them into stores, which will take legwork. I'll publicize them-- maybe give readings. I'll be their chief salesman. I hope the zeens will be eye-catching. At their best, zeens are works of art. The artist has a personal connection to the work-- the zeen a true and full expression of his ideas and talents.

The independent writer and artist; writer as producer and salesman: What could be more Jeffersonian-- more American? NEW CRITERION, by contrast, pretends to believe in the American ethos and the free market while being indirectly subsidized, through its 501c3 status, by taxpayers like myself; while operating through federal government regulation and largesse as a prestigious welfare case.

2.) "Dive and "Upper East Side."
The two words used together are an oxymoron. There are few enough dive bars left in gentrifying Manhattan. The Mars Bar, if that's still open.

3.) "Controversial"?
I've read the ULA's press clippings. (Even the NYTBR profile presents us as controversial.)

4.) Dave Eggers.
Funny, Stefan, that you emphasize Eggers as "one guy." You divorce The Dave from his context. He's more a literary entrepreneur than a writer. He's a publisher. He leads a literary movement. He's noteworthy not for his writing but because he represents a mentality prevalent among a particular class of writers. One can't understand his writing and the nature of its appeal without understanding his mentality and the way it's packaged.

5.) Zeens and blogs.
You have a marginal understanding of print zeens ('zines) and what distinguishes them from blogs. (I've addressed the differences on this blog.) Yours is an easy dismissal of an aesthetic you don't understand. The ULA is hardly redundant. (Can you name another lit group like us?) We represent the best writers in the print underground, many of them very unique. There isn't another writer in the country like Wild Bill Blackolive in lifestyle, philosophy, and voice. Mark Sonnenfeld's work is so unique, a cross between mail art and poetry, we're unable to put any of it on our site!

What's redundant are 400,000 trained middle-class MFA wannabe writers who are polished, tame, and all sound the same.

(To be continued.)


Here's an e-mail response from Stefan Beck to my 10/14 post, "NEW CRITERION: Relevant or Dead?"

"Mr. Wenclas,

Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. The business of delivering a magazine (one not made with staples and mimeograph machines) to our 'comfortably safe and circumscribed readership' is awfully busy. I hope you'll forgive me. I'll post your essay to the blog as soon as production period is over. (Despite what I'll say, I do appreciate the interest and free publicity.) In the meantime, I think it's only fair to warn you that I'm not impressed. I say that not because you're criticizing our magazine-- I'd rather you read it and criticize than not read it at all-- but because I disagree with your approach to what a critical magazine ought to do.

"I'm a little alarmed by all this vague and tedious language of 'progress,' 'moving forward,' 'rebellion,' 'real change,' etc. I don't doubt that this talk gives a frisson of excitement to some of the hopeful iconoclasts who follow the ULA, but it has nothing to do with . . . well, it's no concern of mine. Culture and literature are not monolithic entities to be changed or destroyed (what is this 'arts castle' of which you speak?). They are, as they always have been, aggregates of everything that people do and make-- some of which are good, in which case I hope to celebrate and preserve them, and some of which are bad, in which case I hope to point out why they are so.

"It seems part of what you want is a literary culture in which anybody can be published and read-- hence your frequent mention of 'zines. But that culture exists. The Internet brings us everything from the demotic meanderings of a teenager girl's LiveJournal to some brilliant daily commentary on the better blogs-- and everything in between.

"These people are self-published; they do it for love of writing, not because they expect to get famous or make money. Sometimes they are read; sometimes they are ignored. The fact is (and I hope I can say this without sounding nasty, as I hope for an ongoing conversation) there are so many of these people out there that they render the ULA redundant. The ULA's blogs and essays are like other people's blogs and essays-- except other people's blogs and essays say what they say without trumpeting, over and over and over, how brave and edgy and 'controversial' (oh really?) they are. (Doesn't it strike you as funny that an 'underground alliance' has a 'publicity director'?)

"Back to us dinosaurs. Look-- to go to one example. I enjoy it when you chip away at dave Eggers. But I've chipped away at Dave Eggers on TNC's blog, too, and so has our fiction chronicler, Max Watman, in the print edition of the magazine. What seems so odd to me is that when you chip away at Eggers, you're attacking an 'arts castle'; when we do it, we're criticizing one guy for the poor quality of his fiction. There's some weird disconnect there. I guess I don't fully get your complaints-- what you think we ought to be doing-- but I'm hoping this note will encourage further clarification.

"P.S. In your essay, among 'elitist,' 'snob,' 'arts castle,' 'hierarchy,' 'crumpets,' 'cocktail parties,' and 'hors d'oeuvres,' I don't see a single mention of TNC's weekly get-together at a dive on the Upper East Side. Anyone is welcome to come and converse with us, whether or not he agrees with a single word we say. (There aren't any hors d'oeuvres, but somebody usually breaks down and buys a pizza.) Some elitists 'we' are!"

Stefan Beck
Assistant Editor
New Criterion

Monday, October 25, 2004

Performing Poetry

I like the poem I put up, because I designed it to be read aloud. (It made its debut at the Medusa Bar-- a cool underground bar in Philly-- last Saturday, the first reading I've done in some time.) There are moments in it (in quotes for instance) which allow me to let out my voice.

The funny thing about a poem is that not until you read it in public do you become fully aware of each place which demands emphasis. Certain arrangements of words can naturally build to a high point. In this case, "rhythmn," and also "this" in the last line, had me increase my volume.

This poem, unlike a few I've written, allows proper room to be dramatic; i.e., to vary the volume of my voice, and so hold the interest of the audience. (Also moments to physically move-- such as the "knife" phrase, which can be acted out for added emphasis!)

Most poetry today is written to be read in a monotone. At least, that's how most poetry today is performed! Arguments can be made about poetry written for the ear or the eye. Most academic poetry is written for neither.

The poems of Louise Gluck

Take David Berman. First, his poetry is merely cute. I've been unable to find much in it-- momentum, strength, or rhythmn-- which would lend itself to an exciting reading. Second, one has to merely listen to his wimpy ultra-laid back band, each song performed in a colorless monotone, to understand that the guy must be awful reading poetry. This is why I was eager to have him read against an underground poet, after Berman had foolishly challenged us. (Local Philly undergrounder Michael Grover had volunteered for the Read-Off; a poet with a strong voice and a good sense of the dramatic. Unfortunately, Berman backed off.)

For me, the pleasure of listening to poetry or prose performed is hearing a high caliber voice which uses words as tools to play with the audience. Few know how to do this. Most writers who try to read probably shouldn't, as 1.) their work is dry and lifeless; 2.) they don't have a clue what to do with their words regardless.

These are lost questions. But think back to the revolutionary poets Marlowe and Shakespeare, who designed plays around poetry, and so brought the world amazing language and drama: amazing art.

"Opportunistic Phony"

Pince-nez and flowing cape
Even his British accent is fake
Your best friend to your face
all smiles applauds cheers praise
To others your name arouses from him only disdain
"A scoundrel!" he'll claim
then add, "I hardly know the miscreant,"
with accent, twirling moustache, and pince-nez
as always, always in place

His opinions are, you see
determined by his company
"The best! Bravo! Yes!" this front-runner yells from the midst of the house
But should you stumble, sick or tired, your momentum slow
He's suddenly notably silent as a mouse
You're no longer even a poet to him
though you were, once
Now he relates to his betters in snobby parlors stories of telling you off!

