Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Event at Rutgers

Visitors to the ULA's www.literaryrevolution.com fan site will notice that I'm speaking at Rutgers University Thursday at 7 p.m. on the subject, "Zines, Blogs, and the Future of Literature."

It's a modest venue-- the main lounge at Demarest Hall, downstairs. Which is great-- I prefer events that aren't hierarchical, but might allow me to directly interact with writers and readers; in this case, with students of books and literature. I don't make a lot of appearances, and can be unpredictable, so if you're in the area be sure to take it in.

(Scheduled Special Guest is young literary entrepreneur Jackie Corley, who'll add a different perspective to the proceedings. The discussion should go a couple hours, and will be informal.)

The Xerox Theory of Literature

The key to art is the natural talent-- the Original-- the striking, pioneering vision and voice doing what no others have done before. In understanding art one has to always go back, and back, to locate the original source. Too much art and writing are mere Xerox reproductions-- copies of copies of copies, each one increasingly blurred.

I saw this in an office in which I once worked. My disorganized boss had lost the original typed "master" of a certain document, and so made copies of a copy, then misplaced the first copies and had to make copies of one of the copies, and so on, until the document we ended with was a freakish, unsightly mess. I scoured cabinets and drawers searching for the original, but never found it.

What makes much (not all) contemporary music, of any genre, depressing is that the products are blurred imitations. Jazz, blues, rock, classical-- it's all been done, and done better.

It would be better if new practitioners were handed acoustic guitars, put in the woods away from recorded music, and asked to come up with something. Whatever they'd create, it might be new.

For rock, we have to go back to the roots of roots music; the great originals-- the Carter Family; Leadbelly; Robert Johnson.

What gave Elvis Presley the "shock of the new" was that he presented styles of music which stuffy affluent Americans had scarcely heard before-- country, blues, gospel-- mixed together with pop motifs in a way that'd never been done, in raw-boned fashion. He created his synthesis on his own, with no training or premeditation. It just happened, like a crack of lightning, a spontaneous act of nature. Elvis was able to duplicate the original impulse OF a Leadbelly. (The Presley movie vehicle "Jailhouse Rock" in its prison scenes pays homage to the legend of Leadbelly. Listen to Elvis sing "I Want to Be Free" in this movie and you'll hear his voice still uncorrupted, before the long years of recording and fame.)

These truths also apply to literature. The writings of an Eggers or David Foster Wallace are overwhelmed by the implicit and explicit references in them to the authors' schooling and to layers of other authors and interpretations of those authors. Any spark of originality was lost eons ago. They can only wink and nod, with irony, at "truth" (a concept with little meaning to them) as they pay homage to the most recent imitator before them. (In Eggers case, the copy he copies is Foster Wallace, who copied Pynchon, who is himself jaded, overwhelmed with learning and mediated influences.) The ultimate extreme is academy novelist Curtis White, whose writings are a mishmash of received wisdom filtered through texts of Lacan, Derrida, Kierkegaard, and countless others; a jumble of dropped references and dropped names, allusions to lectures he sat through; a maze of intellectualism blocking any narrative flow. Such a novelist becomes a sad case, a mutant weighed down with the burden of a thousand implanted thoughts from modern and postmodern "philosophies"-- too many for anyone to coherently sort through. Unfound among the verbiage is a fresh viewpoint.

The strength of zeendom is that its practitioners are naturals. A Wild Bill Blackolive is well-read-- he's studied forerunners Melville, Hemingway, Bukowski, and Kerouac. The perspective he gives on them is his own. His writing embodies more the grittiness of his rugged east Texas life than of any seminars on literature he may have attended (none-- unless one counts the discussions about lit he had with Jeff Potter, myself, and others when part of ULA shows in New York and Detroit).

Much the same can be said about a variety of ULA writers, whether Jack Saunders, Lisa Falour, or the unspoiled Urban Hermitt, whose chief literary influence is the one-of-a-kind punk-zine folk hero Aaron Cometbus.

AUTHENTICITY: In the processed, plastic, virtual world in which we live, this is a rare and wonderful value.

Magazine Report: The Atlantic

Dec 2004 issue.

The chief fiction review is by Lorrie Moore, of a book by Alice Munro. Both are New Yorker writers whose bland literary styles are the same as they were 20 years ago. Cloistered worlds. Nothing new here. The magazine's a relic of a different era. Place it back on the shelf and scout for something better.

Monday, November 29, 2004

How to Be a Published Author, Part II

The Subject: Jonathan Safran Foer

J.S.'s path to success was smoother than J.T.'s, as Foer comes from a well-connected family. His older brother, Franklin, is a senior editor at The New Republic (which plays an important role in Carroll Quigley's massive history of the Eastern Establishment, Tragedy and Hope).

Jonathan found additional mentors at Princeton University, including Jeffrey Eugenides, Russell Banks, and most notably, Joyce Carol Oates. With their help, the young, unproven author received a half-million advance for his first book, along with a massive p.r. campaign to accompany it. No doubt J.S. had as much aid writing his novel as did J.T., with even less passable results.

Conculsion: In the lit world it really does come down to who you know or who you blow.

How to Be a Published Author, Part I

The Subject: J.T. Leroy

The story is that J.T. was a teenage prostitute in San Francisco who knew how to hustle more than sex. He hustled two prominent literary authors into believing in him: Dennis Cooper and Mary Gaitskill. (Rumors are that Cooper helped Leroy for "services rendered." Noteworthy: Cooper used J.T. Leroy's photo on the cover of one of his books.)

Through Cooper and Gaitskill, J.T. received a comfortable advance from a publishing company for what were mere scribblings on scraps of paper. At the same time, Leroy was plugged into the New York City hype machine, becoming noteworthy for his past lifestyle more than his mediocre writing. With much help, after two years he produced a passable novel.

About Tom Bissell

Two points about Bissell's essay in Harper's magazine.

1.) It shows again the establishment rewarding one of their writer's misdeeds. Bissell was caught engaging in plagiarism in a previous Harper's essay. The magazine, in a sign of arrogance, without apology or explanation makes sure to quickly present another essay of his (a bizarre one at that) to show they're beyond public accountability.

