Monday, December 31, 2012

More Inaccuracies


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.

(The review:

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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Power of McSweeney’s


WHEN I discovered the Johannes Lichtman review of Magic Hours in the Oxford American, a review which smears the Underground Literary Alliance in its first paragraph, I sent Lichtman a brief email asserting that Tom Bissell’s essay was dishonest and filled with distortions. Lichtman’s response was, predictably, filled with condescension, defensiveness, and hostility. He said, “—show me the specific sentence where I (not Bissell) wrote something inaccurate—“

I found the sentence he’s looking for at the very outset, before Lichtman’s review itself, before any Tom Bissell quotes, when Lichtman describes Magic Hours as “—a book from a small, independent publisher.”

How small and independent—how “indie”—is the McSweeney’s outfit?

I could write a book on the matter, but I don’t have the space here for a book. I made a brief examination of the McSweeney’s organization. I found:

-McSweeney’s chief Dave Eggers is published by one of the biggest book companies in the business, Random House, which in turn is owned by the gigantic media conglomerate Bertelsmann. All paperback versions of Dave’s novels are published by Random House.

-Dave Eggers is celebrated by the literary establishment, as evidenced by his having won a Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation, and been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

-McSweeney’s is regularly involved in joint publishing ventures with these huge outfits. For instance, the yearly Best American Non-Required Reading series is a joint project with Houghton-Mifflin. The relationship has been ongoing for ten years.

-Eggers wife Vendela Vida, co-editor of McSweeney’s flagship The Believer, is published by HarperCollins, owned by the Rupert Murdoch media empire.

-Believer co-editor Heidi Julavits is published by Doubleday, part of Random House, which is part of Bertelsmann.

-Regular Believer contributor and long-time ULA antagonist Daniel Handler is a hugely successful author estimated to be worth a few hundred million dollars. His books are cranked out by two corporate publishers, HarperCollins and Little, Brown. Here’s an article about the author, from the New York Times, which discusses Handler’s immense wealth:

-National TV celebrity Amy Sedaris is regular contributor to The Believer. She does a monthly column for the journal entitled “Sedaritives.”

-Other regular contributors to The Believer are successful, award-winning authors published by the “Big Six,” who also carry clout within the halls of literature. Rick Moody and Jonathan Lethem are two of them.

-McSweeney’s cultivates relationships with international celebrities who are themselves controlled by conglomerates. In 2010, McSweeney’s published a collection of writing edited by famed movie director Judd Apatow. Contributors included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris, Adam Sandler, and Steve Martin, as well as big-name dead writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most recently, McSweeney’s published a book by internationally known rock musician David Byrne.

-Big name authors published by flagship boutique journal McSweeney’s include Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates.

-The McSweeney’s gang has a business relationship with at least one of the influential media outlets which review their books. Note this announcement at from 4/15/10 in which Salon editor Kerry Lauerman announced “Our new partnership with McSweeney’s.”

Incidentally, in 2012 Tom Bissell, himself a former Salon writer, was the subject of a gushy profile by Salon writer Katie Ryder titled “Secrets of Creation,” about Bissell’s McSweeney’s-published book.

-Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s books are regularly reviewed and lauded in America’s three main establishment book review outlets, New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker. This is evidence of a large profile and major media approval. Eggers is regularly profiled in large circulation glossies like Vanity Fair.

-McSweeney’s has established relationships with city bureaucracies not just in San Francisco, their home base, and Brooklyn, but across the country. For example, the City of Philadelphia named Dave Eggers’ What Is the What the selection for its “One Book, One Philadelphia” celebration for 2008, the novel the centerpiece of lectures, panel discussions, exhibits, and other activities throughout the city.

-One of the fundraising arms of the McSweeney’s empire is 826 National, founded by Dave and Vendela, an educational service with chapters in Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Brooklyn, and Washington D.C. These outlets include boutique retail stores.

Supporters of 826 National include notable public figures James Franco, Robin Williams, Zadie Smith, Phil Jackson, Ira Glass, Jon Stewart, Spike Jonze—who co-authored a movie screenplay with Dave Eggers—and many others.

Board members of 826 National, in addition to Dave Eggers, include a Director of Corporate Communications at J.P. Morgan; an “Investor” at Comatus Capital; a California Deputy Attorney General, the Deputy Counsel to the Mayor of New York City; a Vice President at Time Warner Cable; a Senior Vice President and Senior Portfolio Manager at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; and others.

Major donors to 826 National include Google and Microsoft.


These aren’t slurs, Mr. Lichtman, though Dave Eggers and his gang may take them as such. They’re documented fact.

“Dave Eggers is the most powerful individual in today’s U.S. literary world,” is an opinion.


Here’s another take on the McSweeney’s organization:

Note that this piece is from 2002, when journalists and writers were still free to express truths about the literary world. Yet hints about “backlash” from the literary establishment’s media lapdogs are present in the article.

Since 2002, McSweeney’s has grown only more influential and powerful.


When Johannes Lichtman, at an Oxford American blog devoted to indie literature, designates the McSweeney’s organization as “a small, independent publisher,” is this accurate?


(Buy the satirical novel The McSweeney’s Gang at Nook or Kindle.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reasons to Defend the ULA

Why do I continue to defend the Underground Literary Alliance against overwhelming odds?

Maybe only in memory of key co-founder of the ULA, Steve Kostecke, who died last year. I’ve heard he’d been looking forward to the group’s revival. He always strongly believed in the ULA’s ideals.

Can I allow those ideals to be ruthlessly crushed into the ground?

Those who continue to attack the ULA are attacking a defunct organization. Over a year ago, the citizen journalist site iNewp published a report from me titled “A Tale of Two Literary Worlds.” The brief essay outlined the ULA’s fate. No date is given at the post. It went up some time in the fall of 2011. Note that I pointedly used as reference point not the McSweeney’s crowd, but another group of writers.

2011 was a bad year for the remnants of the ULA organization.

Was 2012 much better? It witnessed the republication of Tom Bissell’s essay on us, an essay filled with untruths and misrepresentations. This reappearance was an excuse for segments of the established literary world to engage in their own slurs against the ULA, beginning with a Kirkus Reviews piece in February which applauded Bissell’s “ferocity and brutal wit” against us. Many shots from other reviewers followed. Even in the New York Times.

Possibly the worst of them is a recent (11/27/12) hit piece by Johannes Lichtman at the esteemed Oxford American. Lichtman’s short review is loaded with smears and inaccuracies, including at least one outright lie.

Without realizing it, Johannes Lichtman has done us a favor. In condensing many (by no means all) of Tom Bissell’s slurs against the ULA into a short piece, Lichtman emphasizes the mendacity of Bissell’s essay, revealing it as the hit piece it was intended to be. I’ll have more to say about this review and the motives behind it.

A year-long assault against a defunct organization for downtrodden writers—the detractors backed by great power and money. What was the ULA’s great crime? Exposing corruption in the literary grants scene, involving those at the highest levels of establishment literature. You don’t disturb those kind of players and easily get away with it. We find the tools of such players acting with malice again and again against the slightest evidence of the memory of literary dissent, using the lit world’s most prestigious mouthpieces.

The McSweeneys Gang is mild satire indeed when confronting this crew.

I have no choice but to fight for dissent’s memory.

Hemingway Would Love this Book!

After all, Hemingway wrote a fairly good literary satire himself, The Torrents of Spring.

The McSweeneys Gang follows in this tradition. But which satire is better?

Read The McSweeneys Gang by King Wenclas, affordably available at Nook or Kindle, and see for yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Buy The McSweeneys Gang!

If the Phillie Phanatic creature could read, I’m sure he’d tell all phans of phun reading to buy the new ebook, The McSweeneys Gang. Literary satire at its wildest.

(DISCLAIMER: Use of Phanatic image is unauthorized. This animal doesn’t endorse The McSweeneys Gang in reality, nor any writing. After all, Phanatic creatures can’t read!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Novels of Ideas

There are more ideas per page in The McSweeneys Gang than in any other contemporary novel you're likely to read. Ideas about literature and today's literary scene.

When I was writing my famed newsletter of the 1990's, New Philistine, two name literary personalities attempted to enlighten me on the "rules" of contemporary writing. I was told that -one shouldn't impose ideas on the narrative; -one shouldn't use characters as mouthpieces for ideas.

The only problem with these rules is that they exclude the greatest novelists of all time, giants like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, whose works overflow with ideas, many of them expressed by the characters themselves.

What literati want in reality is a lobotomized literary scene in which no one makes any waves. Where the literary neighborhood is forever undisturbed because nothing is happening.

Read The McSweeneys Gang, a novel in which free thought and literary dissent remain alive.

Friday, December 14, 2012

McSweeneys Gang Now on Sale!

State of the art literary satire hits right now. The action-packed dramatic novel The McSweeneys Gang is on sale—just in time for last-minute Christmas shoppers. Gift your friends. This is balls-to-the-wall literary criticism in the guise of a pop novel, like nothing you’ve read. See the links to the side for Amazon and B&N to purchase your copy. Read it ahead of the crowd.

