Monday, January 31, 2011

Reform or Rebellion?

Events in Egypt show what happens when a monolithic, corrupt system fails to reform itself. Eventually, the mass of people not being served by the system have enough of it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fear of an Idea

When I look back upon the history of the Underground Literary Alliance, especially my last year driving the outfit, 2007, I'm struck by how much fear such a small and powerless band of outcasts generated among those who hold the power in the lit world. You'd think they'd be secure with their institutional standing, their positions, the articles by and about themselves in the leading publications of American culture, their access to money, funding, and attention. But no! They were like an elephant in the presence of a mouse. That someone dared to criticize their premises, their corrupt behavior, and their preciously fragile art sent them into shatterings of confidence. Which in itself is an indication of the shaky state of literature now.

When the ULA did some street theater outside the New Yorker building in Manhattan in January of that year, waves of panic were regenerated. Billionaire aristocrats jumped on my blog to discredit me, and instead, on what remains this blog's most widely read thread, were royally trounced. What was left of the ULA lived in abject poverty, yet signs of panic among the literary intelligentsia and their interpreters and acolytes were everywhere. The foreword to the Black Book Anthology worried over what I thought of the mag's posings. When I was interviewed by an NPR commentator here in Philly, she expressed worry that this nowhere group called the ULA would somehow exclude multi-millionaire authors published and promoted by billion-dollar media conglomerates. This in 2007 when the ULA campaign was for the most part over.

What was the ULA's power?

Nothing more than the power of an idea, the reality of a few writers not going along with the program. The stance alone gave us enormous integrity and leverage which, clearly, the literary establishment couldn't deal with. The elephant desperately sought to stomp out the tiny mouse.

Aristocrat panic is caused by the inner knowledge of living within a tottering structure able at any moment, with the tiniest push or puff of wind, to collapse. This anyway is the message I got from the experience and history of the Underground Literary Alliance.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Primordial Swamp

OCCASIONALLY I drop onto one of the post-ULA underground forums out there, founded by ex-ULAers in the wake of the ULA’s literary rebellion. They’re a giant step backward, because they did away with that which was most crucial to the ULA’s noisemaking, the sense of an organized identity, a semi-cohesive unit confronting the established literary world with the stance of an outspoken equal. The literary underground today resembles a primordial swamp of thousands of random molecules bouncing about aimlessly, each going its own way, happy to exist at the lowest level of activity. The Rebellion was an attempt to climb out of the swamp. For a few years several of the molecules began moving as one in one direction. We believed that progress was possible. That it was necessary to escape from the swamp. We climbed briefly onto dry land before falling back into the aimless mess.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pop Songwriters

Just as the best recordings of Bob Dylan’s songs were done by others, many of the best versions of Lennon-McCartney songs were covers.

Here are three to consider:

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” recorded by The Silkies.

“Yesterday,” recorded by Elvis Presley.

“Dear Prudence,” recorded by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Are there others?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Are They Talking?

Why is everyone talking this morning about football teams and football players-- about a completely unnecessary, made-up game?

Because of fifty years of an exciting product, astute branding, and dynamic marketing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Being Honest

One of the major problems about American literature today is the refusal to be honest about it. By honest, I mean admitting that most writing today is very bad. It’s shit. You can’t compete unless you admit this fact, because otherwise you’re unprepared to rectify it. In the Underground Literary Alliance we were at least honest with our slogan, “Our Bad Writers Are Better Than Your Bad Writers.” Not a good slogan to run with, no. But it was essentially true. We were at least more interesting, and energetic, than the generic Franzens Lethems Lorrie Moores of the established bourgie literary world.

Try to get this point across to writers. Impossible! They’re all legends inside their own heads. There’s very little writing today that stands out, that in any way rocks. This applies across the gamut, from stories to poetry to novels; particularly in the first two genres. If a writer does show sparks of talent—think early Gaitskill—the system quickly enough strangles that talent as if it were an accidentally born baby in an abortion clinic.

