Monday, March 31, 2008

Catch a Wave


Because we're the only writers who've broken with the stagnation of the present; the only ones who operate outside the conglomerate-academy-foundation system. We offer a new beginning.

My goal is not a return to the past, but a new synthesis of broken pieces of the past to create a literature never before seen: the shock of the new.

To accomplish this will require writers eager and daring enough to be cultural pioneers, breaking free of the shackles and safety net of things-as-they-are in order to start over, as if we were the first writers introducing the excitement of words to the world.

Friday, March 28, 2008

DIY Rebel

There are a number of DIY thinkers besides myself who are creating the foundation for an artistic rebellion which will become stronger in the years ahead. One of the best of them is Tom Hendricks of the long-running zeen Musea.

Tom recently "alienated" fans of the Dallas Morning News by pointing out an obvious example of product placement (Starbucks) in one of their captioned photos and stories. Tom's an attack dog of relentless integrity and relentlessly unstoppable LOGIC.

An artist, musician, and writer, his zeen covers the artistic gamut, always full of ideas, with some issues better than others. #162, "The Five Doors," is one of the best, explaining what the DIY revolution is about. I'd like to see copies of this modest pamphlet in every high school and college classroom in America! Then, our side would win.

The future is waiting. The DIY Rebellion pushing ahead on many fronts is an artistic and intellectual movement. Help us get the word out.

(Write Tom Hendricks at 4000 Hawthorne #5, Dallas TX 75219 requesting a free copy of "The Five Doors" and I'm sure he'll send you one.)

For more info on his activities, see

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Suburban Ghetto"

I'm a hip-hoppin brat from suburban ghet-to
readin my poems even tho' they do blow
Want the motherfuckin' pimp-daddy pose and show,
hip-hoppin brat, suburban ghetto

I take my models from what I see
cartoon characters on my TV!
just like them is what I wanna be,
hip-hoppin brat, suburban ghetto

Want to trash the city and burn the 'hood
wanna be BAD, don't wanna be good,
as long as it's not my Daddy's neighborhood!
hip-hoppin brat, suburban ghetto

I spent my summer in Paris, France
smoked cigarettes, did disco dance
fucked all night when I got the chance,
hip-hoppin brat, suburban ghetto

Now I'm back in the USA,
readin my poetry night and day
Daddy's credit cards payin' the way!
For a hip-hoppin brat from suburban ghet-to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Ideas of Robbe-Grillet

ideas make some sense within the pages of his book. It's a finely constructed argument made of tissue paper. His theory is dependent on one factor. Absent that factor, the ideas become rationalizations for what he couldn't do. Could he create characters, plot, humanity, tragedy? No! Never fear; he explains all. His theory is an explanation for his failings as a novelist.

What was the one factor he used to justify his art?

That he was the logical, sequential heir to a line of great novelists, beginning with Balzac. His experiment was the next step.

Curious, though. On one hand he celebrates Faulkner as one of his recent predecessors. On the other he says that plot and story are no longer possible. But was any novelist more dependent on the intricacies of plot, or had more of a story to tell, than William Faulkner? If so, let me know. I'd like to read that person.

Given Robbe-Grillet's dead-end theory-- that he'd already eliminated character and story-- what was to be the next progression after that?

Would it be to eliminate words themselves?

But that would be the end of the novel.

As solution we have the New New Postmodernist, ready to reveal his masterpiece to the world.

The hall is filled. A red velvet cloth covers the volume, which rests appropriately on a marble pedestal. With a flourish, like a magician he whisks away the cloth! To reveal: nothing. The audience gasps. The pedestal is bare. The New New Postmodern Novelist steps to the microphone with an explanation.

"The genius is that I imagined the novel. I hypothesized the New New Novel without ever having to write it."

Everyone applauds.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Power of Pods

was what happened on Dan Green's "Reading Experience" blog in February when Ray Carver's first wife, Mary Burk Carver, stopped by to give her opinion that Carver was a better writer than Gordon Lish, and that it was unjust to give Lish credit for Carver's achievements.

