Sunday, October 30, 2005


The aristocrats at the National Book Award Foundation aren't going out of their way to advertise this year's black-tie ceremony, held as before at the Marriott-Marquis fortress in newly Disneyfied Times Square. Are they afraid I might show up again with my camera, my protest signs, and my flying bird hat? (As of now it looks like I'll be unable to make it-- look for my shadow in the cold regardless.)

This year, the rich people who control the thing have allowed to be nominated for the fiction prize two token populists. Safely predictable Leftist novelist E.L. Doctorow will be carted out, with wheelchair or walker, IV tube or embalming jar. He's very "radical" as long as being so doesn't conflict with his cushy New York University professor job! (Mr. E.L.-- ever read the ending of "Animal Farm"? Snort, snort. Enjoy the swanky dinner!)

Along for the ride as well is one-time street writer Mary Gaitskill, who used to pen great stories when she was living among real people, before trading in authenticity for the posing trust-fund crowd. (I optimistically look forward to reading her novel.)

Look folks-- all the cover, the glitter and glitz, the black ties and $10,000 tables doesn't change the fact the "National" Book Awards ceremony representing a sliver of American society and literature is a sham-- just another con game perpetrated by the puppet-masters of American culture. Outside last year's event I hung out with a small group of low-rent working class rebels there to protest the nomination of the 9-11 Commission's Official Report for a book award. The passage of one year has shown the protestors to have been right-- the Commission's Report was a whitewash. This has been demonstrated by the recent Able-Danger revelations in which at least seven credible government employees have testified or attempted to testify that segments of the federal government knew about the Al-Queda cells in this country before 9-11 occurred. The Commission panelists didn't want and DON'T want to know anything about Able-Danger-- neither does the bulk of the establishment media both "Right" and "Left" (two sides of the same coin)-- though the revelations about advance government knowledge are likely only part of the story; the tip of the iceberg.

Conclusion About Ben Marcus

The title of the Marcus Harper's essay was the hyperbolic "Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It."

I wonder: when will this take place? The experimental movement Marcus advocates has been around for over 40 years and had little influence-- it consists of nothing more than stuffy professors in thick-stoned mothballed universities passing hermetic texts back and forth among themselves; the world outside their shuttered windows an unknown realm.

What we see with the publication of the enervated Marcus essay incapable of stirring anyone to action beyond the slightest nod of head, irritated cough, or pinched brow is a failed attempt to co-opt the radical message of the only truly different dangerous new literary movement on the scene now-- scorned and blackballed by status quo apologists one and all-- the

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ben Marcus and Test Tube Literature

The kind of experimental writing Marcus advocates isn't the same as the ground-up DIY writing experiments a Mark Sonnenfeld or Jack Saunders practices.

Instead, it's a tops-down institutional approach, created in the literary laboratories of academe. It's funded through the same kind of government-academy synthesis that over the years has funded experiments in genetics, space technology, and weapons systems. (This is a subject I investigated in the 90's for my New Philistine newsletter. I asked questions about these literary experiments-- for instance, about Larry McCaffery's involvement in the takeover of Critique magazine by a Washington D.C. entity named Heldref which was controlled by noted neo-conservative figure Jeane Kirkpatrick and her husband.)

Crucial questions about WHO OWNS LITERATURE?, as applied to Jonathan Franzen, the Fiction Collective, or even Harper's magazine-- questions which are the only way to determine which writers in fact represent the status quo-- are questions which will never be addressed by establishment hacks like Franzen or Marcus, let alone answered.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ben Marcus and Establishment Cronyism

I found amusing and revealing Marcus's mention in his Harper's essay of the band The Silver Jews as an example of artists marginalized in this society.

The Silver Jews are led by establishment poet-darling David Berman, yet one more American child of extreme privilege. (His father appears to be the owner of Bermanco, one of the more notorious corporate lobbyist firms in Washington D.C.) David Berman has been house poet at the trendy trust fund lit-journal Open City as well as The Believer, the journal Marcus's wife Heidi Julavits edits. David Berman hasn't been marginalized at all. Instead, despite having little musical or poetic talent, he's been pushed, funded, hyped, and lauded (including by the likes of Billy Collins) over and over.

Ben Marcus, in his post at Columbia U, and through his friendships, is immersed in establishment cronyism. This is why he couldn't see anything wrong in last year's National Book Awards fiction and poetry awards, which were dominated by the privileged; the winners and many of the nominees coming from the upper levels of society and centered in the city of New York.

(To be continued.)

Friday, October 21, 2005

ULA Dress Code?