His baroque phraseology in complexity rises impressively to the sky!
its continual theme undertone rhythmn the one word, "I"
Two-faced-- no, four
To four levels of friends he plays four styles of role
from groveling fop to artful knife in the back
I never said he didn't have talent
Self-serving, lacking character, honesty, loyalty
This is how to spot the opportunistic phony

-King Wenclas

Democracy in Literature

When you have no opposition to a status quo, to those in power, you have no democracy. What we see in American literature is one-party rule: the Dictatorship of the Aristocrats. As with all bureaucrats there will be no withering of the state, merely an amplification of privilege. (Let's ask again: How many grants has Mr. Moody III received over the years? How many grants panels as he sat on, where he awarded money to friends? Tim Hall has pointed out that he just sat on another one.)

The local stooge demi-puppet bureaucrat defending the System on this blog, who calls himself Walton, ordains that everything is fine with the status quo. (Excuse him between pronouncements while he orders more caviar.) What Urban Hermitt writes isn't literature, in his view, no matter how much the writing moves readers, because it's not Approved. It doesn't follow the bureaucratic Rules.

All is well with the privileged literati within their Bubble World because like all aristocrats they never have to face competition on a level playing field. They'll find any excuse to avoid it. After the PARIS REVIEW store mannequins got whipped in public debate by the ULA the literati have turned down every challenge. Celebrated poet David Berman ran away from a proposed Read-Off against one of our poets, is still running. Jonathan Franzen attacks us to journalists, Dave Eggers anonymously on Amazon, but neither will confront us in on-line forums, much less in a public one, because they know they'd lose.

How great can the System's ideas (if it has any) and its writers be if it never puts them to a fair test?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Mass Media Controls Your Mind

The entity known as mass media is every bit as powerful as George Orwell predicted it would be. It decides the topics we debate. It decides what YOU think about.

As example I can name two issues which affect many more Americans than the war in Iraq, but which have hardly been mentioned during this election carnival.

1.) Random, unpredictable CARNAGE decimating young American lives? What if the major media covered the automobile in the same way it covers the war? "Twelve Slaughtered in Tennessee!" "Four Die Suddenly in New Jersey!" "Eighty Dead this Week in California!" "Rising Weekend Death Toll!" "Growing Casualty List in Illinois!" What if newspapers like USA TODAY carried photos of the hundreds of people killed every week? If Ted Koppel on "Nightline" had to read off the names of the dead for the year, his broadcast would never finish.

How much investment is made in the automobile and the infrastructure to support it? What are the effects on the world we see around us; on us? Why has mass transit been underfunded in recent years?

This complex subject is off limits. We keep our minds in mental boxes and think about offshore subjects which don't directly affect each and every one of us.

(Ironically, a solution to the issue of the Mideast, our presence there, and the rise of Islamic global terrorism may be to reduce our dependence on the automobile-- which would defund our enemies.)

2.) We have 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. But we have millions of Americans locked-up in our nation's jails and prisons, close to half for non-violent drug offenses. Does anyone care about them? As a society we're making a huge investment in the war. We make a much greater investment in our criminal justice system, and in policing our borders not for terrorists but for drugs-- an unwinnable war which takes away freedom if there ever was one.

Why are drug offenders thrown into the general prison population among rapists and murderers? Could they instead be put through clinics, education, and detox? Why isn't partial decriminalization instituted?

Why do we not even think about this issue which affects so many-- why is it a subject the stooge media commentators and the two trained bozo Presidential candidates never discuss?

Literary Cities: An Introduction

I'll be soon introducing a new series on this blog, examining the major literary cities in America (and maybe elsewhere). I'll approach the topic from the question of which cities are friendliest and most stimulating in terms of affordability, atmosphere, community; noise made about literature and curiosity about writers.


Before I begin I want to say a few words about the attitude of other cities to the Imperial City of New York, home base for the leading book companies and their organs of publicity.

Mainstream newspaper book reviewers and reporters in outlying cities practice slavish worship of the Manhattan book gods, giving lavish attention to the writers and products of that modern-day Rome, to the detriment of their own. The inferiority complex regarding New York is often striking; disappointing; at times revolting.

The appearance of trendy NYC conglomerate authors occasions wide attention, as if the visited city had no writers of its own; as if it's scarcely heard of literature; whose residents must rush from their homes in gratitude to embrace the generous interlopers condescending to grace streets with their presence and their tired imperial words.

Those lowly and servile journalistic creatures who pile on the praise are unhappy with their provincial jobs, and desire nothing so much as to be in New York. More, they wish to BE the imperialists. (Often the journalists went through indoctrination at Ivy League universities and so no longer identify with the residents of their own town, but with the Snobs.)

Anyway, the planned series on literary cities could prove exciting. Keep watching!

A Quote

From Ramsay MacMullen's "Enemies of the Roman Order."

(About Brutus): "--he placed the most inflated value on literature not removed to a library or studio but injected into public life and history."

The McSweeney's Saga: Finding a Voice


This was a dilemma for our young sad disillusioned tragically hip hero until he stumbled upon a very large novel by David Foster Wallace.

He had the proper attitude from J.D. Salinger and now he'd found his voice.

It was a brilliant realization to borrow the self-involved sentences, footnotes, irony, and cutesy self-indulgent style of the most overhyped trendy-hip young writer in America at the time. The idea of the book formed in our hero's head; THE book, what would become after its publication the revered centerpiece of the McSweeney's religion. (One should speak of it in hushed terms.)

Things looked bright for David! He was gathering around him the most self-centered trust fund NEW YORKER writers around, whose pretentious narcissistic scribblings would become the foundation of the gift he was soon to offer the world. . . .

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Piggy Progressives: The NATION Cruise

"Four legs good, two legs better!"

Investigating the Third World!

Buying souvenirs!

Showing their concern!

Shades of Animal Farm! Yes, fans, it's almost time for the annual cruise of rich progressives and their supporters-- I mean, of progressives and their rich supporters as they travel by luxury liner December 5-12 to the Bahamas. Get on board! Fight for Equality and Justice! Watch billionairess Katrina vanden Heuvel and her cast of "Lefty" stars as they listen to steel drum bands and mingle with the smiling locals. They might look like visiting rich white imperialists, but they're not. (Just don't check their stock portfolios.)

"Sample the Dutch treats of Philipsburg . . . shop for Parisien perfumes," the web site reads. Cane Garden Bay . . . Tortola . . . St. Maarten-- and Half Moon Cay, "Holland America's own private island . . . a truly secluded tropical island."

It sounds as if the political radicals at the NATION will be acting like piggy capitalists for a week. Aren't cruises gluttonous affairs? No matter! The NATION Politburo members deserve it for their hard work serving the underprivileged. They have their own private island to use. What's next? Private shops? Between the feasty meals ("snort, snort") there may be dollops of important conversation ("chew, chew, snort, snort") in which the aristocrats, I mean, progressives, discuss the fate of the impoverished masses while washing down ("glub, glub") the enormous quantities of food they're devouring. Call it: sacrificing for the good of the people they care so much about.

A billion people live on less than a dollar a day. The NATION staff are chosen from the most privileged classes of the richest civilization on the planet. The world's aristocracy. Why begrudge them a little relaxation? A few well-stocked buffet tables? Lounging around a private beach? Just a few piggies rolling in the mud, that's all. (Other animals observing the spectacle look from the pigs to the Capitalists and the Capitalists to the pigs, and can't tell the difference.)

"All Animals Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal than Others."

Magazine Report: THE BELIEVER

October Issue.

