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.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
What Makes an Activist Part I
I cover this question throughout the entirety of the e-novel The Tower. America is a grand dream, but it’s also a society (like all human societies) of enormous tragedy and cruelty. Much of the tragedy, like the fate of the lead character, stems from the human condition. Or rather, from innate flaws in human character which need to be actively fought, or else those flaws, those greeds, those appetites will overwhelm us.
In my novel I wanted to show that at the end, the only survivor, laughing at the top, is the most fucked-up person of all.
Experience enough of this civilization, at levels high and low, and you begin to see the whole out of the scattering of parts. That it’s a gigantic machine; we individuals human cogs inside it. As knowing as cogs, for the most part, which means, not at all.
This statement applies most of all to America’s approved writers—even though writers are those in the land who should be most able to see through the fog.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Life Imitates Art Dept.
Now here's a chapter from my likely-never-to-be-completed satirical novel, Election Follies, from three months ago.
I guess all the practice finally paid off!
Success or Failure?
Many of my thoughts about the ULA experience, and the troubles and travails of an activist group attempting against impossible odds to change part of America, are embedded in my latest e-novel, The Tower, affordably available at Nook Books or the Kindle Store. It's worth checking out.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Where Are the Literary Rebels?
Where are the literary rebels? Where are the outspoken voices? Where are those who believe that literature first of all must be at the forefront of ensuring this nation’s promise of democracy?
Where are those writers who’ll call for a level playing field, for the breaking of cronyism, privilege, and monopoly? When will it be time for the arts to throw off the domination of a tiny elite, and so bring out and reinvigorate the true source of all authentic art—the voice and aspiration and pain and experience of the people?
When will we see this? In some far off never-to-be-defined-exactly utopian future, as if those who’ve made the claims—while doing the opposite—are scamming? Or will we see it now? Today? Immediately?
There’s no tomorrow when doing things the true and honest way.
Where are the young rebels, young literary rebels, young writers with true voices and honest, clear-seeing eyes, willing and brave enough to shake off the corrupt system which has produced for this nation’s fiction and poetry only institutionalized and perpetual stagnancy? ART isn’t about the status quo. It’s not about staying the same. It’s about action, about being dynamic, always moving, always changing, mutating, improving, challenging, combating, screaming, crying out loudly again and again for artistic revival and change. Who’s willing to throw off the shackles of intellectual conformity?
All those willing to be literary rebels and make literary history please contact me, or one of the other courageous men and women banding together to restart the ultimate radical writers organization, the Underground Literary Alliance, popularly known as the ULA.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
The Good Guys
Will the Underground Literary Alliance revive? Intense discussions are ongoing, visible in part on several posts at
All (er, most) suggestions welcomed.
Friday, September 21, 2012
How Do You Fight a Smear?
Everyone who reads Tom Bissell's book Magic Hours is receiving a highly biased image of the Underground Literary Alliance and its writers, as Garth Risk Hallberg did. Many of those who read Bissell's book are writers, editors, or other kinds of literary people.
To Bissell the essay was merely a casual hatchet job, a day's pay, his trademark touchy-feely prose-- the pose of sympathizing with us-- giving the essay superficial credibility. Tom Bissell doesn't realize he did real damage to we past and present members of the ULA, tarring us. Or maybe he does realize this.
It was unnecessary, as the ULA had ceased to be active as an organization, and therefore was a threat to nobody.
But WE the writers of the Underground Literary Alliance remained!
Either disavow the malicious essay, Mr. Bissell, or defend it-- if you're capable of defending your own writing.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The Ivy League Caste
I've been talking for years about the Ivy League's unhealthy domination of today's literary scene. I disagree with Wooster's article on one point. Having met enough of them, I don't think Ivy Leaguers are very bright, high I.Q. or no high I.Q. What they are is very conformist. Teachable. Obedient.
The point for literature is that a class of unindependent bubble people so out of touch with the vast bulk of American society shouldn't be monopolizing literature, which depends for its force on things like heart, compassion, and hard experience. Haven't we had enough infantile solipsistic intellectualizing-- too many books of the self-congratulatory and the unreadable?
Lift the Blacklist!
Who believes in fair play and literary democracy?
Monday, September 17, 2012
Any Word from Garth Hallberg?
Attempting to ignore legitimate criticism seems cowardly. If you can't defend your statements, why make them?
