Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Empires of the Mind


I DON'T KNOW if the Afghanistan fiasco will discredit the U.S. foreign policy establishment enough to out an end to the notion of America as the world's policeman. But it should.

Ending the Imperial mindset would allow a refocus on things at home-- including cultural matters. Ideally it would enable a flowering of American art and artists of all varieties. (The precedent which comes to mind off the top of my head is the British rock music explosion after they liquidated their empire.)


Everyone's focus the past five years-- or twenty, really-- has been on politics, as evidenced by insane levels of hysteria on social media and elsewhere, with nothing actually resolved. The machine bumps right and bumps left and sputters along. Wouldn't the immense amount of energy expended on political battles be better spent elsewhere-- on creating stuff, to everyone's benefit?

America has always been the most creative of nations-- in its short history, a mass of inventions, innovations, devices, entertainments, spectacles, movies, music: noise. If the USA didn't invent the notion of having fun, it perfected it. A great many cultural forms-- literature, to name one-- have been stagnant the past twenty years, with no typically American hyper-energy to be found. The end of the occupation of Afghanistan should be looked at as an opportunity to begin things anew. All it takes is the right mindset to make it happen. (Which is what the New Pop Lit project for one is about.)

Let's do it!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Cooperatives and Unionization in Publishing


Recently I covered here the Nathan J. Robinson fiasco, when he fired his entire staff at Current Affairs magazine, a "leftist" publication, when said staff pushed to turn the project into a co-op.

ARE THERE historical precedents for this?

Yes. Prominent among them was the situation in 1981 with the UK's Time Out magazine, when employees went on strike, due to publisher Tony Elliott changing the previous equal-pay-for-everyone policy of the magazine, in order to pay more to talented outside writers. 

The publication had been started by Elliott in 1968 as a modest alternative pamphlet, apparently with a collective decision-making process, which Elliott abruptly voided, in much the same way Nathan Robinson behaved a few weeks ago in this country.


What resulted in the 1981 situation, after Time Out shut down for a few months, was most of the former staff at the magazine forming their own similar listings publication called City Limits. Simultaneous with this, opportunistic mogul Richard Branson geared up his own listings magazine, Event, and Tony Elliott restarted Time Out with a new staff.


What we saw with the Time Out mess was a possible answer to the question: from where does economic value actually come? The visionary? The workers?

The wikipedia entry on Time Out credits the initial success of the magazine not to Tony Elliott, but its designer, Pearce Marchbank

The flavour of the magazine was almost wholly the responsibility of its designer, Pearce Marchbank. . . .

During the strike, Branson poached Marchbank and made him co-editor of Event, surrounding him with the best literary and journalistic talents money could buy, and backed the project with ample funds-- more than a million pounds by some reports. Despite this, Event soon folded.

City Limits started out well but quickly plateaued, while Time Out eventually surged ahead. Time Out of course had the advantage of being in London an already-established name. A "brand." One has to also consider the extent to which Tony Elliott was by then himself an established brand.

City Limits lasted until 1993. 


I was myself part of a literary cooperative, from 2000 to roughly 2009, and have many thoughts on the experience, which I may express sometime in a different post.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Get Out of the War Business!

 America continues to prove it's just not very good at war. Brave soldiers? Yes. Elite units-- as good as any on the planet? Sure. But for America as a whole, it's just not our thing.

America wasn't founded by soldiers, but by opportunists. No thousand-year military culture bred into us like, say, Germans. Nope. People came here for one primary reason: to make a buck. From P.T. Barnum to Edison to Ford to the moguls of Hollywood, through Jay Z and Dr. Dre, American culture has been devoted to hype and sales.

The way for the nation to get back on track after divisive politics and the disaster of Afghanistan is to focus on what the USA does best: being brash, ambitious, loud and eternally creative.

It's what I plan on doing at New Pop Lit's POP SHOP, which, yes, is open for business. Stop in and buy a zeen. You'll feel better doing so.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The DIY Actor

OFFICIAL HISTORIES have a way of ignoring Do-It-Yourself activities, when individuals and their friends, unsatisfied with things-as-they-are, have taken matters into their own hands by starting their own businesses.