Literary gang wars. Bold satire.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Remember This?

Have you read this story before, from ten years ago?

The author, Dennis Loy Johnson, is a supporter of traditional literary writing and the current literary establishment. He’s no fan of the ULA. But he’s also an honest person.

His is quite a different take on ULA actions against corruption than Bissell’s. Nowhere in Tom Bissell’s essay, first published in 2003, then again earlier this year, is there used or implied the word whistleblower. Yet whistleblowers is exactly what ULAers were.

Did Maria Bustillos read the “J-Franz” story? Did Garth Risk Hallberg, David Ulin, Brian Wolowitz, Katie Ryder, Maria Popova, or the many others who praised Bissell’s ULA essay when they reviewed Bissell’s book?

What about the great advocate of social justice, Dave Eggers. What did he think? Did he applaud Johnson’s story, or others like it back then, as he should have? Or did he instead think, “Destroy the ULA”?

Literary history has been twisted, dissent has been squelched, voices against corruption in the literary scene have been silenced.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Where’s Bissell?

Why doesn’t Dave Eggers prod brilliant essayist Tom Bissell to come on this blog to defend the accuracy of his Believer Books essay on the Underground Literary Alliance? For Eggers and his cult, er, crew, that would solve a lot of problems.

That is, unless there’s no accuracy to defend. I’ve yet to discuss the most vulnerable part of that essay—Bissell’s dishonest handling of the ULA’s exposure of grants controversies.


I intend to show that the essay’s original purpose was to defend a handful of well-connected writers known ten years ago as “The New White Guys” who, in the ULA’s eyes, were abusing the arts grants process. I intend to stick that essay to its promoters and defenders like a tar baby.

How will Eggers, and reviewers like Maria Bustillos, feel knowing they’ve backed a reactionary essay? An essay which took the side of powerful writers against a writers group that was always completely powerless; against a writers group which represented the underdog because it consisted of literary underdogs? What will Eggers and company think knowing they supported and approved an essay which targeted for abuse indie writers, the most indie writers around, writers divorced from the conglomerate monopolized machine, including trannie zinester Urban Hermitt and other harmless free spirits? How will advocates of social justice like Eggers look backing an essay that trashed an outfit whose purpose was to advocate for social justice in the literary realm?


Very bold, Mr. Bissell. Very brave. A look at your book of essays shows you prefer easy or acceptable targets, whether a low rent writers group, or a low rent filmmaker, or an easily smeared neo-con villainous (“Boo! Hiss!”) travel writer. Would you ever choose for examination a literary group with actual sources of funding and a high profile—a group you actually know something about—such as the McSweeney’s organization? A target with which you’d have to buck the approval of the literary crowd?

But that’s not how you play the game, is it?

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Art of Propaganda

Is it madness to obsess over the Tom Bissell essay on the ULA?

Yes and no. Yes, in that the ULA campaign was pure madness from its very beginning. If you want to change anything in this world, it involves a level of madness.

No, in that when you examine an object from all sides, break it down like a watch into its parts and put it together again, you begin to understand how the thing operates—which also gains you understanding of the mind of the object’s creator.

Bissell’s essay, for instance, is a collection of dishonest statements and presentations surrounded by empty assertions. Yet journalists bought this presentation.

I have a fictional character in my new satirical ebook named Mr. Empathy. He’s based loosely on Bissell. In the sole chapter he’s in, Mr. Empathy describes his propaganda techniques to “Boss Eggers,” a fictional character based loosely on Dave Eggers.

How did I learn Bissell’s techniques? When I reread the essay, I was struck by the disconnect between Tom Bissell’s presentation of the ULA, and the reality. I was well placed to know the reality, having founded, with a few others, the organization, and been with it throughout its history. I know the entity “ULA” as no one like Tom Bissell could possibly know it. In the essay Bissell presents distortion after distortion AS IF these distortions are reality.

The distortions then become exaggerated by others. For instance, in the ULA essay Bissell says that George Plimpton had gone into his debate with the ULA “with high hopes and fellow feeling but grew swiftly disgusted” by what the ULA was about. First, Plimpton had corresponded with me for several years, had been a reader of my 90’s zeen, and well knew what I and the ULA were about. Second, at the debate everyone had a great time. We left on good terms. Ask anyone who was there—including the CBGB’s bartenders. Plimpton’s purported disgust had to have come later.

Bissell’s distorted, ill-informed remark is then distorted further by others, such as Ed Champion-- “Bat Segundo”—who in his interview with Tom Bissell this year presents Plimpton as having invited us to an event (we invited him to ours) and then been treated rudely—when in reality we treated the old dog with utmost respect. Those who heard the Segundo interview will likely distort events further.

Slippage between truth and presentation.

Bissell’s distortions have been accepted by the literary world as a true narrative, AS the reality. Again, the same question: Why have intelligent journalists and writers bought the false presentation?

The essay becomes a Rosetta Stone for understanding the entire mainstream media. Bissell is an integral part of that media. In no way does he stand outside it. He’s embedded himself within it. His distortions then aren’t simply a conscious attempt to smear the ULA—though that’s part of it. He’s channeling the literary world’s herd mind; expressing that mind; to do this, acting not like objective commentator, so much as a ventriloquist’s dummy. This is why the essay receives unquestioning acceptance by its Insider audience. That audience, through its unconscious wishes, wrote that essay. Bissell is giving the audience exactly what they already believe about the ULA—or about writers like those in the ULA. He’s expressing what they want to read.

Case in point is the unfair slam against underground writer Urban Hermitt. Bissell takes an excerpt of Hermitt’s writing out of context, then bolsters his presentation with an excerpted comment by myself, adds a few snarky words—and his audience applauds because he’s cutting down a writer who ostensibly doesn’t belong; who presumptively doesn’t belong; who couldn’t possibly be a good writer. (Urban Hermitt in fact is a terrific writer, though one who, yes, colors outside the acceptable lines.) One of the reviewers, Maria Bustillos, literally applauded in her review of the Bissell book at this point. The everpresent question: Why?

Bissell wasn’t giving her the watch—the object being examined—with his essay on the ULA. He wasn’t giving Maria Bustillos a bad two-dimensional photograph of the watch. He gave her a scribbled sketch of a distant glance of the watch. For Bustillos and others, this faked glimpse was all that was required for her approval, and more than approval, enthusiastic commendation. A mere fragment of reality thrown into a mix of dishonesty and fakery. It’s the essence of propaganda to connect with the herd mind, with the presumptions, premises, and prejudices of that mind, to stimulate the preconceptions in a happy way so that they know that their mind, their beliefs, their herd, all the totality of their world is well and fine, so the herd continues along untroubled not thinking about anything.

(Upcoming: a note about the physics of propaganda.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Failure of the Workshop Model

A bureaucratic system is incapable of critiquing itself. Like a living organism, its main purpose is to survive and grow. This holds true for the current system in the U.S. for producing official literature.

The failure of the system, and the current workshop model, can be seen in the American short story. One hundred years ago it was America’s most popular art form. Fifty-plus years of the workshop model have killed the art.

Why has readership of the short story dwindled? Look up past volumes of “Best” American stories collections and you’ll discover your answer. You could check the last four decades of such collections and be lucky to find a handful of stories that are fun to read—or memorable, as short stories once were memorable.

The opening of the standard literary story is designed to impress the reader with how well the writer can write. The stories are well written but they’re not entertaining. They’re certainly not fun. Is this a missed opportunity? Yes!—because the short story should be an entry into literature, toward longer, greater works—not a turnoff.

I’m approaching things differently. The first chapter of my new e-novel, due out in about a week, is written to be simple and accessible, thoroughly “pop,” so I can get the reader directly into the narrative. I save my better writing for later.  The traditional novel opening, such as the beautiful beginning to “Gatsby,” or the famous opening to “Tale of Two Cities,” is fine and good. Except today there’s little time for dawdling, and very few writers are Dickens or Fitzgerald. None that I can spot.

Classic arts which survive as relevant parts of the culture do so through pop incarnations of their form. For instance, no one today walks around reciting the poetry of today’s academic crop of poets—whether John Ashbery or Jorie Graham—in the way the words of a Shakespeare or Kipling or Tennyson were once recited by ordinary members of the public. The public does know, though, the words to songs by pop artists, Bob Dylan being a notable example. Classical music composers have interested the general public over the past fifty years almost solely for their movie music—the music is forced to connect with the listener, instead of being monotonous atonal intellectualized university-spawned junk.

Novels are surviving today among the public because of popular versions containing vampires and wizards and such. My premise is that we can do better than that. We can produce novels which are readable and entertaining but also intelligent, relevant, and good.

Monday, November 26, 2012

ULA Versus the Machine

The Underground Literary Alliance versus McSweeney’s was a battle of hippies, punks, dropouts and lowlifes versus the most prestigious conformists of the Machine.