Hallberg's mistake was to take Tom Bissell's essay on the ULA at face value.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Now: How ‘Bout a Review?
Kudos to the New York Times Book Review for publishing my letter. Now the Book Review needs to go one step further toward leveling the playing field between well-connected system writers like Ben Marcus and Michael Chabon, on the one hand, and the DIY populist working class variety on the other.
I ask the New York Times Book Review and other establishment review outlets to read my new e-novel, The Tower, and tell us if it does not have as many relevant actions, themes, and ideas as any elite “literary” novel. Tell us if the prose isn’t as compelling and “marketable.” I know I ask this of journalists indoctrinated by the assumptions of the literary mainstream, to whom new pop writing is an unfamiliar experience. To those who’ve been reading novels of the slow-paced slower-thinking status quo literary style. I take the risk anyway.
Pop DIY e-novels represent where the market is headed. The best of them reveal the necessary direction of American literature.
If you discriminate against literature NOT from corporate publishing’s “Big Six”—then how liberal are you?
I have a big enough name in the literary world to justify a review, whatever the outcome. Put your avowed ideals to work. Demonstrate your principles. Literary democracy is literature’s future.
A Radical Letter?
For instance, my criticism of "Big Six" publishing as a whole, and the quality of work produced.
Contrast that with the "Upfront" Editors note two pages prior, which lauds illustrator Kelly Blair.
"Blair brings an array of qualifications to the task-- not least her firsthand connection to the publishing world."
To Insiders, the literary world exists within the "Big Six" extensions of all-encompassing media empires. Their minds are captured by these entities. They're unable to view American literature from an objective stance outside them.
"Because Blair has held important positions at two publishing houses. . . ."
This is what matters to this clubby world. (Represented by an ad for the Brooklyn Book Festival, which gives a line-up of trendy or approved insider writers.)
Not a clue that this world will soon be under strong assault from the economics of DIY 99-cent ebooks. Partying before the Deluge, I guess.
The Editors' note discusses whether men and women are represented equally in the publishing world. Not a reflection of the fact that the vast majority of both men and women in that world are from the upper levels of society, and so are hardly representative of what the authentic voice of America sounds like
While I much appreciate the inclusion of my letter, I have to wonder if it would've been accepted had I not at least some kind of a name and standing-- that they were able to put a resume of sorts under that name ("former director" etc) to show that I wasn't simply a nobody off the streets? It's inescapable that that elite world revolves around certifications and credentials.
I prefer to discover new writers authentically from the streets of this nation, who have no connections or credentials-- only the power of their minds and the raw scars of their experiences.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Published Times Letter
The New York Times Book Review, in lieu of a retraction, has consented to publish a letter from me in this Sunday's issue. (09/16/12.) A copy of the letter is already available online:
I had sent other correspondence to them regarding the matter of the Garth Hallberg smear against the writers of the Underground Literary Alliance. This version of my points isn't as strong as I'd ideally like, but instead one I thought they'd find acceptable. I can be polite and bourgeois in tone when necessary.
I consider the publication of this letter a tiny step toward attaining respect for underground and populist writings.
I'll have more to say. Stay tuned to this and my other main blogs, notably here:
What Was the ULA?
Some people who read this blog may be wondering: What is/was the Underground Literary Alliance?
The ULA was a populist writers group. It staged events and uncovered corruption within the Insider literary world, thereby accumulating many powerful enemies. The ULA was a needed spark of independence within the conformity of today’s mainstream literary scene. We presented a wide variety of writers and writers. Some of the writing was pop. Some of it was street. Much of it was raw but striking. Almost none of it looked like the polished articles handed us by Approved products of today’s literary system—products so polished to remove life. We valued immediacy and authenticity. Our goal was to offer the genuine American voice—culture from the roots, not imposed by mandarins from high above.
The Underground Literary Alliance was the most radical writers group in the long annals of American literary history. Though we were squelched, we planted a flag which we hope other writers will follow.
(To judge my writing, read my “American Pop Lit” ebooks, link to the left.)
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
We face the idea that Dave Eggers wishes to culturally assassinate the genuine article-- why he's sought to wipe out all memory of the DIY populist writers of the Underground Literary Alliance. (DIY not just in stance, but reality.) Attain this end, and he can present himself in our stead. Wasn't this the intent behind the curious additions to the Tom Bissell essay? As Bissell has been reading these blog posts-- and remarking on them in safety-- perhaps he can answer this question for us.