Every writer in America produces his own vehicle with no thought to the audience, like producing an automobile with each of the four tires pointing in a different direction, misaligned axles, a dull gray paint job, and a motor that won’t start. They’re fit for the writer’s basement, but not to ever be sold. Curiously enough, the individualistically ugly cars all look similar.


Literary writers invariably inescapably disdain “the market.” Ugh! The market! Everything wrong with literature today, in their thinking, is “the market.”

What if other fields had this attitude? Fossilized Motors produces aforementioned automobiles unfit for driving anywhere. You point out the vehicle’s flaws. “The market!” they begin screaming. “Is all you care about the market?!”

An esteemed wrestling promoter—no, not Wred Fright—decides to present a proper wrestling card with “proper” wrestlers. No hype, no personalities, no masks, no caricatures. Not one of the contestants stands out. Two grapplers begin grappling in the proper, rule-followed mode. Which means getting one another in a regulated hold—and holding it for hours. “This is art,” the promoter complacently states. Meanwhile, in the arena behind him the audience escapes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Underground Problem

The underground problem is a refusal of those shut out of the current literary system to see themselves as undergrounders. As a result, they're unable to work together at promoting the underground as a viable alternative to the status quo. It's always each individual working to promote the self-- and so no one goes anywhere.

The trick is finding the proper balance between individualism and cooperation. A neat trick to pull off. Still, if even two individuals begin to cooperate toward a common goal, energy is created. It's a blueprint for changing the (literary) world.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Zen Buddhism has become too big an influence on today's writers. They're all laid-back, relaxed, and satisfied. They're so relaxed they're comatose.

Give me writers who aren't satisfied.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It’s All Promotion, Folks!

WRITERS need to stop being children and get a clue about modern human society. Do you think those stacks of excruciatingly dull Jonathan Franzen novels in chain bookstores, product of a third-rate personality and a second-rate mind, would’ve moved at all if not for Himalayan mountains of hype? That Time magazine cover was an advertisement. The entire magazine, and every article in it, is an advertisement for something; chiefly for the global corporate machine and the political systems which sustain, and are sustained by, the machine. Movies, politics, books—all part of the machine in some way, as are the glorified hypemaster “journalists” writing about these happenings. It’s all advertising. Hype.

Those seeking to compete with the machine need to understand the game.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Article after article posit ebooks has the future of publishing. They’re being hyped as a boon for writers. More writers will achieve publication. But as with so much in the universe, the actual result for writers will be the opposite of what’s claimed, because it will be the kind of publication that’s worthless. The mass of writers to choose from will grow even more enormous. Frankly, it won’t matter to most writers, who wish the illusion of success as writers instead of the actuality. It will not be micro-marketing, as we see now, but micro-micro-marketing. As long as writers have something of theirs to be found somewhere, in order to tell Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred at the family picnic, along with a Facebook profile, they’re happy enough.

For anything more than this, promotion takes on more importance. With an overcrowded field, promotion becomes all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


ONE ENCOUNTERS mediocrity at every level of the literary realm, from high to low. I define mediocrity as not just resistance to change, but resistance to the very idea of change. Those who end up inhibiting or stopping the progress of an art or project are those individuals most comfortable in their own stagnancy: their own mediocrity.

The vast majority of those who today consider themselves, or pass themselves off as, creative writers, are folks without a microgram of imagination or creativity. The literary art has become so mediocre that the image of a writer today is the opposite of a picture of charisma and excitement. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac are long departed. The image of a writer today is the image of a mediocrity, and so the field attracts the like-minded.

If you step too far outside the acceptable bounds of the mediocre personality, as I surely did, then you face hostility and denunciation. This happened eventually even within the Underground Literary Alliance. The engine in the ULA’s souped-up car was making too much noise, so the ULA’s mechanics removed the engine.