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.