Friday, November 04, 2005

Memo to Benedict Arnold

I finally got a chance to read the Noah Cicero thing. Wasn't going to say anything, but can't resist. What a chameleon! Who would've believed he'd turn into such a self-important jerk? In the ULA he was a Leninist radical; a fire-breather. Suddenly now he's a tweedy dilettante, authority on all things obscurely literary. Bring on the slippers and pipe. Let's all just get along, he proclaims; all 24,000 of us bunkered down in the last outpost, the Corregidor of literature. He takes umbrage that lowly King Wenclas, who lives in a transient hotel right now, is somehow picking on lorldly rich guy Bret Easton Ellis. Such a tragedy! Unbelievable! At this dire treatment of the aristocrat, Noah stalked out of the ULA. (Forgetting to tell any of us at the time why.) The horror. How many sleepless nights did Noah endure, sniffles in his pillow, at the mistreatment of his idol? (I don't even recall knocking Ellis's writing-- only the fawning publicity he receives.)

Yes, interesting the way Noah has changed. The previous incarnation/act is gone, along with the rants and misspellings. (Read: phony.) He's been properly lobotomized.

80% of the interview is verbal diarrhea. The only parts of interest are those involving the ULA. Anyone not entranced with his own genius can see that the ULA is the reason for the interview's being, from the first question out of the gate. "Reader" many times steers the discussion back to Noah's departure from the ULA. The interview is an excuse to take shots at the ULA, while parading, like a talking dog or a geek in a circus carnival, the "autodidact"; the man who turned on the ULA. "Look! He writes. He drops pretentious names!" The genteel crowd gasps. Over the curtained booth hangs a large sign. "THE AUTODIDACT." "Step this way. Step this way!" announces Reader-of-Depressing Books the carnival barker. "See the literary freak."

Noah doesn't have the common sense to realize his departure from the ULA is the reason for his sudden acceptance by these people. When he was with us, he was object of their scorn. Now that he's given up the fight and become, like them, an eager-beaver suck-ass game player, everything is fine.

Has he covered every base? Said something nice about Eggers? Check. Put the blame, bizarrely, for the Daniel Handler fake letter controversy on me? (I wasn't supposed to say anything, only stay in my corner and take it, happy that they falsely used my name.) Check. Stereotyped what for the most part are reasoned arguments from me, buttressed by facts, into calling people "dickheads" and "fascists"? (Words I don't use.) Check. Taken a shot at the ULA's populist fan site, which (unlike ambitious writers) doesn't take itself too seriously? Check and double-check.

(I know you won't mind these remarks, Noah. After all, they come from a person who "can't write.")

Reading the interview-- slogging through it dutifully-- I found myself drowning in falsehoods, absurdities, and phoniness.

Noah expresses his concern about the organization of the ULA. He enjoys Hermitt's writing-- apparently the main reason he joined the ULA (does anyone buy this?); having no knowledge the organization was about anything else-- no understanding of its protests and campaigns. (Memos sent him unread.) Once in, he discovers that Hermitt isn't very active in the organization! Someone do something, Noah screams. Not to any of us, but inside his head. Does he ask Hermitt what he thinks of the ULA, encouraging him to become more involved in our activities? Of course not! Noah didn't join to roll up his sleeves, get busy and make the ULA a stronger and better organization. He joined merely because he likes Hermitt's writing.

(Noah, part of what we do in the ULA is provide a place for undergrounders to communicate with one another. It's why we sent you the list of contact information!)

Who Noah most wanted to communicate with aside from Tim Hall wasn't all the working class or poor writers and zeensters who fill our ranks; people like Joe Verrilli or Bill Blackolive or Chris Robin or Yul Tolbert or Frank Walsh or Patrick King-- but me, then the busiest ULAer but also the one with the highest visibility. Though according to Noah I can't write, he kept mailing and e-mailing books, essays, and poems for me to read. Curious, you say? He even asked me to write an intro to his recent book. Though my life was in crisis (still is frankly), working two jobs and busy with other activities, I took the time to read his novel and mail the requested introduction. Did he use it? Was it dropped? Despite my trouble, I received no explanation.

