Thursday, May 31, 2007


The Media Monopolies tolerate the small press because it's no threat, taking away from them an infintesimal percentage of the overall pie. To allow the small press to exist-- to put safe members of the small press into the spotlight-- gives the Big Five cover; saying, "We're not so bad, really."

(When there was a Big Three in the auto industry in the 50's and 60's, they kept tiny American Motors around for the same reason.)

For monopolists, having harmless token opposition is a win-win situation.

The ULA Difference is that we don't play this game. We say, "This is bullshit." We speak out against the print media Giants and their demi-puppet enablers. We don't accept things-as-they-are. We're not going to give them their comfortable space of domination.

Instead, we're telling them and the lit world that we're the original writers of our day. We don't care how Big the Big Guys are. We're not impressed. We see a lot of nothing. We're prepared to knock them back and knock them down. We're competing.

Check out our books. Surf the new literary wave.


The 700 Critics at the National Book Critics Circle are not the 300 Spartans.

No willingness to fight the aggression of empire. No unflinching bravery.

Think about this: The Underground Literary Alliance never seems to have more than 7 active members at any one time-- yet those bedraggled 7 have been responsible, through their own work or others, as displayed at the ULA's Monday Report (, for more real investigative reporting about the literary world than the NBCC's 700 esteemed book journalists.

Sports journalists are notorious fans of their sports and of individual stars and teams-- yet even they are capable of more real reporting than book people; about scandals, corruption, and salaries of sports personalities from players to CEOs. On sports pages the reader finds conflict, contention, exposes. On sleepy book pages? An antidote to insomnia.

From all appearances the 700 alleged book critics serve not readers, or the cause of literature, or even writers, but: book publishing. Which means, by and large, monopoly.

Is this too harsh a statement? Not if one reads Jane Ciabattari's fluffball interview at Critical Mass blog with Harper Perennial publisher Carrie Kania. Unknown is Kania's position viz-a-viz writers: What salary does she pull down from the Murdoch empire? What are Murdoch's profits from the book trade?

Unasked is even one question about the concentration of power and money in the literary world today.

We do have Carrie Kania's assurances that she and Harper Perennial love everybody.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007



(Or, Big Brother Comes to MySpace.)

Surrounded by bright and happy graphics designed to appeal to twelve year-old girls, appears this statement on HP's MySpace page:

"Harper Perennial is one of the paperback publishing arms of HarperCollins, Inc. Which is a global company-- so that means Harper Perennial exists . . . around the globe. So that's cool. Anyway-- we set up this MySpace page because we like authors and we like readers. And we're hoping that in our small way, we can put the two together.

"And a reminder, check out our blogs, The Olive Reader and The Cruelest Month. Seriously. Super fun."

(Picture some hard-edged robotic yuppie in a power suit sitting in a Manhattan skyscraper, with a hard expression, typing this. The ULA tried to pass out flyers to these kind of people this past January. They brushed past us stone-faced. We should at least get truth-in-advertising: "In our small way we're pushing for global monopoly.")

By the way, the Murdoch media empire owns not only Harper Perennial, but also MySpace. So that's cool.

A Quote

"Our job is to throw a banana peel into the machinery of the monkey mind."

-Frank Walsh, ULA poet.

Too Harsh?

Am I being too harsh on NBCC, Harper Perennial, and their kind? Too harsh to those who are standing on my neck?

I truly believe in literary revolution-- that literature must change. Those who blindly support the status quo are standing in the way.

They can remove the boot from my neck, then we can talk on a level of equality.

A Question

I've been pondering the overwhelming attention American literary mandarins give to Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, a novel about a Latin American underground literary movement, while they simultaneously ignore-- even flee from-- literary rebellion in their own country.

The question is: Why?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Signorelli Trap

I was recently in a short debate-- now deleted-- on the HarperCollins blog . In a short comment I pointed out the cynicism of a representative of media monopoly pretending to advocate for the independent press.

Instantly HarperCollins house puppy Michael Signorelli came charging out of the skyscraper castle to contend with me-- and was quickly chewed to pieces. (Therefore the deletion.) He wanted to deny that he and his blog are owned by the Murdoch monopoly. (He knows he's unable to DEFEND the monopoly.)

The hapless book editor (one of monopoly's best, but hapless all the same) unknowingly encountered a scientific principle which we'll call "The Signorelli Trap."

The Signorelli Trap can be defined as this:
"Every move made to reform monopoly, by those who belong to it, ends up strengthening it, so that their every effort has its opposite effect."

Michael Signorelli's occasional advocacy for "the little guy" serves as p.r. cover for the Murdoch media empire, sounding like a Phillip Morris or Mobil Oil press release. Signorelli's blog introduces the Murdoch empire into a new territory (the blogosphere) which has been a refuge for DIY activity on-line.

It's a battle between outspoken independence versus ruthless monopoly. The soldiers of monopoly should acknowledge which side they're on. "Monopoly" is all over the Cruelest Month blog, though you'll not see the word itself.