Who was behind the changes to the essay? What was the motivation?
(It's the kind of question the questionable "journalists" who did puff pieces on Bissell should have asked him.)
Tom Bissell, and by extension Dave Eggers, look great and intelligent because they're never challenged, and never allowed to be challenged. Competition to them strictly restricted for their safety.
Meanwhile, former ULAers from Frank Walsh to Jack Saunders to Eric Broomfield among others, like myself, don't need to find Third World stand-ins to exploit. We don't have to buy our credibility. I've lived out of a duffel bag for years, bouncing along the underside of America. (Which I'll be portraying in my next e-book. Or see my Mood Detroit. Priced for the 99%.) I live my stance and my words. I'm not wearing a borrowed cloak, nor striking a phony pose.
Ultimate Literary Street Cred
Do you as a writer want street cred? If so, come to Detroit. It’s not gentrified Brooklyn. This is life on the edge. Dangerous, awful, ruined, hopeful, soulful. There’s no city like it.
If you do arrive, let me know and I’ll buy you a beer.
Monday, September 10, 2012
An Open Note to Dave Eggers
A PEACE GESTURE
I previously mentioned Dave Eggers’ 6/20/05 public rebuke of his former puppet Neal Pollack. More interesting than the takedown itself are some of the things Eggers said to defend and explain himself. I quote:
“—my hope that whatever came next in the literary world would be different, mellower, less tense, less rivalrous”
“it . . . continues to be our goal at The Believer, that the literary world could be one of community, of mutual support . . . and that anyone pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world is mucking it up for everyone. . . .”
One can disagree with Eggers’ sentiments on several points.
1.) His is a plea to leave things as they are. The status quo. Which is fine from his perspective, because it leaves Dave Eggers at the center of literary power.
2.) What exactly does Dave Eggers mean by “community”? Who’s included? I’m reminded of the Orwell quote, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
3.) The mindset Eggers advocates could be likened to the stale peace of a totalitarian world. It’s like the word Islam, which means, “obedience,” and which some feckless souls take to mean “peace.” Peace equals obedience.
4.) I’ve always contended that the “very small” literary ecosystem Eggers talks about would grow in multiples A.) if it allowed alternative voices from different backgrounds and new, more populist styles of writing through its doors; B.) if it were more contentious and rivalrous; to make noise so that society knows it exists. For this you’d need to throw open the thick doors to the stuffy private club.
BUT, let’s take Dave Eggers’ statements at face value. If he was sincere in what he said—then why republish the Tom Bissell attack essay against the Underground Literary Alliance? The ULA had fragmented, in part because of the endless recession this country is in, which hurts those writers at the bottom most. Why kick us when we were down, and not a threat to anyone? The ULA campaign was in the past. Last decade’s story. We were now, all of us, struggling to sell our individual writings, and scarcely needed scornful attacks appearing across the literary landscape as a result of the reappearance of the Bissell tome. Attacks in the New York Times, L.A. Times, Guernica, Kirkus Reviews, and other places. What was Dave’s purpose, other than being “rivalrous” and “pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world”? Surely, no writers group was in a more fragile condition than we were. We have no trust funds, inheritances, elite connections, tax shelter foundations or banker daddys to fall back on.
I then ask Dave Eggers to prove he’s for real by repudiating the Tom Bissell essay. Reprinting that at this time was a slap in the face on a section of American writers. An assault on true representatives of the 99%. It says there will be no end of rivalries—that it’s Dave Eggers, no one else, carrying on feuds. For him to publicly disavow that essay is the minimum that can be asked. It was a mistake to reprint the biased essay and it will be a bigger mistake for him to stand behind that severely flawed document.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Understanding the Debate
The dispute between the remnants of the Underground Literary Alliance, and the Insider lit-crowd of Dave Eggers and Tom Bissell, is not just a matter of distortions, inequalities, power, or respect. There were and remain firm artistic differences between the two camps. The McSweeney’s/Eggers style at its core is postmodern, bourgeois, and exclusionary, with the flavor of elitism and privilege. The unstated message: “We are the In crowd.”
The Underground Literary Alliance, in history and fact, represents a populist alternative.
Now that I'm back in Detroit, I'm restarting my Detroit blog, here:
I'm also opening up what had been a limited access blog, in order to get a few more literary ideas out there, in a spot not automatically checked out. I'll be posting thoughts on whether the ULA can or should become active again. See
I also have a new post up at my American Pop blog:
The question is: How long will I be in Detroit? What then?
