Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Second Wave

TO MY CRITICISMS of the literary establishment, defenders tell me, "Create a better product." To this I agree. To overthrow the moribund lit-scene, rebel writers have to create stories, poems, short novels, and zeens unlike any before seen; so exciting they demand to be bought and read. The First Wave as represented by ULA Press, Microcosm Publishing, and others is a necessary step-- but not enough. Another level awaits. The new products will have to be accompanied by equally exciting marketing campaigns, each piece of the assault working in synchronicity.

In the creation of new literary art, I'm doing my best. My "McCartney at Starbucks" poem and "Bluebird" story from last year are initial entries. I'm still experimenting. I can do better, and will if I stay in one piece. I hope other rebel writers do likewise.

Who will write the next immortal poem or story? THAT's the task for all of us. Our disputations otherwise are meaningless.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Blind Spot

have a blind spot in that they don't realize how most people view literary writing.

They're like fans of Mozart, who when listening understand every nuance; each note of play or pomp, pathos or humor.

Most people today, raised in a different world, don't hear this from Mozart. They hear something different-- only the notes. In the same way, the general reading public sees something different in a novel by Michael Chabon. Literary people smile and nod and appreciate. Everyone else is bored.

I'm not saying to write Dreiser. We need writing that does what Dreiser's did in his day but which is new. It's our task to recreate the art form. What undergrounders are doing are fledgling attempts. We need to present to the nation a literature people can get excited about.

But forget about literary writing. That's dead. That's done. That's over. The path that way is closed. We can only move forward.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Literary Revolution


TO BETTER UNDERSTAND what I mean by literary revolution, look again at what happened with the music industry in the 1950's. At the very moment Elvis Presley was exploding onto the scene, Frank Sinatra, a starkly different kind of singer, was at his artistic peak, his recordings winning critical awards and universal accolades. 99 out of 100 musical experts then, and possibly today, would say that Sinatra was the more important singer musically. It would've been considered ludicrous at the time to put the two men in the same league.

Sinatra, despite his tough background, was a product of institutional music, in the same way Mary Gaitskill is the captive of institutional lit. He performed with orchestras consisting of the "best," most skilled musicians in the country; well-screened and highly paid. Recordings were well-controlled, expensive happenings. Sinatra's smooth, perfectly controlled voice manifested the smooth and sophisticated polish of the industry. Though Sinatra was to be given his own label, Reprise, he was connected to-- remained part of his entire career-- the giant record labels. He was DIY only in the sense that Dave Eggers, through his intertwining relationships with both the conglomerates and with status quo lit-talent of today, is DIY. Or, not hardly.

Unlike Sinatra, rock n' rollers weren't produced by the music industry already in place, but came from hundreds of fly-by-night new outfits, most producing a hit or two, spots of color in the overall rock mosaic, before vanishing. A high school student, Phil Spector, recruited a few coeds at his school, called them "The Teddy Bears," and recorded them-- and had a surprise hit. The industry giants were like slowly turning battleships attacked by scores of low-budget patrol boats. They didn't know how to compete.

Ironically, rock's biggest name, Elvis, was immediately co-opted by RCA, one of the giants, who quickly sought to polish him and tame him in the smooth Sinatra way.

That the established music industry demonstrably had commercial and artistic success at the time roots music, so long dormant, was bursting into public awareness, as if overnight (though the gestation period lasted decades) is no argument against the fact and power of change.

To see which was more important not musically, but culturally, one can look at cities like Detroit today, where exist hundreds of rock bands who all look and sound much like the garage bands of the early 1960's; all hoping to be the next Jack White. (Who played Elvis in a recent movie!) Hopelessly retrograde, they are, but that's a different story. Meanwhile, there is nowhere to be found, on any stage in the area, a singer publicly modeling himself after Hoboken Frank.
What meaning does this history hold for lit people today?

It tells me that literary renewal will come not from on high, but from below; that it may be extremely crude, carried by "cretinous goons" (see Sinatra on early rock), but it will definitely be populist. The simultaneous presence of smooth machine artists good and bad, Gaitskill to Franzen to Lethem, will be no argument against it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Class Dynamic

If I've overstressed this one aspect of American literary life, it's because all other lit commentators ignore it, and because class since the 1980's, as opposed to the levelling period of the 40's, 50's, and 60's, has become such a dominating factor in American society.

Class has been around since Day One of English literary language; from the days of Shakespeare himself, who was scornfully referred to as "an upstart crow" with his "tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide" by his more educated literary betters.

I'll be examining this upstart's "King Lear," discussing the play's un-aristocratic crudeness, its humanity and soul, which point to its authorship against the never-ending flow of books intent on denying credit to "Shakspere" the man, the actor, the upstart, to give it to some foppish Oswaldian noble instead.