Saturday, May 28, 2005

A ULA Problem

And it's been one for a long time-- the eagerness for opponents and even some members to identify the Underground Literary Alliance with one person-- myself-- which is an inaccurate way of looking at things. (They're obviously stuck in McSweeney's-type thinking.)

The last two or three years, Steve Kostecke and Jeff Potter have been every bit as important in developing the ULA. They've had as much say as myself in decisions that have been made. Yet, because I'm more public, because I'm noisier, people still want to think I call the shots for the thing-- to the extent that some think all they have to do is get me on their side-- by catering to my supposed ego-- and they'll be able to derail the ULA! I have to tell them that I can't do anything without the consent of the team.

That I've somehow "conned" people into joining the ULA for my own benefit is the most ridiculous idea. In truth, over the last five years the ULA has often felt like a weight around my neck preventing me from getting on with my life and doing other things. I've stayed interested in it because I KNOW its potential-- have known it from the very beginning before we'd done anything. The huge void in the literary scene waiting to be filled seemed obvious to me. Now that we've begun filling that void; now that we've established a strong team and are on our way to greater things, I'm able to maintain my enthusiasm.

Believe me, I've tried to develop other personalities, to push others out front, beginning with our first "Zeen Elvis" candidate. At one point Michael Jackman was as out front as myself, as much a spokesman (he's more personable and at least as articulate about ULA ideas), but at the moment he prefers to take a back seat and allow others to do the pulling.

My hope is that by the end of the year we'll have developed an array of noteworthy ULA leaders, so that I can step back and vanish amid the team, to busy myself with behind-the-scenes membership recruiting-- and maybe even do some serious writing for a change, instead of just making blog noise!


Media Bistro? Bistro? That about says it all about the hipster-wannabe ass-eating conformism of these people. "Let's all go to the bistro." "I want to go to the bistro." "We'll meet today at the bistro."

What exactly is a bistro? Is that like a saloon or tavern or bar? A coffeeshop? Is it a European-style ultra-trendy place where blank-eyed trendoids hang out?

All I know from looking at the faces on their site is they all look like they've been brainwashed. Proper yuppie faces, eagerly serving the monopolies. No wonder they're afraid of any change.

Yes, I had asked Laurel Touby, founder and all-controlling big at Media Bistro, for a simple correction, but this was beyond her sterling capabilities. Passed my request on within the bureaucracy, where it was lost, apparently. Not very competent people. Not sure I'd hire them for anything.

Maybe they're spending too much time at the bistro.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Franzen and Moody as Writers

I've been a reader for a long time. I was a reader long before it entered my head to myself do some writing. It's as a reader, not a writer, that I define myself in relation to literature.

I can't honestly say I've found ANYTHING in the writings of Franzen and Moody that's held a moment of interest for me. I'd rate even a modest "literary" storyteller like Tom Beller ahead of them, because the pretentiousness/bullshit factor is held to a minimum. There's more honesty.

I've never gotten through the godawfully boring first chapter of Franzen's Corrections-- never got past the endless first pages of detail-disease furniture descriptions. I've read a couple of Franzen's stories, and one of his early novels. Not exactly Jack London or O. Henry in the entertainment department! Works cerebral yet at the same time voids; the cardboard characters lacking character, lacking energy, lacking substance-- more furniture; a kind of narcissistic soullessness peeking out from the heart of the narratives (the kind of narcissism which expansively fills Moody's writings).

I've sensed a technical coldness to Franzen's works. As far as I'm concerned they were written by an automaton; I'm not sure Franzen isn't a cyborg or android created in an American mad-scientist backroom-- have not glimpsed the slightest human passion from the dude, only occasional confusion, as if his circuits were disoriented.

I read The Ice Storm. It opens with more furniture description as an unfaithful husband sits in a room studying its every detail like a prisoner with nothing else to do-- the author obviously with nothing to SAY; the cataloging of details a substitute for thought, reflections of a bourgeois life; trapped within style, descriptions of furnishings, and the infantile observations of an undeveloped personality.

It's funny that as a reader I've connected way more with complex difficult works like The Idiot from another time and place. I read that book almost twenty years ago, yet still remember vividly two major characters (Myshkin and Rogozhin?) meeting at the beginning on the train. I was grabbed by their intense personalities; by their reality. I remember them a bit later in the story gazing at the portrait of a beautiful woman, at the house they're visiting. For the reader the portrait comes alive! Here's an author who realizes that literature has to LIVE and breathe-- a writer who's not beyond putting down a plot hook or two to keep the reader involved in the story.

My lack of interest in Moody's work isn't a class thing. I've enjoyed books by upper-class authors like James Gould Cozzens who present a point-of-view; a perspective and intelligence to grab onto. With Rick Moody there's style and description, but perspective or intelligence on his bland WASPy environment, beyond the babyish drool of a one-year old, is lacking. The narrator is as much a void as are his world and characters. I found more in common, more to relate to, in Dostoevsky's Ganya and his mad Slavic family; in Ganya's embarrassment and shame at his circumstances and at his own gaping character faults, both of which are inescapably attached to him like a ball and chain. Doestoevsky was a WRITER, a giant personality, a human being, not simply a smug well-trained writer-wannabe like Rick Moody.

The ULA contains writers for whom literature is not a means to an end-- to a job or banquets or a lifestyle-- is not a hobby, but the defining aspect of their lives, something they HAVE to engage in, like eating or breathing, regardless of success or failure.

I could gush for days about books I've enjoyed. With others like The Ice Storm I found nothing to love or hate, only cute-sounding words on a page-- nothing which connected with me in any way, and so about the book I can have little to say. I acknowledge that some people enjoy Franzen and Moody's works. Exactly why remains for me a mystery.