Now that the NBA (National Basketball Association) has instituted a dress code in order to improve its image, speculation is rampant that the most infamous writers group on the planet, the ULA (Underground Literary Alliance), will follow suit.

On the one hand are ULAers like George Balgobin and Yul Tolbert who would likely think dressing members in distinctive, eye-catching uniforms would be an astute move, further distinguishing us from the literary pack and drawing increased attention to ourselves.

On the other hand are members like Wild Bill Blackolive, who might be concerned that they'd have to cut their hair and shave, or put on shoes and a shirt.

All I can say at the moment is that I've been given no word by ULA leaders about any proposed dress code.

Disingenuous Marcus

More About the Ben Marcus Essay in the October Harper's.

A few sentences from his essay reveal Ben Marcus as less than completely honest.

"I have never said that anyone who does not want to read difficult writing is a moron. I think there are pleasures and challenges to be had in both approaches. . . ."

Yet Marcus's friends have said essentially this, including in an essay which appeared in The Believer, a wordy journal his wife edits.

"Although those writers may be, in Franzen's view, failing with language, and although the whole venture may be doomed, it is their right to try and fail, as this failure might help readers discover new ways of thinking and feeling."

"--Franzen is not just criticizing a writer when he dismisses Gaddis; he's criticizing an audience, telling them that there's no way they could possibly like what they like. . . ."

Would Ben Marcus apply these statements to the writers and audience of the Underground Literary Alliance?

(To be continued.)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Winning the Argument

Here's only the latest example of agreement with the ULA's argument, in an interview the October 16 New York Post did with establishment author and reviewer Walter Kirn.
Kirn's response when asked about the state of American fiction:

"It's become dominated by a certain kind of academic, consciously sophisticated, artsy writing. There used to be a much healthier spread, writers from all regions, all economic classes. I think the whole thing's beginning to lean too much toward the graduate writing school, very smart, very privileged writer . . . of which I'm probably one."

The Underground Literary Alliance, of course, is the antidote to the trend Kirn describes. Is the ULA campaign making headway? (We applaud Walter Kirn for his honesty.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Spotlight on Ben Marcus

First in a Series.

WITH HIS October Harper's essay, McSweeneyite Ben Marcus behaves like the David Horowitz of the literary world.

David Horowitz is the chameleon of establishment politics. In the 60's, as an editor of radical Ramparts magazine, Horowitz associated with leftist groups like the Black Panthers. Currently he's employed on the neo-conservative end of the spectrum. His attacks on billionairess Katrina vanden Heuvel (a bonded member of the establishment) as a dangerous Leftist gives the centrist aristocrat radical cred she doesn't warrant.

Similarly, in his essay Ben Marcus tags author Jonathan Franzen as a populist, though Franzen's writing style, focus, and point-of-view are narrow, not populist at all.

The Ben Marcus argument exists without context. He manufactures a gulf of difference between himself and Franzen, when both are certified members of the approved literary club. Marcus fails to reveal himself as a Columbia prof, or mention that his wife Heidi Julavits is editor of insider mouthpiece The Believer. Marcus doesn't explain that professors he champions like Larry McCaffery and John O'Brien receive funding from the same sources as Franzen. (The National Endowment for the Arts, for instance.) (Marcus hero Rick Moody was on the NEA panel which gave Franzen his money.)

What of Franzen's novel The Corrections, which Marcus points to as polar opposite to his own "avant-garde" views? For even the comfortable folks its million-dollar marketing campaign was aimed at, Franzen's "populist" novel was a decorative coffee table book more bought than read. It's filled with pretentious description of coagulated prose-- is hardly a page-turner in the 1950's Herman Wouk mode.

The Marcus essay, in short, is a fraud, designed to narrow the spectrum of literature by positing as opposites writers who have few differences between them. This is an old trick (used in 2004 in politics with two rich Yale graduates). It doesn't always work. Only writers dwelling in the same establishment literary skyscraper with Marcus and Franzen will buy the Marcus argument; will sympathize with him for having a smaller office than Franzen's, though on the same floor and right down the hall.

(To be continued.)

Scum of the Earth Dept.

Here is part of what The Ruminator has put on their site in lieu of a disclaimer:

"Ruminator has received several e-mails from a person identifying himself as Karl "King" Wenclas, disclaiming authorship of a letter. . . ."

Am I supposed now not to exist? (Many lit-folk wish I didn't exist.) This blog must write itself. There is no human being at the keyboard.

The Ruminator's editors are compounding their prank. Ha ha! Very funny. Should earn them brownie points with esteemed literati.

