Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sudden Noise at the Speedshop

I'm not referring to just our awesome new ULA trading cards, but to a


ULA Exec Director Mike Jackman has abandoned the role to become Detroit Bureau Chief. Also, I've had less time to devote to the organization.

What does this mean for the Underground Literary Alliance? Is it time to choose a new overall Director for the team? Discussions are underway. I hope we'll be able to soon announce a general Search for candidates. We should look everywhere, through all aspects of the literary world (including hidden levels of the underground) for possibilities to assume the position of ULA Lead Dog, First among equals.

What I'll be looking for in the individual is understanding of our DIY strategy, ability to work with and motivate others, and total commitment to the ULA's name, mission, and ideals; the willingness to work FOR the team.

This should be the first of many changes. Rebuilding our engine, getting the vehicle up to speed, will take much work. ULA mechanics are working overtime. The ULA Car is being readied.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ideology of the Machine

ANOTHER curious thing about the new "King Kong" movie is the way the character of the promoter has apparently been changed to represent all-encompassing evil. Creatures of the Machine are uncomfortable with crass upstart outsiders, especially those who make a lot of noise.

This is shown by demi-puppet attitudes toward the ballyhoo of the ULA. Desk-bound conformists, mere cogs, peer out fearfully from skyscraper-prison windows at those on the streets who embody independence and freedom.

(Yet there are always lines of sell-outs outside the gleaming glass doors regardless, waiting to embrace the chains of the monopolists.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

More Mainstream Magazine Madness

We live in a bizarro society where down is up and up is down, integrity and truth are scorned while scams and corruption are lauded.

One of the more idiotic things I've read on a lit-blog was an argument several weeks back that Dave Eggers is helping poor people and thereby redistributing his wealth-- maybe all of it. The person who said this is clearly unable to distinguish a semblance of reality from the cultural fog. (He's never heard of tax shelters.)

All this wealth redistribution going on! Yet nothing changes. The people Eggers helps remain poor while he continues circulating through palaces. One would think with his money gone, he'd not be able to publish The Believer anymore. Yet there it is on bookstore shelves, ad-free. The funding is coming from somewhere! (His many book deals?)

Everything is a pose or a scam. Most egregious of all is Time magazine's celebration of Bill Gates and his wife (with Bono) as Persons of the Year.

A few years ago Gates was engaged in a tremendous contentious fight with the federal government over his monopolistic practices-- was known for his single-minded ruthlessness, typified by his humiliation of fellow billionaire Steven Jobs. Suddenly all is forgotten. Gates truly has some great p.r. people. (They could give Eggers flunkies like Tao Lin lessons.) Even the great magazine Time is a toy in their hands.

Until a few years ago Bill Gates showed no interest in charity-- until he began receiving bad press. What's the price of his philanthropy-- the cost of a few dollars dealt out from his storehouse of abundance? Not paying taxes on $29 billion he's socked away in a foundation? This is called "cashing in"-- has been done in the past by plutocrats named Rockefeller and Ford as a way to hang on to their wealth, lead a lavish lifestyle-- at foundation expense-- and influence society and culture.

Has anything in the world changed one speck from the efforts of Gates and Bono?

Computer printout numbers representing billions of dollars the Third World wasn't able to pay anyway have been written off. Impoverished countries remain in a dependent relationship to world bankers. Standards of living continue to decline. The present world system stands untouched. Bono and Bill Gates are as wealthy as before. They do look preciously noble on the Time magazine cover.

The Skeptic

The dumbest of all the dumb statements made by our opponents was the complaint that we can't create a literary movement.

We can't? Why not? How else do they occur? Do they combust spontaneously?

Meet THE SKEPTIC, found throughout history.

When old he's the constipated slow-thinking neighbor shaking his head at everything done differently.

When young he's merely stupid.

Henry Ford in his Detroit workshop, building an automobile out of bicycle parts. The Skeptic looks on skeptically. "You can't do it," he proclaims. When Henry tells him he's going to manufacture them, the Skeptic knowingly disagrees. "No one wants them. No one will buy them. There's no demand, and you can't create it. It'll never work."