On Negotiation

We've seen the past two weeks what patient negotiation achieves for the ULA: NOTHING. Maybe we'll eventually get careful correction to the false attack made on us. I wouldn't count on it. We should've instead made noise about the matter-- real noise-- ULA style.

Meanwhile, I was "negotiating" quietly to get ULA books into an indy bookstore. The managers set as a condition-- a condition!-- that we sign a "peace treaty" with McSweeney's. This was what's required to receive minimal treatment accorded other book people for doing nothing.

Most don't recall that the ULA's Slush Pile was kept out of indy bookstores like Atomic Books after our "Wet Firecracker" protest against McSweeney's. Some people in the lit-world have problems with free speech.

Our problem with McSweeney's, for those who are interested, is only that the whole phenomenon from the beginning was a lie, in the pose circulated by The New Yorker and themselves of their independence-- when the mag was already working tightly with congloms like Simon and Schuster; the congloms it's now totally in bed with. No matter! To clueless lit-folk all that matters is the lie-- to the extent that even publications like Punk Planet bought into the phony stance and lavishly profiled "The Dave" for his supposed DIY cred. A scam from beginning to end, which brainless acolytes continue to buy.

Let's negotiate!

There's a great scene in the movie "Viva Zapata" where Zapata (Brando) explains to a moderate politician the facts of life. He holds a rifle on the man and takes his watch. Then he hands his rifle to the man and gives him his watch back. "There!" he tells him. "Now you can have your watch back. But without that," he says, pointing to the rifle, "never!"

The moral is: have leverage before negotiating. We'll negotiate when we've captured "Mexico City" and the lit world is ours. Everything the ULA has achieved-- our press clippings and our profile in the lit world-- has been achieved through fighting for it. This is the only way we'll ever get a break. By making noise!

If the ULA is going to become a polite team of negotiators, I'll step off the train now, because I'll then know it'll never go anyplace.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ULA Membership

Our membership stands currently at 36-- a good, manageable number. We've paused here for just a few weeks as we prepare for the year's events and take stock of where we're going as an organization. We have a great number of sympathizers. We'll likely this year grow to 50 without difficulty. Much beyond that would make us unwieldy-- until we further raise our profile and strengthen the ULA machine, so that we can adequately promote people.

We've expanded the pool of places from which we draw candidates for ULA membership. At first we allowed in only those who'd signed our original Protest against the Guggenheim-- our starting point as an organization; our Notice that we'd walked off the reservation: our Declaration of rebellion against the mainstream. Then, for a while, we considered only zeensters. Now we look for good underground talent everyplace.

There are two somewhat-opposed dynamics at work in the ULA.
1.) We seek to unite unconnected overlooked writers (and others like illustrators and performers with connections to a broad definition of "literature").
2.) At the same time we MUST maintain our uniqueness-- our difference from other lit-groups and writers. To want to be in any way like standard yuppie demi-puppet writers would be suicide.

In possible members we look for several things. Among them:
A. ) Talent-- though talent isn't enough. Some former ULAers were brought in solely for their talent, and proved a disappointment; were incapable of fitting into a team concept.
B.) Spirit of Rebellion. Moderate writers are everyplace-- found on every street corner. We seek those not satisfied with things as they are, who want to change literature and the culture.
C.) Commitment-- eagerness to be part of, and work for, the ULA team. (And patience with what we're doing!)
D.) Personality.
E.) Understanding of ULA Philosophy.

There are individuals we can aid and promote to some extent without their joining the ULA team. In members we think first of what's best for the ULA. As we grow, those we're able to bring "officially" into the ULA will increase. Many are under consideration. Each ULAer is free to recommend candidates for the team. (Though at the moment I'm behind on info mailings!-- one of the motivations behind this e-mail.) Right now we have large and growing interest by people in the message and organization of the ULA.

The Underground Literary Alliance has been hard to get into and out of. The six who left did so voluntarily. All those on our membership roll have aided the ULA cause in some way, some greatly, even if they're presently silent. Some have talents we've yet to adequately utilize-- which doesn't mean we never will. We need to make quick moves-- quicker than we've been doing-- but we're still early in the chess game.

Finally, this isn't an organization where we exist only to serve you or others. We're no one's slaves. We want not minions or dependents, but equals. We offer a framework for writers and others to work within; a set-up that allows undergrounders to help themselves through working to strengthen the ULA.

Why There Are No Great Writers

We've seen conclusive evidence that those who aspire and pretend to be writers, adorned with certificates, degrees, and positions in publishing, lack the fundamental requirements. No, not technical craft (which in itself produces only the writing of a robot), but instead, character, soul, integrity, humanity. So caught up are they on a hyperspeed treadmill of career and success they've forgotten to acquire personalities.

Ultimately, the writer presents to the reader, through the devices of words and ideas, who he or she is. If there's nothing there but a soulless empty shell of ambition, then nothing will be reflected on the page, despite the accummulations of cute-sounding phrases.

Those I call demi-puppets lack the very basics for getting along in life: respect for oneself; a personal code to live by. It's no wonder they grovel to their perceived betters, and skulk in the shadows like grotesque cowardly invertebrates, attacking anonymously. During the course of their lives they forgot to acquire spines. That many of them are Ivy League grads, the so-called "best of the best," is the saddest statement.

The photos of these affluent corporate-whore ladder-climbers gleam out from their sites. Such clean, well-groomed people! Raised with every advantage. I encounter more uprightness and moral courage in the ghettos I travel to on my sometime day job.