It's no different from corrupt Rick Moody appearing as a judge on awards panel after awards panel, or Jonathan Franzen being rewarded for his own questionable grants behavior by being published continually in The New Yorker.

2.) Bissell's memoir follows the pattern of mentor Dave Eggers in exploiting, for personal benefit, his family. (Bissell's essay is a one-sided hatchet job on his own father.) At least write it as fiction! His father is presented as a crazed cartoon-- this laudable, I guess, under the guise of presenting "everything" about oneself to the world: the Exhibition of Self explaining why Tom Bissell is an establishment suck-up.

In Dave Eggers's case his memoir of highly questionable accuracy led to the death of his sister-- one of those topics polite literary folk won't talk about. It would be bad manners. (In the old days writers presented truth disguised as fiction and called it a novel. Today's writers present fiction disguised as truth and call it a memoir.)

The established literary scene is as rotten as a brown squishy apple containing nothing salvageable. One can only look on in horror at the spreading decay mess on the table of culture.

MY QUESTION is why writers take the System and the individuals inhabiting it at all seriously. Can't they see they're either hapless bureaucrats (Augenbraum), mendacious opportunists (Eggers), or feckless clowns (Franzen)-- all lacking the talent and character needed from mainstays of literature?

About the Photos

The behavior of many attendees to the National Book Awards soiree fiasco, avoiding protestors and cameras, was akin to that of criminals.

The affair was so closed (I was quickly ejected from the premises) and secretive, in a secure, well-guarded hotel, that one might easily imagine it to have been the meeting of a great criminal enterprise. In many ways it was.

Questions: Why was no defense given to my Monday Report on the awards? Not one person spoke up. No word from Mr. Augenbraum. Or, as Jeff asks, why have none of the individuals in the photos come forward to say, "That's me!" What are they hiding from? Daylight? Are they vampires?

Have there been write-ups of the closed-door event itself? Mentions of those who were there? Or is that forbidden? Why did NO mainstream media outlets who discussed the controversy over the fiction nominations mention Rick Moody's past abuse of awards processes?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is today's establishment literature. Not an edifying picture.

Friday, November 26, 2004

"The Sniffles of War": A Memoir by Tom Bisser

(From a current magazine.)

In adolescence as you sit with thumb in mouth among your toys and comic books there is always the War, that your Dad was in the War, every Vietnam unhappy dinnertime meal Dad going berserk are you reminded of the Vietnam War. Nightmares daymares wacked-out stereotype multiple-personality Vietnam Dad My Lai massacre flashbacks blowing-up neighbor's garbage cans laughing wildly insanely crying former Marine Dad.

We go to Vietnam. The War Museum. The My Lai perpetrators. The atrocities. German tourists saying "Worse than Auschwitz! Ja!"

"Kill the trees!" Dad yells in proof, shooting with fingers German tourists scattering Dad burying head in Communist flag weeping violently saying over and over "I'm sorry! Sorry!"

A camera. My father stops walking and stares at a camera. A Yashica camera.

"Dad-- what is it, Dad," I ask.

"I had that camera, with me," he sobs. "When I came to Vietnam."

Vietnam haunts my Dad's memories. Memories of Vietnam.

Dad red-faced enraged is suddenly destroying the Yashica camera.

He sits by the roadside among the shattered remnants of the camera and the destroyed memories of Vietnam, of his Vietnam-scarred brain.

"We killed-- everybody," Dad says.

Thankfully this is only an essay. Otherwise there'd be lots of bodies.

This barely-disguised tolerance for murder during an election year topical subject Vietnam for an essay John Kerry sobs of Vietnam significance gets this published Vietnam madness good old crazy available Vietnam Dad.

We were always estranged he was the long-time loony-tune caricature nutcase in the attic but now when I need a subject for an essay lots of madness atrocities topical significance make a spectacle of him there is, thankfully, Dad.

"What does your father do?" someone asks. Even though Vietnam was 35 years ago I want to tell the person about Vietnam about my Dad want to tell someone. Instead I shrug and say, "He's crazy."

We are hunting in the woods. We are hunting quail in the woods even though I don't like hunting and my father is Vietnam crazy spraying trees with bullets there we are anyway in the woods at the conclusion of this weepy and significant Vietnam-haunted essay. We both, Dad and I, are haunted by Vietnam. We get lost in the woods.

"Marines don't get lost!" old Vietnam Dad tells me. Not lost. Not my Dad. A Marine. A crazy Vietnam Marine. But my Dad. He says nothing. I say nothing. He begins crying. I begin sobbing. We hold each other in an epiphany of reconciliation and tell ourselves over and over not to think anymore again about Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam.

The McSweeney's Saga: An Analysis


The Intent:

Deliberate exclusiveness; intentional snob appeal. This shows in the first cover's pretentious and off-putting design; with the footnotes; and in the pseudo-scientific essays constructed to drive away the hardiest ordinary reader, leaving those who'll buy the publication for other reasons. Eggers went after the snob segment of the young literati and he got it.

The Believer has a slightly different mix, where the complex pretentiousness has been toned down a trifle, the narcissism (an essential part of the Eggers phenomenon) bumped up. The cover displays literary posers (drawn in posed, self-loving fashion): the artistic equivalent of David Berman's poems.

Good News for Detroit

Word has it that the Motor City (my former home) is now only the second-most dangerous city in the nation, after Camden, down from first.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Blog Report: "The Constipated Writer"

This is the name of a famous lit-blog. You know it well. The name of it looks different sometimes, but "The Constipated Writer" is its real name all the same because it expresses the blog's fully achieved purpose. It's written, of course, by: The Constipated Writer!

The Constipated Writer's self-appointed task is to embalm literature as one would an insect in amber. To keep it static, unmoving, never changing. To turn literature not into a living flowing servant of our imaginations, but into a rock planted on the shore for eternity as the river of culture passes it by. The Constipated Writer-- famed lit-blogger-- sits on that rock watching currents of the future leave him behind. For this he's happy.

