Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tough Love

The hardest part of the ULA's campaign to democratize literature is asking other literary persons to completely re-think their positions and detach themselves from their preconceptions. For demi-puppets, it's a shock to the system, like going off drugs.

A lit-blogger sent me an e-mail claiming I "hate" other literary people. Hate? No, in truth I love literature and by extension all writers; all those who attempt the art. By pointing out the corruption which does exist, I'm trying to save the art. I have nothing personally against anyone-- not even a Rick Moody, who wasn't a particular target until he accepted a grant which should have gone to someone else.

All the ULA asked from him was that he give the funds back. He clearly didn't need them. We asked him to acknowledge the existence of writers in this society who are struggling to have their work published, struggling in many cases simply to live-- who the money would have better gone to. If he wants peace now, I'm sure we'll settle for less. Let him demonstrate his principles, on what side he's on, and come out publicly against the transformation of CLMP's board.

The ULA campaign is based on the premise that I and my compatriots understand what's wrong with literature today-- that we understand better than others what's wrong. That we know more about literature and what it can and should accomplish than the well-schooled. Our confidence is based on our reading, our independence, and our LIVES-- if anything should be a reflection of life and the reality of our times it's literature.

Those who dispute our attitude and our claims had better engage us. Relying on the fact you have a degree from Harvard or Princeton or Brown, and expecting us to bow to your credentials, isn't good enough. We're in a new world now. If that degree-- or those connections-- have meaning you'd better show it.

But, if you can't contest our ideas with reasoned words and coherent arguments-- then how good are you?


Jeff Potter said...

Yeah, what he said! :)

Thanks, King.

To add my own indy two bits... I heard an NPR radio bit on Fair Trade coffee, beans and such last night. Many have seen and respected this CHANGE in the approach to markets. We're helping 3rd Worlders with it, after all. Do we appreciate that markets in the US should also operate on a Fair Trade basis? Fair Trade is meant to help consumers realize what small farmers need to stay alive. What does an indy writer need to stay alive? --Fair distro, exposure and evaluation of his work, for one thing. THIS IS REFUSED by those who run the lit market, just like fair prices were refused to small coffee growers prior to this NEW APPROACH with the label-sticker. And, of course, an indy writer also needs, say, $20K a year to support his family of four, say. Wow, that's poverty, you might say. Well, 3rd World farmers are highly resourceful...and so are indy artists. They don't need teaching jobs or grants. Let them earn enough for food and a roof and they'll find a way to do the rest. Just don't PREVENT em, says Orwell.

The market WOULD respond to truly new voices. It would grow to include them. It would improve all around. Just like the coffee scene. But you can be DARN sure that the big coffee owners didn't think the Fair Trade idea was so hot at first!!!

(How is lit prevented anyway? By gov't? Is that what Orwell said? No, he said BY THE MARKET AND ACADEMIA. Fancy, that's what we're saying. Who's right, them or us? Who's right the mega coffee corp or the small farmer? Interesting that the solution there was EXPOSURE and ASSOCIATION.)

We're not saying there's no place for academics, the weathly or elite in lit. Many folks will always enjoy the occasional period piece, eh. We're just not going to let them run it as a fiefdom or with patronage. (That's all that grad school and NYC represent right now. Where's the effective dissension otherwise? Other than us?) Times have changed since the medieval day, well, for most markets. We're using today's tools---such as blogs and logos---to break open and expose the TRUE NEEDS of lit, so it can do its job! We have a lot of catching up to do. But the dam is broken. It's generating no useful energy for anyone but a few. It has a big crack in it, too. Look out!

King Wenclas said...

The complacency of those who make decisions about literature in this country is mind-boggling. They're unable to question their assumptions. They hold to universal standards of taste which are universal because-- well, because they're THEIR standards, that's why.
The task at hand is great.
95% of important literary decision-makers (staffers at the big book companies and at leading NYC mags and papers which cover literature) are from Ivy League backgrounds.
This is unacceptable.
This isn't democracy-- it's aristocracy.
American literature suffers as a result, because one tiny unrepresentative sliver of society is imposing ITS standards and tastes upon the rest of us.
I don't know how to change this other than to continue working for a credible and independent alternative.

King Wenclas said...

Re reasoned argument: Usually missing from literary folk.
Said lit-blogger attacks me continually on his blog, attacks me in an e-mail, then is unable to back up his assertions.
On alt.zines: a literary editor throws insults at me. Again, I call on him to give specifics. His reply? "I refuse to participate in this discussion any further."
Amazing. THEY stoop to insults, name-calling, and personal attacks-- then are unable to say anything reasoned.
The state of the literary world now.

Frank Marcopolos said...

Well said, KW.