What I like about the ULA is that it's made up of writers and artists who've been around-- been knocked around, most of them-- have been kicked and felt the pain of hardest life; despite or because of this are open, forthright, and REAL. They're the writers I want to associate with-- not the collections of yuppie fakes one finds everyplace.

When the ULA faces false attacks, as it's done frequently of late, our first impulse is to clear our name as swiftly as possible-- or address and fix the problem. We have nothing to hide. We don't need fakery and tricks to make our case. (Though we're not beyond ballyhoo and noise!)

On the other hand, again and again, in case after case, those we expose run from the truth. There is no eagerness to deal with what we say. Either our opponents' reputations mean nothing to them, or they're irrecoverably stained.

Where in the entire realm of established Lit has been one person willing to take us on in the conflict of ideas? From top to bottom of the crumbling cracked structure there is no one.

Throughout the lit-world populated almost in total by self-serving "individuals" (euphemism for "assholes") there's no thought of accountability. The writers and editors who rot the soul of lit from the inside blithely continue on as if nothing is happening. They don't realize they're not hurting unknown writers by their actions and inactions so much as themselves-- adding splotches of ugliness to their personal portraits of Dorian Gray.

Never is given an apology by one of them; seldom an explanation. When an explanation belches forth, as with Rick Moody in The Believer, it falls apart like the tissue paper of falsehood it is after two minutes of examination. The essay becomes scattered vanishing scraps of lint. From The Believer afterward issues silence.

Yet "the believers" in these people-- including National Public Radio-- try to claim them as the future of literature. What future can be based on a foundation of fraud, unethical grant-grabbing, and lies? The Believer clutches the manipulators of lit closer. In their closet more splotches of rot appear on their portrait.
If there are to be great writers again, they'll come from our side-- not from the ranks of fakes and cowards.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Winning the Argument

The Underground Literary Alliance already has. Our foes are reduced to imitating us or anonymously attacking us.

We offer integrity, independence, and change-- an unbeatable combination.

Monday, May 23, 2005

An Unusual Occurrence

In today's "Metro" newspapers is a long interview with Sean Wilsey, author of the memoir Oh, the Glory of It All. The article, by Amy Benfer, is titled, "Revisiting a Privileged Childhood."

Hasn't this already been done?

In the lead up to the interview Benfer says (typos included), "--the memoir makes something that closely resembling high art out of the small art of being raised grandly, absurdly and somewhat tragically rich."

"Even before Sean Wilsey's first book hit the shelves, it was greeted with exuberant reviews, excerpted in the New Yorker and the San Francisco Chronicle and chatter in the gossip columns, including a front page piece in the New York Times Style Section. . . ." This continues with a lot of name-dropping highlighting Wilsey's well-connected background.

The easy hype given Wilsey's book demonstrates that not a lot has changed since the days of Plimpton in the 1950s. Established literature is still chiefly focused on the lives and febrile observations of the extremely wealthy. As long as book editors are from privilege, agents are from privilege, and mainstream journalists are from privilege, this is unlikely to change. The trick is to construct real alternatives-- then make noise about them.

Oh, by the way, Sean Wilsey is "a long-time editor at McSweeney's."

We see who represents literary change and who does NOT.

Another Quote

I noticed this in an article by Terry Teachout in the April '05 Commentary entitled, "Singing the Classical Music Blues."

While reading his piece, I saw parallels to the condition of establishment literature. Teachout quotes critic Joseph Horowitz, who calls the art a "potted hothouse product . . . Sustained by a lifeline to the universities . . . lacking a constituency beyond themselves," and says its proponents have "produced an undistinguished species of hermetic art."

Are Teachout and Horowitz talking about aristocratic music or aristocratic literature?

A Quote from Dave Marsh

"If I had to choose just one thing to teach denizens of our culture, it would be this: All things change. I'd choose that lesson because as long as we believe in the immutability of our current circumstances, we're trapped by them. In our society, virtually all of us fear change, because stability seems our key to survival, often-- maybe, especially-- when the opposite is true. Not that change isn't dangerous, but the danger certainly can't be lessened by merely standing by, pretending that what's happening is a temporary aberration, illusion, correctable mistake."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Next Monday Report. . . .

. . . .may be the most controversial of the many we've posted, addressing the long-time question of whether the Paris Review has had ties to the CIA. This isn't a new controversy. George Plimpton had long-term friendships with CIA types like Jock Whitney. (His father Francis T. Plimpton's record working for the government during the days of the Bay of Pigs is undeniable.) George himself acknowledged the rumors about Paris Review, without confirming or denying them, in an anniversary issue of the magazine. George and his friend Peter Matthiessen were raised at a time, in a class and milieu, when being adventurous in CIA fashion was expected and appropriate.

The essay we're presenting contains much personal testimony. The question is whether one believes the sincerity of the writer, Richard Cummings. WE DO, and present the essay for consideration by our readers in that light.

Cummings's two-part Report is noteworthy not only for its credible revelations, but also for the window it provides on the mentality of those at the highest levels of this society who believe literature is their private playground.

We made attempts to contact principals named in the article for on-the-record comments. From Paris Review we received no reply. Former Editor James Linville stated, "I don't think Richard Cummings is a fully competent journalist"-- but would say nothing else on the record. As for Peter Matthiessen, no phone numbers or web addresses for himself or his zen center in Sagaponack, New York, are listed.

(The ULA's Monday Report is at

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The History of Roots Lit Part II: Seeing the Future

Stray moments over the last four years have kept me enthusiastic about the ULA project. One of them was when reading Noah Cicero's new book manuscript a couple weeks ago.