The reality is that a handful of monopolistic giants control 99% of the media noise in this country. Independent outfits like the Underground Literary Alliance make noise on the margins, but are being squeezed, shut out even there-- as witnessed by the NBCC blog and other blogs doing puff piece interviews with the likes of Harper Perennial publisher Carrie Kania while ignoring books from the ULA. The HarperCollins/Murdoch empire wants not just most of the pie-- they want all of it. In this endeavor, Mr. Signorelli is their willing accomplice. There's no easy way to brighten this reality.

Or, as I put it to him in a now-deleted comment on his blog:
A huge roaring steamroller of gleaming steel proceeds down the street crushing everything in its path, belching black smoke while wearing a grill resembling an evil grin. A man runs to catch up to the monster machine so he can slap a tiny yellow happy face onto it. That man is Michael Signorelli.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Answer


The irony about the lit-world's blocking of the Underground Literary Alliance is that we're the answer for literature's problems. We're representative of the general public. We offer an energetic avenue for connecting literature back to that public.

The answer WON'T be found at $85+ admission fee conglomerate book expos where panelists like Princeton professors and upper-class Brits who helped create the problem are going to try to analyze before a select RSVP audience what went wrong. It's like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaking about what went wrong at the Justice Department under his watch.

Book review organization the National Book Critics Circle meanwhile, which is utterly upper-bourgeois, thoroughly UN-representative of the kind of writers and readers they should want, broadens its scope with babysteps like adding onto their board the likes of lit-blogger Lizzie Skurnick, a Yale grad. Their salvation, their outreach, consists of reaching out to Yale grads! This is like trying to escape from a locked room by adding another closed door.

The literati, in all their panic of vanishing book review newspaper pages because nobody reads them, instinctively know the solution to their difficulties. It's why we're seeing a parade of ULA-like substitutes appearing suddenly, from dead guy Roberto Bolano to corporate ranter Chuck Palooka to the ex-zinester dishwasher character. It's as if media types looking for writing that's new, different, and exciting are telling their staffs, "Get me somebody who's like the ULA!"

The policy, of course, is A.B.T.U. Anybody But The ULA.
Underground Literary Alliance.

The NBCC is only too happy to promote instead the big monopolies, including the Rupert Murdoch empire. Murdoch's gang at Fox News coined the phrase "Fair and Balanced." I'm going to ask the NBCC to be fair and balanced and give the ULA the same kind of coverage they give Monopolistic Murdoch. I offer them an interview by phone or e-mail with a leading ULAer-- someone like ULA author Wred Fright, who's not only one of our long-time leading members, but also has a book out. I'll send NBCC my e-mail and we can set this up.

The only way to balance the monopolists is to give coverage to ANTI-monopolists, and right now in the book biz the ULA is it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

No More Lies


The attention being given the conglomerate-produced "Dishwasher" book, while ULA books are shut out, tears the mask away from the last justification for the censoring actions of the literary establishment.

Haven't we been told time and again that it's about the writing?

Yet our new releases are better written books than the hyped book from the ex-zeenster who's now being used as designated stooge. Wred Fright and James Nowlan are actual WRITERS, have always been, while Dishwasher Pete is a one-trick pony. Those of us who were involved in the zeen scene of the 1990s were well aware of who the real writers were, and who were merely being cute or quirky.

No matter! The media monsters have found their guy, and can now proclaim about how cute it is that this bottom-level individual is given so much attention. Wow! Maybe life is fair after all.

As can be seen at the thread "Gritty as Opposed to Magical Realism from Latin America" at the NBCC blog,, I had to lobby just to have a post kept on the National Book Critics house blog. This while Carrie Kania, publisher of the Murdoch-owned Harper-Perennial is given a free forum to plug the media monster's books. The bias is obvious. NBCC has gone beyond mere snobbery into bigotry against the literary underground. Hyperbole? I don't think so.

The title of this post is "No More Lies." The problem with the Insiders at NBCC-- the board members anyway-- is that they lie to themselves, in that they imagine themselves as concerned liberal progressive It's not true as long as they behave like mere shills for the giants.

Or maybe their attitude is because I've criticized them (which would make the behavior of these "objective" journalists vindictive)? (This wouldn't explain the long-time exclusion of novelists Jack Saunders and Bill Blackolive, who were sending their books around long before I became involved with literature.) Maybe it's because the ULA is a whistle blower organization which has called groups like NBCC on their support for the poster boy of literary corruption in this country, whose moral and aesthetic crimes against writers and literature are easily documented. (If so, this would further discredit the NBCC.) Maybe they just don't like me personally. But why still shut out the ULA's writers? NBCC has no problem dealing with the Murdoch gang, though I'm sure these committed liberals are no fans of Murdoch himself. The hypocrisy is all over the place.

