Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Depressed Literary Support Group

Word has it that the Depressed Reader who posts on this blog has joined forces with perpetually depressed (in-between expense-paid trips to Disneyland) lit-blogger "Galley Cat" Nathalie Chica and others to form a new organization called the Depressed Literary Support Group. They'll be holding their own July reading, at which they'll stare at one another for three hours with occasional moans about the awfulness of the Underground Literary Alliance and what the crass upstarts are doing to literature instead of leaving it alone as the possession solely of enervated literary depressives like themselves!

Other depressed writers like Rick Moody, Elissa Schappell, Amy Hempel, Jay McInerney, and Neal Pollack have quickly submitted applications to join the new group. (In Moody's case, his butler and nanny submitting it for him.)

REMINDER: The ULA's own event is July 16th at Medusa Lounge, part of ULA Weekend in this town.


Anonymous said...

Hey...I'm a depressive kind of person and writer, but I agree with your overall criticisms and stance, though maybe not the ULA's approach always, i.e., I generally don't like ad-hominem attacks, which I think the ULA does tend to make too often. But, at the same time, I understand how frustrated you (seemingly to me) are, believe me. I'm also a very angry person as well as a very depressed one. IMO, those two things can coexist inside a person--at least they do in me.

Try not to alienate those of us who agree with you but may sometimes take a different approach to the fucking stupid unfair mess that is so-called "literature" and "publishing" today. I would just rather attack "the system's" dumb arguments than its arguers--usually....

Anyway, keep at it,


Tao Lin said...

reader of DEPRESSING books

not DEPRESSED reader of books

amy hempel is not depressed

she's detachedly bemused

rick moody is too intellectual to be depressed

neal pollack is too extroverted to be depressed

this is the dumbest post ever

you can't just name-drop rick moody into anything and make it funny

Jeff Potter said...

Fran, about the ad hominem charge from you and others, OK, that's arguing against someone's character instead of against their argument and it's considered not fair. Right? Well, we do have fun pestering some people but there's always a point to it, a point that we're clear about, a point of public interest. We don't hassle people for nothing. We actually try to give them a break.

Like with the Galley thing, we're not computer experts ourselves, so they did something stupid and offered to apologize, sounds fine to us. But then they try to jerk us around. This is weak of them and we call them on it. It's not needlessly personal, as your 'ad hominem' charge suggests. It's relevant.

We don't just go on and on about Eggers for the fun of it. He posed as someone else and sneakily called us stalkers on Amazon---when HE was the stalker. And we were NOT.

Both cases are FUNNY. But we still deserve apologies in both cases and will keep labeling the perps as wimps until they take responsibility for what they did. It's the grown-up thing to do.

We've called all these kinds of people on specific things where they've done us and the public wrong. Just because they keep silent doesn't mean we'll go away or that our charges and hasslings are "ad hominem."

The super-crazy racist person who attacked us a month ago with a seriously intense computer hacking/fraud assault is another case. (If Galley or Eggers think we're pests, let them experience what WE get.) We called him on it and stood up to his onslaught. A week later out of the blue he says he's sorry and that he was wrong about us. King accepted this and said thanks. End of story.

Anonymous1404 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I didn't mean I think name-calling isn't ever relevant, or that people don't deserve to be called names sometimes. They do. I also didn't mean some of the ULA's specific name-calling hasn't been warranted sometimes. It has. I really was talking from a logical argumentation angle.

I think arguments are better and harder to ignore if they primarily address the issues at hand and steer away from the people at hand. Sometimes people need to be humiliated before they'll change their ways, opinions, attitudes. And I think that often the best way to humiliate them (adults, I mean) is to show their incompetence at something, their fallacies, their inconsistencies, not call them names.

Name-calling too often makes people (especially moralists) just dismiss the name-caller as a "bad person," whereas "dismembering" their arguments humiliates people more, especially writers, who, IMO, often pride themselves on thinking they're great at argumentation when they're actually not. Simply writing an argument down doesn't automatically make a person a competent arguer. There are different forms of writing, different ways of writing. IMO at least, most writers do not seem very logical, and I think they should be; that they aren't is a writing weakness on their part. Because many seem to have that technical weakness and seem to know it deep-down, attacking their logic often affects them the most, often shakes their beliefs the most. And I think shaking peoples' beliefs is a psychological doorway to changing their beliefs.