I don't know anymore what to say about such people. They haven't a shred of integrity, and care not to gain any. The letter the Ruminator published with my name attached was faked-- most likely by Daniel Handler himself. When I questioned him about his lies, he ran away. Anyone seen him anyplace lately?

Par for the course: The lit world is filled with the corrupt and the conscienceless.

ULA Writer

Check out the very strong story by James Nowlan now up on the ULA Adventures blog at (Note also the Monday Report by Bill Blackolive about an imprisoned writer.)

Friday, October 07, 2005

New Stars of the Literary Underground: Natalie Felix

Natalie Felix
Originally uploaded by King Wenclas.
Natalie is one of the most dynamic lit-readers in the country. She polished her performing talents by appearing at hundreds of open mics the last several years, reading against and observing the very best. She's hosted regular reading series of her own, including two with noted street poet Michael Grover. Since I've known her I've seen her steadily improve until few can match her voice and style; almost no one can equal her charisma. When she appeared with the ULA in Philadelphia this summer she was as good as I've ever seen her. Like many undergrounders, she doesn't just stand up there and read, but constructs a performance, a narrative of movement and voice, that blows audiences away.

Natalie Felix has also created zeens. Her zeen work combines her poetry with artistic graphics, complementing her words with style in the same way her flowing movements complements her words when she reads them in person. Encountering the work of Natalie is always an exhilharating experience!-- she's one of the best undergrounders on the scene today. (Check out her website,

UL:A Five Year Anniversary

Tomorrow, October 8, marks five years since the founding meeting of the Underground Literary Alliance in Hoboken, New Jersey. Since that time, many skeptics and opponents have fallen by the wayside.

One year after our founding, a zine proclaimed our "disintegration." Yet we kept going, are still here today.

This year alone we've seen attack after attack after attack upon ourselves as individuals, upon our cause, upon our ideas. The scorn and mocking piled higher and higher-- including at least two parody blogs aimed at us, and one fake letter published in a once-respectable literary journal. Attack after attack. Yet here we are! We haven't gone anyplace.

During the past five years leading ULA personalities like myself, Michael Jackman, and probably the majority of our members have endured crushing personal setbacks, the pain, the hectic struggle merely to survive in this society, and still found smidgens of time to write. The setbacks haven't weakened or discouraged us in the slightest.

FIVE YEARS AGO we kicked off our organization with the kind of public campaign no American writers had dared before begin-- few if any would take on the fight now-- when we signed our names to a Protest against the awarding of philanthropic, tax-sheltered money to one of the wealthiest, most connected writers in America. Forty zine writers and publishers signed the Protest. It was signed by not one of the 300 upstanding establishment literary folk to whom it was circulated. Not one! This alone proved our argument about the system's lethargy and corruption. (Also that many of those same writers agreed with our campaign privately.)

Since that time we've made more noise in our attempts to wake up literary society, to awaken all writers everyplace. In return we've been mischaracterized, slandered, and dismissed by the bulk of the literary establishment and by establishment-wannabes-- not given credit for the rightness of our cause, for our unflinching integrity and our bravery. We won't be given credit, until we stop fighting with one hand tied behind our back by the inequities of this society and grab control of more space in the media carnival of noise, to further reach and speak for the bulk of the population so long ignored by the insular world of literary elitists.

Watch out! Our campaign is only beginning.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Conservative Fallacy

A Lesson in Economics.

The great flawed premise of conservative ideology (secretly believed by many liberals), is that the United States has a free market economy which equitably distributes income and wealth to those who work hardest. Conservative commentators make the argument that high progressive taxes penalize those who are most deserving (our tax system in fact penalizes most the working poor); they claim the rich are entitled to their every penny.

Yet, economic history's chief advocates of the free market, Von Mises and his school, as well as the founding fathers of this country, presupposed a stable currency as fixed touchstone of the economic engine; a rational yardstick unsusceptible to change. Today we have anything BUT this-- the "yardstick" changes its length continually as the value of our currency fluctuates. And so, the ideas of THEIR OWN ideological forebears invalidate conservative arguments. Their ideology rests on quicksand.

In reality we live amid a Distorted Market. Money created at whim is pumped into the economy, which distributes it in an exaggerated, irrational fashion. In the Fifties, when there was a more stable currency, a factory worker could earn ten grand a year, the chief exec of the company 100 grand. Today the factory worker is up to 40 grand in some cases (where there hasn't been union busting). The CEO meanwhile earns twenty million!

