Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Spirit of Literature

The Ongoing Battle of the Spirit versus the Machine.

Two opposing forces in the world since the advent of civilization have been represented by the conflict of the Spirit against the order and regulation of the Machine. Writers like Jerry Mander have written of the dehumanization of modern life. Or, "What profits a man to gain the world but lose his soul?"

We, all of us, are descended from peoples who had a radically different connection to the soul of the world and the universe than we do. Jerry Mander gives the example of American Indians-- but everyone once had similar lifestyles; whether Gallic tribes battling the crushing Imperialism of Caesar; wild Cossacks roaming across the vast plains and steppes of central Europe; darker tribes on the equally wide but much warmer plains of central Africa; or even, two thousand years ago, a band of fanatic vagabonds grouped around the Jewish mystic Jesus.

But always has come, encroaching, capturing, killing, or co-opting, the relentless march of the order and hierarchy of the Machine.

The anarchist impulse which was the spark of zeendom rose as a desperate reaction against the increasing artificiality and wage slavery of contemporary life. (Visions of workers marching like robots into the mouth of the monstrous factory in "Metropolis.") No, we're not ready for our fate-- not yet!

The ULA within itself contains these same contrasts, contradictions, and battles. We understand, I think, that we need to organize to have any independence and leverage as artists and writers, as the monopolization of literature marches on; as the book skyscrapers grow higher; the machine-prose of Machine writers like David Foster Wallace becomes more intellectualized, inhuman, and unreal; as the unconscious conformity of academia and the lit-world captures our minds and obliterates our souls.

How do we create our own machine to fight the bureaucracies without mirroring them? We plan to do exactly that by following horizontal, not vertical, models from history-- Cossacks to American Indians-- where persuasion NOT governance was key, and the wisest voices had the strongest say, the "tribe" moved by consensus, and every individual retained equal freedom of speech. (Not how much speech you can pay for, or how many institutionalized credentials you have tagged onto you.) The contradictory wonder of the Internet is a leveller and an enabler in our fight.

Yes, as we struggle to survive and grow like a sweeping tribe amid the technology of modern life, we hope to achieve a Yul Tolbert sci-fi ideal of 21st Century cooperation. Is this possible?

As do no other group of writers, the Underground Literary Alliance embodies the spirit of literature.

When zeensters make their own publications by hand and send them to friends, they're re-creating the origins of literature.
When poets read their words before a circle of neighbors in dark-lit taverns, like around a campfire, they're re-enacting the origins of literature.

All our members are in some way part of this feeling, from our oldest, Big Jack and Wild Bill, whose words are spirit, organic, home-grown, folk-lit from the mind and heart both-- whose words come alive when they're read in the legends' earthy tones-- to younger, equally untamed talents like newer members Christopher Robin, Marissa Ranello, James Nowlan, and Noah Cicero.

Which is why I always say the ULA is the hope and future of literature.

(More about HOW we'll grow, and who we wish to include-- ultimately, every writer-- upcoming in my end-of-the year post.)

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