While I'm likely here for awhile, now that I'm unsettled, the temptation exists to keep going. Chicago first. Perhaps, ultimately, San Francisco. I could meet up with undergrounders and former ULAers south of the city, do some open mics to build cred, then begin "attending" a few of the bourgie hipster events taking place in San Fran. Like many people, I go through stages of activity and inaction. I've been quite inactive the last few years as far as live appearance is concerned. I might be in the mood to change this-- or have incentive to change this.
When I move again it'll be off the grid. I'll be likely to pop up anywhere.
Friday, September 07, 2012
The Brave Voice of Neal Pollack
THE SADDEST DEMI-PUPPET
Neal Pollack doesn't seem to know who he is and what he's doing. For a few years he was Dave Eggers' lead stooge. McSweeney's most prominent clown. (The ULA loves clowns.) Then in 6/19/05 Neal Pollack wrote an essay for New York Times Book Review which seemed ungrateful to his former mentor. Eggers responded the next day with a long note expressing his displeasure. (More about that in a later post.) Pollack immediately groveled, but it wasn't enough.
Neal sought to reinvent himself as a Harvard-style writer, and claimed to be the next Zadie Smith. I'm not making this up!
Of late the confused Mr. Pollack has discovered the wonders of Do-It-Yourself publishing, and announced that fact to the world. Forget his years sneering at the DIY writers of the Underground Literary Alliance. Neal portrayed us as selling zeens on streetcorners. (We have.) How do those streetcorners look now, Mr. Pollack?
The difference is that ULAers were DIY from philosophy and principle-- from utter disgust at monopoly culture and the stagnant conformity of contemporary literature. We never compromised our integrity or our art.
For Neal Pollack, DIY is a matter of expediency. If one of the "Big Six" says the word, he'll gladly go jellyfish crawling groveling debasing himself back, sliding on all fours to kiss their feet.
Can anyone respect a writer who Dave Eggers makes or breaks with a snap of his fingers?
Come on, Neal. If you can't stand up to the Dave, at least you can answer me. I'm a writer with no power at all. Even an invertebrate should be safe. Then again, maybe not!
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Where Are the Literary Dissidents?
The proof that there's an Insider literary world is that few writers dare to speak against it. Few will criticize the official system for producing literature, the various intertwined bureaucracies, or take on the literary media's most favored players.
Outside the Joe Konraths at the forefront of the ebook revolt, who talk in generalized terms but not specifics, I've found a grand total of five balls-to-the-wall literary dissidents.
Two have been at it for decades. As one might guess, they're thoroughly marginalized. Namely, G. Tod Slone at www.theamericandissident.org, and Tom Hendricks of Musea, who can be found at both www.musea.wordpress.org and www.musea.us.
Of late, two new voices have joined the fight.
I've previously mentioned the very sharp and credible web site, www.howpublishingisrigged.com. Very bold words.
Bolder still is Ramon Glazov, whose criticisms of the establishment literary scene makes me look like a moderate. See this essay, and the ensuing discussion, here:
Very fun reading. A criticism and discussion which is sorely needed. Among writers, free speech is the only rule.
How can these two be so daring? The first guy doesn't give his name! As I said, he's sharp. Meanwhile, Mr. Glazov is based in Australia. A territory apparently not controlled by the ruthless McSweeney's Gang.
THE FIFTH DISSIDENT
The fifth literary dissident? That of course would be myself.
Monday, September 03, 2012
Invitation to a Hatchet Man
Thanks to a Facebook Friend diming him out, we’ve been able to witness Believer hatchet man Tom Bissell apparently chuckling with superrich guy Daniel Handler and others about his attack on the Underground Literary Alliance. It’s all a big joke to him. He snorts at the idea that the literary “war” he mentions is between the powerful and the powerless—but that’s exactly the case.
I invite him to bring his disdainful attitude here, to address his own republished essay. (Some of my points about the essay are available to read at the left.)
The demonstrable fact is that Tom Bissell acted, with his Believer essay, in defense of the 1%, and against the authentic literary voice of the 99%. Read the friggin’ essay!