To achieve his task the Constipated Writer makes it his mission to discourage as many original writers as possible. He does this through his collection of rules. They exist in a moldy book as thick as a manual of government regulations, always handy in the steel-drawer desk of his mind when needed to pull forth to cite chapter and verse; Title 89, Section 40DD, paragraph 5, subsection (g).

The Constipated Writer is a literary bureaucrat whose manual is all he has to cling to, lacking-- like all good bureaucrats-- any spark of originality or imagination. He constructs competent papers, yes, which are copies of many thousands of similar papers produced over the past decades; recycled thoughts and analyses noteworthy only for their fidelity of similarity to what hundreds of other literary bureaucrats on other blogs are also producing; showing the wisdom of loyalty to the machine. The manual, in fact, shows how to write such papers. "Creative Writing Rulebook #501," a thousand pages long. The Constipated Writer follows the manual religiously.

Why, he thinks, without rules we have nothing! It would be the road away from order into chaos, into new territory. One might think that future writing will look different from what we have today. The idea of this, to him, is frightening. "We must not abandon the rules!" he cries out. He searches the landscape for unknown young writers who don't follow the rules, who break away from the System he's made it his Loyal Duty to defend. The obedient lapdog! Wearing on his chest a brass medallion with the words "Literary Bureaucrat" upon it. A servile flunkie.

The bridge troll monitors writings on other sites-- but not what the writings say, their truths or facts. How they affect the reader doesn't matter to him. It's not his job to be swayed by such considerations! Are the forms in triplicate, properly completed? If not, anything said on them is meaningless. They must be stamped in red bureaucratic ink "REJECTED" and returned to the offending party. (The Constipated Writer's behavior marks him as the essence of mediocrity. He wraps himself in this, taking pride in the fact.)

Case in point: A story has come to his attention. Intolerable! He's crying in frustration. The writer isn't playing by the rules! He's instead striving for new ways to look at the world; different ways to express things-- INSTEAD of writing his story the same controlled constipated way. Anarchist! Look, look! The Constipated Writer is desperate to show what he means.

"What is this, 'explodes from the room'" The Constipated Writer asks? "Is a man a firecracker that he explodes?" Forget that now the reader can see the actions of the character better. This should not be the aim! The rules; the rules! The goal isn't to entertain the reader! The goal always every instance all the time without exception should be to write PROPERLY. It's to follow the rules. Otherwise the literary universe won't proceed comfortably; our precious Literature won't stay "our own thing"-- the Constipated Writer's cherished baby-- but might instead reach out to other people, who may accidentally incautiously look at a website or pick up a zeen and enjoy what they read.

This Malvolio-- Champion of the Safe and the Bland-- is more of a mindset than a person. Himself brainwashed, he represents the brainwashing of "craft" which leaves us with literary story after literary story that's polished, refined, gutted, similar, dull to the eye, dead to the brain, fit for leaving the reader sleepy and yawning, but ready for the approval of monitoring bureaucrats like the Constipated Writer.

(Have a happy Thanksgiving everybody-- or at least a survivable one!)

Fools at USA Today

Re: Harriet Rubin in Monday's Nov. 22 USA Today, "The Forum" section.

When a journalist goes to the trouble of discussing history to make her points, she should at least get her facts straight. Rubin says,

"The Founding Fathers were followed by presidents whom history is hard-pressed to remember. Even his contemporaries asked, 'Who is James Polk?' But one doesn't remember them because they did not lead the nation into ka-booming wars, dramas or revolutions."

Yeah, except that, using a trumped-up incident, in 1845 James Polk led the U.S. into the contentious land-grabbing Mexican-American War. Ka-boom!

Duh! Kind of forgot that, didn't you, Harriet?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Impatient Overdog

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Dialogue; free speech; contrary opinions-- alien concepts to this guy. When literature is in the hands of aristocrats and bureaucrats instead of idealists it's cause to worry.

Does the woman look familiar?

(Be sure to read the Monday Report narrative related to these snapshots at www.literaryrevolution.com.)

Friendly Overdog

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
He was pleased to be photographed, not surprised at all, and happily accepted a flyer-- which disillusioned him the instant he saw "PROTEST" in large letters at the top of it.

Angry Overdog

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
I was trying to give this character a flyer, talking at him, but he wasn't interested. Single-minded in focus. What's his story: Journalist? Agent? Editor? Somebody's nephew?

Think of having him read your manuscript.

Drunk Overdog

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Anyone work for this guy? This soggy fatcat staggered, wavered, and wobbled across Broadway.

(No one has provided better, more active, more involved coverage of the National Book Awards than this blog.)

Cautious Overdogs

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Notice people looking at my hat-- the idea, when snapping photos, to A.) get folks to look up; B.) get them to smile.

Unfortunately, the sad demi-puppets weren't up to smiling. (Click the photo for a better view.)

Curious Overdogs

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
"Don't look now, but that guy has a bird on his hat."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Swanky Overdogs

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Aristocrats anxious for their $12,000 table at the National Book Awards!

(More photos to follow. Stay tuned.)

Close-up of Overdogs

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
WANTED: For crimes against literature. Who are these people?

Arrival of the Overdogs

Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Here's a picture of literary miscreants arriving at the National Book Awards. Does anyone recognize anyone? More photos to follow!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Book Awards Recap

I've written a report about protesting the National Book Awards, which the ULA's Steve Kostecke has confiscated for a new Monday Report. (Which I hope gets up early.) Please watch for it! I also have a several photos which I hope to have up on the www.literaryrevolution.com fan site early next week. Don't miss these!

(p.s. "The McSweeney's Saga" will return to its regularly scheduled slot here next week.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Awards for the Birds

I just got back from protesting the National Book Awards in New York-- demonstrating that this blog goes farther than any other in giving you direct reportage of literary fiascos and scandals. Due to miscommunications and short notice I did this protest solo-- but did share info with other protestors who were there, great people from a group attacking the 9-11 report.

As prop I had with me one of Philly's famous "flying bird hats" (M.P. take note); an attention-getter hard to top.

