Monday, May 30, 2011

Saving the Short Story

I was recently involved in a couple of online discussions about the short story, including here:

where the author of the post, Paul Vidich, gives only one part of the solution.

Apparently my points are unanswerable.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winning the Debate

The strategy of the Underground Literary Alliance upon its founding in 2000 was to provoke a public debate about American literature, then to win that debate and convert opponents to our ideas. In that sense we welcomed strong criticism, and so could hardly complain when it occurred. What threw me is how quickly that criticism became underhanded, behind the scenes, anonymous, skulking-- including from at least one mole planted into the organization (proofs available) and numerous other betrayals.

When all is said and done, the ULA won the debate, big-time. We won every argument conducted honestly-- including early on at the 2001 CBGB's press conference when we debated the Paris Review and Open City staffs. Unlike our powerful adversaries, throughout we operated upfront, stand-up all the way. We exposed corruption, discussed topics, that no other writers would touch. The ULA's brief but explosive history is full of honor, integrity, courage, and pride.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


If the literary rebellion, as once embodied in the Underground Literary Alliance, were ever resurrected it would be attacked from all sides more than it was the first time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Problem of the Contemporary

With ten seeds filled for the All-Time American Writer Tournament, I'm encountering more difficult choices-- particularly when assessing the writers of today. See the post,

Let's hear a few nominations.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are We Still Here?

I get the impression many people were secretly hoping for the end of the world, to rescue them from the crushing expectations of life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The World Ending?

Yes , we've all seen the billboards and people on the street with signs proclaiming the end of the world in a few days. Much snickering and amusement.

Yet is this really much different from the predictions of catastrophic global warming being pushed at the public by "green" con-artist hustlers the last twenty years? At least the May 21 hysterics don't seem to be making any bucks from their over-the-top predictions.

The most conned were the Ivy League intellectuals over at the pretentious pseudo-intellectual literary journal n+1. In a more-hysterical-than-usual issue of their rag a few years ago, these cats not only predicted the end of the world as-we-know-it, but also cried unknowingly about the "end of oil." Since then, of course, huge new pools of oil have been found on land and sea. The world is awash in oil-- if there's the will, money, and proper technology to get it out.

"The End Is Near!" Who are those crazy people? Could they possibly be-- gulp-- elite literati?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Organic Culture

The bankruptcies of classical music orchestras around the country show the failure of a tops-down, academy-nonprofit approach to culture. The theory was that the academy would train musicians, but while doing so, also create an audience for the music. Music culture became the property of elite institutions. Side-by-side the college training grounds were the nonprofit organizations housing the orchestras. Decisions as to quality, taste, and marketing were made completely separate from the market, which was looked upon as a corrupting influence.

In the long run, this way of creating and presenting music didn’t work.. Classical music, a vibrant, major part of the culture fifty years ago through giant figures like Leonard Bernstein, Mario Lanza, and Van Cliburn, has in the wake of the pop music explosion been left far behind. It didn’t compete because it never tried to compete.

The same phenomenon is taking place in a big part of the literary world, with the MFA training of writers, the thinking being that the writing school graduates—not the mass public—will be literature’s audience.

Literature has thrived through spontaneous generations of culture. One example might be the Harlem Renaissance, which I’ve just begun reading about to find a candidate or candidates for the All-Time American Writer Tournament ongoing at

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

About Literary Revolution

WHEN the current literary system collapses it won't be because of anything I do. Fundamental technological changes in how we receive words will be the cause. I've tried to point out structural flaws in the system-- its inadequacy as the engine and promoter of literature-- which argue for inevitable and necessary collapse.

Right now I'm more interested in what should follow the end of literary empire.

We need a broader definition of American literature more in line with American populism, reconnecting with a literary tradition unique to this land and its people, and vastly different from the literary traditions of France and Britain. We need a literature which reflects the American experience and voice: simple, direct, and large.