Well, maybe that was 2003, the world has changed, and what Bissell said then isn’t applicable now, so he shouldn’t be held to his 2003 statements. If so, then why reprint the essay? I for one had moved on, avoiding the Bissell matter to focus on other literary issues, and on my new ebooks. That the essay reappeared after the ULA was broken, its members scattered to the wind—the major behind-the-scenes guy dead—makes it worse. The reappearance created an opportunity for the perpetuation of the same distorted stereotypes about the ULA by members of the Insider herd, in prominent and highly influential venues. If there’s a “war,” Bissell reignited it.
The attitude is of all-powerful Rome versus a defeated Carthage.
Directed to this blog, why didn’t Bissell and Company have anything to say at it?
If the action was payback for past perceived misdeeds by myself or the ULA, I’ll point out that the ULA always operated above-board, documented our exposes of corruption, and made ourselves available for full discussion of those issues. Going up against extremely powerful and monied personages, if we didn’t dot every i we would’ve been immediately silenced. As it was, the other side ran away from, and shut down, debate every time because on the issues we were invariably right.
Now that years of smears and distortions against myself and my former colleagues are fully on the record, branding us, from those who wield great power in the halls of American literature, I ask for only a few small things from Mr. Bissell. I ask that he:
-Acknowledge that reprinting the Believer essay was a mistake.
-Acknowledge the bias of the essay.
-Disavow the underhanded actions of his friend Daniel Handler, who over the years utilized a number of dirty tricks against the ULA—good for laughs, no doubt. Evidence of those tricks are fully available. This includes discussion of the fake letter that appeared in The Ruminator journal. (I should consult a cut-rate lawyer about that one.)
I ask that Bissell make these disavowals in a visible public forum, such as the widely read McSweeney’s Internet web site.
Lacking this, I’ll continue to shine a spotlight on Tom Bissell, but also on his patron Dave Eggers, who it seems must have approved the republication of the egregious essay—it’d be surprising if he hadn’t. As we all know, the Dave doesn’t enjoy that kind of spotlight.
Saturday, September 01, 2012
Back in Detroit
Yes, for the time being I’m back in the Motor City, Detroit proper, the most dysfunctional big city in America but also the most affordable.
I was bounced from a generous living condition in South Philadelphia, and was not able to come up with anything similar. In truth, rents are skyrocketing in Philly—up by 50% I’d guess over the last few years—in part because of the influx of hipsters, that rabid infestation which has turned Brooklyn into a playground for the hip bourgeoisie. Members of the detestable species are now looking elsewhere. With their arrival the cost of everything—rents, beer, hamburgers—rises as they impose their lifestyle on businesses eager to make money. With this comes a rise in regulation and order, which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint. The result, however you slice it, is to turn urban neighborhoods into facsimiles of suburbs.
As for Detroit. Ah, Detroit! “Detroit is coming back!” I’ve heard this mantra for decades now. Over the years the contradictions only become more profound. I intend to address some of them while I’m in town. Anyway, I’m happy to see the same ruins that I wrote about four years ago. The hulk of the Michigan Central train station is Detroit’s Colosseum, a reminder of past glory. (See my story “Jezebel” in my ebook Ten Pop Stories.) The empty house I used as a model for “The Zeen Writer” (see my ebook Mood Detroit) still stands where it stood. The Civil War-era armory I used in the ebook Crime City USA remains boarded. Missing are necessary businesses, like downtown’s only (? I’ll have to scout around) dollar store, now closed, as well as the place where I once bought my phone cards. Downtown—not to mention the rest of the city—is a place of well-protected and expensive Potemkin Village bourgeois centerpieces scattered amid a broken landscape. Everything surrounding downtown is a virtual No Man’s Land. Saturday morning I walked up to the isolated spots of life and business which pass as “Midtown” to the clueless. Rootless desperate-looking men loitered everywhere. My regret was I carried not even a knife. Been in Philly too long!
The trade-off is that any hipsters here have to be a very different kind of hipster. I’ve heard tales of young artists and writers, like pioneers, daring to live in this town. If you ARE a writer or artist, a true one, you probably should be nowhere else. Here in Detroit is the real story of America. The societal chasms, papered-over elsewhere, are here nakedly visible. The city reeks of the authentic. Living becomes a greater challenge. Opportunity, because of the depressed condition of life, seems to appear. Here is a landscape to be renewed or reinvented—or at least captured. Painted. Here in Detroit is more desperation, more pain, more heartache, more heart, and more soul.
I’ll have much more to talk about, including about those forbidden subjects, class and race—categories which in this town in too many ways are interchangeable, or appear as if they are.