Few readers will make it beyond the endless Rick Moody letter at the front of this lit-journal. I didn't! For unrelieved flatulence the 10,000-word-plus letter can't be stopped:

"It's hard not to list uncomfortably close to the idea that the NYTBR in fact endorses the spirit of the Wieseltier review, and its institutional muteness on his inability to provide any context for baker's work can be construed as support for the strategy and for the jeremiad that the review soon becomes. . . ."

Golly! Moody is discussing Nicholson Baker, the author, by Moody's count, of "at least three masterpieces." It's heartening to think that ANY recent American novelist has produced a masterpiece, much less three of them! "at least." Maybe literature isn't in as sad a shape as most people think. Or maybe Baker's books are masterpieces only within a narrow world. By now this world has shrunk to the size of a Manhattan cocktail party, several dozen foppish authors bouncing their glittering opinions off themselves and the mirrored walls of the glittering room they're in.

"Serious literature is by its nature not desperate to get noticed," Moody asserts, which says everything about his point of view. As long as he and his wonderful friends continue collecting lavish advances and grant money-- then who cares if the American public ever notices? ("Notice," as they stuff their pockets, would be the last thing they'd want.) At the same time though it's strange that Moody never turns DOWN the very publicity about which he complains-- including splashy articles and interviews in the same NY TIMES that is the subject of his rage.

The revamped TIMES BOOK REVIEW in particular is his target. He accuses TIMES editor Bill Keller of pounding "the last few nails into the coffin of American book culture." Sorry, Moody, but that coffin was finished long before by people like you, dead body enclosed. Keller is trying to revive the corpse.

Would the ULA have been mentioned in the BOOK REVIEW before their changes? Not likely, as we oppose the Aristocrats who wish to keep "book culture" in their perfumed embrace, within their closed, mirrored penthouse.

If the NYTBR now prints reviews that people actually read, which can provoke a response (as Moody's letter proves), this is all to the good. The TIMES has an extremely long way to go, but at least-- unlike Moody, who shows he's a dinosaur who should be prematurely retired to his exclusive island to write "serious literature" for an audience of one-- they're headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

HARPER'S Letters 2000: What Was Sent

"Franny Prose will just simply have to face the fact she's a boring writer who no one outside a propped-up group of elitist cadavers cares to read. How many folks did her latest essay put to sleep? How many people does your magazine put to sleep? Oh, I forgot, it has ad democraphics, it's aimed at that elect group of top 5% overeducated liberal affluent time-on-their-hands leisure class who can dawdle over each word of "literature." You know. "Literature." With a big L. How 'bout "LITERATURE." "IMPORTANT." "SLOW." "CAREFUL." "DEAD." "MUMMIFIED." "ALICE MUNRO." I call it the Museum Conception of Literature, perfectly articulated in prose's dry tome. Or maybe the Medicine Conception. One should read LITERATURE because it's good for you. LITERATURE does not adapt to humans. It's a god far above us. We must strain to adapt to it. All honor high holy most unknowable great god LITERATURE. And so the Prose Conception of LITERATURE will someday (soon) be dug up like a time capsule in buried sands to be analyzed like indecipherable hieroglyphics.

Ms. Prose does not realize this of course, in her affluent Manhattan time-capsule world teaching children of the comfortable who all want to pose as complicated "writers" and "artists" to find themselves to fill up the ample hours of their leisure time, but most of the rest of us are in a fast-paced struggle to survive. What do we want from literature? We want a reflection of a corrupt world that very much is made up of good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, good and evil. We want an escape from that world: clear writing that entertains us, moves us, frees us from the pain violence speed stress noise anger violence we live with everyday around us. Great writers like Dickens, Frank Norris, and yes, at his best, John Steinbeck understood this. That's why they were popular, why they were relevant, why they were cherished and read, not dry, difficult, and dead."

HARPER'S Letters 2000: What Was Printed

"Francine Prose subscribes to the museum conception of literature: important, slow, careful, and mummified. To her, literature is something that humans must strain to adapt to, instead of something that adapts to us. It is a god residing far above. All honor the high holy most unknowable Great Literature!

This approach may serve the top fifth percentile of overeducated liberals in the leisure class who can afford to dawdle over every word, but the rest of us want more. We expect literature to reflect a world that often is made up of good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, good and evil. Great writers like Charles Dickens, Frank Norris, and, at his best, John Steinbeck, understood this, which is why they are still popular, still relevant, still cherished, and still read."

Monday, October 18, 2004

Rebels or Cattle?

Stray thoughts:

American writers are pathologically individualistic. They can't envision a writer operating or even existing outside the glowing bubble of ego. Writing has become a celebration of the narcissistic self.

Before historical change occurs, the vast majority of people can't imagine that change. Afterward it seems obvious. "Why didn't others think of that?" we ask ourselves. They didn't because their thinking patterns had ossified, their intellectual arteries hardened at age 25, no new thoughts circulating within them.

A few System writers of today at least try to think-- Tom Bissell or Daniel Green-- their attacks on the ULA demonstrating that they've been provoked into thinking; their few still-operating brain cells stimulated, prodding them to justify (however feebly) their beliefs.

Other puppets and demi-puppets have lost even this ability. They have the curiosity of cattle. They're merely members of the Herd-- trend followers who'll follow a trend even if it takes literature off a cliff. The most bovinely uncritical of them are Eggers acolytes. They can't credibly articulate why his writing is great; they just have this vague important feeling inside themselves that it is.

The famous killed ATLANTIC profile of Dave Eggers by Keith Gessen-- largely a puff piece-- expresses this. Eggers was important because he spoke to Gessen's class and generation; because he was of his generation:

"His biography, too, was representative. He was in San Francisco when the dot-coms emerged, he tried out for MTV's "The Real World," he wrote lyrically of playing frisbee. To see the picture of Eggers that appeared in VANITY FAIR, in a room cluttered with books and pilfered U.S. Postal Service bins, at an aged computer outfitted (we knew) with desktop publishing software, his hand up in a bemused wave-type gesture to the national audience suddenly focused on him through the camera lens, was to see the historical spirit of the past decade incarnated-- this was what Hegel felt when he saw Napoleon on horseback."


The Eggers fan has the kind of unthinking unblinking adulation you would've found at a 1937 Nuremburg rally.

Poetry Today

THERE's with poetry even more than with prose a huge gulf between vital underground artists and the establishment posturers placed by arts institutions at the forefront. (One reason why "more arts funding" isn't a cause which much interests me. By their nature, arts institutions, run by genteel people, tend toward the bland and the safe.)

In Philadelphia, for instance, when it comes to a choice, institutions like the Free Library and U of Penn will go with poets credentialed, castrated, and tamed-- while the genuine article runs wild on the streets. The folks who run the Monday Poetry series at the library are well-intentioned, but this year's line-up is extremely genteel, fitting well the garden tea party put-one-to-sleep stereotype which people have of the art. Those audience people who do look in are seldom made aware that poetry sometimes, in tenor and message, can be explosive and revolutionary; can unsettle and move people. Instead the audience hears gentle word-chirps about birds and trees.

THE PROBLEM with most underground poets is that their landscape is unsolvably divided by cliques, fiefdoms, backstabbings, personal grievances, envies-- and by the desperation of most of them to be handed a crumb of attention by the elites. The nature of a poet is to be egoistic and to see the world in an extremely personal way. They're unable to step back and take a larger view of their scene, or have an understanding of the larger literary scene of which they're part. They see only next week's reading, and those who don't show for it, and who is or isn't the "feature."