What should be remembered is that the NBCC willingly signed up for tax exempt 501c3 status. As such, they have obligations to the community beyond obligations to monopoly.

Rupert Murdoch is not the public. The Publisher of Harper-Perennial is not the public. Time-Warner's People magazine is not the public. They're all part of the current media monopolies. It's obvious that the reason the ULA is censored is because we're not well-monied Members of the Club. We're completely independent, beholden to no one, with obligations only to our own integrity.

What do we ask? For open access; equal treatment. We ask for the NBCC board members and others like them to begin living up to their OWN ideals. I wouldn't think that's asking for a great deal.

Another Book Review

I've posted another book report at, the ULA's new review site. (It's the kind of book review that would never be published in any standard NBCC-style newspaper in the country-- yet, I think, its honesty would attract non-literary readers.) Anyway, enough on such crap as the book highlighted-- reviews of good underground work upcoming.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Meaning of DIY

BEING AN UNDERGROUND WRITER means having to fight for every inch of progress against those who would keep us down.

I notice reviews of faux-underground books appearing all over the place; of Bolano's Savage Detectives and Pahalniuk's Rant, even of the book by the dishwasher indie guy who took his quick payoff from a conglomerate, but scarcely is there a review of a ULA Press book anywhere yet to be found. We can get articles about us which treat us like clowns or psychos-- but to be taken seriously as writers? No way.

As I'm running out of review copies of our books (particularly of Security) I'm planning to institute a new personal review policy. I'll be enclosing a SASE with all review books sent out. Those who've already received copies from me, I'll ask to mail back. (The corporations they work for should be able to pay for mailing.)

The Underground Literary Alliance is a Do-It-Yourself organization operating on a shoestring, with no help from any foundation, government, university, or corporation. The cost of our review copies comes directly out of our own pockets. The books we send out, we pay for. We work hard on ultra-shitty jobs to pay for them.

The review copies I've sent have been to individuals who I thought would give us a break; supposed progressive open-minded folks who would see the importance of creating an alternative to the stale produce of media monopolies; who would recognize the ULA as the leading edge of literary change. (As acknowledged even by Britain's The Guardian.)

Most (not all) book reviewers are from upper-middle class backgrounds and have never had to face directly the economics of daily survival. The books they normally review come to them in an expensive stream from the Time-Warner etc. conglomerations as if dropped from the sky, an endless flow with no cost; no connection to reality.

What do we ask for? Open access. Equal treatment.

Some reviewers should know better. I question the thinking of a local reviewer who I met at a radio show taping recently. Several years ago this writer interviewed myself and street poet Michael Grover for an article which never appeared. For the non-existent article, I mailed the person a small sampling of rare zeens (one by the great and very DIY Violet Jones) as a way to show what underground literature was about-- how exciting and precious it is. Lo and behold, the person became afterward herself a zeenster-- but still doesn't understand that DIY is more than occasionally making your own publication. DIY is a philosophy: a state of mind and a way of life. DIY is a movement intended to return culture to the people. It means looking out for other DIY people. All of this, all of this, to an undergrounder should go without saying.

Instead this comfortable individual like a paid mercenary produces review after review about books from the monopolistic mainstream. She raved about the Pahalniuk book. A mention of Wred Fright's The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus or James Nowlan's Security? (Good mention or bad?) Nowhere to be found in the pages of her newspaper.

Maybe I shouldn't say these things. Maybe we should wait like other humble writers silently in line, heads bowed, hats in hand. Obsequious and obedient. But that's not why the ULA was founded, not how it was designed to operate. Enough of our number have tried things the acceptable way and against the barriers and inequities of this starkly inequitable society gotten no place.

Will my new personal review policy, asking for the return of review copies I gave or sent (expect e-mails in the coming days), piss off literary mandarins? Heavens! Golly gee. It'll be tough to disturb their sensibilities, but they'll survive, as will we, as we always survive, eyes opened wide to this society's realities.

I'm of the attitude: For those who don't want to participate in the ULA party, to help us make history, rebellious and necessary history, fine. This is a big country. We'll go out into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt. We'll read our books to the homeless and the blind. We'll stand on streetcorners and in parks as we've done before, reading our words to everybody.

Have a good day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Catch a Wave


Those wishing to surf the new literary wave should check out Wred Fright reading this Thursday, May 24, at Mac's Backs, 1820 Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Underground writing is hot right now-- and this is the genuine article. NO phony corporate substitute or bought-out puppet, but instead, the literary underground unfiltered, unbought, undomesticated.

Wred will be reading passages from The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus, one of the new releases from ULA Press ( As Wred is one of the more exciting performers on the literary scene today, the reading should be fun for one and all.

Art and Prophecy

THE ASSASSINATION of John F. Kennedy seemed to the world a cosmic event, as if a lightning bolt struck down the charismatic leader. JFK's unexpected death affected the entire planet-- an alternate history had suddenly been thrust upon us. We've been trying to get back on track since it happened; attempting to find the path we should be on.