This was evident in Tom Bissell’s trashing of underground writers like Urban Hermitt in his Believer essay. The Believer was founded by individuals who played by the rules every step of the way, certified by the highest Ivy League centers of education. Their becoming writers was the end point of a hugely expensive, institutionalized process.

DIY writers rejected institutions and rejected the process. We said that literature belongs to everybody. Our motto was, Live Simply, Write Simply. Did some take DIY philosophy too far? Maybe. We were a reaction against an overregulated extreme. Against the metronome march of literature’s pod people.

When Tom Bissell says, “You have to write well,” he really means, “You have to write processed.”

The ultimate Machine writer was David Foster Wallace. Wallace presented footnotes, spreadsheets, calculations, trajectories. If a mainframe IBM computer could speak, it’d sound like him. His fiction is hyperalert, overintellectualized, overstimulated,; his mind embedded into technology and into the rat race. Our mad hypertechnological hypermediated electronic civilization drove him crazy. Nothing less.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Antithesis of a Pop Writer

I’VE WRITTEN a post about DIY writing but I’m reluctant to put it up, because in it I trash a bit the epitome of contemporary postmodern literature, David Foster Wallace. I’ve discovered that to criticize DFW in any way hurts feelings. DFW is treated by well-schooled writers as akin to a god. (See the HTML Giant crowd, for instance.) He’s worshipped.

Before I criticize DFW, then—the way he wrote and what our crazed society did to him—I’ll first make two points which all writers should know. The premise for the two points is that literature is in competition with all the many other aspects of American culture which blare loudly at us from all corners of the world at every moment. You have to literally retreat to a cave to get away from this bombardment of images and noise. The first task of a story, poem, or novel is to be read. This is more difficult than ever.

The two points are taken from sales. They’re maxims. They’re musts. They’re two sides of the same coin.

1.) Keep It Simple, Stupid.

2.) Avoid T.M.I.—Too Much Information.

If the writer doesn’t follow these two points he’ll not hook the reader. (Brainwashed HTML Giant readers excepted.) One can debate whether or not I’m a writer, but I’ve been a reader for many years; was a reader before I imagined writing. I started writing out of frustration as a reader at what I was expected to accept as literature. As a reader, I have a good sense of what fiction needs to do to stay competitive and relevant. The success of pop writers like J.A. Konrath bolsters this sense.

David Foster Wallace didn’t just break the two rules of reaching the public. He obliterated them. If literary writers use him as a model, they’re crafting their own failure, their own demise as a genre, as an art, as writers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where Are Literary Journalists?

WHILE all Americans await the standard thorough Lawrence Wright-style New Yorker think piece detailing what happened in Benghazi on 9/11, I'm caused to note the absence of mainstream journalism in other areas of American life. Such as in today's literary scene.


Take someone like Lucas Wittmann at Daily Beast/Newsweek. Journalist or cheerleader?

I'm told there is no literary establishment. Yet a Lucas Wittmann gives voice to the main ideas and major players of one literary viewpoint-- the "literary"-- such as that of Dave Eggers and the McSweeney's organization. Any such article by Eggers, depicting how wonderful he and his friends are, is followed by tweets from Wittmann himself pointing people to the article, as if he were a McSweeney's p.r. person. And who knows-- maybe he is.


What really happened in 2003 with Tom Bissell's Believer magazine essay is that the Underground Literary Alliance was engaging in actual literary journalism, covering a host of stories uncomfortable to mainstream literati. Some of those stories, yes, involved Dave Eggers and McSweeney's, or so-called Friends of Eggers.

The Believer, on the other hand, was instituted to shut down real literary journalism and literary debate, to create instead the Dave Eggers personal vision of an uncritical happy face literary scene. Which is what we have today.

Bissell's Believer essay was a flat-out propaganda piece designed to discredit the literary group looking hardest into the operations of the literary machine. The essay represented a clash of views and visions. For Eggers to have his peacefully lobotomized literary world, the ULA had to be destroyed.

Anyone care to deny this?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The McSweeney's Campaign for Niceness

ONCE he became successful in 2000, Dave Eggers launched a preemptive strike against potential criticism with interviews in places like the Harvard Advocate declaiming strenuously against critics, deeming all negative commentary that a writer or literary group might receive as coming from places of resentment and envy. Over the next few years he continued to blast and destroy any and all who said anything bad against himself and his organization. This was accompanied by a facade of niceness.

The result? Absolute phoniness from what passes for literary media. Tom Bissell was able to smear the Underground Literary Alliance in an essay-- reprinted this year in his book of essays-- and receive applause from reviewers everyplace, because the smears were made in a setting of empathy and niceness. Reviewers' brains were short circuited while reading the essay.

An example of this, and of the essential contradiction of those reviewers concerning the McSweeney's empire, are these quotes from two of the reviewers of Bissell's Magic Hours. The remarks are about Tom Bissell's essay on the ULA.

Ron Hogan at
“I was struck by his willingness to approach them with empathy, even when he was unrelenting in his analysis of their deluded assholery.”

Brian Wolowitz at Spectrum Culture:
 “he often attempts to understand or defend easily dismissible figures like the clownishly clueless ULA members. . . .”

Do these remarks make any sense?

With their facade of niceness, all the McSweeneyites have done is reach new levels of hypocrisy. "Niceness" has been a way to enforce absolute conformity. Doubt it? Try to find anything critical about Dave Eggers and the McSweeney's organization appearing over the last seven or eight years in mainstream media. What you get now, about their publications and themselves, is an unending stream of puff pieces. Any semblance of legitimate literary media has vanished. We encounter instead a series of gullible pod people, for whom everything produced by insider literati is by definition deemed to be great. Dare criticize these wonderful people doing such wonderful things? You're not being nice!

The niceness works only for them, of course. Behind the Fake Face masks they're liable to kick and stomp opponents as ably as anybody. More ruthlessly, in fact. Wearing the faces of nonstop niceness must be wearing on their psyches. They take ample advantage of opportunities for release.

Stay tuned for more examinations of the literary world and how it operates at

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Quarantine

The truth is that a quarantine was erected around the Underground Literary Alliance. Our ideas of populist literature were deemed too dangerous for the mainstream. Barriers were constructed around the contagion. The one thing the literary establishment fears most is free and open debate. Strict instructions were issued to the literary herd. Have nothing to do with the ULA! So has it remained.

But you can’t forever keep out reality.

Friday, November 09, 2012

American Literature and Football


This post was prodded by two news items. 1.) Former Penn State president Graham Spanier arraigned on charges of covering up the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse allegations. 2.) The USC Trojans college football team accused of cheating by deflating game footballs.

One very big story and one much smaller one, both giving indications of a pattern.


Conspiracies of silence seem to happen a lot in the college football scene. My question: Does it also occur in the literary game?

I’ve shown that Tom Bissell’s recently republished essay on the Underground Literary Alliance contained outrageous smears against our organization. (The extensive “lots and lots of tombstones” portion of the essay, comparing ULAers to homicidal Bolsheviks.) But I’ll also soon address the question of whether the essay is filled not just with distortions and ridiculous slurs, but blatant dishonesty. It will involve Bissell’s take, in the essay, on the arts grants corruption matter—likely the one area of the ULA campaign that created for us the most hostility.

One of the questions to be asked is whether the literary world, right now, is engaging in a conspiracy of silence, in that many prominent literary persons reviewing Bissell’s book for esteemed publications didn’t see the slurs in the essay in the first place, and are refusing to discuss them to this date. (One of the reviewers, as readers of this blog know, began to discuss the issue then quickly ran away. Strange behavior for a journalist, who should be upfront and open at all times.)


Though a low level manager (towel handler and gofer) has become the fall guy at USC over the deflated footballs controversy, the real focus is on USC coach Lane Kiffin, because he has a track record of skirting the boundaries of honesty and dishonesty. The entire record is too lengthy to post here. You can google him and see, for instance, what was said when he was fired as coach of the Oakland Raiders by Al Davis, among other things.

The question here is whether Tom Bissell, despite all the many plaudits he’s received, has a dishonest personality. Yes, I’m biased on the matter. Of course I am. I admit that. But didn’t Bissell carry bias toward the ULA going in, when he originally began writing the essay in 2003, based on the crowd for whom Bissell was writing it? Based on those he needed to please?

The matter should be settled strictly on an objective look at the facts. On what’s available for us—all of us—to see, laid out in black and white. I’ve always invited such a transparent examination.

The question of Bissell’s honesty came up previously, in January 2005 when I questioned whether or not he’d engaged in plagiarism. I’ll repeat: questioned whether he’d engaged in plagiarism. I simply took the examples that’d been given to me, laid them out on this blog, and asked the audience and the literary world to decide.

Most interesting to me was the flurry of reaction and hostility I received. Led by Maud Newton, a host of lit world apologists expressed outrage—not at Bissell, but at me, for raising the question. The explanations and excuses offered still strike me today as sheer sophistry. When I began winning the ensuing blogosphere debate, Maud and others simply cut off all further discussion. The matter was suddenly closed. I was virtually ostracized.