For underground poets to stand together and stand up for themselves they first need to be able to stand, period-- to have backbones to raise themselves above the insular scenes and see the world as it exists in reality.

(The ULA in coming weeks will be reaching out to more poets across the country. Also, poetry is regularly featured at the ULA Blog, accessible at

ULA Internal Stuff

More and more I'll be communicating less by e-mail and more through this blog.

1.) MEMBERSHIP. It's time for the ULA to begin adding new members, which we haven't done in a while. In future posts I'll discuss what the ULA is about.

2.) COMPLAINTS. The ULA needs a way to handle complaints from inside and outside the ULA. I know people have them! I'm going to ask J.D. Finch to tackle this assignment, when he's able. As one of our newer members, he's not as fixed in his thinking as some of us; is more objective and more approachable, with no past baggage. The ULA needs an ambassador to the outside world-- and maybe also at times a mediator within the organization. (I haven't the temperament for the role; others not the inclination.) Earlier in the year I became involved in a dispute between two ULAers-- this was a mistake. We need a grievance procedure. What we don't need are dissatisfied members keeping their dissatisfaction to themselves.

3.) ATTITUDE. That said, the ULA doesn't exist in a vacuum. We treat other lit people the way they treat us. We have no hidden agendas. We were founded by Midwesterners who are completely upfront. We accept everyone at face value, giving individuals the benefit of the doubt. We do ask to be treated with respect!

The disrespect given the ULA is absurd, especially when it comes from those not among the Elect. The disrespecters hurt no one but themselves, because this organization is NOT going away. Our short history shows we only grow stronger. We feed on the animosity, snubs, and scorn given to us, which confirm the justice of our cause-- which is to open up the lit system, level the playing field on which writers compete, encourage writers, value their role, give them leverage, and reduce the hierarchies of the intellectual world which are rigged to honor and insulate not originality and talent but instead dishonesty, corruption, and incompetence.

4.) CHANGE. As the lit-world is changing, so must the ULA constantly change. It can't be tied to any one person or group of persons but has to stand independently as an ongoing movement.

Anyone who thinks I'm the ULA is wrong. Anyone who thinks Steve Kostecke or Jeff Potter is the ULA is wrong. The ULA belongs to those who join it, who believe in its principles and are willing to help. We want a flow of members and talents, a diversity of faces and voices passing through the framework we've created. The main requirement: BOLDNESS; an unwillingness to grovel before stone idols and false gods, be they rules, conglomerates, academics, experts; authority of any kind and authorities of any fashion.

5.) REASON. "Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick, Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury Do I take part."

The Underground Literary Alliance values reason. We honor and embody it. At the same time we're radical. Our key members are hard core. Our message is unstoppable. We need writers, artists, and performers who believe in that message-- who believe in the urgency potency necessity of the written word, the future of literature.

About Craft

There is no writer in the ULA-- not Bill, not Jack, not Hermitt, nor myself-- who is against craft. What we're against is turning craft into an obsession, into a replacement for theme, character, ideas, and emotion.

In the 90s the editor of a trendy NYC lit-journal familiar with my style asked me to write an essay about zeens. He then proceeded to rewrite it into the house NEW YORKER style he'd picked up, without having an understanding of what MY writing was about. What he produced was a mutilation, stilted and awkward, without verve and flow. The essay's internal rhythms and euphony had been destroyed.

I find that mediocrities (those so limited they had to be trained to be writers) cling hardest to their "craft," because it's all they have.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

ULA Advocacy

I want to remind writers of all stripes that the ULA first is a writers advocacy group. We have a track record of fighting for the interests of writers; aren't just talk. Neither are we a bourgeois outfit charging hefty fees but too timid to make waves with the Big Guys. We're not afraid of anybody-- we know how to make noise and we've built a platform for delivering to the world what we say.

Fed up? Cheated? Screwed over? Shoved aside? Drop us a line.


The Underground Literary Alliance seeks to work together with others for the benefit of writers and related artists. We're on the side of writers.

1.) We're fighting to open up the present system by working against the monopoly of an Insider clique regarding grant money, access to major publications, and access to publicity.

2.) We're working to create an alternative to the present system, by creating and promoting our own publications.

3.) We're working to expand the audience for literature.

The ULA works for writers. What could be more clear?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Books: James Nowlan

The Book: "Security," a short novel.

Far exceeding even Stephen Moran and J.T. Leroy in the level of disgust and melancholy in his prose is James Nowlan. The misadventures of a security guard in Paris, Nowlan's often hallucinagenic story takes us into the chaotic midst of a mad urban wilderness, his security guard character a lost, degraded misfit. Occasional misspellings fit the book's aesthetic:

"Embarrassed for the man he accepted his invitation and sat down in a cheap chrome and naugahide chair to watch the videotape. It started with a man in a run down neighborhood in America that looked abit like where Tom had lived. He was rolling slowly through the streets in an armoured vehicule tearing buildings apart with powerful bursts of his motordriven gatling gun. He added a commentary, 'this was a condemned neighborhood that the city wanted torn down we helped them out and were able to make this video at the same time.' The next sequence showed him rolling across an african savanha with a man in an elaborate uniform in the vehicule with him. 'He was one of my best clients, unfortunately some goddam marxist rebels hacked his head off.' The next shot showed the smiling face of the president as his body shakes with the recoil of the arm. Panning across the camera shows his targets: giraffes, lions, zebras and gazelles being blown to pieces by the withering fire. Then it cut to a shot of him and the chief of state standing in front of a giant fire in which the meat from the animals was being roasted while they drank pint bottles of beer. It finally froze on the smiling face of a soldier cutting up some giraffe meat with a bloody machete, thinking about the upcoming revolution perhaps."

Sex in filthy public toilets; decadent parties in Gothic mansions; arm sales at airports; sterile concrete banks in vast suburban wastelands; bloody fights in grotesque bars-- Nowlan crams into his narrative a disorienting strange jumble of the shocking nauseating world we stumble through known as life.

(More info maybe at but this book is very underground.)

The McSweeney's Saga: The System Perspective


This is how the lit/publishing establishment viewed the discovery of David Eggers:

Always everywhere there was this narcissistically sad visage, wherever they stepped.

BOARD MEETING: "Yes, harumph, har, we, er, at Simonized Shoe Polish Books have to, er," (frowning) "get this outfit out of its doldrums. Otherwise THEY" (thinking of the bottom-line conglom that owned them) "will, er, shut us down!" (Frowns throughout the oak-panelled room.)

As they hadn't discovered a successful author in decades, they had their work cut out for them. But always everywhere was this narcissistically sad visage, wherever they stepped.

They explained it afterward to themselves, in the Simonized Shoe Polish boardroom, as little different from browsing at an upscale pet store, harumph har, studying hangdog expressions, and selecting a likely candidate.

"One's really the same as another, they admitted to themselves. "Just have to make sure it's housebroken, you know."

(To be continued.)

"The McSweeney's Saga"-- Every Friday only at this blog!

Quotes Dissing Shakespeare

Ben Jonson: "Shakespeare never blotted line. Would he had blotted a thousand."

Elizabeth Montagu in 1769: "Shakespeare's plays were to be acted in a paltry tavern, to an unlettered audience just emerging from barbarity."


Typical is the volume of Jack Kerouac's notebooks edited by establishment pet Douglas Brinkley, who represents the opposite of Kerouac's life, ideals, and aesthetic.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

NEW CRITERION: Relevant or Dead?