Amazing, when looking back at the event, is how a few works of art seemed to forecast that which was to follow. Call it surprising synchronicities in the universe, as if not time, but meaning and event, are the more significant truths.

For instance, the photograph of a young woman grieving over the body of a slain student at Kent State in 1970 was prefigured by James Dean's very similar image of grief over the body of "Plato" in the movie, "Rebel Without a Cause."

Or: Viewing John Ford's 1962 "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" in the context of the JFK assassination is an unsettling experience. Specifically, the flashback at the end of the movie when all is revealed. Remember it? "Think back," John Wayne tells the Jimmy Stewart character as camera mists take us to a flashback within the flashback that is the core narrative.

We're presented with two explanations: the official version, and cold-blooded truth. Illusion and reality. The Liberty Valance character is dispatched with swift efficiency: clinically. The simple mechanical act readjusts the narrative, and history's (the story's) outcome.

John Ford wasn't prophetic, but his art was tuned into the zeitgeist of the moment, in sudden harmony with the changing universe. In such conditions, prophecy takes care of itself.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

ULA Review Blog

Please note that I've finally linked to the revamped ULA Review blog ( and posted a quick look at the new book Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi, a lengthy examination of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Please read as well the recent essay posted on the blog by James Nowlan.)

I've decided not to write any overarching remarks for this blog (a renewal of one originally started by ex-ULAer Noah Cicero). I may post my individual ideas about the nature of reviewing here, at my personal microphone-- but can't speak for the entire ULA organization, which is a grouping under an umbrella name of a variety of viewpoints. (If other ULAers wish to cooperate in a Statement of Principle for the review blog, they're welcome to do so.)

p.s. I have two new reviews in the works for the ULA Review, so please watch for them! Thanks.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"The Meeting" Part II


Early afternoon. Protestors gather outside a large black tower in Manhattan. A new Mercedes parks down the street from it. A red-haired man steps from the car dressed in the garb of a scruffy protester. From the car's trunk he takes a sign and joins the shouting mob. "Power to the people!" he yells. "Close the corporations!"

Near him stands the editor of The Nation. He knows that her investment portfolio is even larger than his. They both own substantial pieces of this building. They shout with genuine anger at the monolithic tower facing them.

"Destroy it! Destroy it!" the mob is saying. Several of their number push at the building's glass doors, a low-paid black security guard watching from inside. For a few minutes, the red-haired man joins them. "Destroy! Destroy!" he screams.

A chant begins:
"Send the pigs to outer space,
Shove their money in their face!"

The red-haired man notices from his expensive watch that it's time for him to leave. Shortly he'll enter the structure from the back. Inside, a change of clothes and identity awaits him.

The Man in the Black Hat is one hour early for the meeting. This leaves him time to consult the Wise One. He needs guidance for his upcoming actions.

A plastic pass card in his wallet gains him automatic entrance to an off-limits floor. It gives him entrance to a room at the end of a hall. The room is without light. The specially programmed card in his pocket causes a set of green lights to turn on at the far end of the room. He walks to these lights as the hologram machine warms up.

In a few minutes, on a stage behind glass, stands a holographic representation of deceased literary master George Plimpton. It's completely lifelike. The old man smiles graciously, as if happy to be released from his machine box.

"Hello, again. So good to see you. As you, er, know, this was recorded as contingency in case I became disabled, incompetent, or worse."

(The three-dimensional image frowns, hands casually in the pockets of its khaki trousers.)

"I've anticipated your needs and your questions."

The image paces about its cell for a long minute, staring at the floor, before it looks again directly at the camera-- toward the questioner-- and returns to its monologue.

"I am from the greatest generation: the Creators of Empire. We are the Wise Men. We created the literary world you live in. In many ways, it could be said, we created you.

"We know that those who follow won't be up to our ability. It's the nature of the universe that in a civilization such as ours, the ruling generations decline. Not due to any fault of their own. Don't mistake me, please. It's a natural process. It's inevitable that you're less forceful, less intelligent, less shrewd. Your own father mocks you about this, I know. The question is whether you're intelligent ENOUGH to rule this machine we the Creators have set into motion.

"Why is this struggle important? This battle over literature? Because literature is language, the foundation of culture, of civilization, of thought itself. Without words we are not even human, will regress to become mere grunting animals. Beasts! Mere beasts. This fate is what we oppose. Without our wisdom to guide humanity, through literature, through ideas and discussion, we will have in this world only chaos. Another Dark Ages. Freedom equals Chaos. We have given humankind the illusion of freedom but we've always directed their path. You know this." (The image pauses.)

"I will give you now, to arm you for the intellectual battle ahead, a proper way to view the map of battle.

"Think for a moment about science fiction novels which use the universe of galaxies, planets, and stars as metaphor for this planet. Let's use this metaphor to explain real objects. Let's imagine-- imagine!-- this nation as an entire galaxy."