Do you know how many times prolific writer Noah expressed his dissatisfaction with our organization to Steve Kostecke or myself? None. Zero. Not once. The Leftist didn't grasp that communication is part of any collective project. Many of us, like Wred, Jeff, Leopold, Pat Simonelli, Steve, and myself did everything we could to make Noah an important part of the group. Noah gave no space to the normal vagaries of an organization, especially one with as diverse a mix of personalities as ours. There was scant commitment-- COMMITMENT-- to our ideals, our goals, our cause, the level of which has to be high, has to be strong, to endure all the fights setbacks and attacks one receives if one TRULY wishes to make change rather than making wishes postures and dreams. He knew when he joined we like our attitude balls-to-the-wall. His fervor lasted six months. At his first piqued moment or found opportunity elsewhere he bailed. Now he hangs with enervated apologists for the establishment like Depressed Reader of Books, symbol of literary inertia, representative of everything wrong with the art-- the reason it's ignored-- young men discussing existentialist philosophy like retired professors at a rest sanitarium.

(Depressing Writer, whose attitude toward how the world operates is that of a 5 year-old, comes up with an absurdity of his own when he says that Dave Eggers gives "all" his money to charity, and is therefore redistributing wealth!)

Absurdities everyplace. Noah states that one can't intentionally create a movement. This is unhistorical nonsense. Every movement which has had influence was intentionally created, from Christianity to the Bolsheviks to rock n' roll. The evangelists didn't stay home drawing circles in the sand. They strode to every corner of the known world very INTENTIONALLY building their movement. The Jacobins intentionally wrote their gutter-press tracts and intentionally opened their clubs. Lenin traveled to the Finland Station. It didn't travel to him. The rock music phenomenon was intentionally created by hustlers like Alan Freed and Sam Phillips. Colonel Parker himself said he promoted Elvis Presley not as a lone talent, but as the cutting edge of a movement. The British Invasion nine years later was the intentional creation of Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.

More absurdities. Diarrhea compounding itself. The smell becomes oppressive. Noah rightly tells us about the importance of publicity in the lit world-- but is unable to see the importance of publicity in constructing the ULA platform, which is being built to give writers like him a voice. That we've positioned ourselves as the anti-McSweeney's; as Avis to McSweeney's Hertz; is a concept beyond this authority's imagination. Like most lit people he knows nothing about business but opens the floodgates of diarrhea anyway. He speaks from no track record of experience on these matters. Instead he expounds any expedient idea which enters his head. It's closing time at the sideshow, lights are being dimmed, and in his brightly-colored booth the Autodidact jabbers on. Please listen! This fellow knows. He supports progressive ideas but adopts the status quo company/party line that I'd be okay if I voiced my ideas alone. My mistake was becoming part of a group, adding my voice to those of like-minded others to have more influence and leverage in this extremely noisy and contentious society. People are okay with what I do as long as I don't try to actually CHANGE anything. Being a lone voice in the wilderness is okay.

Of course, according to Noah, the reason I formed the ULA was because I couldn't get published. On what does he base this assertion? Inside knowledge about the ULA's founding? No: Noah Cicero has taken a new job at the literary carnival, that of Mind Reader. He knows my motivations better than I know them myself, while presenting no evidence to support his case. The real story of the ULA's beginning is a tad different. It includes a chapter on my having left zeening and literature altogether in 1998, when I was managing a trade office along the Detroit-Canada border. Encouraging letters from Doug Bassett and Steve Kostecke prodded me back into the game, along with a visit to Detroit by Michael Jackman. Ideas of book publication couldn't have pushed me out of my office, only something more enticing-- the prospect of changing the culture by creating something independent and new. It's funny and sad that a self-proclaimed Leftist/Leninist like Noah could so lack vision that his entire view of society and the culture is encompassed by the narrow bourgeois objective of book publication (which by itself is meaningless). For me, writing has never been an end in itself, but a means toward a goal; an avenue toward changing a world I find to be increasingly soulless.

I discussed with others the idea of a lit movement. I pondered the idea for countless hours in my head. I steeped myself in DIY philosophy as propounded by folks like Fred Woodworth (the genuine article). The process is dismissed in a phrase by Noah. ULA history is turned into parody. It doesn't matter to him whether his words contain truth-- only that they conform to the prejudices of his lit-blogger readers. Caricaturing me and my ideas allows bourgeois demi-puppets to nod complacently and assume all is well. King Wenclas is just like them! He's only out for himself.

Noah has decided the status quo literary world with its hierarchies, corruptions, and inequities is okay and in no need of change. He argues for this in his statements. They're not arguments-- they're rationalizations. The lit world is powerless, he tells us-- even the millionaires-- consisting of only 24,000 people, yet at the same time we should be careful not to piss any of them off! Maybe they're not so powerless after all. At least Noah's not stressed out anymore. Like Winston Smith at the end of 1984 he's found peace. ("Reader" playing O'Brien in this theatrical version of the play.)