It made me realize that young undergrounders scattered around the country are creating their own literary genres. They're reinventing literature in ways that will reconnect it to the general public-- as I've argued had to happen for the art form of lit to save itself. Call it a "Next Wave" of writers, led by undergrounders Noah, Urban Hermitt, Bernice Mullins, Emerson Dameron, and likely many others whose writing bears little resemblance to what is currently accepted as standard "literary" writing. Their work is more readable, direct, and most important, far more honest, TOTALLY honest, than anything I've read.

I admit, their writing is unlike anything I write-- unlike even the best from other good underground writers such as Tim Hall, Wild Bill, and the phenomenal James Nowlan. The recent undergrounders are completely uncontaminated by "craft," by thoughts of craft, presenting instead a kind of organic freshly-born folk writing stripped down but no less powerful for it. All facades and thoughts of facades are absent. Many ULAers-- Pat King, Steve Kostecke, Wred Fright, Joe Pachinko, Crazy Carl, Frank Walsh, Jack Saunders, etc.-- have been presenting each in their own way precursors or templates of sorts of underground models to follow. What the newest writers do is the same yet at the same time very different. At their best they get right to the core of what lit is about.

An obvious inescapable fact is that literature has mutated into a new form, unacknowledged and unrecognized by observers and critics among the establishment houseplants. I count myself fortunate to be given, as were Sam Phillips, Berry Gordy, and Brian Epstein in their day, the opportunity to witness a new reality about to drop amid amazement and shock upon the cultural landscape.

This summer could be exciting.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The History of Roots Lit Part I: The Appeal of the Authentic

Traditionally, as a reaction to the stale and contrived, cultural historians have sought to discover the true sources of art-- the natural talents who kicked everything off.

With pop music, for instance, there's a thrill in hearing founding rock n roll recordings like the r & b classics "Gee" and "Eddie My Love," and the rockabilly "Party Doll," because you're experiencing the creation of a genre. Historians push farther back-- to original folk artists like Robert Johnson and Leadbelly.

During the brief explosion of zines (zeens) in the 90's, those who were most visible were the quirkiest and loudest-- while other more original talents were obscured. The thousands of teen girls buying Gogglebox, for instance, didn't realize it was a homage to Cometbus.

Those who became interested in the scene, like myself, found out about zine originators like "Bikini Girl" Lisa Falour, but also about another layer of underground self-publishing writers who predated zines. Pioneering music historians like Alan Lomax once wanted to hear music that was uncorrupted by trickery, refinement, and commerce. I realized there were WRITERS in America who fit that goal. Among them, two stood out for their originality, charisma, and the strength of their commitment to their art.

I first heard about Wild Bill Blackolive from a zeen-collecting librarian in St. Louis. Later, after Bill and I both had strong letters in Zine World, I picked up our correspondence. Blackolive is a true, uncorrupted original. He had a brush of contact with the Beats in the early 60's, but his writing is only superficially like theirs. If anything it's Beat writing taken to another level. As I've written about before on this blog, the stronger influences on Bill are the dialects, rhythmns, and outlaw legends of his isolated east Texas world. It's as if Bill has captured and reproduced the spirits of his landscape, the 19th century voices of those who'd gone before. Bill is a natural phenomenon-- the sound of authentic America, of the land itself.

Every bit as much an original is another southern writer (in this case Florida and Georgia), Jack Saunders. In the 90's Jack was one of those DIY folks, like cartoonists T.R. Miller and Yul Tolbert, that every zeenster eventually heard about; their work was mailed and traded to such a widespread extent. Jack's art remains unclassifiable. It's readable, transparent, informative, satirical, and folksy, oscillating between humor and quiet outrage. Jack feeds on American music, on southern jazz and blues, and embeds the vibrations of this music into his narratives amid the story of his life and commentaries on the world.

One of Neal Pollack's entertaining satires of the ULA described an "incomprehensible 4,000-word monologue by a lunatic who lives on a motorboat in a Florida swamp." From the clueless depths of brainless ignorance, Neal was mocking roots writers like Jack and Wild Bill.

When I put together the ULA's New York City Amato Opera House show in 2001, designed to present the best of the literary underground on one evening on one stage, I asked Jack Saunders and Bill Blackolive to headline the event; to read alongside great young zeen writers Steve Kostecke, Mike Jackman, Wred Fright, and others. We needed to show underground lit's continuity; that we HAD roots; that our new art was carrying on a cultural tradition that could be traced back to America's hinterlands; its music and its history; to obscure nurturing spots in places like east Texas and Georgia.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Puppet World Update

It's disappointing that no demi-puppet disputed my characterization of them as "slaves"-- no one of them coming forth to claim independence; to stand as a subversive free-thinking individual within the establishment house of letters. Are their brains truly captured? Do they in fact bob and jerk in tune with puppet strings?

As evidence we have the lit-blog Co-op people, who have taken it upon themselves to faithfully serve the monster conglomerates. They regularly choose a big company release to honor and promote. Increased and more efficient groveling! Never mind that the big book companies have their own highly-paid publicity departments. The demi-puppets are eager to help!

Hype their own works? They give it not a thought. The conglomerates come first! Rack up the brownie points! Polish more apples! This from people who feign they're too busy writing to care about the ULA's actions. (Why do they knock us then on their blogs? And who are the anonymous posters on this one?) We see that THEY very much DON'T "just write"-- they're in a backroom with establishment authors, eagerly going down. Maybe some big-time publisher will notice? This is their cherished hope.

Extensions of the Machine-- of this there's no doubt.

Re "Ed Rants" of the shaky IP info: At least we know he's not "Orlando." Ed's own attempts at parody don't look like parody at all. (As poor a writer as Orlando is, Ed is worse.) Ed wrote a "parody" of Jonathan Franzen by presenting a colorless tome indistinguishable from Franzen's work. That is to say: equally dull. Ed, you're supposed to add wit and humor. The dutiful demi-puppet struggles along, laboriously crafting his pseudo-parody word by word; point by inscrutable point. Franzen is alarmed. "That looks exactly like a chapter from my last book!" What to do? He'd charge feckless Ed with plagiarism, had the lit-world not already done away with the concept.

