ULA 2.0 will retain only fragments of the previous incarnation. It’ll be as comparable to the older version as a jet to a biplane. Throw out all past narratives about us, including our own. We’ll write new ULA history and new literary history. If you think you know us, you don’t—and won’t.
THE POSITIVE MESSAGE OF NEW AMERICAN ART AND LITERATURE
Monday, December 17, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Why should writers of all stripes consider joining a renewed Underground Literary Alliance?
Because we have a track record. We’ve been at the forefront of literary change from the beginning—a change that now is mightily beginning to take place. We wear the scars of our opposition to the mainstream—which no other literary group can claim. Absolute credibility. We’ve already built the name marking us as literary change agents. That name retains power and authenticity: “The ULA.”
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Who would be the immediate rivals on today’s literary scene to a resurrected Underground Literary Alliance? Right now I pick out three.
1.) The McSweeney’s Gang.
The literary world’s Evil Empire. Boss Dave Eggers is a shrewd operator. He’s a first rate promoter, and knows well how to put an organization together—as well as figuring out ways to keep the money flowing. (The Empire isn’t dependent on sales. Intuitively he knows only an elite few want the precious McSweeney’s style of writing.) Two other points can be made.
A.) Eggers himself is not in any way an intellectual. He’s surrounded himself with strictly limited individuals. Limited either in brain power, in independence, or, like Tom Bissell, in character. What becomes noteworthy when you examine the persons around him is that no one could possibly be a threat to his dominance. They’re followers one and all. “Believers.” Ready made to be acolytes.
B.) They made a collective blunder in republishing the Tom Bissell attack essay on the Underground Literary Alliance—especially if the ULA was perceived by them to be their greatest danger. Why provoke a nearly-dead opponent? From any practical standpoint it makes no sense. Mere gratification of self; indulgence in feelings of revenge.
While Brooklyn-based n+1 is another branch on the same postmodern tree that McSweeney’s sits on, n+1 has adopted a different stance. They present themselves as intellectuals presenting ideas to the literary world. The problem is that their ideas are usually wrong—as when a few years ago they proclaimed to one and all “The End of Oil.” Right now the world is awash in oil. So much for that prediction, as so many others.
The n+1 boys and girls have a huge barrier to being credible as intellectuals. They put ideology before reality.
Another problem for them is that, like McSweeney’s, they’re creatures of the”Big Six” publishing giants, which are in turn owned by a handful of media monopolies. Without true independence you have no intellectual freedom, and can only become a mouthpiece for the status quo. Puppets.
3.) HTML Giant.
HTML GIant takes postmodern pseudo-intellectual posturing one step beyond. They carry all the weaknesses of the other two groups without the facade of independence. Much of their purpose is as absolute sycophants to official literature as found in either the conglomerates or the university. I joined several of the discussions there, a couple years ago or so, and every time mopped the floor with the lot of them, even when outnumbered 100 to 1. Followers through and through—I can’t say I’ve discovered amid their bombardment of posts an original thought.
That’s it, kids. Not a lot to contend with, in the final analysis. A revived ULA’s main obstacle wouldn’t be our competitors, but ourselves.
Friday, November 9, 2012
The inability of the established literary world’s best and brightest to engage me about the Tom Bissell Believer essay, or about anything, is a sign not of strength, but weakness. The system gives off vibes of unmistakable weakness. It’s only their constant affirmations to one another about how special they all are which keep them from seeing their shrinking world as it exists in reality.
Tom Bissell is praised far and wide by system writers and wannabes as “great” and a genius. Everyone believes this. The one person in the herd who doesn’t believe it is Bissell himself. He and his patron, Eggers, are like Montezuma’s Aztecs. They still carry the trappings of their corrupt civilization, but at heart they no longer believe in it, nor in themselves, not really, so in the face of any strong and fearless opposition they can only shrink away. Putting their shallow literary ideas and insular art to a test is unthinkable. The title of one of their flagships, The Believer, then becomes a bluff, a boast, an empty affirmation. An irony.
Bissell gave the game away as far back as 2003, in the original version of his ULA essay. The talk of “lots of tombstones,” the allusions to the crimes of the Bolsheviks, is an image sprung from his unconscious mind. The image is a metaphor for the ULA’s (or somebody’s) coming victory, a victory of art and a victory of ideas. An occurrence which will indeed wipe system writers from the scene. It may not be the ULA leading that revolutionary change, but it’s happening regardless, as system newspapers and magazines continue losing money; as indie ebook sales increase; as the scope for the favored few of the literary establishment to operate becomes narrower and narrower.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Literature, as it lags behind the culture, also lags behind in sophisticated conditioning-- but it exists at key levels. It appears in mainstream media when they decide which literary group, or which story, they cover or don't cover, favor or disfavor.