The Image of Plimpton turns suddenly. Behind him has come alive a large map of America dotted with lights-- sparks of lights representing cities of the civilization, as if they were glowing planets against a night sky. He points with wonder and pride at this sparkling backdrop before continuing the narrative.
(To Be Continued.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Serial: "The Meeting" Part I



Boss Eggers just arrived in New York City speeds in a dark blue limousine, the Ogre as bodyguard beside him. The limo disappears into the parking entrance of a gigantic skyscraper. A speeding elevator whisks the Boss to an uppermost floor while the Ogre waits back at the vehicle.

The smug publisher of one of the giant book companies takes Boss Eggers on a tour of his company's office suites. The publisher is a smarmy preppy type wearing a dull gray suit with a yellow polka-dot bow tie. Eggers endures the man's in-born condescension. In five years Boss Eggers will own this building. In their eagerness to cut publishing deals with him, the conglomerates are ensuring their own destruction. He is the vital life force embedding itself into the declining body of established literature.

"How does one combat the underground?" the preppy announces to him. "Why, we buy them out!" (He could add, "The same way we bought you.")

They turn into a hallway and stare at a display of a man washing dishes. "One-way glass," the publisher murmurs. "An underground favorite. He's now fully ours."

Boss Eggers smirks. They move down the corridor to another display. A dark-haired, slope-shouldered man is ranting to the walls.

"Chuck Palooka," the publisher states. "Our creation. He will be the leader of a new Underground-- an underground controlled completely by us. It's 1984 all over again, for real. Palooka will be our O'Brien. He's ours through and through. He goes where we tell him, speaks to who we tell him to speak to. He speaks what we allow. It's perfect co-optation. Palooka writes about the underground without being part of the underground himself. Through him, we the literary Establishment will become our opposite."

Boss Eggers sees that this doesn't fit exactly with his own Master Plan for takeover of American literature. That these decrepit publishers are thinking for themselves after decades of stagnation isn't a factor he's allowed for. Are these moves coming truly from the man before him? Or is someone with greater power, who Eggers had taken to be his friend-- his dupe-- about to betray him?

He'll find out at the meeting tomorrow.

At this same moment, Lindsay the rookie cop (Literature Police Department, the patch on her uniform says) is again on her rounds.

"Click." She runs fast to the next key station, in a minute stands before the forbidden steel door to the utility closet. Three minutes to spare. She allows the seconds to click away. She stares at the door. Tomorrow night, she vows, she will open it again. She'll investigate its depths to discover, for good or ill, its well-guarded secret.


WORD is that in the Republican debate last night on Fox, presidential candidate Ron Paul said some contentious things. Such as that he would close the Department of Homeland Security, and that ten years of bombing Iraq and other features of our involvement in the Mideast were contributing factors to the onset of the "War on Terror." He also questioned the building of a U.S. embassy in Baghdad "larger than the Vatican."

It's true that there's nothing conservative about spending nearly a trillion dollars of the nation's treasure, and thousands of American lives (as well as the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) fighting an overseas war. This is not a cautious, "conservative" foreign policy. Neither is it fiscally responsible. It's the path of Empire, and will divide us and bankrupt us, as it's doing.

Rather than expend immense wealth on war the last six years, we might have instead used the money to completely retool our economy to end our dependence on oil and cut off ties to the Mideast-- defunding our enemies; evaporating their money. This would have invigorated our economy as well as the nation.

Supposedly the war is a price to be paid for the alleged benefits of the global economy. But how beneficial is it? I note that Chrysler Motors, one-time industrial giant which once had scores of factories employing many thousands of workers at living wages, was bought the other day by an individual financier for around $8 billion. It's a sign of where we're at as a society when individual plutocrats (Bill Gates the notable example) are wealthier than our chief industries. It's a road to economic disaster for the bulk of the population.

Why should any of this matter to writers? Because it's the context within which we live and write. It's part of a dividing America, a divide making itself obvious also in the literary scene. Nowhere is it more visible than in Philadelphia with its mighty Overclass, the well-educated gentry centered around the University of Pennsylvania with its boutique stores and air of monied entitlement, set amid a background of extreme poverty. It's merely another "green zone" itself rivalling the Vatican for display of hierarchical wealth, power, and privilege.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Movie Serial: Chapter Six

"The Man in the Black Hat Has a Dream."

He is troubled at night by recurring images running through his head. They're images which should belong to another person. They contradict his public persona. Now, as his brain slips into sleep and the images return, he wonders which "him" is the truth.

He sits not where he wants to sit. He's atop a podium at a judicial tribunal. Long robes cover him. Down below, at a plain wood table on a checkered tile floor, in handcuffs, await the accused. Wait! he wants to cry. I'd rather be down there, with you. Instead his large head carries forward as he signals his fellow jurists to begin the trial.