Plagiarism is not something about which a demi-puppet is ever concerned. The more excruciating troubling dangerous matter is being put into the position of having to treat ULAers like human beings. That one of the demi-puppets might have to apologize to us is to reach the very bottom of embarrassment and shame. There is no worse consequence; the darkest of fates. Demi-puppet peers are concerned. "It can't happen!" their puppet voices scream. "No! Terrible! Rescue her! Save her!"

The puppet in question who screwed up, at the merest prospect of apology (or even simple retraction of a false statement), is ready for the loony-bin. To the rest of the collection in the toybox this is completely understandable. After all, puppets on strings aren't human and it's unfair to expect one to behave like one.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Literature's "It" Couple

No, I'm not talking about the two establishment nerds being hyped by stodgy behind-the-times magazines like New York; pet birds in a gilded cage. I mean instead the ULA's Bernice Mullins and Noah Cicero. No refined safe academy-corporate creations they! Noah and Bernice are the look and voice of the REAL America today. They each have a story in the ULA's new "Slush Pile" album-- gritty bitter heartland writing penned in dives and alleyways.

Bernice's entry is unbearably strong, standing out in a collection of tough backbeat-driven tales which remove in total the phony gloss the glitterati have put on the world. Noah's is good also. (He's better in his new novel, where he seems to be creating-- as are other young writers like Urban Hermitt and Emerson Dameron-- a new literary genre. More about that later.)

The established system doesn't know how to take the ULA. Literature has never seen anything like it. I suggest plunging into ULA excitement-- accepting it and enjoying it. Change has become fact. The Underground Literary Alliance is the center of the new literary universe.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Slaves of the Lit World

The problem of working for gigantic institutions is how to avoid being swallowed up whole by them. In a past life I dealt with bureaucrats, as a middle man, and saw how their identities merged with the government or corporation which employed them. When they wore uniforms, it merely reinforced the identification.

In the lit world we observe those whose identities, standards, and values have merged with the status quo, and so operate as Voices of the Machine. (We've seen their posts on this blog.) It's mentally impossible for them to consider reform of Lit, much less dissent against it. This is not the way their minds have been programmed! From Day One of their careers as writers they've been recruits into the System, their operative need at all times that of conformity to it.

They're not formed writers before they enter the academy-- they hope to be formed by it, within it, and they are. Writing programs are seminaries from which they emerge as Defenders of the styles and codes of creative writing as it IS, now, and has been for sixty years.

Many of them move on to jobs within literature. They could be proofreaders-- or floor sweepers-- at the most irrelevant "alternative" weekly in Wyoming or Nebraska and to them they've arrived to a role of major importance; the publication encompasses their world. If the floor sweepers are occasionally allowed to write restaurant reviews, this is affirmation of their importance as writers, though they remain mercenaries without control of their art, without say in the institutions which employ them. It's a view of the strictest limits; of enclosing literature within the smallest possible box.

We at the ULA are considered madmen and madwomen for thinking writers can and should be more. We use our imaginations! We imagine changing literature and the world. That a few writers dare to dream-- and seek to make our dreams reality-- scares the writers of rules and limits.

The attacks on us the past weeks are an attempt to shut down an alternative voice-- nothing less.

I don't know much about Media Bistro. What it does, I'm sure it does well. It comes from a very different vantage point on literature from ours. Media Bistro seems to be a servicing vehicle for the conglomerate media-and-publishing world, under the guise of hipness and independence. Its employees are priests and acolytes of the Machine-- part of an army of tools used to keep the current failed lit-System in place.

"Galleycat" then becomes an exemplar of the System's thinking-- of the lack of independent thought. She stumbles along seeking cues about how to best serve the overlords of literature and publishing. In the Tom Bissell plagiarism case (which I documented and debated), she first gave her honest opinion of the matter-- a mistake for any bureaucrat, who has to be TOLD what to think. Galleycat was quickly corrected by Maud Newton and Company. Afterward Galleycat marched sternly in place, with no deviation, eager to prove her obedience-- to the extent of hyping a blog by a person without existence, and claiming it's the product of the ULA! False, false, false. An absurd charge. No matter. For her it was an opportunity to atone for her past lapse by attacking the Underground Literary Alliance.

We await her clarification or apology.

Mysterious Charges

It's come to my attention that a demi-puppet lit-blogger is now claiming that recent anonymous posts on this blog were done by the ULA itself. No names mentioned. If this story is true, I'd like to know about it, as such behavior goes against everything the ULA stands for.

I've sent e-mails to the lit-blogger and to her source asking for clarification.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Arguments of Our Critics

The arguments of our critics have come from a Bizarro universe. Somehow, the main dangers to literature aren't those who sit at the center of the literary universe, holding the levers of power, but instead an obscure group of writers without resources at the edge of a faraway galaxy. Out of the many thousands of lit-sites and weblogs, an army of lit-establishment flunkies focused on mine. Quite a compliment.

I'm portrayed as having the power to censor or destroy those who are born into connections and wealth, receive huge advances, pen glossy magazine articles, sit on awards panels determining the fate of fellow authors, and disburse many thousands of dollars to writers (often their friends and acquaintances). I've been picking on the Poster Boy of Corruption, who never misses an opportunity to prove the designation. (Recently giving the National Book Award for fiction to fellow NYC Insider Lily Tuck.) The poor aristocrat high in his mighty fortified castle hears a dissenting voice far below on the streets! Crush that voice, so the Delicate One can return to his comfortable sleep!

