Monday, April 30, 2007

Misguided Aristocrats

While searching for something else, I stumbled upon an interesting post at the National Book Critics Circle blog ( from 3/31/07.

In the post, written by John Freeman, lit-establishment darlings Jonathan Lethem and George Saunders wrap themselves, bizarrely enough, in the designation of "communists." Freeman portrays them as opposed to the "all-encompassing dictums of the free market."

I scarcely know where to begin to address the layers of misconceptions these "genius" writers carry about themselves and this society.

The most basic one is the idea that the U.S. economy is a "free market." In reality it's become a hybrid monopoly/aristocracy (never more evident than in the lit-biz). Start listing the benefits to wealth and size which obliterate competition: legal protection for corporations; tax moratoriums; zoning laws; government contracts; tax shelters; lobbyists-- and you'll quickly see that everything is set up to guarantee there IS no level playing field; no free and unencumbered market. Most arenas in the U.S. economy are a rigged game.

This is certainly true with the creation of literature, certifications and barriers like MFA programs ensuring a well-regulated and controlled art, with writers from the most privileged schools in America having the most access to publication and media backing. Tops-down control (which I guess is what "communism" in practice has always resulted in).

Jonathan Lethem and George Saunders are Insiders' Insiders gobbling up all possible tax-sheltered and taxpayer largesse. When has the "free market" applied to them??

The publishing industry is a segment of the "Big Five" or Big Seven of conglomerate media, discussed by Tom Hendricks on the site and elsewhere again and again. Would that we ever had a "free market" for writers and publishers.

Well, yes, there is the small press-- which itself is being taken over by monied interests, as outlined in a two-part "Monday Report" on the subject which ran on the litrev site late last year.

In his post, John Freeman says, "part of me hungers for a furious book . . . something that comes from the bottom upward."

This is bullshit. It's pose. He's never shown a smidgen of interest in writers authentically from and living in the bottom levels of society, such as the writers in the Underground Literary Alliance. He hasn't tried to find the "furious" fiction and poetry for which he claims to be looking. If he were, for starters he'd review James Nowlan's Security, a far more "furious" and authentic examination of class than anything published by the likes of Jonathan Lethem and George Saunders. What he seeks is right in front of him, has been for years, but he stares away from it.

This might be because, like the literary world as a whole, the NBCC is encompassed by a bourgeois class attitude. Just read their blog. 99% of their reviewers circulate amid the atmosphere of complacency and comfort, so that the merest restriction of their ongoing privilege (the size of book review sections, whose style and content are geared toward the literate privileged) causes outcries and the miffed waving of perfumed handkerchiefs in outrage. What a distraction from what they'd rather be writing about-- "Believer" wine-drinking soirees at the New School in Manhattan! We're not talking exactly about the sans-culottes when we discuss this crowd.

When considering their misconceptions, I think of hamsters inside a cage, posturing and posing about their independence and rebelliousness while not for a moment acknowledging the cage which encompasses them, nor even the little treadmill they ride every day which has given them their healthy success within their enclosed little world.


King Wenclas said...

Believe me, I'm laughing at all the remarks from writers like Richard "Aunt Pittypat" Ford who've been part of a closed and elitist system for years now screaming hysterically because their corrupt and insular world is falling apart.
They've killed the art form for decades, making it lifeless and irrelevant. They've kept the art in an airless jar detached from the society, for the most part; a refined art which stirs nobody.
Now the bill has finally come due, and they run around like headless chickens. "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
They remind me of Ashley Wilkes. Oh, if only things could be as they were before! Such a great culture, worth preserving.
Preserve it in a jar, then, or in your museums, or your stale university MFA programs. Meanwhile, for the first time in years with the ancien literary regime collapsing we have the opportunity to bring real flesh-and-blood writing to the forefront.
ULA Books' Security and The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus are merely the first shot.

King Wenclas said...

Make that