I really didn't mean to make a "charge" against the ULA--I'm not siding with those on the "other side" who may have made the same comments. That's the only thing I may agree on with them w.r.t. the ULA. I really do support what the ULA's doing overall; I have the same goals. Just the name-calling turns me off sometimes. Hostility is normally only a positive thing when it yields positive results. Too often it can yield negative results, or make getting any result take longer, or both those things can take place. I've been called hostile repeatedly (sometimes unfairly, sometimes not), so I know what I'm talking about here. I try to aim for "controlled hostility," though maybe that doesn't make any sense if you consider a lack of control as being implicit in the definition of hostile, and some might. Oh well.

(BTW, I don't know why you put up with all the nastiness posted here [unless maybe you like when some post that way, like maybe they stir-it-up here???]. What's happening here unfortunately seems like what happened to the original message board on your old site--at least I thought that was the original, as that's when I first learned about the ULA. You might have had a forum before that--I'm not sure. But, if it were up to me [and it's not, so I won't say anymore on this cause it ain't my place], I'd tell all the posters spewing pointless nastiness to fuck off.)


Emerson Dameron said...

I like your style. I'm also flummoxed by the asinine bullshit that usually appears here from the anti-Karl contingent. I can't think any less of the man for blowing his stack now and again. There's not much way to stop it: Disable anonymous posting, and they create pseudonymous Blogger accounts. I'd wager it's one of the same two or three people, in most cases - the writing style and the psychological projection are rather consistent. Anyroad, thanks for acutally contributing something of value.

I doubt I'll make it to Philly. I'm barely scratching out a living here, and I'm still hungover from the Conclave. But I recommend it to anyone who can. Also, put on your own readings in your own towns. It's a lot more rewarding than blitzing someone else's blog with crap.

Jeff Potter said...

EmDam, you and Mike still have to MOVE after the Conclave. Get your butts to Philly and start the real work and your hangover will be cured. :)

Fran, you mention name-calling...well, hopefully we've been above that, but we do get personal. You also bring up the results angle. I agree with you all the way there. The ULA has made tremendous strides in provoking people to look at today's lit scene with open eyes. Remember that we're not trying to convert folks like Hiram. With our stories and contrasts we're inspiring people in general who had been disillusioned. We're provoking people to dig further and elsewhere than where the usual suspects have been telling them to dig. I disagree about the benefits of argument and doubt that it would have much effect. The bigshots aren't going to participate. It doesn't matter if we're personal or not. Pro's don't argue. But they do take shots and score points if they can. The real playing field is not one of debate. It's art and PR and they've been losing continuously against us. There is indeed a ball in play. Moody's piece about the relevance of lit-journals a month or so ago had us banging around inside it. We're the unmentionable provocateurs of the scene today. We're putting the ideas in play because we make it personal. By making it personal we show that every reader has stock in what's going down. We show that everyday folks can stand up and do more than the wimpy literati can. We show that it DOES matter what individuals, what PEOPLE WITH NAMES, just like you and I, do and say, and even how they behave on the sidewalk. You and I are held to that standard. We're making sure that the literati are, too. Arguments get nowhere. They're boring. A culprit won't argue anyway. We're into color and excitement---we get the FACTS then we RANT with them. Anyone is free to refute us if they can. It's hard for a millionaire writer to do any arguing as he hops from grants-panel to awards-committee---giving money one day, taking it the next. He's not going to say a thing. WE'RE DOING THE TALKING HERE. And they're going down. They don't have to talk. Foer turned down his last NEA cash: that's talk enough. We're presenting alternatives. And we'll be selling them. Let the best writers win. Our strategy has worked pretty well thus far. Let's see what happens next. There's nothing else like us out there. Is anyone waiting to see what any other literary players are going to do? NO! It's dullsville out there. And these people with money and clout, it's THEIR PERSONAL FAULT that it's dull. They could've done so much more that it's embarrassing. We're changing this. And we're signing our names and we're taking credit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the compliments, Emerson! I spoke with Karl through email once a while ago; I think his high-energy in-your-face stuff is only one side of him. He can be very approachable. But ignorants (I can call names too) probably can't understand that because they generally only know about surfaces. I just think people are often looking to dismiss "alternative" places and ways right off, even before they look at what those places are actually doing. Those alternatives should try not to give people even more reason to dismiss them. Alternatives should make it HARD for people to dismiss them--but, well, I guess different people have different opinions on how exactly to achieve that. To me, it usually pays to be more flexible and make use of various approaches, so where you don't get one person's support one way, maybe you can pick up that person's support another way.