Do we see a pattern, analogous to today’s college football scene?

It could be the nature of clubby and closed worlds to allow corrupt behavior; to cover up and defend it whenever possible, in the interest of the overall game, or the interest of the specific team. I’ve said before that the McSweeney’s Gang carries immense leverage in the tiny world of the U.S. literary scene. They continue to have legions of defenders, admirers, and apologists, Maud Newton only one of them. The admirers run through every level and nearly every institution—as we’ve seen, including among them those like Garth Risk Hallberg able to review books for the New York Times. These admirers are notable for refusing to speak publicly about any topic uncomfortable for literature’s power teams like McSweeney’s. We find written about that particular team only very positive, glowing, puffy, airy and brainless kinds of things. I’m asking whether or not this is analogous to the college football situation; to the steadfast closing of ranks, the conspiracies of silence, at places like Penn State and USC.

The difference—it’s an enormous difference—is that regarding college football there are a number of sports reporters behaving not like sycophants, but like legitimate journalists. They uncover bad behavior. They rah! rah! for the game, but also print on occasion uncomfortable, sometimes extremely revealing, stories.

Ten years ago the ULA was doing this, to a tiny extent. We barely raised the tarp covering the literary playing field, then wrote about what we’d seen. The hurricane of reaction and blowback to our revelations caused the eventual collapse, not of the bad guys, the miscreants, but our own organization. Members bailed. Taking on an entire scene that had closed ranks against us became too great a task even for the shit disturbers, the “room wreckers”—the truth tellers—of the ULA.

In the U.S. literary world, since the Underground Literary Alliance ceased its activities, nobody—nobody—is credibly examining the workings of today’s literary game.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012



Those who saw what they wanted to see in Tom Bissell's essay on the Underground Literary Alliance live in a world of professionalization. Of offices, deadlines, work. The system they're in has a tangible reality. They work very hard. Nothing is assured. Criticisms of the system, then, especially those which address the inequities and hierarchies of the system, appear to come from another planet. They, personally, those working within the reality of the system, are doing nothing wrong.

The tangible reality of their careers gives total credibility to system ideas; none to ideas outside it. The ideas and premises of the tangible reality can be the only ideas. From Day One of their contact with literature, they are the only ideas, and they're everywhere. This includes writing styles, and kinds of approved and applauded writers and writing. The all-encompassing nature of literary reality gives that reality credibility, yet at the same time, it's everything that's wrong with literature, because a new reality, new ideas of art, will never arrive. Things are done and believed because that's the way they've always been done and believed.

The conformity of bureaucracy is how any system maintains itself.

How could these writers, editors, agents, not scorn the ULA? It'd be like asking lawyers who spent years, much study, and much money obtaining degrees of certification, then passing the bar examination-- all the difficulty; all the necessary conformity to the jots and dots of the law-- to accept on an equal footing self-read self-educated backwoods rubes from log cabins with no certifications or standing at all.

Doesn't this make perfect sense? It makes sense when you're talking about something meant to be contained by bureaucracies, regulated, monitored, and controlled, carefully practiced by intensively screened professionals ready to carry forward an official doctrine of precedents, judgments, consent.

It might be great for law, but it's not great for ART, which wasn't meant to be contained anyplace, but to flow free. To break on occasion from any precedents and consent.

It's easy enough to jump into the head of the system writer; to see as they see, from within the system machine. Far more difficult for those whose minds are placed within this special realm to see outside it. To credibly jump within the head of a literary rebel; an intentional actual outsider.

This kind of "empathy" Tom Bissell failed at, as did his reviewers and praisers.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

About My Blogs

Here's how I plan using my blogs over the next two months:

THIS place will remain my main venue for ideas I most want to get out there.

American Pop Lit, will continue to cover ongoing changes regarding ebooks, pop literature, and publishing.

Happy America Literature, will address plans to restart the notorious Underground Literary Alliance.

My most severe rants will now be reserved for Crime City USA,, a follow-up to one of my ebooks-- a short novel about severe phoniness and fakery in a fictional city operating not unlike today's literary world/

What else? I may get my Detroit blog underway someday. I'll not be completing my "Election Follies" novel. My sudden move out of Philly undercut that. Frankly, the election campaign lasts so long I lost interest. The two candidates aren't compelling personalities. One cares to confront them as little as possible. Besides, I have two new ebook projects I'm slogging through. They deserve more effort.

My other blogs will remain more-or-less on hiatus. Everything subject to being shut down without notice, depending on such things as the free speech climate, my time, and my mood. READ THEM while you can. There are only a handfull of dissenting locales, all of them tiny, in the entire literary world.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Figure This Out

Figure this one out. I can't.

It's an article by Malcolm Forbes in a new cultural journal called The National. (The name itself is a contradiction to what the site is about.)

Why is a website of the United Arab Emirates printing such an Anglophile article? Why are they designating an Anglo-American writer as the "best" critic? Don't they have their own literary critics? Aren't they trying to create some? Shouldn't they present their own perspective? Or do they accept Imperialist culture whole, even when-- as in this case-- the philosophy of the critic is unalterably opposed to theirs? James Wood, after all, is a narrowly-focused athiest who buys all the current postmodern premises (or most of them). He's the polar opposite of even the most moderate Islamist. So what's going on? What or where is the payoff? Is this the price of Imperialist navies in port?

Is this what's meant by "world literature"? A continuation of the British Empire? I don't think James Wood should be posing as an authority on American literature, much less lauded by an even vastly different culture. This looks like the homogenization of culture-- which is what tops-down imposed-from-above literature is about; which is exemplified by James Wood, an Insider's Insider. Eton, Cambridge, Harvard, and The New Yorker.

(Send him back to Britain, I say. Why did we fight a revolution? Can't we embrace what's best in us? Note to Tom Bissell: I'm being hyperbolic.)

While I certainly wouldn't want Islamic culture imposed on us, on Western civilization, that once-glorious thing, I also don't believe we should be imposing our current decadent stale stagnant insular aristocratic literary figures upon Islam. Sorry, maybe I'm a dinosaur, but ideas of world monothink and monoculture leave me cold.

Thoroughly Corrupt

Not only is the literary establishment thoroughly corrupt—as is easily documented—but there is not a single journalist in establishment media, or among literary media, with backbone enough to expose the corruption.

The result is akin to a dystopian novel about a totalitarian world, where everything is a lie; with sycophantic literary fans of the status quo gushing over smear artists; with sick novelists producing massive mad volumes of incomprehensible postmodern nonsense hailed as geniuses, before and after they kill themselves in final nihilistic acts. It’s a world of vacant eyes, unthinking brains, and intense phoniness, with the actors in the tragicomedy of American literature themselves not believing in the substance of their work—titles of journals like “The Believer” notwithstanding. They more than anyone know it’s an empty house. They’d be afraid to defend what they produce. Fortunately they never have to. So overwhelming is the conformity of today’s applauded literary scene that they’re never called on their dishonesty. Those lauded as “critics” like George Saunders and James Wood are those most guaranteed to always take the most narrow view of literature possible, staring straight ahead at large signposts guiding them through the Acceptable Narrative while making sure to never glance to the side at what’s really happening.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Writers, Outsiders, and the Monolith

THE BEHAVIOR of established literary persons toward Tom Bissell’s ULA essay itself gives the lie to his thesis that all writers are outsiders.

From literary agent Heather Schroder, to reviewers like Garth Risk Hallberg, Ron Hogan, and Maria Bustillos, the attitude toward reading the reappeared essay had to have been, “These are writers beyond the pale”—and so, able to be smeared to the extent Bissell smeared us: linking the Underground Literary Alliance bizarrely to the worst crimes of the Bolsheviks. To “lots and lots of tombstones.” Not one of the literary personages who read Bissell’s essay called him on his blatant slurs. We were the Other-- “not writers” surely—and so very much outside the groupthink walls of those who identify with the literary status quo.

That not one of these articulate people will now defend the essay, or answer questions about it, or retract their support of it, shows the literary monolith at work—a monolith of behavior and thought. Not one of them is capable of breaking from the conformity of the herd.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stunted Literary Minds Part I

Standard system “literary” writers don’t believe there’s an established monolith or machine for producing literature because they don’t feel like they’re part of a machine. They don’t see it. If they have their MFA degrees, they’re still on their own. The writing life, unless they get a university teaching gig, remains for them, as for all writers, an uncertain, struggling life.

They don’t see the machine because they’ve been trained as writers to focus on the personal and the particular. On “the well-written sentence.” They’re incapable of stepping back and taking a larger view of society, and the interworking pieces of society. It’s a subject, anyway, seldom covered in their art.

But established literature is manufactured by a machine, just as all things in society are manufactured, on any large scale, by machines. For established lit, it’s an interworking system of various institutions and bureaucracies. From university writing programs, to mediating layers of literary agents or other screeners, to the “Big Six” publishing companies which are in turn owned by a handful of monopolistic media giants, to outlets for publicity: from leading loyal literary sites and blogs, to cultural sites like,  to the big glossy magazines like Vanity Fair, or the few remaining large circulation newspapers like the New York Times. This is a system. Writers gain entrance to the system at various points.

