Friday, April 24, 2009

Looking Ahead

PEN doesn't represent most writers. It doesn't represent most of its OWN writers, who are window dressing for its actions. Who, then, does PEN represent?

As far as I can tell, it represents the multi-national book companies.
PEN American Center is an example of the NYC-based literary whole. Most undergrounders know this system doesn't represent them. The question is whether most writers of all kinds, including thousands of MFA-degreed wannabes, yet realize this.

New York-based outfits like PEN (and journals like N+1) are moving away from the concept of American literature, and by extension, American writers-- which is why it's imperative to construct new alternatives untied to the literary monopolists.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Club

PEN American Center, behind the progressive window-dressing, is like a private club, to which a select group of members have the special key to gain entrance to a small room, very poshly decorated, with a large table at the center of it. The members have place settings at the table, from Toni Morrison at the head, to others like Jonathan Lethem further down the line. Being able to enter the room is the point.

We watch a series of scribblers walk in with grins-- the Elect-- each holding in his or her hand the special gold key which says, in more ways than one, they've arrived. Yes, the relevance of the key has lessened, as the quality of American literature has declined, and as literature and the Club itself have lost standing-- new structures labelled "Movies," "Music," and "Sports" towering over the three-story brownstone-- but for those who carry the rare gold key none of this matters. The key itself is the prize.

The Club is a metaphor for this country, and how it's been run in recent decades.

The Petition to PEN is a metaphor for changes in American literature, from collapsing conglomerates to vanishing newspaper book review sections-- which nobody reads anyway-- to print-on-demand books, blogs, and zeens bringing new kinds of writers, unscreened and unapproved, to the forefront-- changes which will make the Club a memory of bygone days before literature took exciting new paths toward relevance and revival.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

For Writers

The Petition to PEN is for writers, by working to open up an organization which is supposed to represent our interests. For most of those reading this, the Petition is for YOU.

This Petition is one step in opening up the instruments of exclusion which have constricted the expression and dissemination of literature in this country; which have kept literature bottled-up as a societal force.

I've been told that I'm not good enough to be represented by PEN; or more absurdly, that I'm not even a writer. (The same attitude is held toward all outsider writers.) Remember that I began writing as a zine-maker; as part of a movement that says anyone can be a writer; that EVERYONE has the right of expression through the art.

We live within the context of a vast and mighty hierarchical civilization in which the Popular Voice is skewed, co-opted, or overwhelmed by mighty machines of noise-- global publicity engines-- controlled by a relative few. The objective of the few is simple: the retention of power.

The art of literature will become healthy again when all writers are allowed to flow through the literary bloodstream; when unnecessary and arbitrary clots which kill the art are broken apart.