Case in point is the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded by African-American actor Noble Johnson and his brother George in 1916. According to wikipedia,  their studio was "the first to produce movies portraying African-Americans as real people instead of as racist caricatures." 

To finance the project, Johnson appeared as a character actor in scores of movies produced by other studios (he appeared in 144 films total). This included several early classics, from "Thief of Baghdad" to "King Kong." As an actor, Noble Johnson was kind of a jack-of-all-trades, in that he played every possible ethnicity, including Latino, Arab, Native American, Egyptian, and even as a Russian in "The Most Dangerous Game." (See below photo.)

Though the project ultimately dissolved in 1923, its brief success producing movies served as inspiration for budding movie makers of every stripe.

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Big Mistake All Conspiracy Theorists Make

The Big Mistake conspiracy theorists make is misunderstanding the world-- the universe.
Our minds trick us into believing the world is less complex than it is, which allows us to cope with the mass of sensations out there, which would otherwise overwhelm us. (Some scientists believe LSD takes this phenomenon away, and gives us things as they actually are.)
Take the variables in planning any event-- things that could go wrong-- and multiply by a hundred. Or a thousand. (Donald Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns-- which destroyed his own plan.)
For example, a team in the National Football League constructs a precise strategy to be implemented in a carefully controlled game on a strictly limited space, with referees and a time clock-- yet coaches know the game remains unpredictable. Things will go wrong-- the coaches have to always be ready to adjust the plan.
Yet the conspiracy crowd believe large government agencies not known for their competence can control events from on high, with perfect plans, and nothing will go wrong. They're never caught.
Conspiracy theorists never allow for the unpredictable and the irrational.


(A second mistake they make is in never taking a contrary view of their own theories-- looking for mistakes in the elaborate house of cards constructed by conspiracy authors. The books which are their sources are invariably slanted-- they sift the available evidence to bolster their premise, instead of looking at all the evidence from all angles-- like an LSD trip-- and then drawing conclusions. But of course they can't do this-- they have books to sell and they need sensationalism and hooks.)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Who Was Against the Afghanistan War?

 THE PROBLEM with Afghanistan from a United States perspective was getting heavily involved there to start with. War apologists claim that 90% of the American public in 2001 supported the action and no voices spoke out in protest.

This isn't true. One segment-- maybe the only segment-- of the intellectual community opposed the action: the DIY print underground, which at that moment in time centered around a review publication, Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press, and through multiple activist groups, one of them being the Underground Literary Alliance.

My contribution to the noise we tried to make was a zine novella I put out within a few weeks of 9-11 called War Hysteria!.

Few copies of the zine remain anywhere-- but the text can be accessed in a terrific anthology via the Wred Fright blog, here. (Wred a long-time zine publisher and activist.) In the zine I tried to capture the headlong rush to war, no one in the government or mainstream media keeping their heads. All was panic. 

The repercussions of such panic are with us now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Rise and Fall of Nathan J. Robinson


The surprise is that anyone's surprised by Current Affairs Editor Nathan J. Robinson firing his entire staff when they discussed running the pseudo-left magazine as a collective. I questioned his authenticity three years ago in this short essay at New Pop Lit News, "Contradictions of the Left."

Any "leftist" periodical founded at Harvard or Yale is guaranteed to be fraudulent, even if the editors and backers don't realize it themselves. This applies to a similar journal, Jacobin.

              Young Jacobin staffers at Detroit's Allied Media Conference.

Several years ago during New Pop Lit's first year of operation, we manned a table on one side of Jacobin's at Detroit's Allied Media Conference. I had the opportunity to talk with a few of the mag's staffers, and examine several of their back issues. I found the staffers to be well-educated but naive, lacking in knowledge of the actual world. The writing in the journal, as I remarked at the time, was boiler plate. NOT the kind of visceral prose likely to connect with any working class person. An idealistic but misguided project. Or maybe not misguided, if the mission isn't to connect with the public, but to con their virtue-signaling donors.