What’s noteworthy about the history of the founding of McSweeney’s, is not how “indie” it was, but how quickly and assiduously Dave Eggers worked to embed his fledgling enterprise within the operating literary machine. He did this in various ways—one by cutting deals with the various book giants, which he continues to do. Perhaps his first deal was his Simon & Schuster advance for his memoir. Another thing Eggers did was to use care in who he published—unknowns mixed with a few of the trendiest, most connected names in the literary game, individuals like Susan Minot and Rick Moody, which gave his publication credibility with key outlets like The New Yorker. One could research the entire story and write a book on it, I’m sure, but it’s the nature of the lit game, and its timidity toward figures of power, that such history won’t soon be written—unless as a propaganda piece by an ally or part of the McSweeney’s empire itself. (Tom Bissell quickly volunteering.)

Those operating within any part of the overall literary machine, whether as agent, reviewer, author, or critic, have an unspoken loyalty to the machine. It stems from the very nature of being part of a beehive—even if it’s a beehive they refuse to see. Whatever their little personal disagreements among one another, they all carry the same premises, assumptions, and prejudices about literature and what constitutes literature—premises that conform with the machine. This is how such diverse individuals as Katie Ryder, Garth Risk Hallberg, Maria Bustillos, and Heather Schroder could read Tom Bissell’s ULA essay and not see a single thing wrong with it. Bissell wrote what they already believed, conforming to the assumptions about writers, and nontraditional writers, that they brought with them to the essay. Every part of that essay, from start to finish—from “we’re all outsiders” to “our critics are genocidal maniacs” to “don’t pick on the poor university professor” to “zinesters are bad writers” to “witness my empathy” was what they wanted to hear. He didn’t match ULA thinking—not in any way—but he sure matched the mindset of his literary system audience.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Silent Tom

Tom Bissell and Dave Eggers initiated a fight with the remnants of the Underground Literary Alliance, and now are nowhere in sight. Where are they? They're good at beating up a straw man they think won't fight back-- but now the straw man is fighting back. Bissell and Eggers are fleeing.

What kind of "great" writer (per Hillary Frey's designation) perpetuates distortions and malicious slurs against a defunct writers group, then when someone calls him on it is unwilling to enter the arena of debate?

It's a sign of the corrupt and phony condition of today's literary scene.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our Natural Allies?

MOST DISAPPOINTING about the gushy coverage of Tom Bissell’s book Magic Hours, and his hatchet-job essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, is that some of the writers and journalists lauding it should be on our side. Katie Ryder of Guernica Daily, for instance, was active with Occupy Wall Street. One would think she’d be sympathetic toward a group of activist writers.

Would Katie Ryder allow the Occupy movement to be similarly smeared? Would she stand silent to it linked to the worst crimes of the Bolsheviks? To claims that OWS would lead to “lots and lots of tombstones”? To assertions that those at the bottom of society, absolutely powerless, are “authoritarian” merely for raising their voices?

We in the ULA were doing Occupy ten years before Occupy. In one of our more notorious actions, at Housing Works in Manhattan in 2003, we asked for a discussion of the looming invasion of Iraq—and were asked to leave. Days from a national mistake—and the trendy elite writers were reading cutesy pieces about candy bars and a tree! They were outraged that we sought to bring the real world into literature and their reading.

If Katie Ryder had been there, what side would she have been on?

Add to this the fact that we were the only lit group to take on the all-powerful “New White Guys” millionaire boys club of Franzen, Moody, Eggers and Company—whose corruption the ULA had been exposing and which Bissell’s essay was intended to protect and cover-up, as will be shown.

An activist writer like Ryder should celebrate the ULA—not cooperate in the celebration of our smearing!

American Apartheid

I don't know how well you can see this photo. It was taken by Harf Zimmermann, and appeared as a full page in the 9/16/12 New York Times Magazine as part of an article by Andrew Rice, "How Not to Fire a President." The photo, as far as I know, has been little remarked upon by the liberal readers of the New York Times. It shows incoming freshmen students at the elite University of Virginia. Among many white students, and a substantial number of Asians, I count five, or possibly six, African-Americans. This, in one of the top schools of the south. Whatever the liberal education system is doing to bridge the enormous divides in this nation, those steps are clearly failing.

What we have here is a snapshot of the future liberal intelligentsia-- which, as we can see, is as racially isolated as any group or institution in the country. According to studies by Charles Murray and others, the intellectual community is as isolated by class as race.

Here's an interesting quote from Andrew Rice in the same article about the same university, about "a letter signed by about 450 faculty members. It complained that, after years without raises, Virginia's faculty salaries-- around $141,000 for full professors-- were lagging far behind competitors'. 'What was once worry about getting through economic hard times is now crystallizing into hopelessness, cynicism, resentment and anger,' the letter stated, demanding 'urgent and immediate action.'" This description by Rice is not intended to be comical.

Conservative commentators like Dennis Prager insist that the (so-called) Left is interested chiefly in equality. This is false. They're interested chiefly in bureaucracy and power.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Comment to Katie Ryder

I've submitted a comment to a post by Katie Ryder at the literary site Guernica Magazine, here:

My comment awaits moderation. I'm giving it here, in case it's not posted:
I just noticed this. Quite a lot of contradiction in this piece. Whether there are truly banned books today, there are certainly banned writers– such as the populists and zinesters who made up the Underground Literary Alliance. The centerpiece of the reactionary attack on the ULA was the Tom Bissell essay in The Believer, republished this year in his collection of essays. You, Katie, did two interviews with Mr. Bissell and seemed to agree with everything he said, asking him not one hard question. Such as, “Was your ‘classocide’ slur against the ULA exaggeration? What about the ‘lots and lots of tombstones’ line?” Amazing to me how the purported defense of the lower classes– including writers– by the literary and media elite is in fact very sketchy.
Banned books indeed!
Have a good day.
(The Bissell essay taken apart at

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fake Empathy

Many of the reviewers of Tom Bissell’s book Magic Hours commented on his renowned empathy, including regarding the Underground Literary Alliance. A typical schizophrenic example is this comment by blogger Ron Hogan at

“I was struck by his willingness to approach them with empathy, even when he was unrelenting in his analysis of their deluded assholery.”

Quite an example of irrational malice toward the ULA on Ron Hogan’s part, though we had no encounter with him in our heyday, and we’ve further been inactive for a number of years. It shows which side actually carries hatred toward the other.

Beyond this, how is Tom Bissell able to get reviewers like Ron Hogan to believe two things at once; that Bissell was being empathetic at the same time he eviscerated us?

The site defines empathy as follows: “the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others.”

In his essay on the ULA, Tom Bissell fell far short of this goal. As I point out in parts I and III in my examination of his Believer essay, Bissell made little attempt to understand us, or the very different background we came from as writers. His essay throughout shows ignorance of the DIY zine scene and its different codes and standards. He had no understanding of zine mentality, as revealed in such things as his cheap shot at the writing of Urban Hermitt, to his misunderstanding of zine nicknames. He never met a one of us. How could he possibly show empathy toward us, when he had no understanding of us and how we thought; when we were separated from his kind of system writer by an aesthetic and cultural gulf?

Bissell’s thoughts and feelings toward writers are filtered through his own experience as a writer—not ours. He’s empathetic to writers who think as he does; who follow his own assumptions, goals, aesthetic rules, and institutional framework.

Tom Bissell plays the “empathy” game well, but it’s a questionable—and arrogant—assumption for a journalist in any circumstance, the claim reeking not of objectivity or reality but a snow job.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Intent to Smear

It’s easy enough to show that with his Believer essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, Tom Bissell was acting not as a journalist, but a propagandist. The question remains: Why was the essay republished?

Here’s what Bissell had to say about his decision-making process, in an interview done this year with Owen King for The Rumpus:

“When I was putting this thing together I looked over those essays and asked myself, bloodlessly, ‘Do I even want this out there again?’”

Since the ULA essay was included, we can only conclude that Tom Bissell wanted that essay out there again, with all its smears and distortions—even though the ULA was inactive and disbanded. We might conclude that Dave Eggers himself wanted the essay out there. Additions were made to the essay inaccurately portraying Eggers as a zinester—changes that had to have been approved by him.

What did Bissell and Eggers think when they reread the extensive middle portion of the essay linking the ULA to the worst crimes of the Bolsheviks—a comparison which couldn’t have been more inapt? Could they fail to notice this was one of the most malicious slurs ever made against a writers group? What was their agenda? Do they truly fear the ULA’s indie message that much, that they had to keep kicking us even when we were no longer around?

Forgive me for finding it reprehensible.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can They Defend the Essay?


Essayist Tom Bissell and the folks at The Believer are like manufacturers who put out a product, and after the product is discovered to be defective they’re nowhere to be found. No response to criticism. Survey Believer headquarters—lights off, nobody home.