The Skeptic is a typical contemporary product brainwashed by contemporary media to be an amoeba. Evolution is a fine theory for the universe but it doesn't work for human beings. Wait for society or culture to change of themselves and after a million years something might happen. Quicker to change things yourself.

I heard that Kwanzaa was invented by some guy in 1966. "Can't do that," the Skeptic tells him. "Not allowed!"

Yeah, except some guy founded the Mormons in the 1800's. Some guy founded Islam about 600, some guy founded Christmas before that. Some impatient guys founded rock n roll, punk, movies, personal computers, you name it. Everything we have around us was invented or founded by someone.

The Skeptic stands skeptically to the side, pondering. "Can't do it," he decides. "You just can't!"

Saturday, December 24, 2005

ULA Mail: Musea

I've received a ton of interesting mail into the official ULA PO Box (POB 42077, Philadelphia PA 19101). Included is the latest musical cd from ULAer Tom Hendricks. Didn't know we had our own musician in our ranks, did you? (Better than David Berman.) The cd contains some of Tom's own compositions, but also several classics, best among them John Lennon's "That Means a Lot"-- maybe the best version I've heard of it. Tom has a unique, avant-garde voice framed by the simplicity of his solo guitar. Another high point is Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away." Good to see two of the three genius writers of the rock era represented. (Missing is a Bob Dylan composition.) Do we have a cut on the ULA site yet? If not, let's do it!

(Merry Christmas everyone!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

How to Buy The New Republic

Ever see a prominent magazine prostitute itself?

It happens all the time (witness the publicity for "King Kong"), but seldom as blatantly as in the Dec. 12 issue of fake-intellectual establishment journal The New Republic. Included are not one, but TWO fake symposiums paid for by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia celebrating the entrance of this regressively backward medieval Kingdom into the World Trade Organization.

The New Republic is a very slim magazine, yet finds space in the same issue for a cover story by Spencer Ackerman about moderate Muslims-- a story the Royal Embassy is sure to applaud-- and even contains an editorial which gives a sly nod of approval of the Saudi King's endorsement of Israeli politician Amir Peretz.

Sorry if I think we should have nothing to do with this nation of oppression and hatred, which exports an especially virulent strain of Islam; that we should be rushing to end our dependence on oil so we can disconnect ourselves from them, instead of funding, through our gasoline dollars, the very terrorism we're spending billions of tax dollars ostensibly to stop. It's a policy of madness.

TNR is entitled to their perspective. But how about some Truth-In-Advertising? Like, "This entire issue is paid for by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and our editors have bent over backward to please them in response"??

Monday, December 19, 2005

Overhauling the ULA Car

The moribund literary world coasts along like a stodgy used Volvo with a 4-cylinder motor, driven by blinkered academics with pampered overdressed drooling trust-fund babies strapped into the backseat.

But what of our own vehicle? The ULA Car has a powerful engine and a day-glo pop baby-blue custom paint job with "ULA" in bright orange hand-lettered symbols across the side next to painted flames, but is up on blocks in the speedshop, the roaring engine silent.

I'd be the first to admit the ULA needs work. If former members weren't satisfied with the speed of our progress, I can only respond, "Neither am I!" Curious that their withdrawal came when the ULA vehicle WAS moving again. We took it out for a drive during our July Philly show. The car handled well and was loud and exciting.

As current members have mentioned, we need to rearrange the names on the site-- along with roles and responsibilities-- to reflect current reality. We need more unity and more efficiency. We need to do a better job of keeping up on the activities of off-line ULAers and involving them in the team. We need more within-team COMMUNICATION about where we're going.

Our "Monday Reports" need to be consistently kick-ass, uncompromising, and newsworthy. We also need to do a better job announcing these essays far and wide.

We need more emphasis on poetry, an integral element (one of several) of the ULA campaign.

Most important, the ULA needs to BE the ULA again. Do this and we'll achieve anything. Our "car"-- our message, our voice, our attitude, our behavior-- was designed to be striking. It's time to uncap the headers. I want literary windows shattered when we step on the gas when we drive down the street.