Wish I could make it to the Pennsylvania event, but I can't even make it to the grocery store some days! I'm not the healthiest person physically. I got really sick years ago, have not been quite right since. Can't travel much now--it's just too hard on me. Sometimes I don't know how I ever expected to get anywhere in writing (assuming I ever did, which may be a big assumption): it requires both a good deal of physical strength (which I don't have) as well as mental strength (which I do have). I should have never started down the writing road; the road ultimately led to nowhere for me. But what's done is done, I guess.

Take care,


- Leopold said...

Wow, it's nice to see some kind of actual discussion going on in here. Interesting stuff.

I agree with Fran here. There are lots of approaches to getting attention. I think being crazy and outrageous is one of them - it's done a good share of publicity for the ULA. It's not my style, I don't usually have time for people's negativity. But it's a lot like protests. You can have a lot of people academically, intellectually, systemically fighting an issue with very little change until people take to the streets. A lot of people who take to the streets can be far from the best spokespeople for the cause, and there's always a not-insignificant part of the crowd there to 'party' and 'break shit up'. I may not agree with it, but to a certain degree, at a certain point, those people are needed.

The ULA's crazier tactics have their place. You'll find we work on many fronts and the fact that most people don't pay attention to the other things we do goes to show that making noise and being disruptive can be effective. There are big drawbacks to that too, however, as people will kneejerk react in the opposite direction.

I'm not arguing for it here, because it's not something I always support - sometimes I think the ULA is too focused on that end of it, starts worrying when it's not pissing people off - but I can understand it and see why it's important and even support it in several instances. I think the ULA's more 'disruptive' tactics have all been handled really tactfully. I get frustrated with systems more than people, as well, but people who ally themselves to systems are what need to be changed.

I hope you don't get too beat up on your writing, Fran. I think we all, at some point, imagined 'making it big' with our writing. People will read you and it's important to get your thoughts out even if only five, ten, twenty people read it. I don't know if you've DIYed anything, but you should try it. It's better than letting it gather dust and you'll feel great about it. (of course, I don't know your situation, or your goals, so I could be way off base in suggesting that to you...)

Take care, thanks for taking the time to actually talk with us about what we think.

I have to haul my ass across the country now...

Anonymous said...

Hi, Leopold. I like your comments/ideas around here. And I know what you mean--you're right about protesting and making a lot of noise being needed too when trying to create change or break down a system, or do both. I don't want the ULA to stop doing that stuff--fuck the snooty establishment!

As for my writing, I've tried everything and nothing has worked for me. Submitting the "traditional" route, self-publishing, "vanity" publishing, giving away my stuff for free--it's all been very disappointing for me. I never had any high goals but I had at least a few specific goals, nearly all of which I haven't been able to meet. So I've pretty much given up with writing at this point.

But I still urge others to keep at it, if it's what they really, really want, if it still gives them any pleasure at all. It's like that old cliche: you can't really know for sure what will happen until it actually happens. ...Okay, maybe that's not an old cliche, but I think it's usually true. I've just personally reached a "negative returns" point, where too much energy of all kinds is required to stay at this, energy I don't really have. Having been at this for too long has drained me. Writing doesn't really give me any pleasure anymore. Just the thought of writing another novel, the thought of doing so much work for so little if any reward, exhausts me--and sometimes makes me want to puke!

Anyway, thanks for your comments, stay safe in your travels and keep writing,


King Wenclas said...

I thought for a number of years about this campaign, and what could make it successful, before I started down the road. I even did a test case with a lit-journal in Detroit. This isn't something I went into without preparation.
The point I try to get through to ULAers and the ULA's supporters is that we live in an EXTREMELY noisy society. One can't emphasize this enough. We are bombarded day and night by conglomerate nonsense, filling our eyes, ears, and brains from every conceivable direction. The only way for new art and new ideas to stand out, to get any kind of attention, is to be, as D.W. Griffith understood, extremely sensational.
And yes, to start with, simple long and patient logical discussion isn't enough-- one has to boil down the message sometimes to a few catch phrases and an easily recognizable phrase or image or two. As long as one has real ideas and cred behind the noise-- as we do-- it will work. As we see, the frauds like Neal Pollack fall by the wayside.
But the truth is that we don't do enough in the direction of in-your-face attacks and screeds. Not nearly enough. Not not not not not.