I've been said not to have a heart, because I don't care enough about the sad fate of well-connected writers like Poster Boy, Bissell, Foer, and others of that ilk. Sniffle snif!

Where are these Compassionate Souls when it comes to the dilemma of good novelists (by the present lit-world's own standards) like Lawrence Richette, who's written three excellent novels which he's had to publish himself? Who cries over the fate of Phillip Routh, ignored and destroyed by the gods of lit after presenting his humorous well-written Camellia City, which takes too close a look at the current system for discovering lit talent? Why no outcry about these authors? Have the demi-puppets read their books? Of course not! They're not on the Approved List.

I'm accused of aggrandizing myself through my actions, somehow (I'm the last to know), though I gave up a good-paying job to come to Philly to start the ULA, have no assets but a typewriter, and work two part-time low-paying ultra-shitty jobs. Jonathan Franzen receives million-dollar advances and taxpayer grants which he spends on the overpriced artwork of his friends. Where stand the ULA's critics about this? They don't see it and don't want to see it. Anyone who dares point it out awakens the wrath of the entire flock.

Our critics have stressed out over a smattering of press coverage the ULA and myself received three and four years ago in "Page Six." (Curious that they remember it-- it's been all but impossible to find on our site.) I didn't "deserve" the mentions. (A decade of shocking essays and meticulously detailed examinations of corruption in my 45 issues of New Philistine didn't count.) Well-connected Bubble Boy Jonathan Safran Foer receives major press coverage (and huge advances) merely for stepping gingerly from the Bubble and no one says a word.

The ULA's critics, here, are actually close to the mark, and have a right to be worried. They show a better understanding of how the system of literature works than do most ULAers. What this fight is really about is a battle over scarce resources. The most naive assumption a writer could make is that all he or she need do is "write" and the production will sell itself. Richette and Routh are living proof against this notion. (The Poster Boy of Corruption, despite the many disclaimers, doesn't "just write." He's heavily involved in the machinations of the lit world.)

A relatively small clique of well-bred expensively-schooled writers controls most of the access to available literary resources, which includes large conglomerate advances, major magazine articles, and tax-shelter-spawned grants. Exceptions are masters of politicking like Tom Bissell and outright literary prostitutes like J.T. Leroy. Otherwise, 80-90% of the pie is spoken for. Many thousands of other writers, including hordes of MFAers and the lit-blogger demi-puppets, battle viciously over the crumbs. (One of my first sights when I moved east was a panel discussion of top editors in New York City, after which the audience mob of demi-puppets shoved elbowed trampled one another in their feeding-frenzy stampede to the podium to suck up.)

No, the ULA didn't bother with endless seminars and writing programs. (We'd already honed our craft elsewhere, in the zeen world.) We went after the sole resource available to un"certified" independent writers-- press coverage. Of course Insiders were bothered! We were poaching on their territory, in their reserved preserve of the literary forest.

It's no accident, by the way, that most of our press coverage came at a time when as an organization we were at our lowest point-- when it was just Potter, Jackman, and myself-- then Steve soon jumping back on board. The three or four of us had nothing to lose. We weren't constrained by worries about moderates or sensitive poets or thoughts about what was best for the organization-- there was no organization to worry about! In Ann's infamous words, it'd "disintegrated"-- thanks in part to a couple good kicks from herself. The few of us who remained went all-out balls-to-the-wall, chiefly for our own amusement: with constant over-the-top outrageous mini-zeens and flyers, protests against the Corrupt of the Corrupt, Franzen, Eggers, and Poster Boy himself. It was a stimulating invigorating period and it was tremendous fun.

We didn't have a full panoply of writers then to crow about-- though adding legends Jack Saunders and Wild Bill Blackolive to our ranks was a great start. NOW we do have a full line-up, with more to come. I have not one iota of a smidgen of a sliver of doubt that current ULA writers are good enough to engage the public and kick-start literature and the comatose lit-world. I've read too many great truthful rockin' books and manuscripts not to believe this. The future of literature is here and it's found on the site; most fun site in the literary universe (check the profiles), home of the ULA Galaxy of Stars. Beginning this summer we'll be presenting dynamic performers like Frank Walsh and Jack Saunders throughout America. I just hope ULAers realize that no show sells itself. We live in no fair and perfect world. The noise we make is an essential part of the process.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Defining Criticism

The most ignorant of all ignorant remarks made by our opponents on this blog is that there is no literary criticism anywhere in the Underground Literary Alliance. The person really meant this-- an indication of brainwashing and cluelessness. An elephant stands in front of him, yet he can't see an elephant anyplace.

The ULA IS literary criticism. In its 36-and-counting membership it's a full embodiment of it. Every particle of our campaign is a criticism of current literature.

Our various Protests against corrupt awards were literary criticism. Our lively appearances at KGB and Housing Works were literary criticism. Our shows, our zeens, and our upcoming books are literary criticism, because they present a free alternative to the monopolistic system of literature now in power.

The mypoic commentator meant the tame, scholastic brand of "criticism" done by Sven Birkerts and James Wood. Which means, studying the book placed before you and never looking up from it. He means following the Study Guide at the back of an authorized textbook: "Compare and contrast. Please give examples. Arrange your thoughts in regulated form."

Birkerts and Wood follow the designated rules, no doubt-- one reason why their writing is dead. They write term papers, not living art. Such establishment hirelings are scholars, maybe. They're not independent critics. Instead of being cognizant of the world; living and ACTING within it; they prefer to remain locked within their monastery rooms; chained to their desks in isolated environments without sound, the only light allowed that from the lamp focused on an isolated book, sole approved target of their concern.