Strategical Thoughts Part III

BECAUSE the ULA stands legitimately outside the mainstream, it has to be destroyed. It represents a choice NOT within the predictable bounds of well-regulated corporations, foundations, and universities, but REAL choice which can't be guided or controlled by media and intellectual powers of the society.

Our ideas are often borrowed by others-- the source never acknowledged. To do so would be to break a key unwritten rule of the literary monopolists. We have no standing in this society. Far be it for even the "progressives" among the affluent elite which dominates intellectual discussion in this country to give us any. (Is the situation different in other societies?) A Noam Chomsky or Hilton Kramer or Katrina vanden Heuvel or William F. Buckley-- "Right" and "Left"-- can rub elbows at comfy Christmas parties, spiked egg-nog spilling over their pampered faces. Despite their proclaimed differences, they belong to the same class; comprise part of the cultural aristocracy. By contrast the ULA outside the stone-walled club in the snow and cold is of, from, among the populace.

Like the Jacobins, we've formed our own debating society. We're designed to be an aggressive dog pack, loyal to one another, a team of equals eager to run disruptively through mainstream culture. Let other dogs be beribboned pets resting on Master's lap within the warmth of the mansion. That's no role for us.

The year 2005 for the ULA can be summed up as a series of attacks against us. We've stood up well. By losing weaker elements we've been strengthened.

I found it interesting that, toward the end, the attacks (and peace offers) by puppets and demi-puppets against the ULA took on a coherent strategy. (I have no idea whether this was done consciously or unconsciously.) Isolate one target and concentrate force upon that: Standard doctrine that was tried against us, myself the target, resurrecting my importance within the team to attempt this.

The strategy foundered for two reasons.
1.) The ULA team would continue without me. I'm not the all-important figure I'm made out to be.
2.) At the same time I'm no weak link easily discouraged or discredited. I've never lost a debate. (Been held even once or twice.) Come after me and you might destroy yourself. I believe in what I'm doing, in the ULA, and am incapable of being swayed.

A fanatic for literature; for the Underground Literary Alliance? Yes, I embrace that designation. I'm a literary fan all the way.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Strategical Thoughts Part II

THROUGHOUT the 1990s I saw the zeen movement as "Beneath the American Renaissance" (to borrow a phrase from historian David Reynolds). Underground pamphlets in the 1800s such as "The Davy Crockett Almanack" influenced writers like Herman Melville. I believed that the authentic, gritty, outspoken words of zeensters like Doug Holland, Aaron Cometbus, Michael Jackman, Chris Estey and others would show the way toward a renaissance of literature in our time-- AWAY from convoluted over-intellectualized Foster Wallace-style posturing imposed by conglomerates and academics. The Underground Literary Alliance, which was discussed as a concept by myself and others in the early 90s, was first given public expression in my "How to Create a Literary Movement" broadside, re-published by "A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press" in the spring of 1999. I received a huge response from the zeen community; an outpouring of reactions and ideas. The ULA was on its way.

Meanwhile, the conglomerates had found their knock-off. Dave Eggers had been in San Francisco toward the latter part of Factsheet 5's "Zine Revolution." An unscrupulous rich guy with money to throw around, Eggers's slick hip journal Might might-- in some small way-- be considered tangentially a zine, though it was aimed at well-educated intellectuals from comfortable backgrounds, and spoke in their pretentious jargon-- the opposite of the San Francisco zeen style embodied by punk squatter Aaron Cometbus and street writer Doug Holland.

No matter! Eggers was soon in New York working at establishment icon Esquire, busily making friendships with the most over-hyped writers of the Manhattan Ivy League trust-fund crowd; the kind of Insider writers published in lit-establishment flagship The New Yorker. Eggers cut a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and simultaneously got his McSweeney's fake-zeen off the ground, while receiving a burst of publicity from Conde-Nast magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. This arm of the literary status quo was put forward, somehow (ignoring the reality), as DIY; as independent and new.

Eggers relationship with the monopolists has been mutually beneficial. Having their own version of the "new" (recycled Gordon Lish and David Foster Wallace)-- no matter how patently false-- was a wise strategic move, co-opting the nascent threat of the genuine underground. Eggers has gained by pushing himself into the heart of the establishment; positioning himself and his newfound friends (like Zadie Smith and Jonathan Lethem) as literature's great hopes. He's never stopped cutting book deals with the conglomerates.

