Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Literary Cities: Provincialism

I wish a few local Philly writers could've made the trip with me to New York City when I protested the National Book Awards. It would've given them a clearer perspective on the nature of this nation's literary world.

The mammoth hotel in which the event was held reeked of money and power. The several block area of Manhattan around Times Square alone likely contains more wealth than all of Philadelphia. As for the participants, even the humblest, most "middle class" of them grew up in mansions compared to the backgrounds of undergrounders. They're from a markedly different class from us-- if not from a different planet.

In comparison to the massive scale and hyper-pace of New York City (beside which even Chicago seems hopelessly backward and provincial), Philly is a collection of mud huts. Unfortunately, the literary peasants (I don't use the word to be derogatory) of Philly are more focused either on fighting among themselves over literary table scraps, or scrambling crawling groveling fawningly across the muddied ground in quick subservience to the arrogant nobility of New York.

One of my favorite personalities from history is Vercingtorix, who took upon himself the mad task of uniting the Gallic tribes in the face of genocidal conquest by Julius Caesar and the Romans.

Imperial-minded Caesar-- compelling, supremely arrogant and ruthless-- was a Dave Eggers type, who would appear populist to achieve his goals of money, power, and dominance of all around him. His chief objective was control of the Roman elites. The Gauls were scarcely human to him. He trampled over them at will.

Gaul was a loose confederation, organized in non-hierarchical fashion. Its tribal leaders operated through consensus.

Vercingtorix saw the threat of Caesar and urged the Gauls to unite to preserve their freedom. His right to lead them came because he sought to. While many joined his banner, others, short-sighted, held back because of perceived slights, feelings that he wasn't worthy (mistakenly seeing Vercingtorix and not the imperialists as the enemy), unwillingness to work with other tribes, and simply because many Gallic chiefs remained on the Roman payroll.

Can you see the analogy? The writer today in the face of conglomerate dominance is powerless. Due to our numbers, we could turn that around. The cause is democracy and freedom. The oligarchs are the enemy. I often hear writers-- even bloggers-- wailing "woe is me! I can't get a break" yet at the same time disdaining the Underground Literary Alliance.

The ULA has put forth its banner. It stands planted firmly in the ground. We ask writers to wake up and rally around it.

1 comment:

Jeff Potter said...

Vercingtorix rocks!

...And has about the best name around.