Jeff Potter said...

Fran & Leopold both suggest that there might be gains made by the "honey attracts more bees than vinegar" approach (or however that saying goes). They both agree that an "all fronts" approach is useful. Fran says that alternatives more than others need to be seen as acceptable to newcomers.

I agree in general. We are indeed covering all the bases. I don't see the attack aspect as being awkward, however. It really gets us---and the nation---fired up to call a spade a spade for a change in the literary world. The old gatekeepers have been doing WAY too much pussyfooting and toleration of corruption. We're empowering people for a change instead of the backrooms. This is positive.

The appeal of our alternative is the same as the punk movement had: we're right. The punks saw hypocrisy and spat it out and screamed. Straight people were shocked by their vehemence, but those with open eyes got their point. Punk wasn't for everyone but the truth aspect is what really won people over. What the punks expressed meshed with the DIRECT experience of many and so they started resonating to punk music...and punk zeens!

The zeen movement first caught on like wildfire as a rare, fresh way to tell the truth for a change---to tell the truth about one's own life and screw the rest. The strength of zeening was never in its honey. Its strength is that it offers fresh art to those who are thirsty for it. ...Which brings us to the positive positives of the ULA message!

All along, what have we said? --Take back literature, people! It's yours! And, yes, it is NOT THEIRS. We've said that an institutional approach WILL NOT HELP YOU, and that it WILL RIP YOU OFF. We've shown that the MFA movement has basically produced NOTHING of consequence---exceptions proving our rule. We shout "do it yourself!" We give respect to everyone standing up for their art.

Now, I'd say that college is a fine place to learn about a lot of this, if you've been sheltered. It's best to just get out there and DO IT but if you're already in school, it's the teacher's obligation to tell you the truth, to tell you where the action is, and to not mislead you that workshopping is essential. A teacher CAN help all this along. But let's not forget the famous saying that "the 10,000 sneering writing instructors killed Kerouac." The burden is on them. They're obliged to stand up. That's what tenure is for. That's what jobs are for: to tell the boss to shove it when they ask you to lie. We in the ULA have been encouraging professors all along! We did it and didn't have to. It's their job to do the right thing. So get to work, profs!

I'd also say that the media system in place is great for getting books into stores---it's crap for knowing art or for leading but it's a dandy servant. A beancounter never made a decent car---you need a car-guy. Every American knows that. Marketing, legal, and dealmakers all have their wonderful places---but they don't know art. So get to your positive, cheery jobs, you Systems people, and leave the publishing to the book-guys and the writing to writers!

As for the writers, our positive message is to tell the elites to open the gate. Sure, a few of them do good work. But they need to grow lit, not control it. They'll still get their fancy lunches. It's not a zero-sum situation. The mainstreamers who read decently will still sell. We're saying there's room for more. The fine arts writers who sell 5,000 copies a year and need stipends, grants and screenplay options to pay the bills don't help themselves by keeping others out and neither do the populizers who sell a million. Now, there's not room for everyone. It's a competition, a prizefight. And we're contenders. We're looking for the next new voice and next new scene but everyone isn't equal. 90% of zeens were crap. A few rose to the top. No hard feelings---if someone's work doesn't work then they can enjoy some other aspect of the game.

I'm mostly a publisher who sells. My wife is a fabric artist who reads. We all can't be great writers. But we can be great readers, great citizens, read great work. There's something positive for everyone.

But to have a hope for great art, the MFA system needs to admit its limits and let the contenders in. Of course, they don't have to---it's on them. We're trying to help in our way. Maybe someone will come along who sees the truth of the indy talent and message and who enjoys filling out grants-forms and attending academic soires. Our message respects them as individuals. I don't think we make it harder for them. Of course no one gets a soft-pedal because of the badge they're wearing. They know it's a professional world and don't expect anyone to bust out a news scoop quietly. They know it's news when we find out that a big award is dominated by a husband, wife and their personal friends, a la a Monday Report a few months ago. They're used to the cachet of Iowa and Columbia being the schools on top, but having two schools dominate brings risks, too. No one needs to shrink from them. Big power can result in big greed or big outreach or a mix. We're going to see that Indy Lit gets its share and its chance. Big power in Lit needs a check like the ULA to bring balance. We've submitted projects to them quietly long enough, only to be snubbed every time. (You should see Jack Saunders' query letters---they're great! The best ones those presses have ever seen. So funny, so savvy---yet without an ounce of ticket-punching. He dares to rely on art, on his fresh voice alone. So he's snubbed, ignored---or screamed at.) It's time for noise!

