Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Literary System

It's absurd to argue that there's no established system for creating and promoting literature.

For part of my life I worked on the margins of the auto industry in Detroit, and witnessed how separate parts of the process, run by separate companies, interacted to create a living and breathing whole. By this I mean from the steel unloaded from ships at docks, to the very many parts suppliers creating goods from bolts to glass windows to foam rubber, the many warehouses, trucking companies, the gigantic factories into which all roads eventually led; the automobiles belched out and trucked or trained to independently-run but very dependent dealership showrooms. (We're now seeing this organism in collapse.)

Literature was once a free-booting enterprise, but over the last fifty years became a giant machine itself; fed, as with standardized parts, by regimented and standardized writers from writing programs, with all the many other pieces of the machine ostensibly independent but in fact dependent on the rest of the whole; in symbiotic relationships with other parts of it; from agents to editors, to the sustained awards foundations which serve as a kind of religious order conferring legitimacy onto the entire mess; to mainstream journalists, so many of whom in New York feed at the foundation-conglomerate trough. When they attend PEN parties it's not to report on them, but to indulge in them as accepted members of the club.

This machine, even as it jealously strengthens its power, is as obsolete as General Motors, and as likely to eventually fall.