Reaction was swift from the pod pack, who defended Lish's invisible literary qualities, citing all the tremendous writers (Amy Hempel) he created. I was waiting for the Leonard Nimoy character from the "Invasion" 70's remake to tell her, "Life will be easier if you agree with us."

Faced by the pod mob, Ms. Carver quickly recanted her heretical statements, affirming that Gordon Lish is a nice guy and a great writer.

In truth, Lish is a chief literary pod who has pushed the podification of American writing. The work of acolytes like Hempel, stripped of intelligence, context, and strong emotion-- of everything except vague feelings: plant-like unease-- are examples of a literary trend worth fighting. It's a battle against pod conformity.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rescuing Robbe-Grillet

to Cozzen's artistic ambition wasn't to deny ambition, but to point out that Alain Robbe-Grillet was no less ambitious-- his ambition being to remake the novel itself.

"--a grievous fault,
And grievously hath he answered it."

The value of Robbe-Grillet comes from his bravery; that he was an artistic rebel who realized literature had to change-- then sought to change it. Unlike most, he saw a problem. Only his solution was wrong. Though unwittingly his ideas fell in with the art form's Great Reaction-- its retreat into solipsism-- he remains a model and a lesson for all literary revolutionaries.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The purpose of my blogs is exactly what I've been using them for-- to present arguments, to engage in debate, to provoke discussion and thought, in so doing to propagate ideas which I believe in concerning literature.


The only tool status quo apologists seem to be able to use in debate is to question my motivations-- that I'm not real, just out for myself, a "poseur," egomaniac, etc.

I've hardly benefitted by waging this campaign-- I live on the margins-- but, like other undergrounders, I believe in what I'm doing. I've stepped back as much as I could to avoid dominating the movement-- was never the headliner (often not mentioned on the flyers) at any of the shows I promoted, for instance, and didn't ask to be included in the list of ULA Press books. Even when I opt NOT to be in a collection, so as to not appear self-serving, it's not good enough, as has been observed.

(Of course, many of those questioning my motivations remain anonymous, so we can never check out their own.)

Double Standards

Curious, isn't it, that a dissenter's actions and motivations are put under a microscope. Yet privileged writers in this society aren't questioned at all-- questioned why their art is a failure, why they have ALL the seats at the table, all the literary media pie, big advances and tax shelter foundation grants awards, and so on.

My "Rants"

Given that those at the forefront of the underground rebellion have not been welcomed, before or after I began making noise, it's hard to argue that my "rants" (arguments) are the cause. Many of the best underground writers, like Jack Saunders, Fred Woodworth, and Bill Blackolive, have been shut out for decades. Jack's efforts, for one, have always been exceedingly polite. It didn't do him any good at all. The only attention he's EVER received by the mainstream media, in fact, happened as a result of the ULA's vociferous noise.

The Dilemma

This is what I'm expected to do:
I'm expected to serve the underground relentlessly and selflessly, permanently and eternally, yet take no credit for it. In fact, I should remain anonymous.

At the same time I should stand ready to be blamed for all underground setbacks.

I should receive no credit for projects and press I initiate, unless said projects fall apart.

I should stand ready to serve all members of the underground, at any time, immediately, and my every own action should be subject to veto by any member of the underground. I should carry responsibility for every flaw of said underground, yet have no corresponding authority to correct those flaws.

In relations with the mainstream, and with status quo apologists, in debate and argument, I'm expected to always be properly polite. I should never try too hard to win an argument, even if outnumbered 10 to 1; even if my opponents, by their own words, are "piling on." Satire and sarcasm are off the table for me. In short, I should fight with both arms behind my back, and make sure that my statements are constructed to be unprovocative and inocuous, so that no one would want to read them. As bland as the lit-world itself.

At the same time, all style of invective, insults, and personal attacks from opponents are allowed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

More Robbe-Grillet!


Here's another striking irony. Robbe-Grillet's essay on writer Raymond Roussel indicates to me that if Roussel were alive today he'd be in the Underground Literary Alliance. Roussel would certainly be rejected by the lit-blogger bow-tie boys as a "bad writer."