I plan to write by Friday a full report on this event, which you won't want to miss. Among the highlights: being escorted out of the hotel by security; confiscation and dismantling of protest signs by New York City cops; arrogance and panic among the fatcats when confronted with picketing, signs, flyers, camera flashes, and one flying bird hat-- all set amid the riotous spectacle that is the city of New York.

I took a couple dozen photographs, but fear many will be blurred, as most of those great believers in dialogue inhabiting the publishing world were running away when the photos were snapped! I can't wait until they're developed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Are They Waking Up?

Everyone is now complaining about Mr. Moody-- but where were they four years ago when the ULA first pointed out how corrupt the guy is? The question remains, given his track record, how and why he was named as Chair of the NBF's Fiction Panel in the first place.

This controversy shows that the head-in-the-sands attitude of literary people regarding corruption in their ranks is a failed strategy.

(The best starting point for reading about Moody's past record is the ULA's 2002 Special Report, "Cronyism in the Lit World," down a ways on the News page at the ULA's www.literaryrevolution.com fan site.)


The word I get is that at least one of the nominated novels is "experimental" and execrable-- so bad that even its author doesn't understand why it was nominated.

We have the possibility that poor Mr. Augenbraum has been conned by Mr. Moody, a guy who by his actions (not to mention his writings) seems to hate literature and will do everything he can to bring it down. What could more discredit these awards than nominating five scarcely readable novels that might have been picked out of a hat-- each one by a New York City author? (Friends of friends of his?) It's an in-your-face move. Moody seems to be saying, "I'm an elitist and proud of it"-- proving that he can get away with anything. The idea in this case is that one could present to the bureaucrats at the National Book Foundation deliberate nonsense and they'd accept it. Moody is playing the role of one of the mischievous tailors in "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Has the truth dawned on the literati yet? They've been had.

Democracy or Aristocracy? Part II

"The fault . . . is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings."

Where is the outrage?

Where in this vast mighty America holding tens of thousands of struggling writers, some of them strikingly talented, is there outrage about the dominance of literature by an exclusive elite? Where are the populations of demi-puppets in this fight? On which side?

As the Hogs of Literature gather in Manhattan at $12,000 tables, where are the demi-puppets?

As literature is dragged ever further into irrelevance by foppish rich judges applauding literary poetry and fiction devoid of character and life, where are the demi-puppets?

Maybe I should pose my questions more directly.

To the hundreds of lit-bloggers: Is Rick Moody a better writer than you?

To good writers publishing in lowly journals, zeens, and web sites: Is Rick Moody a better writer and thinker than you also?

To performing verbal artists: Does Moody carry better words or voice?

To demi-puppet assistants and proofreaders at grunt paper or publishing jobs: Do you also rate him better, above you by merit and right?

What about our society's unconnected unknown novelists with books better than his or his panelists' or his nominees'? What makes Moody worthy? Why is he Judge of literature and not you? Because of his ideas? His INTEGRITY?!!

This blog is a lone voice of contrary thinking attempting to open barricaded doors and throw light upon the monied machinations of today's literary scene-- including those at the Marriott Marquis who move around funding, awards, and names like so many shell games without observers to monitor their honesty.

Literature belongs to all people, not just to a cultural aristocracy; not just to a fake-philanthropic foundation that gives us a "National Book Awards" showcase of intellectual conformity-- awards which represent not even a sliver of America's real culture nor a whisper of America's strong authentic voice.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Democracy or Aristocracy? Part I

"What need we any spur but our own cause to prick us to redress?"

This week the hogs congregate in New York City.

The irony to me is that most of the black-tie people who'll be sitting at the $12,000 tables undoubtedly voted for a "Democratic" party. In the fantasies of their minds they fashion themselves democrats, while having no understanding of the meaning of the word-- which is inexcusable for literary people. Where will be the "many" at their high-priced tables? (Many feasting snorting farm animals is about all one can say.)

The setting for this year's National Book Awards will be New York's Marriott Marquis, a gigantic, lavish, and expensive playground for privileged members of the planet's richest city.

First, readers, for those of you who've never been there, obtain in your heads a picture of the metropolis where this monster hotel is located. Nowhere else in America will you see conspicuous wealth to such extent, and extreme poverty, side by side. The aristocrats wear furs and ride in limousines and carriages while down the street Third World types labor in sweatshops or in back of restaurants to serve these people; while scurvy homeless rifle through garbage. Towering wealth! Manhattan is the center of global finance. (It's a fact that the gold reserves even of Europe are stored in vaults beneath Manhattan streets.) Much of the wealth of the city's fortunate families is preserved in tax scam foundations like, well, the National Book Foundation.

(Is it a surprise that Rick Moody, whose banker father sits on another foundation, was chosen to play a prominent role by this one?)

Think of Manhattan and envision a fortress hotel at the center of it, by all accounts designed to be a fortress-- a perfect metaphor for the state of establishment literature today. (For security reasons the lobby is eight floors from street level.) Inside this structure described as "insular" by hotel guides is a gigantic atrium, countless large restaurants and bars, even a theater. It's patrolled by armies of security. One can believe that when the aristocrats arrive in expensive dresses and black ties, lacking only top hats to mark them as gilded Capitalists of the worst kind, they'll be whisked quickly from limos to inside. You know, the "democrats"; Mailer, Sontag, Oates, Franzen, Updike; the heads of various arts foundations; representatives of book publishing giants and influential high-circulation newspapers and magazines. Maybe even the "Leftists" will be there; all those champagne socialists and black tie radicals like Katrina von vanden Heuvel, Robert B. Phony Silvers, and Lewis High Hat Lapham.

Their persons will be as secure and safe as their ideas; as protected, bunkered, cordoned off; removed from any risk of equal exchange or free debate about their cronyistic world and the condition of their dying art. I don't know about occupiers in Iraq, but I know there are occupiers in Manhattan; Overdog occupiers of American literature who've dragged it into their own personal green zone at the Marriott Marquis-- but this gang of occupiers has no intention of ever opening their world to freedom and democracy. They've made no plans to leave.

(Part II to follow shortly.)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Exchange with National Book Foundation

Re: The new Monday Report.