The most consistent processor in the literary business, the most accomplished messenger with the most all-encompassing aesthetic, is the McSweeney's organization.
The ULA's task is to open up one corner of totalitarian media: the literary field.
The new ULA will have a simple message: Free Your Mind. End the Conditioning.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
EXAMINING THE LITERARY HERD
It’s curious that those who exhibit the most hostility toward the ULA aren’t the various establishment lit groups’ leaders, like Dave Eggers and Blake Butler, but the followers—those who latch onto an Eggers or Butler or Tom Bissell, then follow them blindly. A Ron Hogan or Glenn Kenny, for instance, can’t interact with the ULA except behind a stream of insults. They see red inside their minds the instant they see my or the ULA’s name.
Why is this? It has to do with the herd mentality. These are the less intelligent, less open-minded members of the herd. They’re incapable of divorcing themselves from the herd mindset. Logic and reason hold no sway with them—their verdict has already been decided. They’re securely within the literary grouping where they best feel intellectually safe. They’ve convinced themselves that theirs is the “best”—and only—style of writing. That there could exist alternate viewpoints to theirs or their leaders is incomprehensible to them, and unsettling. Their first instinct is to wipe such notion from their minds. Such possibilities can’t be tolerated within the herd mind.
As a renewed Underground Literary Alliance works to create a new American literature, and to redirect the current literary scene from an elitist to a populist viewpoint, these hard-core followers will be the ones left behind; beyond reaching, clutching to their well-indoctrinated belief in “literary” writing which keeps them from that which troubles them most: having to think.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
What’s evident is that there is no true literary journalism to speak of—no examining or questioning of the literary scene today. Only blind acquiescence. Gushy puff pieces.
The task of a new Underground Literary Alliance will be to once again become the voice of truth in literature, exposing the cronyism and corruption of the approved literary scene—ripping away the cover of falseness to reveal the cockroaches beneath.
We’ll have real literary journalism, as well as real literary criticism outside the narrow bounds of literary groupthink.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Why restart the ULA? Because if we got a team together of kickass underground writers, and stayed on track-- instead of disintegrating from internal disagreements (or our own poverty)-- we'd rip through the paper established literary scene of today. Constipated arrogant personalities living in a make-believe world of self-importance, sincerely believing they're "great" writers and thinkers.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person's reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
Does this apply to portions of Tom Bissell's Believer magazine essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, reprinted in his collection Magic Hours?
Monday, October 22, 2012
I ask Dave Eggers and his outfit to disavow the Tom Bissell essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, republished in Bissell’s collection Magic Hours—or at least to renounce the most egregious passages of the essay smearing the ULA maliciously, such as the remark that the ULA’s actions would cause “lots and lots of tombstones.” One can’t present oneself as a generous liberal and stand behind those remarks.
Friday, October 19, 2012
I TOOK my inspiration for the forming of the original ULA—the creation of a team—from three different old movies. The stories of all three deal with putting together a small team of diverse talents in order to accomplish a specific mission. The three, in no particular order, are
1.) “Seven Thieves,” starring Rod Steiger, Edward G. Robinson, and a very young Joan Collins. The mission in this instance is the robbery of a casino.
2.) “The Magnificent Seven,” starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. The task is a more noble enterprise: the rescue of a village of farmers from a gang of bandits. A striking parallel to the fight of the ULA against the McSweeney’s Gang.
3.) “The Guns of Navarone,” starring Gregory Peck and David Niven. In this case we have a team of commandos whose objective is to blow up a pair of giant German cannons.
Following these models, I searched for what I gauged to be the most talented and/or striking writing talents in zinedom. Most I corresponded with through snail mail for some time before actually meeting. One I met during a visit to New York City. Another, on the steps of the art museum in Chicago. Another I met in western Pennsylvania when I drove to Philadelphia to lay the groundwork for the ULA campaign. Steve Kostecke I had met first of all, in Cass Corridor Detroit. It was during this meet-up that we first hatched the ideas that led to the ULA. The sixth founding member met the five of us at our Hoboken weekend in October of 2000—almost exactly twelve years ago.