The ULA has presented a wide variety of underground writers, including of course many whose writing styles are far different from my own. The underground has never been a monolith.

Willfully and explicitly the ULA welcomed writers like Jack Saunders who've remade the novel, Robbe-Grillet-style, and been rejected for it-- including by Robbe-Grillet advocates who should've known better, done a bit closer reading of their favorite literary theorist and author.

"Anti-intellectual" was a term likely hurled at the idol, Robbe-Grillet, as it has so often been thrown at the underground. If the French dude were around today he'd be in the rebel camp. Robbe-Grillet had little truck with the historically timid: the artistically imperious or aesthetically immoveable.

Cozzens II

on another blog, Cozzens to Beethoven in his use of structure and form to arrive at a transcendent moment. The comparison is just.

Study the way, in his famous 5th symphony, in the first movement Beethoven begins with a simple theme-- four notes!-- then slowly and masterfully plays with them, interweaves them, until by the end of the movement he's achieving, quite unexpectedly, tremendously dynamic sound.

The novel contains movements also-- the expression of a narrative line. Just as a composer hooks the listener and carries him forward, the writer ideally does the same thing.

Study the long opening section of Guard of Honor: a plane flight from one air force base to another.

It's a textbook case of how to lay down plot threads. Everything which is to come later in the huge work is set up in the extended opening scene. This is what professors SHOULD be teaching in writing or English classes.

The leading characters are introduced; complex, adult characters; flawed, biased, arrogant, human characters.

Cozzens plays three themes: the characters; the shaky interior of the plane; the weather outside. Four themes, really, because there's the hidden theme of the suppressed conflicts of society. Quite unexpectedly the themes all come together, in a brilliant way, at the very closing moments of the first movement: this extended scene.

Anyone who takes sentences out of context to claim Cozzens can't write should study what he achieves with his sentences in this scene; how he puts the reader inside that plane, looking over the shoulder of General Beal, feeling the bouncing plane and the fast-tension of the moment. A moment filled with implication and meaning far beyond the landing of an airplane.

It's the kind of moment, unfortunately, you'll never discover in a book by Robbe-Grillet.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Robbe-Grillet Fans

A Robbe-Grillet fan in 2008 is the ultimate anachronism. Alain Robbe-Grillet was very much a writer of a moment in time. His argument, the justification for his art presented in For a New Novel, is premised on being a writer THEN, in 1965; the culmination of a progressive line of novelists, the logical end point in an ever-moving artistic system necessarily dependent on the WHEN of the novelist.

By his own thinking, a Robbe-Grillet 2008 is an impossibility; a time-machine freak. Within the narrow sophistry of the arguments of his book, literary fans embracing his art in 2008 are inconceivable, can only be considered museum pieces.

I agree with A. R-B that art can't remain static. Ironically though, for all his "avant-garde" thought, he held a linear view of history, while from my brief days 20 years ago on the fringe of the investment biz I've believed in Elliott Wave Theory; or, history as cyclical, or more specifically, proceeding rhythmnically like nature, in ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys.

Robbe-Grillet would be disappointed in his own fans. Their view of history isn't linear or cyclical, but rigid.


There is one point on which Cozzens and Robbe-Grillet would assuredly agree, and that is on the novel being put together "by a creative consciousness, by will, by rigor. Patient labor, methodical construction, the deliberate architecture of each sentence as of the whole of the book--."
(For a New Novel.)

There were better novelists than James Gould Cozzens, but none more adept at the architecture of the novel. What he created, moreover, in his mature years, was of far more complexity and size than the baby-creations of Robbe-Grillet, while no less rigorous and finished. It's the difference between an automobile and a tricycle.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Critical Aside

From a discussion begun on another blog. . . .

WHEN SOMEONE STARTS talking about "middlebrow" writers, it means they're not thinking, but are regurgitating what was on the blackboard in English 545.