No matter what anyone else does, I'm going out there myself and offering ULA titles and cold-calling stores. Some of the people who read it, who get our message, are going to like it. We'll see how many people that ends up being. ULA PRESS titles are for those who are looking for something more, whose needs aren't being met (or not fully met) by current offerings. There are a lot of people in this land. I assert that there's a lot of thirst for fresh art and that 3,000 readers isn't the natural audience for our nation's lit-journals (as Rick Moody claimed). I think we'll get more. It's a positive thing to me to go head to head with everyone else out there for the people and the readers who want more. That's positive. Let the readers decide!

Jeff Potter said...


*We do ask for argument. We rarely get it here, with any substance. Our critics are the ones who FAIL miserably and negatively to engage. In our bigger media hits where we've been criticized we respond constructively every time. We give our rivals their due respect. Bold and loud, yes. But no crazy, no potty.

*We ask for examples of doing it better, every time. We ask for who inspires our critics. We ask who does what our writers are attempting only so much better that our writers deserve their snubbing. (We get no replies---however, the last time a retort approached the topic a week or so ago was when someone said the System rightfully ignores us because everything it does is better than us, by definition, I guess, huge failures and proven corruption notwithstanding. They gave the "badge makes right" defense. Not so hot. But it was an attempt. It wasn't potty.)

*We freely offer up our heroes and our solutions. On several occasions King has listed his Top 10 All Time Short Stories with a punchy rationale for each. I wish he'd do it again because we've lost those posts. Those are mostly "mainstream" successes from the past. But we also freely display our writers' work. We put it out there and we sell it cheap.

*We offer the fun of voyeurism---the Anonymice who attack us likely include some bigshots. They're usually polished system people, well-versed at cocktail party insult, not at all used to being called out. No regular MFAers would be afraid to use their names to engage an anti-MFA group. When King says "Bellow" or "Birkerts" the smooth loonies come out of the woodwork. You do the math. An establishment columnist was recently exposed as one chicken. And of course Eggers was as well.

*We offer the thrill of the fight. A contender owes it to the belt-holder to give it his all. No half-steps. State your case full on. They're negatively trying to duck the fight---to guard the prize thru backroom deals. They've gotten fat. They can't do their jobs. They're out of place.

(An example that might shed light here is in my own background. I'm a racing, scrapping person and compete in many events and races. I don't win em anymore---though I have won plenty. I don't imitate the winners either. I know what I have to offer. I take my stand. I know that a contest is significantly an exhibition, a show. I believe in craft, in local values, I'm anti-Robo, so I show that in how I race. I look to the overall heritage and social potential of the sports I do and I stand up for the everyday person. So I do ski and bike races (and shooting events, among others) and I intentionally use old, low-tech, affordable equipment. And I give it my all. I owe it to those who beat me to be busting a gut back there---and if they slip up... I finish high in the ranks, too---way higher than people expect. Every race has a winner---they're often dull, just doing their usual thing. They miss out on the show aspect. Some say a race is about performance. Sure, BOTH kinds---results AND a good show. I've been in pro sports and know that a good show is essential to the health of a sport. So even though I no longer win overall, my performance attracts attention---I get great crowd response. I send a message that the old stuff in your garage can be good stuff. Use what you got and get out there. You don't have to shop to have a good time. Back when I was young and actually winning I did the same thing. I was broke and had commonplace equipment but I used that to add to the cachet, to send a message. I didn't try to hide it. People and media would say "Forget the old way, the new is best" and I'd win with the old way. My heroes went for glory so that's what I did, too. A win by itself is boring. So my rivals would hide in the bike race pack, looking for a place to sneak away. I recall once saying in the middle of a top race, "I'm leaving soon, anywhere care to join me?" Audacity! It stirred em up like bees. I left em anyway. It was all the sweeter. Talk about honey! That was positive! --Years later a young rider told me that seeing me in that race was when he decided to really go for it himself and by then he could beat me. The beau geste makes pedestrian types go nuts, but it's the key to hitting the true populist nerve.)