During that weekend we created the necessary unity and morale that kept us focused and together long enough to make our initial explosive waves—which included our CBGB’s debate with George Plimpton, Tom Beller, and their own team of establishment puppies (we destroyed them); the notorious “crash” of a tepid Vanity Fair reading at KGB; and our own kickoff kickass reading at the Amato Opera House in the East Village. We created from the beginning tremendous excitement. Shock waves through the established literary scene. Unfortunately, the team was so explosively volatile, with contentious personalities that matched mine, it immediately began breaking.
Find in the three movies enough clues or speeches about how to run an effective team. You won’t understand where I’m coming from without seeing them.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Don’t think concerned parties could snap their fingers and ULA 2.0 would be ready to launch. We’re a long way from that point, even if we go ahead with the project. We’re a long way from making any significant noise. Right now all we could do is lay the groundwork for the noise.
We’d first need to decide on a compact, impactful image, then recruit a handful of new members who could fit into that image and other requirements of the team. Like commitment and loyalty. For the first version of ULA I chose the core team carefully, searching out zeensters who had talent and personality, along with manifest commitment to underground (team) ideas. We’d have to have that again. Once the journey begins and you do receive some attention, the stress on the team becomes great. If you find yourself portrayed in widespread media (Village Voice, say), the portrayal of you and the team will usually be a stereotype. (Due to the nature of today’s media the coverage is inevitably a stereotype.) You enter new territory. Everyone you know begins to read about you doing strange and nasty things. Attack dogs from the other side are unleashed. (The malicious Mr. Bissell only one of those obedient dogs.) Etc. I remember the ULA’s first press conference. Meeting Plimpton and his staff was intimidating for a few ULAers. This is inevitable. We’d have to understand, in advance, every aspect of how the lit world would react to a new ULA campaign and how we’d react to it.
Staying obscure isn’t stressful. Attempting to break out of that obscurity is extremely stressful.
Every part of the new campaign would have to fit completely into the presentation, but also be, according to our lights, of top level quality—because it will be scrutinized.
I’m going to emphasize again that I’ll not be part of any half-assed campaign. I’m interested only in going all the way.
Fortunately we’re a long way from launch point, so we have time to think about things.
Don’t expect results yet, even if we somehow go ahead. Next year: maybe.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
THE GREAT IRONY about the treatment of the ULA dished out by literati, labeling us as “bad” writers, is that within their snobbery and arrogance they fail to see that THEY are the purveyors of a dead style of art which has all but killed American literature. The academy poem is dead art and the literary short story all but dead. Both forms have chased away audiences and given literature a bad name. Those who most strongly defend literary writing are dullards unable to look outside the cardboard walls of their indoctrination to see where the future lies. I can’t name one established writer—sorry, not one—who in mental attitude and intelligence is above the level of mediocrity. Instinctively they know this, which is why they refuse to debate ideas with me. They’re frightened, conformist sheep.
Beyond their mediocrity, they’re typical apparatchiks lacking character and integrity—which is how they can adopt stances in defense of “the people” or “the 99%” or “democracy” that they don’t for a moment believe. The phoniness is so widespread it no longer surprises me.
Such a phony literary scene deserves literary insurgency. The task of a new ULA will be to promote the pop/populist literary future, but also to find and create sympathizers to our cause throughout the country. A grass roots movement able to rise up to expose the phonies wherever encountered.
We need to be literary insurgents and walk with the boldness and belief of insurgents.
Case in point: I note Bissell is giving a reading in Beverly Hills October 22nd. We used to have a core of sympathizers in Cali. Can we still find some? Does our list of contacts remain? Or do we do the slow job of creating a new list?
In dealing with the arrogant fakes who for the moment still wield control over the lit scene, our major weapon need only be the truth. Speak the truth about their corruption and their dead art. They’re like cockroaches who scatter at the light of day.
Friday, October 12, 2012
My exchange with establishment journalist Maria Bustillos shows that our populist message can’t be opposed. All credibility is on our side. The future is on our side as well, because we oppose a dead art and back American literature’s only possible course. All we need do is get our message and our credibility out there, then all will be converted, or all fall before us. THIS is what the devils of the literary establishment fear.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Those highly-placed individuals live in a narrowly constructed, hierarchical, and very competitive environment. They've been trained to be ruthlessly conformistly competitive since the age of three. Ethics? What's that? They're amoral by philosophy. Ruthless to the verge of sociopathy.
How do you think they view undergrounders and other outsider writers?