First I sent an e-mail to the National Book Foundation, asking questions about their awards process. Excerpts from my e-mail:

"The question is how and why Rick Moody was named Chair of your panel. Surely you know he's been involved with controversy over literary awards in the past. . . .

"Rick Moody is the poster boy for cronyism and corruption in the grants process-- and yet he chaired your panel. What explanation do you have for this? Who made the decision?"

In his response, NBF head Harold Augenbraum said, "I've spent the past hour reading your web site and I'd love to talk after our awards process and hear some of your ideas in more detail."

What do you think? Was he just blowing me off?

I'm reminded of the carnival that came to town, and hired all kinds of local young people to work for it. The carnival boss told them they'd be paid AFTER the carnival ended; "AFTER we count the receipts," he said while chewing on a cigar. The day after the carnival the kids showed up where the carnival had been to discover only an empty lot.

The McSweeney's Saga: Endorsing a Candidate


Before the election, negotiations were intense over whether the Cult would or would not endorse Senator Kerry. They met in a basement room in Cult headquarters, where reporters were unlikely to snoop.

"You must understand," Cult representatives said cryptically to the candidate. "There are people . . . out there. People who. . . ."

The woman with long hair and longer fingernails didn't finish her sentence. Her psychotic eyes glanced knowingly around. It was assumed the Senator knew of what she spoke.

"Will I get to meet-- him?" the candidate asked.

"Oh no!" the woman exclaimed, showing anxiety at the thought. Minions around her nervously murmured. The Senator, though like all politicos not the sharpest of dudes, was increasingly creeped out.

The witch woman nodded to one of her flunkies, who pulled out a folder of drawings.

"We'll have you on the cover of our #2 publication, with glowing rays shooting out," the flunkie said with facile enthusiasm.

The Senator was surprised. "I don't think you understand," he said. "That's not why I'm here."

The witch woman stared at him as he endeavored to clarify himself.

"We," the Senator said, "Want you to NOT endorse my candidacy."

But, the cover went through anyway. The rest is history. The Senator's campaign crashed and burned like a collapsing skyscraper. Now we know why.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Mr. Beller: Too Long in the Neighborhood

The name of Tom Beller's "Mr. Beller's Neighborhood" web site of course is a takeoff on the Mister Rogers TV show. Lately Beller has borrowed not just from the title, but also from Fred Rogers's childlike way of thinking and speaking. An example of this is Beller's recent essay, "Thank you for helping save democracy." An excerpt:

"If you support John Kerry for president and plan on voting for him, that is not enough. Voting and hoping is not enough. Democracy is an ocean, and your vote is a teaspoon in that body of water. You have to be a spoon yourself and help get some more votes into that ocean. You have to take action. If you and every person who feels strongly about John Kerry being a better choice for president takes action, he will win. BUT YOU MUST ACT!

"There are many ways to do this, but perhaps the easiest is to make phone calls. It is so necessary, and so satisfying."

Tom's essay is so satisfying! Has everyone become a spoon? (Can you believe this simpleton is considered one of New York City's best writers?)

But now he's sad. Mr. Beller is sad. Because Mr. Kerry lost. Not enough spoons. But be bright! Now Mr. Beller can work for Mr. Bush. Writing speeches. For Bush! A perfect fit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Cynical Look at Credits

Classic demi-puppet behavior: They carry their publishing credits everywhere, ready to bring forth and wear as badges of dubious honor.

Credits are the ultimate sign of decadence and insecurity among writers-- protective blankets to wrap themselves in to hide the fact of their work. (That even established writers in "prestigious" journals feel the need to list their credits is a sign of literature's desperation. The distance between the lowliest lit-zeen and, say, the Paris Review in terms of how much attention society pays to them is very small.)

Every writer you encounter is anxious to list his credits: "Well, yes, of course you must well be aware that I have been after all published in The Stale University Review, Defunct Quarterly, Mudpie, Croation City, Tenth Planet, and Blowfart!" Every obscure lit-journal in the universe-- the list of credits makes the writer's standing inarguable. How can one dispute such a resume? One can only admire it. There's hardly a need to read the works themselves. That would be superfluous.

The explosion of literary web sites greatly expands the opportunity for the writer to accummulate even more impressive (if never heard of) credits to flail around: Shipsunk, Mobycorpse, Brainshot, Garbleriot, Hairnet, Craponline, to name several of thousands. "Surely you've heard of them?" the writer declaims. (I do sometimes wonder if people make up their credits.)

The pinnacle of the usefulness of credits comes when the writer gives a reading, and a host or emcee has to introduce the person. Then we're given not only the entire lengthy list of publication credits-- print and on-line journals both-- but all previous readings-- that he was a featured performer at "Prison Skyfest 1992" and "Big Poetry Bash Twelve." A record of undoubted accomplishment.

You're sitting among five others on rusted metal folding chairs in a cramped, poorly-lit space between shelves in a tiny bookstore across from a toxic waste dump in a small town in New Jersey. You think one of three things listening to the array of credits.
A.) They're very lucky to get this guy to read at this shitty place.
B.) Boy, has he come down in the world since 1992.
C.) Maybe "Big Poetry Bash Twelve" wasn't so big.

But the intro to the Great Poet goes on as you look at your watch and the personage Himself clears his throat and intently clutches a sheaf of disarrayed pages. (Every poet who reads is The Great Poet, merely a different incarnation. It's written over their faces.) The Great Poet stands expectantly as the audience listens to the full litany of Credits. We're supposed to be impressed. The Great Poet certainly is, preening and smug, even buoyant-- even nervous-- getting to perform before six sleepy poetry fans in this chemical-stained metropolis. He rises up and down on his toes, limbering up. Then it's finally time to read. He searches through his pages.

"The swanky ship,

That's it! That was his poem.

"That was in Hairnet," the Poet adds.

Encouraged by the audience response (we sat as rigid and silent as tombstones), The Great Poet tries another.

"The dead skunk hangs
from the tree"


"That one was in Garbleriot."