Simultaneous with this has been the creation of the Underground Literary Alliance as vehicle for the genuine article. Nothing in the universe remains static. To retain the zeen impulse; to maintain our independence; we needed to take a further step. Joining in a cooperative project-- adding e-zeensters to our ranks-- has been it. We've survived. The true foundation for a new American literary renaissance yet lives.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Strategical Thoughts Part I

One can't understand the ULA and our battles without understanding OUR history and background in the zeen scene of the 1990s.

The most interesting new aspect of the literary scene of that decade was the rise of "zines"-- self-published tracts and pamphlets. Fanzines had been around since at least the 70s. It wasn't until the publicity generated by the Seth Friedman version of Factsheet 5 that the media mainstream began giving the resurgent print underground notice and attention.

ULAers like Jeff Potter, Tom Hendricks, Yul Tolbert, Owen Thomas, Jack Saunders, and myself-- and ex-ULAer Doug Bassett-- were minor but representative figures in this new literary movement. (I had a short essay in F5 in 1995 which examined 19th century forerunners of zines.) Stars of the movement were phenomenons Doug Holland and Aaron Cometbus, who, along with Friedman himself, were based in the San Fran Bay area.

"Cometbus," who traveled the country selling zeens, spreading the message like Johnny Appleseed, quickly became an almost mythical figure-- as did Doug Holland in San Fran, who would sell hundreds of copies of his "Pathetic Life" zeen at street fairs. Holland was at the very center of underground literary activity-- a new bohemia-- in that city. The striking point about both Holland and Cometbus-- beyond the fact that both were excellent writers-- was that they both embodied in their lives and ideas the "Do-It-Yourself" philosophy. Both writers began to attain mainstream attention as far away as New York City. Doug Holland being profiled in the ultra-hip Interview magazine was a sign that this wave of zeendom had arrived.

It must've dawned at some point though, on the literary establishment and attached media puppets in NYC, that neither writer was a likely candidate to be bought-out (though lesser figures like Pagan Kennedy and Lisa "Suckdog" Carver certainly were). Holland went in the other direction with his creation of Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press. (Long-time zeenster Michael Jackman, himself an excellent, grittily-real zeen writer, served as Holland's #2.)

An Analogy: Remember the rise of a small card company named Recycled Paper Products? Using a couple original cartoonists, this company made the giant Hallmark look stale and stodgy. Though the market share taken by the upstart must've been miniscule, the giant reacted by issuing inferior knock-offs-- near carbon copies in some instances-- of what Recycled Paper Products was doing.

How did the literary monopolists react to the rise of print-zeensters? Did they manufacture an inferior copy in order to co-opt us?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Using the Past

Winston Churchill said that he could see farther into the future because he looked farther back into the past.

He saw that change is everpresent; the context of situations, beliefs, and technology is forever different, yet patterns can be seen, cycles repeat themselves, the tug of natural forces intrinsic to the universe is constant; commonalities of human nature and behavior remain.

(That people themselves over the cultures and ages carry the same strengths and flaws, and make the same mistakes, is what makes great literature universal and timeless.)

When I look at historical examples from the past, I do so to see what can be used in the context of the ULA. I look at movements at their beginnings and in their early stages; noting later corruptions of the original missions as what to avoid.

Books on the rise of rock n roll and punk are everywhere. Check out the first volume of Andrew Loog Oldham's autobio for an extreme promoter's mindset.
The Foundations of Christianity by Karl Kautsky is a good starting point about that hectic movement. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels discusses early struggles and literary conflicts.
For lit movements, Geniuses T0gether by Humphrey Carpenter and Birthing the Beats by Steven Watson are musts.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Kong Mistakes?

Peter Jackson, director of the new "King Kong" movie, is a fan of the 1933 original. The changes he's made to the story show he doesn't understand it.

Jackson has said he's brought "photorealism" to the tale. Realism? There's not much realistic about the plot of "King Kong"! It's the representation of a dream. Of a nightmare, really.

