Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why the ULA?

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

The Rivals

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.

2.) n+1.

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

Lit System Weakness

WHEN YOU study the herd mentality, you find that being a stable member of the herd—for example, the established literary herd—comes at a severe price. The price of stability is narrow-mindedness. The herd needs to proceed on its steady path, its members focused on that path. Only disaffected members of the herd, or those outside the herd, see the herd, and the herd’s path, as they exist in reality.
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

A Fact

This is a fact: You are the most conditioned, programmed, processed, marketed generation in human history, bombarded with messages day and night, from every direction, every gadget of electronic media, on a panoply of electronic devices. Messages of fashion, ideology, style. The assault is extremely sophisticated.

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

Literary Followers


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.