If they have knowledge of the Tylenol strategy they don’t show it. No readiness to withdraw the product from shelves or make amends to the consumer. (In this case, though, the consumers are elitist literary people who may enjoy seeing underground writers unfairly kicked around. See Maria Bustillos and others.)

The questions are: The integrity of Tom Bissell as a writer, and the credibility of McSweeney’s as an organization. McSweeney’s and Dave Eggers have invested a great deal of energy in establishing themselves as advocates for the downtrodden. Everything in Tom Bissell’s Believer essay runs counter to this carefully manufactured image. One would think they’d be eager to resolve the dispute.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Literary Enablers


You've likely been asking yourself: "If Tom Bissell wrote malicious slurs against the Underground Literary Alliance-- if The Believer Magazine, then later Believer Books, published these slurs-- why has nobody seen them?"

That's the $64,000 question. Why indeed? Are the slurs not there?

Yet you can go yourself to the original essay, here, and find them:

A huge chunk at the middle of the essay is devoted to likening us to mad, genocidal Bolsheviks. Did the reviewers and readers of his book, and the essay on the ULA, feel comfortable with those remarks? Can they possibly regard any of them as true? Did they pass over the "lots and lots of tombstones" analogy without the slightest shiver of a thought? (That they accept the fake empathy which opens and closes the essay is a given, but it shouldn't have blinded them to the rest.)

Here's a partial list of the established literary intellectuals who passed over the malicious parts without comment. Or maybe swallowed them whole:

-Garth Risk Hallberg (New York Times)
-David Ulin (L.A. Times)
-Daniel B. Roberts (Fortune)
-Katie Ryder ( and Guernica Mag)
-Brooke Gladstone (NPR)
-Maria Bustillos (L.A. Review of Books)
-Jason Boog (Media Bistro)
-Morten Hoi Jensen (Bookforum)
-Alex Gallo-Brown (
-Owen King (
-Maria Popova (Brainpickings)
-Ron Hogan (
-Blake Butler (HTML Giant)
-Brian Wolowitz (Spectrum Culture)
-Ed Champion (Bat Segundo Show)

Every one of these journalists and literary spokespersons seems to have missed the smears. It's as if their brains were programmed not to see them. They read them ("lots and lots of tombstones"), but nothing registered with them. They didn't ask themselves: "Can this be accurate?" They accepted the statements blindly.

Part of it is that Tom Bissell set them up to trust the narrator, with his apparent empathy toward writers, and therefore, us. (The ULA.) Part of it is they've previously bought the false narrative about the Underground Literary Alliance. They believed the statements because at some point they've already heard them, or a variation of them. Or were predisposed to believe them because of their own hostility to us (see Ron Hogan). Part of it is simply the behavior that comes with a herd outlook. It's a classic example, in fact, of absolute loyalty to a herd, with the questioning part of the brain shut off.

Scarier, as far as ULA writers are concerned, is that these writers are all positioned to further spread the false narrative about us-- and many of them have spread that falseness. It shows the enormity of our task. It's why I'm taking apart every part of that harmful piece of writing, examining its falseness.

No one else will!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gaming the System

There's a curious part of one of Tom Bissell's recent Yahoo News agitprop pieces on the upcoming election, wherein Bissell, in a discussion of one of his trademark either-or choices, discusses gaming the system.

Why is this curious?

It's curious because in his Believer essay on the ULA, reprinted this year in Bissell's Magic Hours, Tom Bissell defends wealthy writers who have gamed the literary system-- Bissell's own field, and therefore one he should be most concerned about. He notably defends and/or overlooks the activities of Rick Moody, who's gamed literary nonprofit foundations for years. One of the more blatant examples is Moody's relationship with Joel Conarroe, who first defended Moody over an ill-advised Guggenheim grant, then was later appointed President of PEN America Center due to Moody's recommendation and influence. One quick example of many, all of them amply documented.

Which leads us to ask: Does Tom Bissell really care about those who "game the system"? Or does his always-distorted stance not depend on who's paying him?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Winner Is. . . .

The Most Egregious Smear or Blatant Distortion in "Mr. Empathy" Tom Bissell's essay on the Underground Literary Alliance is choice D. Here's the entire passage:

"There are good, needed, and necessary revolutions, and then there are revolutions that upon successful completion require a new flag and lots and lots of tombstones. There is little doubt which type of revolution the Underground Literary Alliance has in mind. . . ."

Bissell then gives a lengthy history of the Soviet Union's treatment of writers under Stalin, hammering in a point about the ULA that has no connection to reality. Note, incidentally, a common trick of Bissell's: to set up a false and exclusive choice to lead the reader toward his preferred conclusion. In this case, two types of revolution; a good-bad, either-or proposition. I'd argue, incidentally, that the ULA's was a good and needed revolution, in that literature has lost its preeminent place in American culture, in large part due to its insularity and irrelevance. The literary establishment is collapsing and will collapse regardless; we wanted to help things along, and in so doing, direct the outcome toward a positive solution. But given our marginal position and lack of resources, our actual objectives were extremely modest: Getting a minimal attention toward the ideas and plight of populist writers. We did hope, sure, for truly sympathetic commentators, and found very few.

Tom Bissell's analogies in this essay go beyond any I've seen from any commentator in unfair exaggeration used to discredit change agents. For instance, the cries of President Obama as extremist or socialist haven't used images of "lots and lots of tombstones." Tom Bissell's statements about the ULA go beyond hyperbole into the reprehensible.

Can you believe that Tom Bissell signed the Occupy Writers petition? He did. Which only shows his utter phoniness.

Tom Bissell to Ed Champion: "I don't think that's a particularly mean essay at all."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Choose One

Name the most egregious smear or most blatant distortion in the Tom Bissell Believer essay on the Underground Literary Alliance.

A.) The quote of the ULA as "the ghastliest group of no-talent whiners to have ever walked the earth."

B.) Calling the ULA "thuggish, cruel, and petty."

C.) Saying that writers felt "seriously threatened" and "terrorized" by us; that we achieved "true menace."

D.) Implying that the ULA's literary revolution would lead to "lots and lots of tombstones."

E.) Turning an afterthought mention of a university professor receiving a second grant, into the centerpiece of Bissell's discussion about our grants protests-- while ignoring the actual centerpiece of that report, Jonathan Franzen. To say we singled out the professor is an utter falsehood.

F.) Extensively comparing us to Bolsheviks.

G.) Comparing us to bureaucrats. (We're the opposite.)

H.) The statement: "I am not suggesting that the ULA wants to exterminate writers in a Stalinist burst of classocide."

I.) Calling our zine-style nicknames "a gesture of both concealment and aggression."

J.) Implying that the ULA wanted to determine "who could or could not write"-- when all we wanted was a seat at the table.

K.) Calling the exposure of arts grants corruption "player hating."

L.) Comparing one of the most highly placed writers in America to Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean.

M.) Taking unnecessary cheap shots at ULA writers while having read only excerpts of their work.

N.) Mistaking his biased preference for elitist over populist writing as "good" writing over "bad."

O.) Completely misrepresenting or misunderstanding a David Berman fake challenge to the ULA.

P.) This quote: "I have a high tolerance for people who regard things that offend them as 'injustice.'"
The most clueless sentence in the essay.

Q.) Implying at the end, after all the talk of the ULA as dangerous Bolsheviks ready to kill everything around us, that all we really wanted to do was sell out.

Tom Bissell can play at Mr. Empathy all he wants, but it doesn't change the fact that his essay on the ULA was a thorough hatchet job, and that its unnecessary republication smeared many writers.

Deconstructing Falsehood


Does the truth matter?

What can you do with a journalist, as in my recent exchange, who's helped smear a populist writers group, who refuses to examine the truth of the matter, and instead blindly clings to a distorted version?

"Don't bother me with the truth" is the attitude.

There's a point at which a false narrative becomes truth, simply due to the narrative's widespread acceptance.

It may be that Tom Bissell himself has accepted his own distortions, and the rationalizations for the distortions.

Listen to this interview, to the section referring to the Underground Literary Alliance (begins minute 26 or so). The discussion between Tom Bissell and Ed Champion, on Champions "Bat Segundo" show, is a contest to see how many lies can be crammed into a five minute time period.

Tom Bissell speaks of his "attempt to take them seriously"; "to extend them some empathy when no one would."

These statements are untrue on a number of fronts.

First, Tom Bissell wrote his essay when the ULA was being covered by media across the nation and in other parts of the world. There'd been the numerous write-ups in "Page Six"; countless on-line stories in places like MobyLives and the Alternet; feature articles in alternative papers like the Boston Phoenix and Philadelphia Weekly, including a big article in Village Voice written by Bissell's current boss, Hillary Frey. (Mainstream media is a small world.) Also major write-ups in Soma and the Brown Daily Herald. At the same time The Believer essay came out, the ULA was the subject of feature articles in Black Book magazine (by Bruno Maddox) and the Glasgow Herald (by Aaron Hicklin).

But today, Tom says only he dared cover us! Only he cared, I guess.