The black-and-white 1933 original, dreamlike in so many aspects, achieves its objective perfectly-- which is why the movie has appealed to so many people. The subconscious was put onto the screen.

The story is told through a haze, starting with the opening shots in New York City, on to the first relating of the farcically fantastic Kong story on board ship. (A comic book tale if there ever was one.) Kong Island is glimpsed through mists, to haunting music by Max Steiner. The dream is only beginning.

The second mistake Peter Jackson has made is tampering with the personality of Ann Darrow's rescuer and love interest, Jack Driscoll, who in the original is a woman-hating he-man sailor. It should be starkly obvious to every movie buff around that, like the creature in "Forbidden Planet," Kong is a Monster from the Id. Jackson treats King Kong like a separate character, when Kong HAS NO EXISTENCE apart from Jack the sailor. In the original movie he's a metaphor for the dawning sexual attraction between Ann and Jack. Kong is the beast within Jack unleashed. This theme is carried on throughout the movie. Doesn't the monster represent Victorian/feminist hysteria over what's going to happen to Ann Darrow on her wedding night?

Clues about this are everyplace. Back in New York, Jack uncomfortable in the collar of his tuxedo parallels the monster in chains yards away on stage. The hotel room Jack and Ann flee to looks like a bridal suite-- Kong staring through the window on their wedding night. At the end, the shot of Ann clambering into Jack's arms is followed by the monster sprawling dead below, with the promoter's cryptic remark, "Twas Beauty killed the Beast!" The roughneck sailor presumably has been tamed and domesticated.

Peter Jackson changing the monster and the male lead tampers with the delicate balance of the original story. In the original, Kong doesn't look humanized, or like a long-haired Chewbacca there for our sympathy. He was made to look and behave as frightening as possible for the time (down to chewing up people between his teeth); like a mad indistinct monster from out of our dreams.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Into the Literary Future

New technology won't destroy literature-- as the rise of blogs amply demonstrates-- but it WILL transform it. The trick is to anticipate the transformation, which the ULA is doing better than anybody.

Blogs are at the forefront of the democratization of literature, reversing a sixty-year trend toward increasing professionalization of the art, with attendant baggage of bureaucracy and credentialism. The journalistic community is being affected first by the changes. We see the decline of newspapers balanced by the popularity of websites and blogs manned by those without large staffs or prestigious journalism degrees. What had been a gated and controlled entranceway toward being allowed a voice in this society has been destroyed. The monitors and guards are gone. There is no reason why sites like the ULA's can't compete equally for stories and attention with those of giant dinosaurs like The New Yorker and the New York Times. (Our site has often been more relevant and exciting.)

The ULA's foundation in the zeen scene of the 1990's leaves us well adapted for change in the literary realm. In the long run there is no way that bureaucracy-heavy book companies, burdened by hierarchies of staff, located in expensive suites of offices in high-rent skyscrapers, can compete with an insurgent organization like ours. We may or may not be the new model-- the innovative competitor which will drive them into bankruptcy. At the least we're a primitive version of the model.

Our strength is our DIY philosophy. Unlike MFA grads-- helpless specialists who know only how to write-- our self-sufficiency leaves us better able to exist without layers of bureaucracy. To survive as a print zeenster, to find any kind of readership (as many of us did), we had to edit, format, design, package, print, market, and distribute our writing strictly OURSELVES. It was a liberating experience-- the freedom of not being dependent on any entity (particularly out-of-touch mandarins in New York City) in order to be writers. Our announced task at the ULA's founding was to transfer this independence and these discovered abilities into a cooperative organization. To date we've done this imperfectly-- we've had few models to follow, as we're the trailblazers. WE'RE the model. That we've survived despite our many fumblings is itself an achievement.

A few "literary" folks from more traditional literary backgrounds have embraced change admirably. Still, their mentality lies in the past. Even the most advanced of them is inescapably the product of bureaucratic indoctrination. They accept literary change piecemeal. They might grasp control of the means of production of literature, but exempt from change the nature of literature's creation. Having invested in expensive writing degrees, they can't see that such degrees in this field are unnecessary. They cling to MFA styles of writing, which are a product of monopoly specialization. (This a subject for a long post in itself-- how professionalization, certifications, and bureaucracy led to a writing style which celebrates jargon, bureaucratese, and unneeded complexity, best found in recent years in the pages of McSweeney's.)