The sun may set and rise; wars may happen; rioting in the streets; death and fire. They don't know or care. Heavy drapes cover the windows. Thick carpeting muffles any sound but the soft steady hum of air-conditioning ensuring their climate-controlled comfort.

The first need of a writer is to entertain. Approved lit-critics tend to forget this-- they view the very idea as a sin. After all, they're "serious" writers. Their peers and overlords have told them so.

Sven Birkerts has never written an entertaining sentence in his life. He wouldn't know how. James Wood, inside the Beltway at New Republic, is seldom allowed to-- he well knows the pattern and script he must follow. Criticize stray products of the Machine but ignore the Machine itself, which engulfs and owns him body, mind, heart, and soul.

THESE are literary critics? No thank you. I'll find my literary criticism in the pages of zeens and at the ULA's Monday Report feature.

Reaction Against the ULA

A Note to ULAers.

We've witnessed over the last several weeks waves of corrdinated attacks on the Underground Literary Alliance; through the creation of phony ULA sites, and the mass posting of anonymous comments to this blog. The "demi-puppets" in this instance are advocating and agitating-- working together to make noise; attacking; using what they believe to be ULA tactics.

The goal of our opponents, unlike ours, isn't rebellion, but reaction. They seek not to change an essentially corrupt system which has failed literature. They want to shut down rebellion, close off dissent, and return the lit-world to the placid, dying, unthinking status quo way things were pre-ULA. Through and through, in every fiber of their being, they're reactionaries.

The key difference between the ULA and its reactionary opponents is that from the outset of our campaign we strode forcefully into the lit world, to engage it, under our own identities. To fight for fairness, honesty, truth, and integrity, we needed to be truthful ourselves. Though we were few, without resources, against enormous and well-funded enemies, it was the only way to proceed. Our initial Protest against the Guggenheim, signed with our own names, was our Statement to the lit-world that we were different-- that we had courage, while the posturing icons in high places who should've been cleaning their own house were cowardly and silent.

Just as the Guggenheim is fraudulent, PEN is fraudulent, the NEA is fraudulent, the National Book Awards is fraudulent, AWP is fraudulent; countless other awards, tax shelters, and writers as outlined by us and by others like MobyLives and Foetry are fraudulent; so, also, those who've posted against us anonymously on this blog are frauds. They HAVE to hide their identities and skulk in the shadows under phony names. Phoniness is an intrinsic part of their reality, the core of their beings as writers. Dishonesty tinges, stains, corrupts, rots, ultimately destroys THEIR world of letters, and it stains themselves.

We've called for fairness. Our enemies have shown, despite holding every advantage, that meeting and debating on open and equal terms is a concept beyond their understanding. As they fight for and represent fraudulence and corruption, they only know how to be fraudulent and corrupt.

Are they worth any respect? They don't even respect themselves, as they've shown. They're unable to stand on two legs like human beings and walk out into the open. Instead they crawl and grovel behind masks. As writers groveling is all they've known.

The difference between the ULA and its opponents couldn't be more stark-- the distinction between courage and cowardice; truth or lies. We've opened the windows of the house of letters which some want to nail closed. We've allowed sunlight and fresh air into the rooms, removing the stench of a rotten past; have caused the mice to squeal and sent cockroaches scattering.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Puppet Box

We've done the demi-puppets a favor the last couple days by allowing them to briefly escape the oppressive bourgeois phoniness of their own blogs.

Has anyone actually read Maud Newton, Galleycat, Sarvas, and the rest? Have you noticed the rigid conformity and sameness? Ritualistically sucking-up to such an extent; bowing and genuflecting on cue over every establishment-writer event; lavishing insincere praise on their aristocratic overlords; all while playing the role of "Writer" with a capital W and with constipated expressions, has to be exhausting.

They clearly enjoy hanging out in our neighborhood, where they can drop their plastered-on faces of literary importance and practice being human. Not with their own names of course. After all, when all is said and done they're still puppets!

Much has been made by them of their "cooperative" (blatant rip-off of the ULA without the edge or the fun). All they've done to date is write the word self-importantly on the side of the large toybox in which they dwell. At the end of the day the establishment caretakers who control their strings come to collect them. "Hmm. Curious," one of the caretakers ponders, rubbing his chin. "Several of the marionettes are scattered all over the room!"

He collects the toy-like things, formless and lifeless, without spines or substance, in his hands. Then carefully, before closing the lid, he arranges them back in their proper places in the puppet box.

Harper's: Admission of Error?

IT COULD BE that the Wyatt Mason article in the May Harper's is their roundabout way of acknowledging that there IS such a thing as plagiarism. With the example given, it's clear that, by their own standards, they've engaged in it.

IF THIS IS SO, we'll accept their acknowledgement, and count the matter another victory for the Underground Literary Alliance.

Shock of the New

There has scarcely been a new phenomenon that transformed the culture which hasn't been relentlessly mocked at the outset. (That Dave Eggers was immediately accepted by the establishment showed he wasn't the genuine article.)

This includes Elvis and the Beatles, the last real wave of transformation.

I've given the example often of Elvis's first appearance on the Tommy Dorsey Show with the other two members of his combo (related in Last Train to Memphis) when they were still unknown in New York. Highly-skilled jazz drummer Buddy Rich looked with contempt at the ill-clad yokels. "These guys can't even play their instruments!" he howled. Yet within two years Dorsey and Rich were swept out of the picture by the tidal wave of rock n' roll-- which reached, better than they, strains of feeling and truth within the American people.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Worst Writing Program in America

Hands down it's the one at Bennington College, if only because of the icons of corruption who congregate among the faculty there-- literary criminals like Liam Rector, Rick Moody, and Tom Bissell-- along with cronyistic Sven Birkerts apologists for their misbehavior.

