Monday, October 16, 2006

House of Lies Part I

What the CLMP affair has proved is that our system of producing literature is little different from the Soviet literary bureaucracy during the Cold War.

It's not so much the takeover of CLMP which proves this, as the reaction to the exposure of this story: dead silence.

It's one example of many. Explain to me how editors who refuse to print letters questioning status quo premises are different from Soviet bureaucrats?

The Underground Literary Alliance is airbrushed out of today's literary scene. We're the unmentionables; Trotsky removed from the literary photograph.

An example: The New York Sun recently published a review by Benjamin Lytal of Jonathan Franzen's new book. Lytal listed the controversies Franzen's been involved in through his career: the dispute over going on Oprah's TV show; a couple essays he'd written which supposedly ruffled a literary feather or two.

One scandal, however, was curiously missing from Lytal's list: Franzen's acceptance of a NEA grant given by a panel which included his friend Rick Moody, at a time when Franzen was raking in a million dollars from the success of his novel. This story, first given light by the ULA, was carried by dozens of newspapers.

Now this scandal has been removed from the memory banks-- when it was the one Franzen scandal of significance; an example of real corruption; a matter of more import than Franzen's superficial tabloid dispute with Oprah.

(The ULA crossed swords with Franzen again in January 2004, when he told the New York Times, falsely; slanderously; that we were posting anonymous reviews on Amazon. The Times story revealed this as not true. We're still waiting for Franzen's apology.)

Much bigger literary scandals have been permanently removed from the lit-world's memory banks. Here's one: In the late 1980's and early 90's, billionaire Jean Stein, who bought Grand Street from Ben Sonnenberg, was receiving yearly NEA grants for the publication. Scarce taxpayer arts money going to a billionaire! I wrote about this in New Philistine, and sent a letter about the matter to then-NEA director Jane Alexander. Ms. Alexander (who may have known Jean Stein from their Hollywood days-- Ms. Stein the daughter of the founder of MCA, which owned Universal Pictures) replied to me in a letter of bureaucratic doublespeak, to the effect that "perceived need or lack thereof" was not a criterion for awards. Which of course left the door open to give taxpayer money to billionaires! Members of the Club and all that.

Grand Street stopped receiving NEA grants anyway, which was to the good. The main point of this incident isn't the mindless greed of those involved, but that the story has never been mentioned by the literary world. Ever. Easy indeed then to say there's no corruption in the lit-world when all examples are airbrushed out of the photograph!

Established literature has made a large investment in selling Rick Moody as a hip writer. Does anyone remember when Details magazine ran a monthly cartoon feature about Moody and his adventures as a writer? His egoism allowed him to take all this promotion for granted as his natural due. Given the investment in him, and his position in the literary hierarchy, as manifested in his roles in organizations like Yaddo, PEN, Young Lions, and so on, attempts are continually made to restore his luster, while airbrushing his questionable actions out of the picture. The fawning Robert Birnbaum interview with him was not even the most egregious example. (Birnbaum is the Sgt. Schultz of literature: "I see nothing. Nothing!")

With Rick Moody's reputation in tatters from a string of ULA stories covered by N.Y. Post's "Page Six," the Dale Peck description of Moody as "the worst writer of his generation" was picked-up by the literary media and run with. Note the result: as with Jon Franzen, actual documented misdeeds were channeled into a matter of opinion; a personality dispute. Dale Peck-- not the ULA-- became the face of criticism of Rick Moody. The ULA was taken conveniently out of the photograph, Peck inserted instead.

It became an easy matter then to discredit Peck, as there was no substance to his attack on Moody to begin with. Peck had left the substance out of his article. Dale Peck was blown into smithereens, criticism of Rick Moody along with it. The issue settled, apparently, the road lay open for Moody's quick rehabilitation. Bizarrely, he continued to appear on grants panels-- the LAST person who should ever be in that role. We found him recently posturing as a rebel in a foreword of a Soft Skull Press book. After all, he's a "hip" writer don't ya know.

(To be continued.)


Verbal Response said...

That's an interesting twist!

- Leopold said...

There was a cartoon strip about Moody's life as a writier? Good god. Actually, that could be quite good - but not in the way I'm imagining it was done!

Jeff Potter said...

Good one about the airbrushing, King.

Of course, we of the ULA see how our name works as a lightning rod for so many issues relating to the access of indy writers to the Machine, but!...anyone involved in zining, in the underground, in truly indy lit, can see plain as day that they, too, have been airbrushed out.

Will Cometbus or Gogglebox or Doug Holland or any of dozens of high-impact zinesters ever be given the SLIGHTEST acknowledgement as having even EXISTED? No! Much less likely will they be given credit for providing the lifeblood of the only relevant lit movement of the 90's? These writers captivated thousands and influenced and inspired and affected just as many. No MFA writer can say they did this. But they'll grab the stage anyway and ignore the real writers. And do their best to erase them as well.

The official cultural accounts of that period will not mention any of the real writers.

Does anyone care?

Except for us, the ULA?

Will anyone but us make noise about it?


Alan Lastufka said...

I care, Jeff. =)

jimmy grace said...

I care about real writing.

I read real writing.

I go to real readings.

Moody's nothing to me - the question is, why is he so much to you, that you'd rather recount his corruptions for the umpteenth time than promote real writers?

Jimbo said...

because he's at the center of a structure that seems to have been set up to block access to alternative voices.

King Wenclas said...

??? We are promoting real writers-- like Mr. Fright, whose book is due out any moment.
I'll be posting soon about ULA poet Frank Walsh-- a better poet and performer than anyone in the lit-establishment.
At the same time, we can't ignore the lit-world's corruptions.
Can we?
Why is everyone ignoring them?
Doesn't the silence speak volumes?