The acceptance is mind-boggling. Lorrie Moore? If delicate Ms. Moore with her wry subtlety and lifelessness is the literary role model then literature WILL be restricted to 24,000 people. I've seen Lorrie Moore read. She's as animated as a puppet caught between work assignments, as is her writing.

Noah would never argue that the political system doesn't need to be changed. He's vociferous against it. He forgets he's not IN politics-- he's in literature. Politics and literature are reflections of the same stratified society. It's easy to be against something over which you have no influence and doesn't affect your career one iota.

I'll give my former colleague an alternate checklist for consideration. The mainstream print media dominated by Ivy Leaguers? Check. Writers without credentials or connections not given a fair shake? Check. The poor and working class not fairly represented in the noise of this society, through their own voices? Check. Our ideas ignored until they're borrowed by those with the right pedigree? Check. Writers from the bottom half of society indeed effectively blackballed? Check and double-check.

We don't submit manuscripts to conglomerate slush piles (some of us have in the past) because we're working to create an independent alternative to the cultural monopolies. I thought this part of our campaign was well-known and obvious. It should be to anyone who was once part of the ULA.

More rationalization appears in Noah's confused statements about why people do or don't read. This part of the interview is truly diarrhea; during it Noah is speaking out of his ass. His remarks are pure speculation. Noah, in fact, is living disproof of his own statements-- he's one of the many millions of souls in this country who aren't supposed to enjoy literature or reading. People don't read! They only watch TV. Noah has it on good authority, and anyway, most important, to adopt this notion fits comfortably with the smug prejudices of those with whom he's now currying favor. Only problem is the notion is wrong.

Is Noah saying that the mass public can't soak up good, clear, relevant literature? That literature can't become once again important? That it's doomed to be marginalized? Throughout my life I've encountered working class and poor people who love to read, in auto factories and warehouses and railyards and saloons and halfway houses and inner city schools and calling rooms. (There are more autodidacts out there than people think.) They read literature, if it's good, including Dickens, Dumas, and Dostoevsky-- or Jack London (whose Iron Heel is a striking book). In short, the best writers who lived. My experiences and my own life, and the lives and experiences of other undergrounders like Jackman, Grover, Mullins, Nowlan, Ranello, Pachinko, Blackolive, Logan Mason, and many many others support my belief on this subject. Literature can and should be huge. The ULA strategy is sound.

Ours is an optimistic vision of literature and that's what scares some people.

The most egregious and hypocritical part of the Cicero interview is his attack on the ULA's Crazy Carl, whom he falsely brands as misogynist. (This from a defender of Bret Ellis.) In Crazy Carl's good-natured comical yarns, his main target isn't women, but men! I should know, as I've been the butt of a few of his tales, and enjoyed it, because it's done humorously and well. Carl's main target in everything he writes is himself-- the recipient of most of his barbs. In truth Crazy Carl loves women. He's an extremely lively and engaging writer as entertaining in person as in print; that literary rarity, an unconstipated author lacking a trace of snobbery and pretense. I'd take him over a boatload of precious meandering analytical and eternally bland Readers of Depressed Books. Crazy Carl's take on the world is mocking and joyful, rigid ideological theoretical intellectual categories removed. What you get instead is simple honesty. Noah's a talented writer, but there's not a shred of joy for life in his words. It's no wonder Crazy Carl is beyond his comprehension.

Noah says he admires Steve Kostecke's work. Some of Steve's tales about prostitutes could be construed by some as sexist. Where do we draw the line? Guidelines, please. What if someone decides that YOU and your outspoken novels, Noah, are politically incorrect, because they offend someone? What do you do then?

Contradiction upon contradiction. Noah even defends establishment cronyism! Would he apply his remarks to Mr. Bush and friends?

Were some ULAers angry at Noah's departure, as Noah asserts? Not to my knowledge. Our collective emotion was one of puzzlement. My last e-mail to him was very friendly, complimenting him on a favorable review of his work. Sorry if this doesn't fit with the portrait he's painted, but it's the truth.

I could go on. After awhile it becomes pointless. I've opened every window and still can't remove the stench.

If Noah were serious about peace and harmony in the literary world, he wouldn't have taken shots at us. He couldn't leave without throwing people under the bus. He doesn't believe in taking sides but he's taken a side-- the wrong one. I hope it helps him sell a few books.

We've seen the writer-gentry rush to the "Reader"'s blog to express agreement with Noah's remarks, with his departure from the ULA, and their scorn for the organization and its members. Way to go, Noah! You've accomplished a great deal-- revealing the mendacity of the lit-world and the self-centered nature of many writers.

1 comment:

King Wenclas said...

Hey Noah-- I notice your handlers don't allow you to post your own blog comments. What up with that?