As you hurriedly leave the bookstore-- the kindly blind proprietor unlocking the door, you accidentally stepping on her sleeping cat-- the Poet is loudly and desperately explicating his work's meaning: "Notice the affinity of 'sunk' and 'skunk' in the two places. . . ."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Lewis Lapham: Editor for Life?

Campaign to Impeach Lewis Lapham as Editor of Harper's Magazine.

Wealthy blueblood Lewis Lapham has a lot of nerve always complaining about privilege and nobility when he's the best example of same in the United States. He's been welded into the Harper's Editor chair for-- how long? Over 20 years? With no signs of departure. Two Marine brigades fresh from battle in Fallujah couldn't blast him out of there, though we suspect that's what it would take. For complete honesty he should change his title to "Dictator for Life."

It's not as if he offers anything new in Harper's pages-- the same stale essays and stories by the same stale writers; Francine Prose, Louis Menand, Vince Passaro, and the like; guaranteed to be of Lapham's same mindset. (Maybe they attend the same Manhattan parties.) Lapham's own contributions are predictably similar-- descriptions of courtiers in Washington. He hasn't had a new insight in decades. Try something new! Talk about courtiers around the Editor's chair at your magazine. One wonders if the staff has a few dozen Lapham editorials on file which they keep in rotation.

Which raises the question of Lewis Lapham's condition. I'm not saying he's in Arafat shape (well, metaphorically he is); more like the decrepit Brezhnev-style rulers during the Soviet Union's last days-- wacked-out to the max but surrounded by yes-people too dim-witted to mention retirement to the guy. Must keep the rusty machine operating! Lapham-- spawn of a rich New York banking family-- is on good terms with the billionaire who finances the thing so the mag keeps staggering along on its million-dollar tax-avoiding subsidy.

Harper's is known as one of the flagships of American writing and it's completely fossilized. Term limits for editors? Why not? Let's enact some before the Harper's staff decides to stuff the guy after he dies. They'll have someone behind his desk speaking for him-- moving his arms on occasion-- to keep their comfortable scam operating. As long as he's silver-haired, polished, and stiff as usual it'll fool people.

(Not the last word on this campaign.)

Books: Eric Jager

The Last Duel, a book of medieval history, by Eric Jager.

History that reads like a novel, this is the story of a joust to the death by a knight and a squire over charges of rape put forth by the wife of one of the men. It's a fascinating look at the process of medieval justice, building to one of the most exciting climaxes you'll ever read. Based on historical accounts, the narrated joust gives the lie to the idea that books can't compete with movies and TV. Jager skillfully displays the advantages of words-- descriptions of the weight of armor the men wore, the weapons they carried, the rituals they performed, the physical and emotional stress they were under, the people who watched them-- all of which adds to the suspense. The fight to the death itself is filled with heart-pounding excitement. Yet this is non-fiction! What could a novelist add to the mix?

As it stands, The Last Duel is as thrilling a book, or media experience of any kind, as you're likely to find, demonstrating the fundamentals of literary art-- mystery, characterization, information, simplicity, drama, tragedy. When done well, it's as precise and exhilarating a show as a ritualized medieval joust.

Very highly recommended to everyone who loves to read.

(Available at bookstores and libraries.)

Reading Magazines without Buying Them Dept.

Newsweek kicks Time's ass with their election coverage this week. It's a shutout; not even close.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Challenge to Thomas Frank

Tom Frank (ex-Baffler) had an interesting editorial in last Friday's New York Times about why the Republicans won. Put aside Frank's idealistic notion that a party (the Democrats) controlled by large corporations and billionaires could ever pursue the "economic populism" he speaks about. His essay has value because he at least brings up "the subject of social class" in this nation.

But how misguided! Frank talks about populism, liberal elites, the "professional class"; about how the Democrats went wrong, but forgets that he's a member of the same band of elite intellectuals the public is so not in love with.

Mr. Frank, maybe the answer is not to have trained "experts" always speaking for us (in snooty papers like the NY Times), but to have We the People for once begin to speak for ourselves. This is what the Underground Literary Alliance is about. We disdain all outmoded unworkable categories of Right and Left. We're bringing true democracy to public discourse-- to the media. Up with the independent populist press! Down with intellectual elites and hierarchies wherever they're found!

That's our message, Mr. Frank. That's our rebellion-- our path to genuine populism. Free the culture and the rest will follow. We invite you to join our cause.

Lit Critics Old and New

The reason I have so much scorn for Sven Birkerts, an embedded establishment critic, is not just because he lacks independent thought, but because what he does is so much of the past.

Birkerts writes Old Style criticism. He constructs massively dull essays lacking provocation, wit, or reason for interest about dull intellectual authors; the essays not aimed at the public (they'd need a translator) but at other Old Style literary critics; literary high priests in long robes who can smile wisely at his words, put a hand on them and signal they're officially Approved-- then run into the john with a copy of Hustler or Boys Life, depending upon preference. It's a charade; a hoax.

When Birkerts has enough long and dull essays he'll collect them into a book, which will be shelved with pages uncut at the university library to gather dust-- there just in case future generations wonder if we had any literary criticism in our day. Fifty years from now they can go to the same university library, see Birkerts's book, untouched, and say, "Yep, there it is!"

The New Style of lit criticism is what you'll find on this blog.

Pummelling the Franzen Dummy

Re: Last week's review of the Jonathan Franzen story.

Sometimes it feels like overkill, but the guy is such an easy target, I know if I ever run out of material for this blog, all I have to do is find if he's published anything lately. We have the combination of two factors: 1.) He's the establishment's Great Hope to become a great writer; 2.) He's the biggest stooge in American letters today.

Seriously. Some of the ULA's opponents are outright evil, yet somewhat bright (D.E.). Franzen is just clueless-- the person who did indeed just fall off the proverbial turnip truck.

And so, we at the ULA have set up a metaphorical punching bag with Jonathan Franzen's name on it, there to whack anytime he makes a public utterance, accepts taxpayer money he doesn't need, or publishes something.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

ULA Internal Stuff

The main problem the ULA has had from the beginning is getting members and interested parties to think in terms not of "I," but "we." Baseball announcer Joe Morgan has said that on the best teams, players realize they benefit AS INDIVIDUALS when they put the team first. Putting down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner benefits the individual if the team wins. As Moragn put it, when you think about team, "Good things happen."