A man resembling Chief Lopate rises to read the indictment. Next to Lopate sits a dark-haired man with a malignant frown. How did I get mixed up with such as them, the Black-Hatted Man wonders? More, his fellow judges look to him for direction. To him! They work for HIM!

"Crimes Against Established Literature." Lopate in the Robes of Authority angrily points a shaking finger. Members of the ULA in the dock scowl back with reciprocal contempt. The Man in the Black Hat is of two minds about the hostile rebels. One side of him wants them wiped from the earth, banned forever, locked away in some underground literary dungeon never to be heard from again. Yet another part of him wishes he could pose as their savior; could borrow everything they represent, their authenticity, their voices, their cred. But he knows that to save them would be to destroy himself.

The other judges look now to him for direction, with sheeplike faces. It's his turn to speak, to enable the prosecution. His eyes glower with decision as he feels within him the unearned power he draws from his trappings; from his robes, his guards, his peers, and the impressively constructed courtroom festooned with golden symbols. Before the trial can continue he wakes up.

To get the recurring dream out of his head, the Man in the Black Hat journeys outside, warily onto the city's streets, seeking a latte coffee and a donut. There is a meeting of some importance later, he recalls, this afternoon, to discuss something. He has to be there. "He": the Very Important Man in the Black Hat. His falling-apart postmodern mind can't remember exactly what the meeting is to be about.

A homeless man stands threateningly on the sidewalk outside the local Starbucks. The man's features, or maybe just his eyes, resemble those of a prep school classmate from many years ago. The Man in the Black Hat wants to believe this man before him is a self-made failure. Why, once this fellow had been as privileged as himself! To admit there is something wrong with the city which surrounds him, with this civilization, is a conclusion he dare never admit, because it would pull out the foundation from beneath his all-powerful station; that which has fuled his identity, his success, his corrupt decisions these many years. The homeless man points a finger of accusation at him. In response he embraces the man.

"My friend! My former classmate!" he says to the smelly beggar. "You're sick! You're paranoid. It's conspiracy which you believe. Conspiracy! It's not true. Not true! Your eyes of accusation are not true! You need help. Get away from me!"

The Man in the Black Hat is running back down the street the way he came, scampering home, fleeing from himself while very upset at the world because he forgot to buy at Starbucks his coffee and donut.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Fix Is In


What does it mean when every mainstream print-media outlet, including the so-called alternative papers, endorse one candidate for Mayor?

This is exactly what's happened with the fawning endorsements of Michael Nutter, who happens to be the most anti-freedom person of the five candidates. He's tried to ban skateboarding from ALL public (i.e., the people's) property. He pushed through a smoking ban in the city. He's the only one of the five who is pushing a scary stop-and-frisk police policy that would throw out individual rights. Yet the liberals and the hipsters in this town are fully behind the man.

What's really happening?

Could the newspaper endorsements possibly have anything to do with the fact that these papers get large chunks of their ad revenue from property owners (the town's many realtors, property management companies, and slumlords)-- and that Mr. Nutter is the most pro-property, pro-bourgeois, pro-gentrification, pro-U of Penn-gobbling-up-the-city politician around?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Doomed Lit-Bloggers

In what condition is literature? How bad are things?

Compare it to two dying sports: boxing and horse racing.
This past weekend, the Kentucky Derby was still alive enough to attract the Queen of England (who, if we remembered our revolutionary roots, should've been sent to clean the horse stalls, then immediately shipped back to her home country for encouraging aristocracy).
A boxing match later that evening recorded millions of pay-per-view buys.
(And Spidey III at the same time opened with record attendance.)

In literature, Marisha Pessl is looked upon as a huge success because a hundred thousand comfortable people are conned into buying her ridiculous book.

Are lit-bloggers the answer? Or sites like Foetry?

Not if their complaint is that American literature isn't elitist ENOUGH. Too many of these would-be saviors, hyper-educated in a narrow way, are convinced that literature should become more refined, more out-of-touch with the American people. This is artistic suicide.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Movie Serial: "The Fortress"


Rookie patrolwoman Lindsay is called into the office of Chief Lopate at Literature Police headquarters. As Lindsay waits for him to speak, she studies the various certificates and outmoded maxims covering the wall behind him. "Our Mission: Clean and Quiet Streets," she reads on one plaque. On another: "Obedience Before Change."

"Well, Officer!" Chief Lopate says, removing his eyeglasses and leaning back in his rusty seat.

The Chief makes an effort to put an expression of kindliness over his face, the effort a failure. A perpetual glower has hardened onto his features like concrete.

"I've been studying your personnel file, Officer, searching for clues to your behavior. I must confess, I don't know if you're sufficiently loyal to what we're doing. I don't know! As we try to infiltrate the opposition, we must be cautious about infiltrators coming into our ranks. As you know, Officer, we tolerate almost anything in this outfit: nepotism; corruption; incompetence. Everything except insubordination. In an organization like ours-- enforcers of the status quo-- it's the only and greatest crime. We can tolerate no dissent. Ever. Otherwise the entire system will collapse. The realm would descend into chaos."