"Middlebrow" comes from 1950's critic Dwight MacDonald, who famously attacked author James Gould Cozzens in an essay called "By Cozzens Possessed." His is the received wisdom which you've been parroting. The Cozzens reputation was established at that time, hardened into concrete, allowing those who came later, such as yourselves, to not have to think. You can simply click to the "Received Wisdom" page, under "C."

Yep, there it is! "Cozzens." "Middlebrow." "By Love Possessed." Terrible writer! It says so, right there. There on the screen.

Under "R" we find the much praised innovative postmodernist "Robbe-Grillet." No mention of the stuff of literature about his work-- like striking characters, stories, insights-- because the stuff of literature is missing. He's a great writer because he is, that's why.

Could the Received Wisdom ever be wrong?

I mean, the professor, the blackboard at the university. He told me. . . .
I read Cozzens's Guard of Honor as long ago as when I read Robbe-Grillet. Yet I recall nothing of the latter's work-- not an incident-- while moments from Cozzen's great novel are planted in my memory. ("Great" meaning largeness of scope and mind.) A novel is ultimately about moments, and how we arrive at them. For "Guard" it's finally about the last moment, when brash-but-inept young General Beal and his mentor-sidekick Colonel Ross watch a large American bomber plane ascend into the sky. We feel everything which has transpired on all the many previous pages. The two men are satisfied because they've kept the whole shithouse of their very large Army Air Force base together for another day, despite incompetency and mishap, and mishap and incompetency.

For them, it's a triumph. For the reader it's a bigger moment. We're experiencing one of the great moments of American literature-- the first recognition of the birth of American Empire. The end of World War II was the point in time when the American civilization irrevocably changed. No writer other than Cozzens so well captured that transcendent birth-moment; for him and his two characters, a glorious moment. (For us, living under the George W. Bush regime, likely less glorious.)

In back of that moment, in the body of the novel, Cozzens has captured the American system's staggering venality and corruption, but also its unstoppable unthinking strength. America has been about business and organization. We've won wars not because we had braver soldiers, but because we had larger organizations. We've steamrolled the entire world by our energy, our products, our gift for organization: our mindless progress. As the novel shows, right and truth are subordinated to the needs of the organization. It's been the American way.

The happenings of later decades are prefigured in the happenings of Cozzens's story. You want the Sixties? You have the roots of the Sixties in the nascent rebellion by the black officers on base, and in the presence of two young white officers-- a liberal and a radical-- whose actions old Colonel Ross has to pre-empt if he's to save his dynamic but immature general. Society-- even the society of an army air force base; center of the Beast-- is a powder keg.

The amazing thing about the novel is that Cozzens, uber-conservative though he is, tackles questions of racism and class. He depicts the hierarchy of American society in a way no established novelist will even attempt to do today. (Though the hierarchy today is more pronounced; the gaps between classes greater than they were in his time.) The depiction is of a piece with the novelist's essential honesty.

Few American novels have been more ambitious-- or more successful in realizing that ambition. If "Guard" is not a great novel, then there are no great novels; there are no standards, no artistic values, and words like "great" have lost all meaning.

Given that a Robbe-Grillet is raised on a pedestal while Cozzens is demeaned, this is the situation of American criticism today-- a mindset which must be overturned if we're to begin our American literary Golden Age.

(Next: two more parts to this, including a discussion of Cozzens and Beethoven. Stay tuned.)


Thinking of Robbe-Grillet, I'm reminded of Simon Schama's great PBS TV series last year about artistic masterpieces. He wonderfully highlighted works by geniuses like Caravaggio. Then he did an episode on a 20th century American abstract painter-- I can't recall his name. Rothko? Schama went through his usual effusive explanation, then the camera panned and you were looking at a big blob of paint.

It's the same thing with Robbe-Grillet. The critical establishment can gush and point, but when you look at the actual work there's not a lot there. You're looking, basically, at a blob of paint.