I received an interesting e-mail recently from Stefan Beck, an editor at the noted snob journal NEW CRITERION, in which he assures me that "these dinosaurs aren't going extinct any time in the near future."

I applaud Beck's confidence, but still have to point out the striking difference between NC and the Underground Literary Alliance.

Beck says they've been fighting the arts status quo for over twenty years. Then where is the result? Where's the progress? NEW CRITERION seems settled into a safe niche with a comfortably safe and circumscribed readership. With guaranteed life support through their tax shelter status, they have no incentive to progress.

The ULA by contrast was founded not by established (albeit disgruntled) members of the cultural elite, but by underground writers with no resources, aside from stray bucks obtained from working shitty jobs. We receive no institutional government corporate university help-- nor do we want it. We said from the start we have to keep moving forward or fold. We disdain ANY niche. You won't see us become a once-radical now safely marginal "Poetry Project." Our rebellion is for real.

Second, NEW CRITERION's rebellion comes from inside the walls of the arts castle. They don't want to tear the hierarchical castle down, only modify it. (Tastier crumpets, I guess.) They're aristocratic reformists, like a Lafayette who thought he could maintain the system of privilege in France, only tinker with it a bit; or a Gorbachev who believed one could have a better operating Soviet Union. As such, NC's arguments lack edge. They don't want real change at all. (And it better retain cocktail parties with ample hors d'oeuvres!)

NC's problems with liberal magazines are more about political matters that stand outside questions of aesthetics and art. I can't see much difference between their stand on literature and that of the NEW YORKER or NY REVIEW OF BOOKS. Don't they worship the same creaky snob gods of Updike, Ozick, Roth, and Bellow? Isn't, to them, Henry James the towering genius of the past (along with T.S. Eliot); the same Henry James whose soggy influence has done more to retard interest in literature than that of any other author (with the possible exception of David Foster Wallace)?

Doesn't NEW CRITERION represent a nostalgic and impossible yearning for an idealized literary past? What do they display that's different and new?

Their philosophy is a rewarmed modernism that's even more exclusive and exclusionary than what the liberal snobs offer.

The ULA Difference is that we seek to change the entire process of literature from top to bottom; from how writers are discovered to how their words are delivered. We say the Machine of Literature isn't working. We've begun taking it apart, putting it back together so that literature can serve the people-- not just elitists conservative or liberal. Our ideas are in line with this society's technological changes, which will bring democracy to literature whether we wish it or not.

The ULA is quickening the advent of that democracy to literature; closing the gap, as zeensters have traditionally done, between writer and reader. We're taking writers off their dusty pedestals and putting them among the people. The best way to do that is to draw writers FROM the people, so that "Writer" isn't spelled with a capital letter, the person not a certified degreed technocrat, a specialist-- no, but instead, one of us. US: the people we want to begin reading, who ARE reading, in their own unapproved unregulated manner. This is the only way to rescue literature from the closet into which the cultural mandarins have shoved it.

Maybe I'm wrong about NEW CRITERION. Maybe I've misjudged them. But I've looked through their journal and there encountered no plan or program; no sense they're moving anywhere; no regard of the future, nor lofty and compelling goals.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Magazine Report: Focus on Fossils

How else to portray the lit topics in the current (Oct 18) issue of THE NEW REPUBLIC?

First we see a long review by archeologist James Wood about a novel by archeologist David Lodge about Ur-Fossil Henry James. This could be called giving us the Fossil a layer removed. At the James "dig," Lodge penetrates only to Level III, Wood explains, while he has made it all the way to Level II! (They haven't gotten down to the Fossil itself, but are getting close.)

In other words, Lodge affects to adopt the style and mentality of the Fossil, as a reaction to rival archeologist Colm Toibin, who got to the well-trod location before Lodge but was able to penetrate only to Level IV. Not good enough! Wood haughtily scrutinizes the work of both of the James experts and in his report gives us HIS version of the hallowed coagulated James style:

"Of course, these slack, easy, inherited phrases are in themselves disappointing, bespeaking a writer for whom style is any old garment, grabbed without reflection from a closet of despair. But they have a particular gravity, they commit a special sin when wrapped around a writer so massively attentive to cliche and formulaic idiom. " Etc.

(I'm in a closet of despair having to read this.) But methinks Wood doth bespeak the true style of Fossil Level II! A momentous event for the small coterie of James authorities scattered across the planet. It remains for James Wood to present his findings before the National Geographical Society, with Toibin and Lodge present in the audience to contest them. This could make for as uncertain but lively a settlement as when Peary and Cook battled to be discoverer of the North Pole.

These experts conducting lengthy digs for fossilized literature will shortly be upstaged. One can guess that at this moment enterprising genetic biologists ("Unfair!" Toibin, Lodge, and Wood shout in protest; "An alternate discipline!") are using DNA samples in a laboratory to bring back to life the Henry James Fossil Himself. Then HE, the genuine Fossil will once again step forward to show the Pretenders, the Fossil Wannabes, how to do it-- boring what remains of literature's audience in the process.

But we'll be able to proclaim that literary explorers have truly and at last reached Level I.

(As fitting follow-up, this TNR issue also contains a review of a crumbly book by yet another fossilized James aficionado, Cynthia Ozick.)


The obvious point to make about status quo writers and their apologists and their supplicants is that they have no vision. Their world is as it is, always was, and forever shall be. They don't consider what lies ahead. Their sole argument against the ULA is that the present bureaucratized state of affairs is fine.

But in truth the world around us, the setting and delivery system of creative writing, is changing swiftly. The rate of technological change is accelerating. Today's best strategy in a few years could be obsolete. Not even bloggers are ready to adjust their minds to what's happening. They use a medium scarcely imagined a decade ago, yet their aesthetic values, their codes, their modes of operating remain stuck in patterns that were outdated in the 1960s. (That the system used to discover and promote literature doesn't change as the world changes is a major reason literature has lost its pre-eminent place in the culture of this society.)

90% of lit-bloggers and 95% of System writers are already obsolete, because their thinking is obsolete.

No one asks questions. Where will blogs be when their number increases a thousand-fold within this decade? The idea can be discomforting.

What kind of writers and writing will best compete in future days? The ULA is asking these questions and creating answers.

Those who remain wedded to the current state of affairs risk becoming comical figures, like Dan Rather.

The ULA, alone among writers groups, by severing connections to past ways, has plunged into the future wholeheartedly.

Kostelanetz the Dissenter

I want to give a quick nod to one of the true pioneers of the kind of thing the ULA does, Richard Kostelanetz, who was writing kick-ass essays and reviews taking the lit world to task back in the 60s and 70s. Then he was a lone voice in the wilderness-- and paid a price for it, having a promising writing career limited because he spoke truths about how the world of writing and publishing operates. Now, thirty years later, the lit world is starting to catch up to him, opening up the closed doors of American literature through unstoppable outlets like zeens and the Internet, including the ULA fan site and this blog.

I have one of Richard's books, CRIMES OF THE CULTURE, which contains amazing and revealing essays about grants, magazines, college teaching, copyrights, Poets & Writers, NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, and much more. It may still be available through Autonomedia. Every writer should have it!

"Team America"

I hear there's a new movie out, by the creators of "South Park." It looks to be about the lit world.

Bankruptcy of a Yale Education

I cringe listening to either of the two major party candidates. This is as bad as it gets.

An interesting fact: 9 of the last 10 major party candidates for President has been a graduate of either Yale or Harvard, or both. Let's open up the system a little-- at least let Princeton or Brown have a shot!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Apparatchiks

WRITERS are afraid to acknowledge that the literary empire we live under is decrepit, like a rotted old structure falling apart; stray bricks and chunks of masonry crashing to the sidewalk.