Chief Lopate knows the weaknesses of the system he works for yet is filled with justification. He worked his way up the ranks, through total obstinate loyalty to the powers-that-be. Drilled into him again and again was the idea that the Literature Police way is the only way. His loyalty is not to ideas, truth, or even literature-- but, as with the pure bureaucrat, to the organization. To protect those who'd given him his tenured position near the top of the ranks he would dissemble and denounce, as he'd publicly denounced from a stage the dreaded underworld literary guerrillas of the ULA. Now he observes the careless tow-headed rookie before him. What does she know of struggle, compromise, and achievement, he thinks? Chief Lopate points to an officer standing at the coffee machine outside his office glass. "Observe there Officer Green," he announces to Lindsay.

Officer Green, struggling to make a fresh pot of coffee, spills coffee grounds and coffee filters everyplace.

"Green has spent fifteen years in the ranks," Chief Lopate states dramatically. "Fifteen years! No promotion in sight. Yet his obedience is unquestioned. Officer Green remains unswervingly dedicated to what we're doing, which, in the final analysis, beneath the trappings, offices, uniforms, medals and awards, is: Nothing. Never a grumble from the man! He knows he's found his place."

With that the Chief lifts a large rubber stamp in his meaty hand and brings it down onto a sheet of paper with a pronounced "smack!" The entire movie set office shakes. A camera zooms in to read the paper. In large block letters: "TRANSFER." Officer Lindsay gulps as the shot fades.

THE SCENE: Night, in the midst of a dark and chaotic city. The humming machines of a gigantic factory. Rookie patrolperson Lindsay steps along a catwalk near the roof. The sky smells of sulfur, and carries a yellowish cast. The great factory appearing in the darkness like a medieval fortress rumbles and creaks. Its technology is obsolete, she knows (it was state of the art in 1955) yet the plant's managers refuse to change things. Their thinking: if it was fine then, it's fine today. But it's not fine, she realizes. Lindsay sees a huge smokestack belching postmodern cultural pollution into the sky. This factory, which dominates the industry, with its clouds of obscurity prevents any clean message of renewal which might yet save the failing art. Oh, if only they could interest the public again! A quixotic dream. That would take far stronger personalities and voices than those offered by the factory's caretakers.

The young cop proceeds back into the soot-covered building. She carries a round clock, on her way to the next designated key station. She strides with robotic obedience.

"Click!" She inserts a key hanging on a wall chain within the clock and turns it.

Everything in this world is monitored and regulated-- her job scrutinized to the minute to ensure that never a stray word of dissent from her will ever escape. Wasn't that what Chief Lopate said? "Ever"? Never!? She no longer remembers, overwhelmed by a sense of disillusion about this field, this art, which should shout to the public with joy, with the cleansing sunlight of day, but instead is content to exist in the shadows of the society.

Lindsay quickens her pace. She watches for saboteurs, which she's been assured are ready to destroy everything. This is the line that's been propagated to her about the ULA. She fully believes it. Would that they existed not to destroy, but to save! Who knows where the truth lies. Pounded into her brain again and again at the Literature Police Academy was the idea that there is no truth, and so no one can know anything. This is the mantra even of the formidable Eggers Gang, supposed Apostles of Change who aren't changing a thing; who dwell at the center of corruption, cronyism, insularity.

As she does every night, Lindsay passes a steel door to a utility closet. She's been given strict instructions to never unlock the door and look inside. On her rigid schedule she never has time-- but tonight she has the time; is one minute ahead of schedule for the next key station. Has she done this deliberately, her conscience asks? "Insubordination!" the authoritarian voice of Chief Lopate reverberates through her mind. In her head she's gone too far in her thought crime to turn back. She struggles with a ring of keys on her belt. Seconds tock away. At last she finds the right round shiny key and as her brain emits a scream of terror, unlocks the door.

It's a utility closet. Nothing more. A long tunnel of mops and pails lead toward the nothingness of mystery. She feels on her face for a quick instant a puff of cool air. Where does the tunnel lead? Underground? Outside? What awaits? What puzzle? What solution?

She has not time to find out as more scarce seconds click away. She slams the door-- wondering if she's relocked it-- and runs in panic toward the next key station as if Chief Lopate himself were watching.

Bounding up a metal stairway, she clicks the key waiting at the top into her clock. "Click!" A pronounced sound shattering her. Only then does she see blazing yellow light in the management office before her, which overlooks the factory floor. A man dressed in black, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, sits at the steel desk inside, his back to her. He begins to turn around, to reveal his face, as Lindsay runs back the way she came.

NEXT CHAPTER: "The Man in the Black Hat."

New Critics, New Books?

Lit-blogger reviewers offer the authentically different and new when they review books outside the tops-down conglomerate stream. Otherwise, what they're doing is no difference at all. A good start for them would be to review the two new titles from ULA Press. (

Our writers don't come through the standard MFA feeder programs. They represent an entirely new way of finding and creating writers.