The biggest mistake the outsider can make is believing the literary Insider has the same worldview you do.
Clueless underground writers sometimes believe that if only we're polite to the bigs, they'll be polite to us. They're waiting to welcome us into their tent! This notion couldn't be more wrong.
Those well-placed within the system, who assume their own talent and importance, look upon all underground writers not of their station as literary insects. "Losers," "bottom feeders," and all the other appelations that were heaped upon our heads because we dared demand to be treated as equals.
From the establishment standpoint, they have no choice but to scorn us. To think and behave otherwise would be to deny their lives. To deny their expensive education and training, and whatever positions they've obtained.
Literary rebels have a second strike against us, in that we're a threat. We're insects that could possibly be harmful to them, and so they'll continue trying to stomp us out.
Why then run a ULA-style campaign? Is there a way to succeed? Are the odds too great?
Those within the system are practical. They've been trained to assess weakness and power, to smell out power and attract themselves to power. It's the way of their world.
Undergrounders gain respect only through exhibited strength. The more leverage we create for ourselves and demonstrate, the closer we come to being treated as equals.
Or, we need to have, and present, total credibility.
The idea that we can approach the obsolete but hugely powerful battleships of the literary establishment in a rickety and goofy underground boat, waving signs of politeness and saying, "Hey, guys!" in a friendly way is an absurdity. We'd be blown out of the water, or more likely, simply run over, to disappear under the waves. We have to see the world as it exists in reality.
They'll respect us if we carry torpedoes.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
I don’t know how many of you have read Stephen Hawking or others talking about the fine-tuned universe. This is the idea that the odds against the universe supporting life—or maybe the odds against the universe itself as we know it—were a trillion to one. Everything had to go right in a series of steps—maybe a billion of them—to create the conditions that led to us. Every step, every choice, the right one. It’s an interesting theory, and might at this point be more than a theory.
When the ULA was formed in 2000, the odds against us getting anyplace were great. We had an infinitesimal chance. We were a band of unknown writers without funds, without connections, without credentials of any kind. Every step we made had to be on point—and they were on point, because all of our opening moves had been plotted in advance, the same way a football coach will plot out the first dozen plays in a game. Nothing happened by accident.
Think of a science fiction novel in which the ULA spaceship is hurtling through space. A giant force field stretches before us, too extensive to go around. It may stretch to eternity on all sides. Our only chance to get through the field is to spot a temporary hole in it—one of a very few occasional holes opening up for brief periods of time, then closing. Windows of opportunity.
In 2000/2001 we spotted one of those holes in the literary galaxy map, and almost got our tiny craft through it, before the hole closed and the ULA vehicle was shattered. Now we’re searching for another window through the dense field. The opportunity, if it arrives, will be brief.
This is why we need a set plan and a cohesive team, with everyone on the same page. A captain of the ship, perhaps, but for certain a navigator, preferably a navigator who’s been on the journey before, has seen the waiting pitfalls, and who may also be carrying a map.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Here’s a biased but interesting take on the ULA from one year ago, by Jim Hanas, who at the time was (still?) an editor at New York Observer:
This shows an intrigued if detached attitude toward us. It also shows the effectiveness of the original campaign in getting the ULA’s name and message into peoples’ heads.
Hanas is wrong about our stance toward Rick Moody. We never hated him. Our grievance against him was solely that he was abusing the arts grant process. Our stated mission was to fight corruption in the literary world. Too bad Jim Hanas doesn’t mention that.
The editor of New York Observer by the way, Elizabeth Spiers, isn’t a fan of ours, at least not at the present time. Like many, she carries the philosophy of the Rod Steiger character in the movie “Doctor Zhivago,” which is: Be on the side that’s winning. This seems to be key to survival in the Manhattan media world.
(Note also the snarky, unnecessary comment from Choire Sicha. If these people detest us when we’re not even around—what happens when we come back??)
Statements which mean nothing in and of themselves. One can, or can't, bring anything back, depending on how hard you work toward it. My attitude is: Why not? If the project was worth doing once, it's worth doing again.
We actually have more of a foundation now, more of a starting point. With ULA 1.0 we started from nowhere and with nothing.
Study of history shows that wars or movements never ended with one battle. There was always someplace an Imperial City beseiged by hungry barbarians. If knocked-down once, they'd try again.
What should matter to us is the risk-reward ratio. I'm of the mind that there's no risk to another ULA campaign. We're already shut out. Present methods if employed for another hundred years aren't going to work. Today, with a million-plus writer-wannabe competitors, a Twitter account and Facebook page mean nothing. We need to find shortcuts.