Bennington unwittingly was the spark behind the ULA's creation, back in the summer of 1995 when my New Philistine exposing lit-world corruption was publicly destroyed by professor (and Associated Writing Programs biggie) Liam Rector in front of many of the most distinguished writers, editors, and lit critics in America, who sat back and said NOTHING. (Several did inform me about it afterward.) After all, who was I? A lone writer-- a nobody. The thinking was, no doubt, that I'd never be heard from again.

Ten years later the same nest of cockroaches infests the Bennington campus, with scummy additions (Bissell)-- but I'm no longer fighting alone, am part of a movement of writers and commentators within and without the Underground Literary Alliance determined to "clean house" and make the structure of literature once again habitable. Throwing the spotlight on the bugs at Bennington will be a necessary step in the cleansing process.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Another Goofy Lit-Critic

More Adventures in Fawning.

Just when we thought we'd reached an apex of sycophancy in James Wood's eulogy to Saul Bellow, we have rival literary "critic" Sven Birkerts going to town in AGNI #61 over how much he adored another departed so-called great, Susan Sontag: "--a ground, a fixture, a kind of due north in the peculiar literary afterworld that many of my peers and I feel we occupy."

Birkerts tells of walking down the aisle of an Amtrak train once, to the Club Car, and there-- golly gee wonderful fantastic!-- sat Susan Sontag. "-- the legendary hair, the skunk-stripe. It was Susan Sontag, riding coach-- Susan Sontag, bent over a stack of student papers!"

Lit- critic dispassionate observer Sven Birkerts was in heavens of ecstasies! But how to behave? "I was almost too excited to approach." (One can see him blocking the aisle pondering the dilemma as wearied business travelers seek to move past the great literary authority-- "Out of my way, you stupe!" Birkerts is oblivious, taking three short steps toward the Great Sontag and three steps back, wringing his hands over the once-in-a-lifetime presence of the Icon. What to do? What to do?!!) At last he forces himself to make "only the most hurried hello." (Sontag, glancing up from her papers, notices the distorted eye-popping face of a crazy man in tweed crawling creepily past her seat. "Hi!" he manages in a squeaky voice as he passes. The Great Sontag returns to her paperwork.)

"My life had been . . . " Birkerts relates, "temporarily 'certified.'"

He tells another tale of seeing Sontag and Joseph Brodsky in the Reggio in New York City. (Brodsky he infamously stalked as a young man; we can believe by Sven's curious description of accidentally stumbling upon them that he might be stalking Sontag in this story; Birkerts eyes following her around corners and down the street.) "The other of these meetings was more charmed still." Meeting? Birkerts stands "freeze-framing" the two Giants huddled at their small table, with "the strongest intuitions of that inner circle, as if the conversation at that table had to be smarter, wittier, more in the know than any other in the city-- "! Golly golly! Wonderful greatness! (The lit-critic stands in the middle of the cafe hand moving vigorously beneath his raincoat while "freeze-framing" his two idols.)

We've hit the abysmal embarrassing bottom of literary criticism. Here is no blaring shouting upsetting riotous call for literary change; no urgency to replace dead art and dead history-- only a desperation to hold onto what had been and is quickly fading away: the obsolescent insular attitudes which have led to lit's decline. Here in AGNI 61 is no answer-- only moldiness. AGNI claims to be on the "frontiers of literature." Birkerts is more accurate when he speaks of an "afterworld" that's passed him by. In truth he and his kind stand on no frontiers, are exploring no new territory. They're hiding in bunkers beneath nunneries, closing their eyes and minds to the rot and corruption of the lit world today, waiting for reports from the Sisters in the safe convent above as to when the world will again be okay. In the meantime they clutch portraits of their dead gods, weeping over the failure of their beliefs, wishing their cherished "legends," "the thinkers and spirits, the last large-scale serious ones"-- their neverland illusions-- could return from their graves to rescue their world of shut-in mediocrity.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Harper's Plagiarism Revisited

The May Harper's has a review by Wyatt Mason of a book by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno which charges the author with engaging in plagiarism.

"Sawyer-Laucanno's biography is jammed with instances of wholesale borrowing," Mason says, "--remarkable parallels of language and information."

Whoa! Is Mason talking about Sawyer-Laucanno's book-- or previous Harper's articles?

When one looks at the nine examples of Tom Bissell's plagiarism (covered on this blog in January), and the plagiarism by Jeff Tietz of a David DeKok book in another Harper's essay (covered on this blog in February), one sees Wyatt Mason discussing the very same thing.

Kind of schizoid behavior on Harper's part, don't you think? They point out plagiarism by others, when they've done the same thing. I can't see the difference between the examples given in the Wyatt Mason article of reworded sentences and unattributed secondary sources, and what Harper's writers Tom Bissell and Jeff Tietz did.

The last paragraph of Wyatt Mason's article, in extremely vague language, seems to be saying that plagiarism is everyplace. "--we are drowning in information--" Is the current Harper's article a way of excusing their own behavior?

Regardless, plagiarism is plagiarism-- and only a total fool would buy Sawyer-Laucanno's (or Tom Bissell's) explanation that he didn't have his source open in front of him-- it all just happened accidentally.

I'd like the demi-puppets who supported Bissell-- Maud Newton, Daniel Radosh, Mark Sarvas, Bondgirl, Galley Cat, and company-- to comment on THIS article please.

Another Word About Lit Critics

Those who fail to acknowledge changes in the nature and advocacy of literature will be relegated to the realm of the stodgy.