In a world filled with phoniness and lies, where many distrust what they read and hear from mainstream media-- and with philosophies like postmodernism which celebrate the lie-- literature needs to present stand-up writers who speak with unflinching honesty. This is how the literary art can recapture its once glorious reputation and standing within the larger society. We're a long way from that point!

I've been collecting ideas about what American lit should look like, at a post called "Reinventing the Canon" at

Friday, May 06, 2011

Keeping Perspective

Everyone in this country seems caught in a two-choice good/bad Right-Left way of thinking. Reality is more complex. My point about Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged wasn't that it's the greatest book ever. But it's surely not the worst. For literary mandarins to claim it fails on every level, and then for other so-called intellectuals to blindly follow along, shows me that many people aren't thinking at all.

Someday, just to do it, I may get ahold of the novel-- I've read it only once, but I have read it-- and show passages where the writing works, and works well, is in line with prose from Rand's better accepted peers from Mailer to Bellow during the same time period. I'll also show how well constructed the book's narrative is. Whatever one thinks of Ayn Rand's ideas-- she surely took reason and logic to an unreal, imaginative extreme-- she used form and logic in putting together her greatest work. As one would assume to be the case.

A few days ago I was in a discussion about Atlas Shrugged, the movie and the novel, on a "Lefty" blog (the Leftists likely self-deluding bourgies who've never taken an upfront independent stand on anything, and who scorn independent thought). Here's an excerpt from what I said, with quotes added:

"Atlas Shrugged is an in-your-face novel-- which is why it continues to generate intense passion. Which, as I've said, is one of the objectives of art. In a sense she's asked for the blowback. Rather than give ticky-tack arguments about this point or that point of hers (I'm not an Objectivist so I don't care), try instead to assess the novel within context, understanding where the author was coming from and what she was trying to accomplish. As with all authors, Ayn Rand was trying to make sense of her life, which began with an experience of the Bolshevik revolution, and ended, at the time she wrote the book, living in the most successful civilization that ever was. Her philosophy and her aesthetic is an attempt to understand this and explain it. Few American novelists have tried to understand what's made this civilization as powerful and as wealthy as it's been-- yet that should be the task of the ambitious novelist. That the attempt ultimately failed is no argument against the attempt. Other writers, yes, like John Updike had much smaller goals. Their style of thought and literary art is very different. There should be room in American literature for a variety of viewpoints and artistic styles-- Ayn Rand's among them. Why is the very notion upsetting to people?

"This isn't a football game. There are no winners or losers in literature. Art isn't about keeping score. No significant work of art is all bad or all good. One can point to missteps and inconsistencies from the greatest novelists who ever lived, such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. That their philosphical ideas and arguments may be only partly true, that they're not followed by readers, doesn't make their novels insignificant or invalid or uninteresting. Atlas Shrugged is a significant novel in the context of American literature and American civilization because it presents one part of the argument, because it gives a picture of what the creators of the civilization have believed and thought, because it stimulated debate, was provocative, IS provocative even in our own time now. It's hard to ask more from a novel."

Thoughts About Insurgents

In recent days the world lost one of its top insurgents. With commando teams by all reports proliferating, the room to operate outside the technology-based world system becomes ever narrower. Some questions and thoughts.

-I was surprised that Bin Laden didn't have a weapon at hand, and didn't go down fighting. It seems he wasn't as hard-core balls-to-the-wall as he pretended. It may be that wealthy backgrounds produce soft revolutionaries. He didn't scorn luxury, wasn't found in an Afghanistan cave.

-The ULA, a peaceful cultural insurgency, was broken and scattered by a different kind of powerful establishment. Some of its hardest core members I haven't heard from in a while, and haven't been able to make contact with these past days. Incommunicado. One wonders where they're hiding out at-- maybe in some low-rent, obscure version of a cave.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Last Straw

The final straw for authorities regarding Osama Bin Laden was the discovery that he was burning trash inside his compound, rather than recycling. :)