Those who start and run such publications, a Bhaskar Sunkara or a Nathan J. Robinson, are using them as stepping stones in their climb within the current system. The pose of leftism or radicalism is simply part of the game.

The tragedy is that a layer of elites posturing as opponents to the status quo hinders the appearance of authentic grass roots alternatives. Of the kind once represented by-- oh, I don't know-- maybe the Underground Literary Alliance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021



What they don't tell you in schools, including academia, is that gritty grass roots American writing created by those living at or near the bottom of society has been around long before Charles Bukowski. You can probably date it to Thomas Paine, and likely before that.

Crude popular publications were sold everywhere in the 1800s. In his book Beneath the American Renaissance David S. Reynolds credits such publications with hugely influencing the work of those 19th-century poets and novelists who today are taught in colleges-- Whitman, Melville, Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Dickinson.

How do we classify Stephen Crane's first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which was self-published? As punk-style DIY far ahead of its time?

There's also the Lost Generation of the 1920s. At the center of that arts scene was writer and publisher Robert McAlmon. McAlmon edited and typed James Joyce's hand-written manuscript of Ulysses (which was then published in a small edition by bookstore owner Sylvia Beach); published Ernest Hemingway's first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems; and by all accounts led a hectic, alcohol-fueled life. McAlmon was the quintessential underground writer in that he's known today chiefly through other persons' memoirs-- his own work difficult to find, and even then available only in expurgated form. By all accounts it was raw, unaffected, authentic-- which is why it was criticized and dismissed by the literary mandarins of his time.

Personally, I've read only one story of McAlmon's-- "The Highly-Placed Pajamas"-- and that over twenty years ago. Not even sure in what book I found it-- I encountered it at a time I was browsing stacks in university libraries and distant corners of used-book stores. It's a tale about prostitutes. As I recall, the story was distinctly Bukowskiesque-- at the time it was written in the 1920s the established literary world wasn't ready for it.


WHERE is underground publishing now?

One place to find it is at THE POP SHOP.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Illusion of Stability

                                                               AP photo/Rahmat Gul


First, the fall of Kabul is not a failure of America or its people, or its soldiers, who are the best anywhere, but of our elites. Our supposed leaders, who got the country INto the Graveyard of Empires but couldn't get us out. 

One has to realize the situation we're in here in this world: existence on a spinning rock hurtling through space at fast speed. The tendency inevitably is toward chaos. That's the default.

In other words, there can be no permanence. No stability. Everything is in a state of change. Change is inevitable and constant. We erect, for our peace of mind-- our sanity-- edifices of substance and power, but put them under enough stress and they quickly collapse. 

All human institutions are temporary (secular ones anyway). They might last our lifetime or our parents lifetimes, or our children's, but this is no guarantee they can long survive an unstable, wholly unpredictable future. It's lunacy to believe they can.

ONE WONDERS, after the events this past week, and what happened January 6, when an enormous mob invaded the U.S. Capitol in a scene out of Carlyle's The French Revolution, just how flimsy esteemed institutions actually are. Are they all maintained through bluff? Is every one of them virtually made out of cardboard?

I wonder if this applies to today's literary realm, which I've long suspected operates through bluff. Via a profusion of blurbs, backslaps, and awards endlessly doled out to authors of whom no one in the greater culture has ever heard. There are today no literary giants, only enervated caretakers going through the motions of having a vital and relevant literature, while said authors in every genre regurgitate what's already been done.

What would happen to that world if it were to undergo stress-- if it faced the relentless pressure of dynamic alternatives? 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Do Animals Have Souls?

 I was thinking about that question after seeing this photo of Oliver, a cat who's gone missing in Peterborough, which I think is in the UK.

Have you ever seen a more soulful expression?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021



The problem with books is they haven't changed in hundreds of years, they're completely predictable and in an ADHD world they excite no one.

Enter zeens-- a new creation whose colorful presentation is designed to attract the unwary back to reading. A zeen better emphasizes the aura of analog via visual and tactile effects which digital can't duplicate. 

The only way to adequately judge those effects is to order a copy. 

On sale at New Pop Lit's POP SHOP, and soon at other fine places.