Think of a flattened-out map of the planet; distorted reality where the size of the land mass increases the farther away one moves from the equator, so that Greenland appears gigantic. This is economic reality today. The only fixed point on the economic map is near the economic equator, where the minimum wage remains at the $5.15 an hour it was ten years ago. The poor are held down while wealth flows greatest to those atop the economic pyramid, whether the beneficiaries be basketball players or bankers.

THE RESULT is that the working poor work harder and harder just to survive. It's all but impossible to be a true bohemian today. (This society allows only for the trust-fund fake kind.) Low-pay writer-workers like myself, Frank Walsh, and other ULAers are being increasingly squeezed as cost-of-living increases; one paycheck away from the street.

THE ANALOGY in literature to conservative ideologues are those who believe that writers at the top of the literary pyramid are truly deserving; that lower-class writers are shut out because we're "untalented" and have nothing to say. The only way literary liberals are able to justify this distorted thinking to themselves is by embracing the god of style. ULA writers are untalented because we don't follow the accepted bourgeois writing styles endorsed by writing programs. It's akin to saying we're not dressed properly. Our own many-varied writing styles look unfamiliar to the bourgeoisie. We're unacceptable to the cultural doormen, who rigidly enforce a status quo literary dress code as a way of excluding lower class writers from consideration.

LIBERAL establishment writers are considered deserving because they're credentialed by the most elite educational institutions in the country-- places like Brown and Columbia. The Believer's editors and writers, for instance, are from these places, and so they have to be great!-- even if their ideas are unimaginative, their writings unreadable, their essays without content, their stories and poems boring.

THESE WRITERS, despite their liberal posturing, enforce a cultural caste system. Caste is the foundation of their existence as writers, the argument for their privileged standing. Without realizing it, they've bought the substance of conservative ideology.

Stranded on Zytron

Note: I'll be reading and answering very few e-mails or letters in the next few weeks. I plan to continue posting on this blog. Later in the year, I'll be posting a little about my adventures on this insane planet.


A sports fan on the radio, talking about a football coach: "He reminds me of a 7th grade literature teacher. He's got no edge."

The ULA's task is to be loud and in-your-face; to provide literature's edge.

The Literary Castle

Part of the ULA's role in literature is to be scorned and attacked and part of it is to be ignored. People know we're out there-- they read our site and this blog. Our ideas are mocked or mimicked, our arguments followed. This can't be acknowledged. To acknowledge us would be to broaden their conception of the literary world. It'd be too shocking to establishment minds. Their systems would rebel; they'd have heart attacks and nervous breakdowns.

It's funny to witness their stodgy internal debates: Gessen versus Wood versus Marcus versus Franzen-- all taking place within the thick stone walls of the castle; refined and lifeless words; echoes bouncing back and forth amid the cold and dusty halls. The drawbridge is raised, the gates secure. The pontification continues. "No, YOU are the proper Elitist," one of the nobles insists. "No, YOU are," the other returns. "No, I am." "I am." They trade bon mots. Both quote Henry James for support while sipping wine and nibbling fancy hors d'oeuvres. Allow the people outside into the conversation? It couldn't be done-- or even thought of.

Outside the castle, unrest grows. Other discussions-- with more energy; with stronger rhetoric-- take place around campfires. Those on the battlements of the castle avert their eyes and pretend not to notice.

Reactionary Rhetoric

REACTIONARY is anyone who'll argue that the ULA not go after writers who stand for corruption, elitism, greed, snobbery, and other sins which afflict this society, under the phony mantra that all writers should get along. Class war has been waged relentlessly in this nation since 1981 at least, yet ULA writers are asked to stand aside under the scam idea that all writers are the same-- even the sons and daughters of the billionaires who run this planet and construct its inequities. The Overdogs' privileged progeny clutch tightly to literary culture as if it were their personal domain and we're not supposed to say anything.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bill Bennett Is Illogical

The Great Learned Professor Dr. William Bennett can't see why his statement is illogical and racist.

His statement (that aborting every black baby in America would lower the crime rate) would be logical only if the babies' blackness itself were the cause of crime. It's not. The social, economic, and cultural settings and relationships one is born into and raised in-- the choices one is given, the models displayed-- cause crime; effects which happen after birth.

It'd be like thinking that ice hockey is caused by white babies. A white baby born in New Mexico is likely not going to cause hockey! Put a baby of any color or ethnicity, however, into a northern setting of ice ponds and skating rinks, where hockey is the norm, and the child could well grow up to be a hockey player. Ice hockey was not played in Italy-- yet there have been great Italian hockey players in North America like the Esposito brothers. Race or ethnicity by itself doesn't cause anything.

We see that as a thinker the much esteemed Dr. Bennett is just one more highly touted fake.