SECOND IN A SERIES
Johannes Lichtman has requested that I point out any inaccuracies about the ULA in his Oxford American review of Tom Bissell’s book Magic Hours, published by Believer Books in 2012. “—your issues are matters of opinion rather than matters of fact—“ Lichtman says. He asks “—if you can point to a specific sentence I wrote that’s inaccurate—,” and says to make it “a provable matter.” “—show me the specific sentence where I (not Bissell) wrote something inaccurate—“
Johannes Lichtman sounds more like an attorney than a writer. He sets the bar high. But as Lichtman crams more slurs into a single paragraph at the top of his review than I’ve seen, perhaps I can come up with something.
Here’s a possibility. Lichtman says about Bissell: “—instead of simply eviscerating the ULA—which would be the simplest thing to do, given how obnoxious they are—“
Obnoxious? Anyone who seeks to make change is perceived as obnoxious by the defenders of a status quo. Was Occupy Wall Street obnoxious? The literary world embraces change, as long as it’s nowhere near their own cozy realm.
I’m more interested in the eviscerating part of the phrase. For months I’ve been inviting Tom Bissell to come onto this blog to defend his essay. This great essayist of “brutal wit” has had plenty of opportunities to eviscerate me. “—the simplest thing—“ Not so simple.
We’re talking about Bissell’s essay. Not mine. I didn’t write the article. He did. Tom Bissell thought highly enough of it to republish it in his book of essays.
That very same essay about the ULA, moreover, has been praised in the literary establishment’s most prestigious outlets. In places like the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, L.A. Review of Books, and now the Oxford American. The entire great McSweeney’s organization continues to stand behind the essay, which must mean it’s a wonderful thing. So why won’t anyone defend it? “The simplest thing.”
Which brings us to another inaccuracy from Mr. Lichtman. He says about the ULA, quoting Bissell in part, “Most of them ‘could not write (his/her) way out of an issue of Ranger Rick.’”
Here Johannes Lichtman has amplified the original Tom Bissell slur, by adding “Most of them”—when Bissell was referring to a single ULA writer. Very sloppy for such an advocate of accuracy.
But the statement is false even when applied to Bissell’s original target. “Ranger Rick” appeared in the pages of The Believer with a letter responding to Bissell’s smear essay, and did so quite adequately. “Ranger Rick” held his own well against award-winning essayist Tom Bissell. It’s unfortunate the exchange is no longer available on the Believer web site.
What of Lichtman’s “Most of” statement?
Johannes Lichtman’s statement is a lie when applied to the ULA’s six founders: the original team. “Ranger Rick” currently works as a professional journalist, as does another founder, who has worked as a staff writer for the Washington Times. Another founder worked as a staff writer for several years at the Chicago Reader, has taught English Composition or such at an Illinois college, and has a couple small press books in print.
That’s three. Half. We need only me to make a “Most”: four of six.
Before I became radioactive, I wrote several pieces for reputable literary publications, including two solicited 8,000-word essays in 1994 for an award-winning literary journal based in Iowa (America’s oldest literary publication), and in 2000, a solicited book review for Bookforum.
(Strangely enough, after the Underground Literary Alliance made waves, no one’s asked me to write a thing.)
Four of six. “Most” of our main people can be proven to write better than Ranger Rick.
Note: I’ve lost track of one of the six, writing wise, though I bumped into him in Philly awhile back, before I left to visit Detroit. This person was our token Ivy Leaguer, a Williams grad. He’s an intelligent, sober, competent writer.
The sixth? That would be swaggering Steve Kostecke, whose health problems, wild lifestyle, and unwillingness to compromise compromised his potential as a writer. Founding the ULA, and achieving as a result a host of mendacious and cowardly demi-puppet enemies, may have been a mistake. Steve died in 2011, in the spring.