What keeps the stagnation going is the apparatus of the System itself, a large machine whose wheels continue to turn, producing and promoting obedient writers then vomiting forth their carbon-copy books, with a sameness to all of it. The System supports mediocrity and turns writers mediocre. It produces not writers, but bureaucrats, those who've put in their time and paid their dues, conformed to the rules and upset no one while doing it. The stagnation of bureaucracy.

And so the content of Jonathan Franzen's novel, its oppressive relentless mediocrity, along with its word-clotted prose, didn't matter. What mattered was that it was produced, a hefty product of many pages containing the rough semblance of a novel, no matter how dead. And like functionaries in the Soviet Union in its last days, those part of the System and dependent on it heard the word and got in line, dutifully praising it. It was the "big novel" they needed to give credibility and justification for the entire expensive show.

Where are the great writers? What we're given from the machine-grinding schools and bureaucracies are pretenders. They pretend to be great novelists or poets and the apparatchiks pretend along with them. It's the machine which matters. The writers are the necessary evil to keep the machine operating.

(The dramatic days of literature are over. Instead we're given bureaucrats.)

The dead machine books are reviewed in the NY TIMES or elsewhere by lifeless obedient machine reviewers and critics. Readers glance sleepily at the machine review-- ho hum, another unexciting book-- a few dutiful readers dutifully run out to buy it, like last believers in the Soviet system with the walls of Communism crashing around them.

Saddest of all are the apparatchik authors themselves: Jonathan Franzen blinking stupidly behind his eyeglasses while being questioned on a talk show; pretending to play the role of a Fitzgerald or Hemingway but out of his depth, just a pretender: a bureaucrat; the culmination and epitome of a rusted corrupt machine slowly grinding to a halt, call him Brezhnev, Andropov, or Chernenko.

Writers Past and Present

Creative writing used to be an activity performed by the most questioning, seeking members of society-- whatever their background; whether aristocrat Tolstoy or tough merchant seaman Jack London. When one opens the pages to their books one encounters a whirlwind of exciting ideas.

Today's writers write not to seek, or question, or present ideas-- but to pose. Writing has become an exhibition of self. Open their books and there it is in all its febrile stupidity: "I, Amy Sohn."

The reading public isn't changed by reading this overpriced $25 shit-- not caused to question their complacent attitude. By reading something "they can relate to"; something not outside their experience but a mirror of it, their complacency is affirmed. The traditional task of the novelist; of Dickens, Hugo, Zola, Tolstoy, Norris, London-- has disappeared.

Bluestockings or Bluebloods?

I note that feminist science fiction writer Sue Lange is reading at Bluestockings Bookstore in Manhattan, Thursday at 7 o'clock. In one of the promos sent out about the event Sue is quoted about how "liberal" Bluestockings is. Really? This is news to me. They won't have anything to do with LITERARY FAN MAGAZINE. How open-minded and tolerant can they be?

I suspect that many "liberal" people judge others based not on their ideas, but on their tone and manners. As is well-known, the ULA can be boisterous and in-your-face. Heavens! The prim and proper overseers of books and literature find this shocking.

I know under what thin profit margins indy bookstores operate. When they exclude a group of exciting new writers they hurt only themselves. After all, I can sell all the LIT FANs I want through the mail, the ULA fan site, at readings, zeen shows, and the like. Still seeking I guess though a little bourgeois blueblood cred. Oh well!

Conservative Radio

Checking what's happening at the conservative end of the dial, here's the list of Best and Worst conservative radio talk show hosts, in order:

1.) Sean Hannity.
One-sided attack dog is a likeable true believer.

2.) William Bennett.
Low-key pomposity easy to take.

3.) Hugh Hewitt.
Partisan stooge has interesting guests.

4.) Rush Limbaugh.
More tongue-in-cheek than people believe.

5.) Michael Savage.
One-note egotist is sometimes entertaining.

6.) Dennis Prager.
Infatuated with his own brain.

7.) Mike Gallagher.
Bandwagon-jumping Rush imitator.

8.) Bill O'Reilly.
Blustery blowhard.

9.) Laura Ingraham.
Airhead surrounded by sycophants.

10.) Michael Medved.
A wimpy bully?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Ridiculous Roth

Charles Lindbergh was a famous pilot, an authentic hero-- without question a believer in democracy and freedom, the founding ideals of this country-- with anti-Imperialist ideas popular in America when he lived. He studied Germany's air force, realized how advanced it was, and argued, rightly or wrongly, that we stay out of the war. (The time to oppose a war is before it begins-- to construct a national dialogue before embarking on such a momentous event.) When the war began however Lindbergh quickly enlisted to fight in that war, and when allowed, put his great skills to work. As I said, he was an authentic American hero, always honest and sincere.

Desperate to come up with a plot for a book, Philip Roth rummages through his wandering brain for a confused interpretation of the past, bringing forth a hokey "reimagining" of the 40's when somehow Lindbergh has become a fascist U.S. dictator. Even on the surface the premise is ridiculous; a fiasco; an embarrassment.

By endlessly hyping the unbelievable mess of a novel the machine has discredited itself. The line-up of stooge reviewers one after another praising it have discredited themselves. Only a fumbling doddering senile laughing stock of an author told relentlessly how great he is instead of being urged to retire would have written it.

His agent, editor, and publisher don't care. He pays their bills. Whether or not Roth artistically embarrasses himself isn't their concern.

(p.s. Philip Roth has been overpraised since the days of Goodbye, Columbus: hokey and ordinary.)

Fighting the Overdogs

The advance of underground writers threatens the monopoly of the snobs and exposes the falseness of their poses. They can pretend they're exciting, alternative, and cutting edge only if we the genuine article aren't around. The Overdogs therefore have to shut us out. The urgency of this for them hasn't changed since we arrived on the scene. But having lost every encounter with the ULA, whether public (CBGB's debate), in print (the flawed BELIEVER article), or behind-the-scenes (the Amazon fiasco), they've altered their tactics, believing if the ULA is cut off from attention and interaction we'll magically vanish. It's a plan that can't work-- the Internet makes it impossible. We have vehicles to carry our message and sell our goods. Refusing interaction, they allow us to argue against the System with impunity; to frame the terms of debate and win that debate. We're getting the ULA message into more and more heads. As we're the only writers discussing the future, the future belongs to us. The softsmug overconfident Overdogs will lose. That's what literary revolution is about!

Philosophy as Mold

What's the general take on Derrida's death? Any legacy left?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Writers: Icons of Integrity?

That's the delusionary myth under which most writers labor.

I began to suspect that such wasn't the case in 2001 as the ULA circulated its Protest against the Guggenheim grant to rich guy Rick Moody (signed by 40 zeensters) to 300 of New York's literary finest-- puppets and demi-puppets alike. Not one of the esteemed 300 self-glorious people signed the Protest, though many agreed with it privately.

Writers afraid to make waves? That was the reality.

Last February a NY TIMES front page article about Amazon revealed the ULA had been attacked anonymously by a famed writer, while we were shown to be innocent. We were, as always, in the right-- yet few writers took our part. They cleared their throats and looked into their coffee cups.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of writers are sheep. It's programmed into their nature, the result I guess of their having to jump through so many hoops and play so many games to have even a chance of literary success.