There's an appropriateness to this idea. There IS karma in the universe. Things don't occur in a straight line. For people to understand the nature of the universe they need to abandon linear, individualistic thinking. I don't think it's an accident that I've gained the most attention as an individual among ULAers by abandoning much of my own writing and working hardest to promote the team, the ULA name.

In many ways there's no mystery to the idea at all. By promoting the group, the individual benefits. There's synergy in working together. Most writers by nature are so overwhelmingly self-focused they're unable to see this. They play not chess, but checkers-- seeing the game board only one move ahead: as it is at THIS moment of time, instead of what it could look like. They'll always take the pawn-- the chess piece directly in front of them, even if it means abandoning future gain, shutting off future victory.

This is understandable for poets, who are notoriously self-absorbed-- this week's reading the only existent fact in the universe for them. Prosists-- would-be novelists-- should be able to view the world with its layers of complexity from a broader viewpoint. (One reason we have no great novels from the establishment is because those writing them were trained to write insular short stories. They have little experience in any field that would require them to view the world expansively.)

Team: Polar explorers would start out with several teams. When getting close to the goal they would put their energies behind one team-- one push to the destination, knowing that joining forces and focus was the only way to triumph. This is thinking I try to give to ULAers, not often successfully. They join up and move into the spartan ULA barracks, where the only topic, the only goal, is working together to get to the compassed destination-- but they want to bring all their baggage with them. Dozens of large suitcases! filled with unneeded soft summer clothes, with silly games and distractions; with their own personal much-beloved projects which are fine and well but have nothing to do with conquering the culture; with getting to "the pole," the problem at hand. As the hard-trained explorers ready their dogs, their gear, and themselves for the struggle ahead, the new person, dressed in spotless white-- polo shirt and shorts-- is thinking about tennis! waving around a racket, all eagerness relating stories of the lawns of Wimbledon 10,000 miles away-- you want to tell the person there are no lawns or tennis courts where we're traveling.

When we do set out with our huskies and our sleds the person will be snoring away loudly, unprepared, unserious, not an Amundsen pro but a Robert Scott amateur who might best have stayed in comfortable Britain among the ladies and tea cups.

Blog Report: Politics

With the overlong election campaign at last over, let me suggest that readers of political blogs move to lit-blogs instead.

Aren't people sick of politics? Disgusted nauseated hospital emergency room traumatized?

We've had politics shoved down our throats and slammed over our heads. The perpetual propaganda campaign only demonstrated the utter bankruptcy of our political system and the total blundering mediocrity of those who front it. Hundreds of political bloggers have engaged in hosannas of hype about shitty trivialities of difference between two monopolistic "parties" which aren't very different at all, merely two styles of hogs at the trough. Pseudo-Conservative Weekly Standard or phony-Leftist Wonkette are able to generate interest in this ludicrous sideshow as they hungrily push for their own places in the mud. Enough!

I invite folks to find meaning in literature and art, the greatest truth.

The McSweeney's Saga: Becoming a Cult


Setting: The McSweeney's Temple in San Francisco.

An unknowing writer wanders down winding halls.

In a sideroom: Plans for a Massive Cathedral in northern California dedicated to the Great One.

Outside a thick window: On the sidewalk below, brainwashed celebrants bang tambourines. No sound of this drifts within. The writer who has incautiously entered this inscrutable postmodern madhouse realizes the building is sound proof. Bars over the windows indicate escape is impossible.

No noise inside the building either. But wait-- soft murmurs drift through the unlit passages, an undertone of a person reading phrases from a holy book: The Memoir.

Another room: More mad people constructing a magazine appropriately named, THE BELIEVER.

Small children wander throughout this Neverland with vacant eyes and vague smiles on their faces, then vanish. The Workshop mind-control method of literature, begun ten years early.

A twisting maze of hallways and rooms filled with mysterious giggling crazy people.

A woman with long hair and longer fingernails cackling as she plunges a knife into photos of known Cult enemies. She's dressed entirely in black. "A ha ha hahahahahahaha!" she screams. The writer closes the door, insane laughter cut off; muffled into non-existence. His wife?

Somewhere deep within, the leader himself. Is this a neurotic dream? His dream? Psychotic? A nightmare?

(To be continued.)

Magazine Report: THE NEW YORKER

Fiction: "Breakup Stories" by Jonathan Franzen.

"Our friend Danni's young husband has been intending, since before he was her husband, to talk about his feelings about having children, but because these feelings consisted mainly of reluctance and aversion, and because Danni, who was a few years older than he, was unmistakeably determined to have a family, this conversation promised to be so unhappy that the young husband still hadn't managed to begin it by the time Danni reached a career plateau and announced that she was ready."

Follow that? Still with us? This is the opening sentence of the very long and completely boring opening paragraph of Franzen's tale.

The best writer the establishment has to offer has no ability whatsoever to hook the reader-- none; nada-- because he has no natural talent as a writer. Call him the Mechanical Man, his talent constructed in a workshop. Maybe he was.

To all undergrounders and demi-puppets reading this: please look at the entire story in this (Nov. 8) issue. It consists of ungodly long paragraphs of dead prose. I can't say if the story ever improves. For me it was unreadable-- the endless relating of boring facts, without relief, about boring people. It might conceivably interest an intellectual clique within a clique. I wouldn't know.

Go look at this dead story. Go quickly to the NEW YORKER museum where it hangs like a dead carcass. It's a clarion call for literary rebellion. The walls of the establishment castle are made of cardboard.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

(Literary) Common Ground?

The question has come up whether the ULA is looking for common ground with other lit-groups. Yes we are! But we do so without sacrificing our integrity and principles. We ask that potential allies accept our minimum premise.

That premise is mentioned in my previous post: The idea-- the truth-- that American literature has failed its public and is in need of change. (We could extend that to literature in the English language.) Is this so hard to acknowledge? To fail to accept this is to have no ambition about literature and what it can accomplish.