In other words, you can't democratize only the means of production of the art-- you have to democratize the art itself, in order to broaden its appeal, as print-zeensters by necessity have already been doing, as the modest success of no-budget literature like Cometbus and Urban Hermitt demonstrates.

In literature today only the Underground Literary Alliance advocates literary change in ALL aspects. In that sense we're the most futuristic lit-group around, and are truly revolutionary.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Keys to the Car

A COMMON talking point which appears again and again among those who contend with the ULA is the idea that Dave Eggers and his crew are little-known personalities with no influence beyond 25,000 people. This may be true-- but what does it then say about their abilities?

Eggers has been given the keys to the car by the publishing giants. Clueless themselves about the world outside their hermetic skyscrapers, they've bought into the Eggers p.r. machine, believing he can be their salvation. Company after company, from Random House to Houghton-Mifflin, have signed onto joint projects with McSweeney's Books (many of them anthologies). One sees the books continually at the front of book chains. The congloms have invested huge sums in Eggers's judgement and his writers.

Book editors don't have a rumor of a hint what kind of literary writing will sell. On their own, they fall into the nepotistic easy-out of hyping books by the sons or brothers of well-connected magazine editors. (See Nick McDonell and Jonathan Safran Foer.) Their hope in Eggers is misplaced. In their blindness they can't see the smugness, insularity, and exclusiveness of the McSweeney's style of writing, which limits its appeal to snob-wannabes who hold MFA degrees. The said 25,000.

Eggers is analogous to Matt Millen. General Manager of the Detroit Lions, Millen was given the keys to the football operation by the Ford automotive family which owns the team. Watching games from the comfort of their stadium skybox, the Fords have little idea about what happens on the field. (As shown by decades of failure.) Signing on Millen was a laudable gamble, but the gamble has turned into a multi-vehicle pile-up. The problem isn't so much Matt Millen, but the desperation revealed by his hiring.

The book conglomerates are in a similar state of desperation. Uninteresting novels by rich guys like Rick Moody are hyped as great. The public doesn't care. Credibility dwindles. As solution, the companies run to Eggers-- who himself publishes Moody and his ilk at every opportunity, which demonstrates that Eggers has no new game plan, no innovative strategy, no revolutionary plays or exciting players, only more of the same.

Puppet World

THE POWER of establishment literature has been shown by its ability to transform even hard-core ULAers into puppets.

I was walking through a small urban park on a cool fall day and noticed at the end of it-- a side surrounded by a wall of luxury condo skyscrapers-- a puppet theater. A yellow box sat on a table, a miniature green curtain at the front of it. I'd wondered what'd become of two departed ULAers. The curtain raised in the box, and there danced in puppet form facsimiles of the very same writers!

One was growly and mean, with a painted-on red sneer at the bottom of his puppet face. The other was placid and bland, inked-in eyebrows raised in amusement as a voice came from the other (from somewhere behind the box) filled with vulgarities and hate directed at me! Their puppet arms moved wildly. A Maud puppet and Depressed Reader puppet (holding a pretend book) stood clapping to the side. As with all puppet shows, it was ludicrous, cheap, and insane; the sing-song incoherent nonsense of a bad dream.

I knew they were puppets because they followed scripts and voiced talking points. The Maud puppet took the lead, calling the ULA "the King Wenclas Show." The other puppets fell into line. The problem with me, they said, wasn't my blog itself, but that it was attached to the ULA! "Better for you to attack, not promote," the placid puppet advised, leaning forward with feigned objectivity, having moved close to the edge of the stage. The voice somewhere behind the box dropped to a confidential whisper. I bought the argument for a second-- before realizing it came from a comical puppet!

The show turned into mad hilarity. "I'm not Guski!" the other puppet claimed-- then turned around to show the very name written on the back of his clothing! Children in the audience laughed at his transparency. The puppets began clubbing one another as the curtain came down, along with sudden cold rain, people fled from the park, I put up my collar and hurried away.