Author Wred Fright, for instance, of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus, is a long-time zeen writer whose novel first appeared in serial form as a long-running zeen. A very popular zeen, within the underground, which received rave reviews from zeen review publications. Among thousands of zeen writers, Wred's work stood out. He built his own audience. We offer his novel now to the general public-- those who to their own detriment have never heard of the print underground. Wred isn't a "failed writer" at all, but within the literary realm he was spawned in, a very successful one who now wishes to broaden his audience.

Literature will progress ONLY if it seeks new writing, new ideas, new ways of creating and promoting the art-- which is what the Underground Literary Alliance is about. Contact our Jeff Potter, tell him you're a blog reviewer, and he'll gladly forward to you review copies of our books.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Winning Argument


Two days after I went after author Richard Ford as part of a general assault against status quo book reviewers I've been involved in on-line the last month or two, the N.Y. Times runs a piece on this very subject, with remarks by Richard Ford which make him appear to be something of an ass. Presented as the cutting edge of change are lit-bloggers who've been mostly on the other side of things, like Mark Sarvas, Maud Newton (a noted mainstream apologist), and Ed Rants. (Less than a month ago Ed was eviscerated on his own blog by myself and an ex-zeen writer calling herself May Barber for the very thing he now accuses book reviewers of-- writing a stodgy newspaper book review!)

What's going on?

First, the argument the Underground Literary Alliance has put forward for almost seven years is a winning one, because it's a reflection of reality. In that time we haven't budged an inch-- but now find the mainstream gradually moving toward US. The literary world is finally-- FINALLY-- acknowledging our most basic point: that what's presented as American literature is a failed boring enterprise in bad need of change. This recognition is the first step.

Lit-bloggers like Ed "Rants" are far enough along in their thinking to acknowledge this, but haven't taken the inevitable next step of looking at the System which produces our approved literature and asking what's wrong with it. If the writing is stale and flawed-- as book review writing is-- then one can't simply wave a magic wand and make things instantly better without changing the mindsets and premises of the individuals involved-- and the system which produces them. (As Ed, Sarvas, and Company are double-dippers, part of the System and not part of it at the same time, it might be hard for them to overcome their own contradictions.)

What we're seeing is an attempt to acknowledge that the ship is sinking but to still save it, by rearranging the deck chairs. They're going to present the illusion of change without changing anything. It won't work. It's not an overhaul. It's more like what happened when the Soviet Union fell apart-- the same ex-party hacks ended up in charge of business and government. The bureaucrats who created the stagnant mess remained. Only their titles were different.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Demographics Part II


REQUEST ad information from prestigious literary publications like Granta and New York Review of Books, as I did in the late 90's, and they'll send you their demographic profile emphasizing the upscale nature of their readership: high income level combined with genteel tastes. The point made is how UNrepresentative their readers are compared to the American population as a whole.

This is fine for narrow-interest literary journals. The problem is that the same attitude, the same concept of literary "taste," has carried over to those who write for book sections of daily newspapers.

IN THE DAYS when newspapers were gaining relentlessly in circulation they appealed to the common man. They sought a mass audience; i.e., everybody. This was certainly true even from a literary perspective. Lest we forget, O. Henry's short stories were published first in daily newspapers. This was a time when the short story and newspapers were both wildly popular. O. Henry wrote not for a refined crowd, but for everyone.

Today, one gets the impression that too many newspaper journalists would rather be respectable than read. It's much safer to cover make-no-waves literary editors who are completely predictable, than rabblerousers like those in the Underground Literary Alliance. Newspaper book reviewers write as if they're trying to impress a creative writing instructor. Their primary focus isn't the casual newspaper reader, but their own career and reputation. This is easily enough proved by the name of the organization of newspaper book reviewers: National Book Critics Circle. Critics! not reviewers-- and don't forget it.

And so, their writing operates under strictures and limits of their own making-- limits the ULA intends to smash with our upcoming redone new book review blog.

The status quo reviewers of the status quo NBCC have a bunker mentality. They have a marked hostility to change-- change now falling from all directions upon them.

What this means for writers like those in the ULA is opportunity. The NBCCers are like a failing auto company cranking out the same stodgy models they've produced for years. Their car lot with dusty pennants of fading colors across it arouses from the general public yawning indifference. Their salesmen do their best-- "Look! A new Richard Ford"-- but the potential customer, having experienced Ford's predictable blandness and low horsepower, passes on.

Down the street is a brand new dealership whose sales people wear loud suits with colorful handkerchiefs stuffed in their pockets. They present for perusal new, more exciting models of remarkable design, not stamped out by cookie-cutter MFA assembly lines. The new dealership of the ULA is eager to compete for public attention across-the-board. We know what appeals to the potential audience because we come from that audience. That's why the future is with us.