The ULA is optimistic not just about our organization and our mission, but about literature itself. Literature-- the written word-- IS our mission. That mission is fully our identity. No other writers have as much faith in literature as we do. No one else seeks to spread it to everyone. Others are outright defeatist. "Woe is us!" they exclaim. "Against MTV, how can we compete?" So they don't try to compete. To spite the public they regress into thumbsuckers, constructing works ever more inscrutable and inward-looking; behaving like angry two year-olds. This is the philosophy of the MCSWEENEY'S crowd, the negative alternative to the ULA's positive outlook. They intentionally flip off the world, putting up barriers of language, jargon, and footnotes, allowing only the Elect into their snobby ranks as they congregate fearfully within their 826 Valencia bunker.

Other writers express their pessimism in quieter ways, becoming ticket-punching bureaucrats; caretakers; monks in office hideouts trying to preserve the art while barbarians circle outside the monastery walls.

ULAers are those barbarians. We're saying, "Hand your religion of literature to us. Let us spread it, not like monks but crusaders." We've drawn to our banner those who'd never be thought fit subjects for the art; for the word. We've taken it up without prodding or payment, on our own, from sheer love for it. What could be better, or stronger? What could be more radical?

We want writers, poets, and related folk of all kinds, at all levels, to join or aid our rebellion; our crusade to re-energize literary culture. There is no more necessary task for this civilization. We offer not a cocoon but a cause.

The Rejected Letter

"It's nice to see spirited defenses from Stefan Beck and John Jackson to my blog posts-- but again, they avoid the substance of my argument. Instead, all that these great minds weaned on the Great Books can do is produce irrelevant quotes or engage in weak and snippy attacks.

"The substance of my argument is that:
1.) American literature is largely irrelevant to the American public;
2.) The present overseers of literature have failed;
3.) The NEW CRITERION has no discernible program for addressing this.

"You don't think there's a problem so you fail to address WHY literature doesn't affect the lives of the vast bulk of the American population, as, say, pop music does. Could it have anything to do with the fact that close to 90% of those on the mastheads of major magazines which promote and publish fiction, or at editorial positions at the major book companies, come from less than 1% of the population? (Ivy League grads.) These are either the most privileged or most conformist members of society. I say this is the wrong place to look for great artists.

"John Jackson is wrong when he says that 'real literary movements grow up organically.' Please study the career of Ezra Pound, and the literary movements he started. (I'd recommend the book 'Geniuses Together' by Humphrey Carpenter.) One would have a hard time finding movements of any kind which weren't sparked by intentional action, even plans, from Christianity to Communism to rock n roll, however much they took advantage of organic happenings-- just as the ULA is doing through its use of the organically created zine scene.

"All I see from Jackson and Beck instead is smugness which reveals more about the workings of their minds than about any flaws in what I said. . . .

"Jackson and Beck avoid my question about what distinguishes their aesthetic ideas from those of the NY REVIEW OF BOOKS. They avoid my points about funding, and what, yes, has made the ULA controversial, as evidenced by the many write-ups in Page Six. I was merely stating a fact. Don't words have meaning to you, Mr. Jackson? Or do you think they can be airily dismissed through nice-sounding aphorisms which mean nothing?

"Lastly, the Beats for all their faults represented stirrings of activity in American letters. They had energy. At least at the start, they wrote from amid the public, not looking down from on high on the world, and the best of their work is vibrant and alive, though admittedly not very refined. For the ULA they are among many role models, because they were serious about keeping the spark of the word alive. (The substance, you Overdogs, of literature is words-- communication through words with other humans. I can guarantee that we could put well-educated department store mannequins alongside ULAers in any venue: hall, saloon, or outdoor park; and one side's words would have much more energy and power.)

King Wenclas, Underground Literary Alliance."

NEW CRITERION Refuses Battle

Last week NEW CRITERION declined to post from me a response to recent mocking remarks on their blog from Stefan Beck and John Jackson, citing my letter's rudeness. I'll post my letter here so folks can judge for themselves.

Our exchange didn't rise even to the level of a flame war-- and TNC backed off. They shirked from what I most sought-- a clash of ideas.

Privately they and their allies dismissed my words ("the cad!") without addressing them, and in so doing, turned themselves into stereotypes.

That said, they offered more fight than the demi-puppets at BOOKFORUM, THE NEW YORKER, and THE NATION, who allowed themselves to be pummelled without one word of protest. I feel like Cortez confronting the Aztecs: Observing the facade of a glamorous empire which has no confidence or spark of enthusiasm behind it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Blame the Suntan

Unofficial ULA exit polling has determined that the #1 factor in John Kerry's apparent close defeat was his goofy fake suntan, which turned people off in the heartland.

The #2 reason cited by respondents was the endorsement of Kerry by THE BELIEVER, which cost the candidate an incalculable number of votes.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Unforgiveable Social Blunders

Jack Kerouac committed one of the most famous when he appeared drunk on William F. Buckley's TV show. Among other notable ungenteel social disasters:

-F. Scott Fitzgerald drunkenly insulting the English Department faculty while giving a speech to them during Dartmouth's Winter Carnival. (In town to film a movie, Fitzgerald's behavior ended his Hollywood writing career.)

-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev taking off his shoe and pounding the podium with it to make a point while giving a speech at the U.N. (The Cuban Missile Crisis followed soon thereafter.)

-German Ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop giving the Nazi salute when presented to the King of England. (This helped begin World War II.)

-Rock singer Gregg Allman passing out face-first in a plate of spaghetti at the reception to his wedding with Cher. (The marriage ended a few days later.)

Looking for Henry James

No other business in America is conducted as wrong-headedly as the lit-biz. Their major motivation, be they on the Right or the Left, is to discover another Henry James. To them, James is the exemplar of American letters. The only problem with this scenario is that for most readers Henry James is a colorless personality and extremely tedious author who didn't excite readers even in his own time.

For those who enjoy intricate puzzle word convolutions this doesn't matter! They'll cling to their idol even if they take literature with them; even as the ship of literature sinks around them as inexorably as the HMS Titanic.