The clinching piece of evidence is the non-reaction by writers to the Tom Bissell/HARPER'S plagiarism story. The only ones who seem to care about this clear-cut stain on writer ethics, this blatant blotch of disrespect for another's work are: the unknown person who initiated the story; the slightly wacked-out "Ranger West"; Tim Hall; and the ULA. The crime is nakedly obvious, standing out like a neon sign-- "PLAGIARISM"-- yet all the many puppet and demi-puppet writers walk past not seeing anything. "Plagiarism? What plagiarism? I don't see any plagiarism. See anything? Well certainly not. Not me!" But the large flashing plagiarism sign of gaudy colored lights is right behind them.

How can one respect these people? Even the biggest names in the field are consistently groveling jellyfish, entities without spines, full of red-faced bluster about their independence as they sample hors d'oeuvres at swanky exclusive PEN parties-- Mailer, Oates, Sontag, Updike-- but one can see the puppet strings on their arms and their wooden brains.

Picture the old "Thunderbirds" TV show and you'll get the idea.


As will be shown on this blog, the behavior of System lit people is permeated with the codes, rules, and "don't make waves" mentality of the safely ensconsed bureaucrat.

Books: Stephen Moran

The Book: THE LONDON SILENCE, a collection of stories by London-based Irish writer Stephen Moran. ULA poet Frank Walsh encountered Moran when they were both performing at a lit show in Dublin, Ireland this summer. Frank passed along Moran's book to me.

I like Stephen Moran's writing style-- not mannered or pretentious as with American literary authors. The collection contains several very good stories, my favorites being "Panic," a tense tale about lights going out during a subway train ride; and "Kenny," a short yarn about a parakeet.

Stephen Moran gives an atmospheric sense of both Ireland and London, showing a continuity with great Irish story writers of the past, in that the world since, as Moran portrays it-- aged, dingy, and impoverished-- hasn't changed all that much.

The stories of the second half of the collection comprise a coming-of-age narrative, done in reverse order.

Many story writers have covered such ground before, of course, the best of them being James Gould Cozzens, whose young men see life as a learning experience, a test of one's ethics; and F. Scott Fitzgerald with his magical "Basil" stories-- ambitious young Basil focused on accomplishment, on endless yearning, possibilities, and hope.

For Moran's character there is no hope. He's a young man, and child, for whom everything goes wrong. Because of this, the scope of his vision and goals are confined within narrow limits. He learns little from life, other than that he doesn't much like it, and maybe that's why Moran presents his character's story in reverse.

We see as a result not a development into maturity, but a regression from confusion into the comforts of ignorance. This gives the collection a growing impact of depression, as if the world is so overwhelming the character wants to go backward. It's harshly realistic about the fate of young people who don't come from a glowing Cozzens or Fitzgerald background.

A melancholy book!

(More info at

Thursday, October 07, 2004

ULA Four-Year Anniversary!

ULA fans take note: Tomorrow, October 8th, marks four years since the founding of the infamous Underground Literary Alliance by six zeen writers during a crazy drunken revelrous weekend in Hoboken, New Jersey. That was when we signed the Protest against the awarding of a Guggenheim grant to a super-wealthy writer, and in so doing kicked off the ULA rebellion.

To mark the occasion I'm taking tomorrow off from this blog. (No "McSweeney's Saga" this week, sorry!)

I want to express my appreciation to ULAers past and present for the effort they've put into this crazy project. That this disorganized organization has survived four years amid the tumultuous riots and brickbats of the literary mob has been astounding.

We're essayists, publishers, poets, novelists, actors, ranters, musicians, comedians, and cartoonists. We have all the tools to achieve our goal of rescuing literature. Our writings, drawings, publications, and performances are clear, fun, energetic, upbeat, and genuine-- the real voice of America now. Our membership contains larger-than-life characters. The names alone say it all: Wild Bill; Urban Hermitt; Wred Fright; Crazy Carl; Jessica Disobedience. We represent the best alternative to the staid stereotype of the "literary person." For excitement, no other writers come close. (Those who pretend they do are frauds.)

Our ideas are new and can beat anybody's. We're aligned with history in the new millennium. The stars are with us! Cracks are showing in the concrete walls of the media monopolies. Change is coming to literature, the ULA at the forefront. No other lit group is better positioned for it, with better cred.

We stress our "D-I-Y" background. We know we have to build our movement, our literature, ourselves. It's an adventure and a challenge.

In everything we do we strive to be on the side of right, have brought to the lit scene the clean breeze of honesty. It's been a great struggle but it's also been fun. The craziest wildest barn-burning days of the ULA are yet to come!


The ULA has its origin in the print-zeen movement, which for the last 30 years has functioned as a kind of American samizdat-- the circulation of underground typescript journals and pamphlets. (ULAer Tom Hendricks has documented much of this phenomenon in his "Zine Hall of Fame.") These publications have functioned as outlets of dissent-- presenting contrary ideas not to be found anywhere else. (Many, of course, are punk and anarchist.)

One can speculate on the reasons people began printing and distributing their words. For myself it was to have a voice-- to project myself into the national discourse.

The ULA was founded by cultural dissidents. Every founding member at the time was either advocating radical ideas, or alienated from literary culture. (The first person we added, Jeff Potter, was from a more practical background-- which gave us needed stability and sanity that's kept us going.)

The outpourings of our oldest members, Wild Bill's LAST LAUGH and Jack Saunders's pamphleted novels, in particular have the look, feel, and sound of cultural samizdat.

Lit-bloggers come from a different perspective, maybe a different class. They're more conformist. Their independent activity is a way of working within the present system, not an outcry against it. There is less commitment in creating a lit-blog than a print zeen. A lit-blog is less of a demonstrative protest; less of a personal political statement and act-- not just because of the greater work involved in making zeens but also the history behind zeens: the tradition and continuum of dissent.

The ULA's ideas remain unapologetically dissident.

(For an example of current literary samizdat order LITERARY FAN MAGAZINE, now available right off the ULA's fan site.)

Quote from a Quack

Gilbert Sorrentino:

"A writer discovers what he knows as he knows it, i.e., as he makes it. No artist writes in order to objectify an 'idea' already formed. It is the person or novel or story that quite precisely tells him what he didn't know he knew: he knows, that is, only in terms of his writing. This is, of course, simply another way of saying that literary composition is not the placing of a held idea into a waiting form."

Say what? What is this man talking about? Talking first and thinking afterward?

Funny, I always thought writing was the expression of an idea. (I gather ideas are rare commodities in the present literary sphere.)

Note in the quote that Sorrentino says "NO artist writes" to "objectify an 'idea.'" (He questions that there are ideas.) Sorrentino says that a writer knows "only" in terms of his writing. Really? This is believing the writer exists in ignorance like a drooling baby in its crib, gazing mindlessly at vague pink and blue baby shapes, then out of nowhere finds knowledge-- though not ideas. A solipsistic outlook!

The Sorrentino quote is a good explanation though for why contemporary American literature sucks.

Barking Dog in Park

Two dogs in park
one huge, one small
small dog barks its head off,
"Ruff, ruff!"
brave with big dog
backing him up!

No Defense

Notice that no one has come forward to defend key foundations of the present literary system such as MFA programs against attack. (Surely there must be MFA grads among this blog's readership, especially after the NYTBR mention.)

No defense has been given because there's none to give.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Reflections on Literary Rebellion Part I

On the approach of the ULA's Four-Year Anniversary:

The ULA Difference is that we're a cooperative group of writers and others who believe that by working together and looking out for one another we can best create: an all-for-one and one-for-all mentality.