The potential reward, on the other hand, is tremendous. Rewriting literary history. Renewing the art. Doing this by being the most exciting and important literary group.
What's stopping us? Not a whole helluva lot. A paper-thin facade. The established literary world is weak and they know they're weak. With the rise of indy ebooks, conditions are more promising for drastic change than they were in 2001. The status quo is moribund. Its advocates are chained to an unwanted style of art, the "literary" story or poem which only well-indoctrinated writing-school grads can appreciate; whose audience is becoming increasingly narrow. The entire system is sustained by artificial props. It's up to us to knock out those props.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
What style—what brand of writing—do we wish to present to the world? Here are some options: 1.) Pop. 2.) Populist. 3.) Outlaw. 4.) Revolutionary. 5.) Other.
Pop would be the broader category. Pop writing is gobbling up literature right now, especially thru ebooks, via writers like Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath. That can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Fully embracing pop would help us appeal to everybody, except the indoctrinated “literary” crowd.
The main question: How to stand out? We’d have to out-pop all other pop writers. We’d have to do this without appearing goofy cornball nerds. No easy trick.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Beginning with initial objectives the ULA would need to have as an organization:
I.) Destroy the False Narrative About Us.
Meaning, destroy Tom Bissell’s narrative that we’re bad writers, This, I’m in the process of doing. I won’t cease until that biased essay is shattered in tiny pieces across the landscape.
II.) Create a New Narrative.
We’ll need to discuss what that narrative is going to be. There’s ample space in the literary world for us to occupy, despite the mass of other writers. In a separate post I’ll discuss the possibilities.
The battle for American literature is a battle of ideas. Having new ideas presents us as the New, and distinguishes us from all other writers groups and writers.
In this regard, we need to fully embrace the concept of literary democracy, which means leveling the literary playing field and giving DIY/outsider writers access to mainstream publicity.
IV.) Create Flagships.
We never had this in our glory days, other than near the end with ULA Press. There are a number of possibilities, which is something else I’ll discuss later. The revived ULA site and temporary focal points like this blog can serve in the interim.
V.) Create a Compelling Image.
This will go side by side with a new narrative and set talking points, so that what we present to the outside world, whatever our differences and variety, will appear as a unified piece. We were perceived as one thing before, of course, but it was made into a caricature of us, to become to clueless literary writers eager to dismiss anything opposed to their schooling as a stereotype. We’ll need an image and narrative which will draw young readers and writers to our cause. The ULA’s DIY/outlaw substance and history is the foundation of this. We only need to focus it more effectively.
We need to be a cultural movement, and a collection of writers, with which people want to identify. Our opponents would think this a great leap! But they can’t see America and America’s literature clearly.
VI.) Present Better Writing and Striking Personalities.
That our writing isn’t as bad as the system’s writing is no longer an option for us. We need, all of us, to pick up our game. Our writing has to be better. New recruitment has to be better—and we need new writers willing to adapt, in the short-term, to our guidelines and needs. We can’t be less professional than our rivals.
This isn’t to say we want bland hipster figures or bland “literary” hipster writing. No way. We do what we do, be who we are, but in an even more striking more dynamic way. The status quo has taken faulty artistic ideas as far as they can, with pronounced built-in limitations. Wherever we are now, because we have better fundamentals, we have greater upside.
I can say here only enough to whet the blog reader’s appetite.
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Thursday, September 20, 2012
But, IF we put together a united team, there's no limit to the noise we can make and the objectives we can achieve. From the outset, the ULA's goal was to make literary history, and revive American literature in so doing. This can be done because we have winning arguments and we've always had winning arguments. All we need do is apply them, and the cronyistas and the fakes will fall by the wayside.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Sunday, September 16, 2012
IF the Underground Literary Alliance reinvents itself, it should do so, in my humble opinion, with pronounced attitude and edginess. There’s room for “pop” cartoony writing—I engage in this style myself. But the presentation of the outfit needs to be harder, befitting hard times—times of which we the many ex-ULAers bouncing along this unequal world can testify. We know them as well as anyone.
We’re cultural revolutionaries bringing difference to the tame bourgie-hipster world of the mainstream and its snobby pampered Insider bands like McSweeney’s. But to regenerate our movement we’d need to look like what we are. We’d need to be a stronger, newer band—and recruit strong new street writers—to take on our opponents straight up, challenge them at every point and in every place, and reveal them by contrast to be the weak tepid representatives of status quo American literature that they are.