Tom Bissell, then, is lying, not just to Ed Champion and the Bat Segundo audience. He's also lying to himself.

Second, Bissell's statements in the interview about his "empathy" ignore the context within which his essay was written. It was commisioned by The Believer, a Dave Eggers flagship, at a time Eggers was engulfed in an intense feud with the Underground Literary Alliance. How can this context be ignored? Bissell acts like he brought forth his essay out of the blue, purely from good intentions, and presented it, all by himself, to the world.

In the Bat Segundo interview, Bissell claims that he wanted to "entertain the possibility that some of the complaints were true." Yet he never looked into our major complaints, in which we documented instances of corruption in the literary world. In the Believer essay, Bissell finessed these matters. He surely didn't address them head-on or take them seriously.

On his part, Ed Champion's questions to Bissell border on the slanderous. I see what he's doing-- trying to be agreeable to his subject to get him to talk-- but in so doing, Ed throws the ULA completely under the bus, while also showing he doesn't know what he's talking about. (Or, his source is the widespread false narrative about us.)

For instance, Ed says, "George Plimpton of course makes this effort to invite them in, and of course they behave boorishly. . . ."

"Of course." Really, Ed? What's your source? You weren't there, unless you were hiding under a table.

The truth is that we invited George Plimpton to debate us. It was our event, not his. We had a contentiously exciting debate, then both teams sat down and had beers together. We parted amicably.

This is the TRUTH of what happened, not any after-the-fact distorted false narrative.

Ed Champion talks of "a duty to invite them in," "to go through the pain of an insulting boor," "even if they shit in our face." He says "go ahead and spit in our face," as if we ever did this. Many of his listeners will believe we did this. This is how false narratives are created. (The added irony is that Ed has often attacked me publicly on-line, while I've attempted to be civil in my dealings with him.)

No one, incidentally, ever invited us in! What a falsehood. All attention we received, from a closed and cronyistic literary world, we worked for. We did, yes, crash a few events on our own, with bought tickets some times but no gilt-edged invites. We asked embarrassing questions-- all that was ever required to get us thrown out.

Bissell, for his part, plays the injured party, and tells Ed Champion in aggrieved fashion, "you can't negotiate with someone who's going to crap in the room."

What does he mean by this? That I've stood up for myself when no one would? That the ULA's writers asked to be treated as equals?

Since what angered the literary establishment, including Dave Eggers, most of all were our exposes of corruption involving some of the biggest names in the lit-biz-- why doesn't Bissell say this? It's highly misleading to attribute the hostility we generated simply to "boorishness" or "bad behavior." Though I guess speaking about things one ought not to speak about is considered bad behavior by the In crowd.

In the Bat Segundo interview, as in his reprinted Believer essay, we still see Tom Bissell pitching his false narrative about the Underground Literary Alliance.

(Feedback from the parties involved is welcomed.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Which Side Are You On?

THE GLARING CONTRADICTION is how establishment writers, like a Maria Bustillos but so many more, are able to publicly oppose greed, plutocracy, and corruption everyplace but in their own realm of literature—the one place they could change but which for them is untouchable. It’s the epitome of hypocrisy.

Bustillos has written for The New York Times and The New Yorker and has made her own accommodation with power, a relationship which is inviolate. She cautions me to “get back to your writing” and says, “Your obsession with the ULA’s ‘activism’ comes at a cost.” In other words, Don’t Make Waves! But it’s too late for that.

That she can laud truth-telling in her essays yet seem to oppose it in the literary world shows a conflicted mind.

The dual personality anyway is shown in this one of her essays, which appeared in The Awl:

A writer who can participate in this kind of childishness need not be snarky and superior about the ULA’s writers! What exactly is she and her friend talking about? They seem to have one foot in a mentality which utterly disdains what they call “luxury writing,” and at the same time they seem to admire and revel in the decadence. They’re tainted by the decadence, yet can’t pull back from it.

Pull back, Maria. Follow your better instincts. Give up a decadent literary scene which is slowly dying. It’s withering in and of itself, kept going solely by institutions that are museums of dusty art. Give up establishment literature’s dead art. Abandon the corrupting accommodations to literary power. Those who seek to dismantle and rebuild American literature need your voice and other voices like yours on our side.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Response to Maria Bustillos

(This post is a continuation of a discussion with journalist Maria Bustillos in the Comments section of a previous post, "Was Tom Bissell's Essay Malicious?" I'm bringing the discussion here so I can post a link, but also because I think the issues discussed are important. Maria's review of Bissell's book is visible here:  Yes, the essay on the ULA is only one of fourteen essays in Bissell's book-- but it's prominently mentioned and applauded in Bustillos' review, as in many others.)

(In her most recent comment, Maria gives a variation of the standard "Be quiet and just write" motif, but also says this: "Your obsession with the ULA's 'activism' comes at a cost. Take this assertion in your reply, about my 'public stance'-- I deny having such a thing at all--.")

First, Maria, everyone who writes for public consumption, as you do, has a public stance. But I was referring specifically to you having signed the very public Occupy Writers petition. You also wrote an essay for them in support of the Occupy movement and the 99%, visible here:

I'm trying to square your review-- clearly scornful of the Underground Literary Alliance-- and your further comments in support of Bissell's essay, including your dismissal of the ULA's activism, with this part of your essay:

"Most of all, the movement is a public demonstration of ethics. It is making a new class of people with whom we can identify politically: one that offers sympathy rather than scorn to those who are suffering in this economic climate; that castigates the culture of greed, rather than championing it; that vilifies rather than admires those who want to grab everything that isn’t nailed down; that demands that wealth be shared fairly; that seeks to give everyone a voice, rather than trying to persuade us that there are important people who are to be listened to, as opposed to the many, who don’t count."

Is this not a public stance from you on the side of the underdog?

I agree with your statement about ethics. Those of the ULA's protests which gained us the most animus from the establishment literary world were those which exposed unethical behavior in the clubby halls of the literary world, particularly involving the arts grants process, when we found some of the richest and most successful writers in America receiving taxpayer or tax sheltered funds, in some cases awarded by cronies or friends. We can discuss the specific instances if you like. In his essay on the ULA, Tom Bissell treated that activism in a distorted manner, portraying us, bizarrely, as some kind of authority harassing a "Jean Valjean" who'd abused the system on numerous occasions, an individual who instead of being found on America's impoverished streets-- like some ULAers in recent years-- was more usually discovered at the center of swanky galas at $10,000 tables or at yacht parties, all of the affairs-- all of it-- paid for by tax-sheltered monies from some of the richest individuals in America.

We documented all of this, Maria. I can bring forth the documentation and details if you like. The connection between arts foundations and their plutocratic benefactors remains a scandal. Indeed it's contrary to every professed principle of the Occupy movement.

Our exposes were of course only part of our activism. We also engaged in some literary theater, such as popping a balloon at a staid Vanity Fair reading (heavens!) or speaking up in Beat fashion (no potato salad thrown!) at a phony "Howl" celebration, to draw attention to our cause. Everything we did seems minor today compared to Occupy actions. Our crime was to espouse Occupy ideals ten years too soon.

I'm amazed, Maria, that you could read Tom Bissell's essay on us and not see through its distortions, the way in the essay he turns reality on its head, making into the powerful the powerless (the ULA), giving us power we could never have. As well as the bizarrely inaccurate connections to Lenin and Stalin. As well as  the "class war" "don't look at wealth or background, or those tax shelters" accusations more expected of a Mitt Romney staffer, and not from another signer of the Occupy Writers petition like Tom Bissell.

Regarding the establishment lit world, which you defend. Yes, it's a tiny, tiny part of the market. Why is that, Maria, when it dominates media attention, getting the choice review slots in places like the New York Times and The New Yorker, and write-ups in mainstream mags like Esquire, People, and Vanity Fair? (See, for instance, the lavish attention given to a novel by "We're all MFAs now" author Chad Harbach.) Could it be that the public just doesn't want the establishment's precious/elitist/postmodernist style of writing, so self-involved and out-of-touch with the real concerns of the American populace? Sorry, but when I pick up a novel by a Ben Marcus, then look at the hard Detroit streets around me right now, I see no connection. Only irrelevance-- a talking to a very tiny privileged clique. Yet his is the kind of American literature which is approved and applauded by reviewers like you, Maria Bustillos, and represented in the academies as what American literature is about. The ULA message was and remains a call for a return to content over craft, substance over style, good old American literary populism, and its populist values, which happen also to be in many ways Occupy values.

As to why I don't just work on my own writing. Oh, I do. I have four ebooks for sale now, Maria, which in various ways look at the realities of America now. They're available under my King Wenclas moniker at Nook Books and Amazon's Kindle Store. I invite you to review them.

Needless to say, though, it's difficult to gain traction as a writer when reviews are circulated high and low, far and wide, that refer to a great populist literary group one is closely associated with as a collection of "untalented" "unpublishable" writers. It's a distortion. It's a blanket smear. I have no choice but to fight it, in every way possible. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to Construct a False Narrative


We can see a demonstration of how Tom Bissell has ably ingratiated himself with the mainstream media in his recent piece for Yahoo News on the Obama-Romney debate,

Note how Tom Bissell arbitrarily pulls three questions out of the air, then insists that these are the necessary questions that must be answered. Why these and not three others?