By contrast, the lit world is soaked in snobbery from top to bottom. The System pits writer against writer, beginning with the ranking of colleges, to writing workshops where students must compete for the attention of the prof; a structure that encourages apple-polishing. The professor is God and gathers favorites, a collection of pets. This carries through to seminars and writing conferences (well-depicted in Routh's CAMELLIA CITY)-- mass exhibitions of toadying-- on up to relationships with editors and publishers. The writer against the pack-- networking the key to success (including regarding monetary grants, as the ULA in its protests and reports has demonstrated). Any talent discovered is a side benefit when toadying is the chief criterion. From top to bottom when writers find their places in the industry the attitude remains the same; worker bee writers gauging where they stand in the hierarchy, with the writer gods who must be fawned over high above.

In this hostile, coercive atmosphere, the attitude writers hold toward others is akin to the sad history of ethnicity in this country; the lower groups identifying themselves with the perceived top dogs as they fight among one another for acceptance, trying to claw up a greased mountain, always looking, wishing, hoping someone else is below them at the bottom: "I may be dirt poor, dressed in rags, living in a shack, but at least I'm not one of them!"

(As this toadying competition rages within the literary castle, the outside world-- the reading public-- what THEY need and want, aesthetically and spiritually, is ignored.)

One witnesses literary snobbery in the realm of lit-blogs, the most prominent of which are great toadying venues for fawning over the literary establishment. This manifests itself in their attitude toward the inconvenient rebels of the Underground Literary Alliance, dismissed as "know-nothings" and "bottom feeders," the bloggers unconsciously making their mindset transparent.

A funny example is on Maud Newton's famous site. When the ULA first received a flurry of press coverage, we became impossible to ignore as a factor in the lit world, so that Maud, who lists seemingly hundreds of lit sites, had to list us somewhere to show even a microdot of fairness. And so, scroll down, and there we are-- dead last! Right at the bottom, which is where we like it. Our positioning says something about where Maud's head is at, but says more about the ULA.

From the beginning, by the nature of our organization and our campaign, we've willfully put ourselves last among writers, "the lowest of the low," embracing this status. We recruited the most disgraced, overlooked, scorned, alienated, angriest, craziest outcast writers in the nation, desiring those at the bottom, complete underdogs; active outsiders.

WE BELIEVE that if writing genius is to be found anywhere, it'll be found here, among the writers who've faced the most obstacles, felt the most pain, suffered hardest and longest for their art yet continued writing. The examples of Dickens, who endured untold hardship before he even became an adult, and of unpolished Dostoevsky, the greatest novelist-- whose books create vast spiritual depths and heights caused by his pain, his acute sense of outsider status-- stand before us. YOU look for your writers in the privileged schools and salons of this land; I'll look in the streets, alleyways, and wilderness shacks, and we'll see who comes out ahead.

My belief that the ULA is on the right track was affirmed when I read #18 of URBAN HERMITT. Here is an outcast writer who, on a reading tour with a punk band, placed himself in a position to be endlessly mocked, scorned, and ignored. The depiction is harsh but enlightening: among the cat calls, thrown rocks, smelly van rides; the scamming and starvation; the journey through the antiseptic sterility, ignorant cruelty, bleak landscapes and seedy urban pizza parlors that define America there are stray touches of humanity, poignancy, acceptance-- beyond the crafted words the games the posturing the snobbery that's what life, what literature, is really about.

Bookstores: Rating the Monopolists

Location: Center City Philadelphia.
Stores Examined: BARNES & NOBLE on Walnut Street; BORDERS on Broad and Chestnut.

The daytime door guard at BORDERS looks to be a friendly guy. He stands unobtrusively for hours on end and lets people be on their way. His expression is inscrutable. It could mean, "I'm studying this store carefully" or it could mean "I'm standing here sleeping." He seldom says anything.

The BARNES & NOBLE door guards are a mixed lot, the cast always changing, despite or because of the fact they're oppressivley friendly. Presumably if they don't say "Hi" and "Bye" to each and every person passing through the door they're fired. The best of them is a young woman who actually IS friendly; enjoys holding the door for gentry with babies and for doddering old people. (Today's UpdikeMailerBellow famous writers would be okay shopping at the place.) Meanwhile, the BORDERS guy stands stoically immovably pretending he's with the FBI.

Advantage: BORDERS.

2.) CAFES.
The BARNES & NOBLE people are constantly selling, or interrogating: "Would you like a muffin or sandwich or dessert with that today? Can I ring up the stack of books and magazines in your hands right now for you today?"-- and look at you as if you're a criminal if you don't comply.

At the BORDERS meanwhile they know you're there to read the books and magazines for hours and spill coffee over them not to buy them, all they're going to get out of you is the coffee and maybe a blueberry buckle cake so they leave you be.

Advantage: BORDERS.


BARNES & NOBLE has the better-looking sales girls.

Advantage: BARNES & NOBLE.

Final Tally: BORDERS 2, B & N 1.


One has to give points to David Orr and the NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW for acknowledging the existence of the ULA. We're the elephant in the room polite snooty people pretend not to see. The ULA is a factor in the lit world and we're not going away.

Book Conglomerates

The first obvious problem with literature is the book industry itself. The conglomerates are gigantic blind monsters which have lost any touch or feel for America itself and are clueless as to what should be published as literature. So they'll toss Erica Jong's or Anne Rice's son or daughter million dollar advances, out of sheer hope-- money down a sinkhole. Blind men throwing darts at large targets. When they realize how much money they're losing they'll close a division and begin betting on sure things-- ghost-written "bios" by baseball players and ghost-written "novels" by brainless Pam Anderson starlets. Instead of properly developing their own exciting stars they search desperately for manufactured stars from other endeavors. They're floundering around blind men. The book industry prostitutes books and literature on a daily basis. Those who have anything to do with these blinded cyclops monsters make themselves prostitutes.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

About MFA Programs

With the sudden rise of blogs, it's said that journalism degrees are now obsolete.

How much more so then for Master of Fine Arts degrees?

I've puzzled over the purpose for these programs. Writing is akin to talking. Learn a few basic steps, a smattering of rules-- and then do it. Everyone should be able to write by the end of grammar school, or anyway high school. (Why else are people IN school?)

Several types of individuals go into MFA programs.

1.) THE WANNABES. These are people who actually CAN'T write, but wish to be writers regardless, and believe if they spend many thousands of dollars they'll learn how.

2.) THE CERTIFIED. People who can write, but need someone or some institution to tell them so. They need the document, as did Oz's Scarecrow, to tell them they're approved.

3.) THE NETWORKERS. People who know they can write but are hard-edged and ambitious enough to believe that to "make it" in the System as a writer one better make connections with important personages.

4.) THE SOCIALIZERS. Just happy to be there.

What can be said of all of them is they have a natural propensity to be demi-puppets. They have little faith in their own thoughts and ideas, in their ability to create; in the requisites of being free. They don't wish to find their own style or path, but to conform to the status quo-- to follow the too-well trodden road.

Monday, October 04, 2004

NEW YORKER Staff Revealed to Be Stuffed Dummies

I sent numerous flyers and e-mails to writers and staff at the NEW YORKER about last week's Carnival, and about my recent Monday Report, yet no one at that large bureaucracy was able to muster the mental energy to post a defense. Among the possible reasons:

A.) They don't know how to use the Internet.

B.) They agree with everything I said.

C.) They don't think their publication worth defending.

D.) The NEW YORKER staffers are stuffed dummies.