Friday, September 14, 2012
To past/present members of the Underground Literary Alliance:
Don’t leave all the impetus to propel the organization to myself. To do this would affirm my own argument that I was the prime mover of the outfit. I had claimed that too much work was put onto one person. It’s up to you to show this wasn’t, or shouldn’t be, the case. You shouldn’t simply be riding along on my coattails, or otherwise not acting.
Remember that the organization was founded to be an advocacy group. A noisemaking outfit. When it’s failed to make noise it’s had no existence. It’s been well proven that moderation in relation to those who blackball us doesn’t work.
If the ULA is to reappear, it also shouldn’t be as merely a recycled version of what went before—an oldies act. Only opponents who sneer at us would want that. It’d need to look and be entirely new. Granted that getting the ball rolling on such a project takes enormous effort. As many people involved as possible, pushing alongside one another, would be best.
There are at least a few issues which need to be discussed first.
As for myself, I’ve been handed no choice by the literary blackballers, the Bissell/Eggers clique, other than to fight back against smears and slanders. This tar adheres to all of us associated with the ULA name. We all need to realize this. The position we had before in literary culture can be taken back. Those who control official literature are timid mice—not very bright mice at that. Timidity on our part doesn’t work—not for any of us. The past few years proves this, if it proves nothing else.
Monday, September 10, 2012
We never claimed that our writers were the end point of American literature—but that they represented a new direction for writing, building on the authentic populist foundation of traditional American literature, from its glory days when it was truly powerful and relevant on a world scale.
We need a literature which expresses not just the narrow voice of a privileged few, but, with plain words, the authentic voice of the entire civilization in all its conflicts and variety. A new literature which embraces and portrays America’s hopes, pain, gross appetites, and mad strivings.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
ONE WOULD THINK that Dave Eggers would make some attempt at alleviating my grievances over the republication of the Tom Bissell essay. For if it’s my grievance, it’s also the grievance of other former members of the Underground Literary Alliance. To maintain this unresolved sore is a sure way for the scattered members of the team to draw closer together. That I’m back in Detroit for the moment is fortuitous. It makes me able to sit down with ULA Press publisher Jeff Potter at any time (he lives a modest drive away) to resolve once and for all our remaining differences, then restructure and recreate the ULA.
I’d prefer to make headway on my own as a writer—but if I (and the others) remain blackballed, the only path will be to once again utilize an organization for advocacy. There’s power in organization and numbers—an ease in staging events, conducting campaigns, and generating noise.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
AN OFF-THE-RECORD ASIDE
The truth about the American literary scene is that it’s a tiny and insular world permeated with self-congratulation and snobbery. They represent a small fraction of American writers and an even smaller fraction of American society. The core of their number reside in the highest levels of that society. Think about this: Bissell is one of the poorer of their number, to the extent that he’s been a gun-for-hire—yet his apparently troubled father has still managed a living as senior vice-president of a bank. Son Tom, in the high levels of the established lit realm, is one of the poor guys.
What keeps this little world atop the heap is their control of the print media. The flagship publications are staffed mainly by Ivy Leaguers sympathetic to the artistic ideas of the herd.
They’re ideas designed to feed into the pack’s snobbery. Who’s their most lauded writer; their highest standard of literary value? David Foster Wallace. Yet the truth about Wallace is that he wasn’t a very good fiction writer. Most of his fiction, in fact, is terrible. Nearly unreadable for the vast bulk of the American population. That’s its appeal to the elite literary herd. Snob appeal. Its very opaqueness and confusion, its solipsism, its lack of clarity and light, make it suitable as the proper model for a crowd of Insiders whose most fervent wish is to stand apart from the common mass. Wallace drew inspiration not from the earthy sound of the American land and people, but from his own overstimulated brain. Talent, sure. But he presented intellectualism instead of intelligence, and had absolutely no control over his material.
Because of the way DFW is valued by the literati, to criticize him in any way is a virtual death sentence for a writer—but I’m already blackballed, so I’m one writer in this country who can be honest about all things literary.
Here’s the key thing to know. Something absolutely true. No one will correct me on it. The core of the literati are a group of prep school bullies—a la Mr. Romney—used to being indulged and having their own way. Society’s spoiled children. When someone stands up to them they’re at a loss. Behind the chic facade and the uptight snobbery they’re not too brave and they’re not very bright.