Or as Oscar Madison said, "It's not linguine, it's garbage."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Happy doesn't mean lobotomized.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


The literary System as it exists today, as presented in Jeff Herman's book and others like it, is like an ideology or religion. The giant edifice is constructed on faith. The odds of a fledgling writer enrolled in a writing rpogram of being meaningfully published are 1 in 50,000, yet the person believes that he or she will be one of the Chosen few. (Never mind that the writers whose books are backed and hyped generally are well-connected, chosen from the outset.) Forget the odds: the would-be writer believes! Take away that belief and the entire structure would collapse within a week.

How do we know the System is ideology, is religion?

In Herman's 991-page book there is not one contrary opinion, not one dissenting voice, not one word condemning the unwieldy process itself. It is total unquestioning mindlock.

Indeed, in the entirety of the System of many thousands of writers, teachers, editors, agents, publicists, commentators; a billion dollar schooling program feeding a billion dollar industry, from leafy campuses to gigantic Manhattan skyscrapers, you'll find scarcely one dissenting voice. Oh you'll find exhaustion, frustration, complaints-- but not directed at the System itself. Those few who dare to speak against it, as my blogs, or the handful of literary rebels in the Underground Literary Alliance, at the edge of the literary universe, find themselves scorned and ostracized.

The all-powerful System produces jobs for many and profits for some, but it also produces massive artistic failure. There is no way of knowing whether they're getting the best writers-- only the best funded and most compliant; the most UNimaginative to be able to accept and survive the process. No one knows how many Thomas Wolfes, Scott Fitzgeralds, or Jack Kerouacs are in the rooms of the slush pile; tossed there because their envelopes were improperly or sloppily addressed, or the manuscripts contained coffee stains, or beer stains, or misspellings on the very first page, or were in an unfamiliar voice or tone or milieu (think of Bill Blackolive), and so presented the preppy reader a vastly new, disorienting, and uncomfortable world. The manuscript might even attack the demi-puppet reader himself!-- and so would have to be immediately tossed back into the stacks, hands which touched it washed thoroughly afterward.

No one knows how many John Kennedy Tooles have committed suicide in the frustration of knowing their book, no matter how good, would never find print.

No: the massive process is massively unwieldy and massively inefficient, when you consider that, by the admission of the System's own acolytes like Jeff Herman, 99% of the work produced never sees daylight. It ends up not in slush pile rooms but slush pile warehouses. So much wasted effort.

How much better for literature, for writers, and for the culture if even a fraction of System writers were instead creating their own zeens; putting their words, their ideas, and their imaginations THERE, in quirky colorful and relevant uniquely individualized craftings; then sold the literary artworks-- encompassing many aspects of art-- THEMSELVES, whether in zeen stores or through snail mail networks or publications like Zine World: A Reader's Guide to the Underground Press-- or, as many have done, on buses or at rock shows or in saloons and on streetcorners. You would have an army of writers bringing their literature directly to the public. The most creative of them, with the freshest voices or most striking ideas, would find their audience. There would be no gatekeepers; no judges of authority in metaphorical black robes passing sentence. People who'd never read a book in their lives, never stepped inside a Barnes & Noble, would be introduced to the joys of reading and writing. Those zeensters who didn't find an audience might instead discover a network of fellow literary adventurers, and, at least, for his or her efforts, would have at the end of it not yellowing typed pages moldering in a distant warehouse, but a real creative accomplishment.

This is exactly the milieu within which I jumped into literature in the early 1990's-- a tremendously exhilarating underground scene. In its way it's a different literary religion to the all-powerful and hierarchical System one, but how liberating! It's a literary revolution alright-- a revolution of the mind.

It's not too late to kickstart this rebellion of the word again-- not too late for YOU the writer to jump into it; to discover the freedom and joy of being a pathfinder, of discovering the entirely new. With thousands of literary zeensters reaching the reading public directly, the top-heavy monopolistic status quo publishing industry, like an obsolete dinosaur, would collapse from its own weight.

Literary happiness-- that's all any of us wants.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Writer from Hell


In Jeff Herman's extensive look at the publishing industry, each agent listed is asked to comment on "The Writer from Hell." The bane of the industry.