Through these three questions, Bissell is establishing the terms of the discussion. He’s setting the parameters of how we’re to think about the two political parties. In front of our eyes, he’s constructing the narrative. The Republicans are the party of business and the Democrats the party of government. It’s an either-or choice—as Tom Bissell presents it. Government or business. He assures us that claiming to be Independent is a nonexistent stance. Bissell then takes the narrative one step further by showing us the real choice as caring or not caring about your fellow man. He’s set up the choice—a very stark choice, with visions of people thrown suddenly into the brutal streets. (Never mind that in every city, hundreds of homeless are already visible on the streets. Maybe including a few writers.)

How true is the Tom Bissell narrative in this instance?

The narrative avoids the uncomfortable truth that both major political parties are financed by big business. Both are also inextricably tied into the perpetuation of big government; the various gigantic federal bureaucracies. Sure, one party will lean a trifle more toward social and regulatory bureaucracies; the other towards the military-industrial complex. But these are marginal differences. Under Mitt Romney, not one federal agency or department will be abolished. He may, as Ronald Reagan did, slow the growth of the massive social-welfare bureaucracies. That’s it. Just as “radical” Barack Obama has maintained the entire network of the national security system, drones and Guantanamo included.

Tom Bissell either has a distorted view of who Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are, or he’s deliberately presenting a distorted view. Both Obama and Romney are technocratic caretakers of the system, whose function is first to maintain the system, not radically alter it. There are marginal differences between them, and they’ll make marginal changes, but nothing approaching, in even an infinitesimal way, the extreme portraits of both men painted by their supporters and opponents.

That it’s an extreme choice is the game whereby the two parties maintain themselves. It gets people to the polls and justifies the two-party monopoly on power.

We saw this in the debate. Get beyond the pyrotechnics of Romney’s grin and Obama’s grimace and look at what the two actually said. They bent over backward to agree with each other. Romney assured us he supports regulation. The reality is, he does, and he will, though he’s likely to pull back on it enough to get the economy moving. On the most contentious issue of Obama’s term in office, Obamacare, Mitt Romney said he wanted not to remove it, but replace it with something similar. He’d retain many of its components. Aside from the rhetoric, how do we know this? Because the model for Obamacare was Romneycare in Massachusetts. As Obama has said himself many times, the fundamental ideas behind Obamacare originally came from Republicans. The differences between the parties are cosmetic. Their concern isn’t to change the corporate-government money machine, but to make the machine operate more efficiently. They differ not on strategy, but tactics.

The election presents the electorate with a false narrative. A stereotyped yes-no good-bad black-white presentation which is a caricature of reality. Tom Bissell emphasizes, and further exaggerates, this false narrative in his Yahoo News article. We note Tom Bissell’s ability at creating caricatures. We see again Bissell’s function as able mouthpiece for a status quo, which was exemplified in his essay on the Underground Literary Alliance.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Was Tom Bissell’s Essay Malicious?

Was Tom Bissell’s Believer essay about the Underground Literary Alliance, reprinted this year in Magic Hours by McSweeney’s Books, of malicious intent?

One way to judge is to look at reactions to the essay from recent reviewers.

The very influential Kirkus Reviews said this:

“Bissell can tear into his subjects with a ferocity and brutal wit that recalls Dwight MacDonald, as when he writes about the would-be literary provocateurs of the Underground Literary Alliance.”

In her review of Bissell’s Magic Hours in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Maria Bustillos calls the ULA “a bunch of noisy, not-too-talented zinesters who tried to form a literary movement.” Maria Bustillos goes on to applaud a Tom Bissell cheap shot against one of the best zine writers around, Urban Hermitt. I’m sure Bustillos has never read Hermitt’s work. Tom Bissell read only an excerpt.

By the way, Tom Bissell is listed on the L.A. Review of Books masthead as a Contributing Editor.

Lesser lights, taking their cues from the Bissell essay, also took their shots. For instance, video gamer Matthew Rickart, while applauding Bissell’s book, called ULAers “bitter children” and “hackneyed.”

Brian Wolowitz, at the site Spectrum Culture, first notes Bissell’s “ambivalent” attitude toward the ULA, then claims “he often attempts to understand or defend easily dismissible figures like the clownishly clueless ULA members. . . .”

If Brian concludes we’re merely clownish, then what kind of defense of us has Bissell made?

The answer is given in a Tom Scocca Bookforum piece on Tom Bissell, in which Scocca calls Bissell’s ULA essay “a masterpiece of tactics.” It’s exactly that, if the essay was able to convince some writers that Bissell was being even-handed at the same time he eviscerated us.

Part of the problem is that the natural sympathies of most of these reviewers is with Bissell, in that he’s placed himself where they seek to place themselves, within the approved literary hierarchy, accepting and defending the status quo. The other part of the problem is that their view of the Underground Literary Alliance is filtered through the prism of Tom Bissell’s biased and distorted essay. They accept his premises as a given.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

My Belated Take on the Debate


I caught the Presidential debate between Romney and Obama on radio. Several things struck me.
1.) It was almost unbearably boring.
2.) It was very wonky-- a debate between two technocrats.
3.) Neither man struck me as a leader. These are the kind of guys a leader will hire.
4.) Both operate within narrow parameters. There was surprising agreement between them.
5.) Neither is in any way an extremist or change agent.

What else to expect from a race between two Harvard grads, I guess?

Two further observations:
-The visual must've been important. I didn't "see" Romney as having the clear edge that everyone claimed. In this sense, it mirrored the famous 1960 Nixon-Kennedy contest.
-The experts say Obama's mistake was addressing the audience, while Romney addressed his opponent. Curiously, this is the opposite of the reason given by "experts" for why Kennedy won: that he addressed the audience, while Nixon addressed him. So much for the experts.

Or, there's no sure way of doing things.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What’s Literary Rebellion?

Literary Rebellion is first a state of mind, not a physical entity. Vehicles have been used for the Literary Rebellion in the past, and they likely will again. But they’re not the Rebellion itself.

Literary Rebellion is nothing more than the ability to think independently. To question current literary dogma, structures, and authority. To stand as an independent writer outside the literary herd. To exhibit the freedom of thought and action which marks the truly free writer—knowing that the true writer can only be free.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Makes an Activist Part II

What makes an activist more than anything else is dogged persistence-- the ability to ignore frustrations and setbacks which at times appear endless.

ULA 2.0 will need only the most loyal to the cause of changing literature, and through it, America.

The End of N3 Journalism


I’ve yet to receive a response from Garth Risk Hallberg to my New York Times letter.

Most humorous about Garth’s review of Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours is that within the review, Hallberg attempted to coin a phrase, “New New New Journalism,” which he abbreviated to N3 Journalism.

What we know about N3 Journalism, at least as shown in Hallberg’s review, is that it accepts approved Insider writers at face value. Garth Hallberg accepted Tom Bissell’s presentation at face value. He made no attempt to look behind it to arrive at the truth—his research, in fact, as shoddy as Bissell’s. Tom Bissell is announced as the paragon of N3 Journalism. Given by Garth Hallberg as the exemplar of the Tom Bissell style is Bissell’s attack on the in-your-face rebel writers of the Underground Literary Alliance.

Could Hallberg have chosen a worse essay or more questionable writer to applaud?

In a couple ways, Garth Hallberg’s statements, more than he knows, define what N3 Journalism is about. Tom Bissell, after all, is the ultimate do-anything-to-get-ahead establishment hatchet man. Ass eater par excellence, like a paid mercenary Bissell hired himself out to the McSweeney’s organization to do their dirty work for them. Oh, he’s glib alright, but it’s glibness without character or conscience.
Garth Risk Hallberg is a more lukewarm version. Need an ultra-positive review which asks no embarrassing questions? (Like, “What were those plagiarism accusations about?”) Then Hallberg is the fellow you want.

Hallberg is one of a thousand such literary “journalists.” They’re the most conformist persons in America. Their entire buttoned-up careers consist of conforming to authority, questioning nothing. It’s how they made their way through the institutional education system, standing out by always giving the approved answers, conflicting with no one. (If you seek an original thought or action among their number, good luck.) They have their certificates and positions showing the stamp of approval on their foreheads. It’s not education, but schooling. Preparation for obedience. In this way they’re the direct opposite of ULA folks.

N3 Journalism, then, is a reflection of those who inhabit positions within the system. The only thing “New” about it is that it’s not journalism. The questioning, oppositional, investigative side of the craft has been discarded.

What we’ve discovered about N3 Journalism is that it’s already finished. Garth Hallberg, its creator, is unable to defend it—or even to explain it; to explain the book review in which the term appears. We can thus discard N3 Journalism in total. Toss it in a nearby trash bin. Its lifespan is over.