I decided to make a list of past writers who, for various reasons, whether their drinking, egos, temper, sloppiness, independence, or madness, were likely candidates for the feared and much avoided "Writer from Hell." A partial list:

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Will Shakespeare, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, William Blake, Thomas Malory, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Francois Villon, Rimbaud, Celine, Genet, Emile Zola, Nikolai Gogol, Marquis deSade, Henry Miller, Jerzy Kosinski, Franz Kafka, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, D.A. Levy, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Ambrose Bierce, Mary McCarthy, Lillian Hellman.

Who have I missed? I'm sure other names can be provided.

(More to follow.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Writer Biz

Second in a 4-Part Series

From reading Jeff Herman's mammoth book, I understand that nothing is read from the publishing industry slush pile. If a manuscript ends up there it's dead. Editors, in fact, rely almost solely on agents to do their screening for them-- are dependent on their taste. Given the incredible amount of submissions, this is the only way to operate. There's no way out. There are too many writers.


We see the outlines of a gigantic money-making machine whose purpose is to squeeze dollars out of the writer. The would-be writer, as much as the reader who buys the finished product, keeps the machine operating-- beginning with the first level, expensive writing programs.

There are too many writers today, more than there have ever been, because of these programs, which continue expanding and adding more classes and higher degrees of "achievement," feeding on people's hopes though odds of success are roughly akin to breaking a gambling casino. The programs are creating "writers" out of people who aren't writers at all-- have no natural ability or compulsion to write-- otherwise they wouldn't be in these programs. For the most part they're bourgeois folk who like the idea of being a "writer"-- the role-- and so the next step is, "How do I become one?"

First, get out your credit cards, because it's going to be expensive.

It's an industry: an industry erected to bilk the gullible. You have not just writing programs, but the many seminars, conferences, contests, and retreats. You have the many writers books and magazines. You have, now, apparently, a new layer of middlemen added with "book doctors" and "consulting editors." More money.

After the "writer" pays the book doctor he's finally ready for the literary agent. Many agents don't charge reading fees-- but their positions are enabled by the writer; by the enormous mass of writers which the writing programs have readily supplied.

What's being produced, as I said in a "Monday Report" for the Underground Literary Alliance, is Conformists with Money. These "writers" had better enjoy classrooms, in other words, because they're going to be spending a lot of time in them. And paying through every orifice. Against this mass of wannabes, our day's Stephen Cranes, Jack Londons, and O. Henrys don't have a penguin's chance against an avalanche.
The DIY "zeen" way of producing writers is much healthier, less exploitive, allows the writer to be more artistically creative, and by selling directly to the public, enables him to discover his market, and whether he has a market. Pluses all the way.

p.s. Late last year I was in an extended e-mail discussion with status quo lit-blogger Ed Champion, who kept insisting that every writer must submit to editing. Now that I've looked into the matter, I'm beginning to see the outline of his reasoning. He wants the Machine to keep operating.

(To be continued.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Who are the people who decide which writers are fit to be published by the conglomerates?

To find out I browsed through Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.

According to their listed resumes, east coast literary agents are the best and brightest of our society. I found their bios covered with degrees from Columbia, Brown, Barnard, Vassar, Williams, Wellesly, U of Michigan-- all the biggies. Many didn't just graduate, but were at the top of their class-- "honors"; "high honors"; high distinction." Very studious people. I don't have a clue about the distinction between "high honors" and "high distinction," but I'm sure both are important, well, distinctions.

Here are a few of the answers I found at random to questions like, "How and why did you ever become a literary agent?" (Note to Herman: Please knock out the "ever.")
-"I asked Dad for money for graduate school. He offered me a job at Curtis Brown instead."
-"My first real job was at the United Nations."
-"I'm a publishing brat." (Which I take to mean, Mom or Dad are in publishing.)

Bottom line: We seem to have in literary agents a top echelon of American society; people with backgrounds of affluence and success.

The Question: Are these people fit to judge the tastes of the general American public-- or to judge writers who most certainly come from more knockabout, nonconformist worlds than they? Do they understand the mentality behind the words on the page? Are they able to relate?

There has to be a reason we're getting so many books about the very rich or the very busy in New York City.

(More to come.)