Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Comment on Postmodernism

Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly made an apologia on her blog for David Foster Wallace, admitting his work is "difficult" for readers but that it's the job of publishers to search for and present such work-- presumably because of its high quality. This shows that the monopoly publishing industry is fundamentally flawed, flawed at its very foundations: its understanding of what is or isn't art.

Nelson mistakes information for art. Foster Wallace filled his books with huge chunks of information and words, to the extent they're impressive feats. But what has this to do with art?

Anyone can cobble together a mass of sentences, chapter by chapter, until there are enough to fill a thick volume. "Difficult," yes. Inscrutable, for the most part, fit for academic monks in dusty libraries to pore over in mad quests for purpose and sense. Fine, it's been done. But this isn't literature, or rather, it's a very obscure branch of literature, extending into rarefied air. It's not how literature is going to grab and hold a new audience, which can be done only with clarity, passion, movement, excitement-- the pounding pulses of readers frantically turning pages of books in enthrallment to plot, characters, color, and enlightenment spoken by a captivating voice, presenting work and a world open to all.

That the purveyors of books today at the highest levels don't understand this is both tragedy AND farce.
Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly, a well-educated literary person, admits she couldn't finish David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Yet at the same time she believes this is the kind of product which should be presented to the American public.

Think if Nelson were an executive at an auto company. She presents a complex, high-tech marvel which doesn't run. The first 43 pages of the owner's manual are devoted to how to put the key into the ignition, footnotes included. The vehicle is not user-friendly, but to Sara Nelson of the Dinosaur Motor Company that's not the point.

Few people will want the car and those few who do will be a select group. Like Nelson, they'll buy the car not to drive it, but to park it on display, permanently, in their driveways. The point is the car's overcomplexity, unwieldiness, and artificial status.

More Palin

See "American Folk" at



Thanks to the incompetence of Nancy Pelosi and George W. Bush, the Big Bailout bill crashed and the American public staved off the loss of more liberty for a few more days.

The real problem is that the country's financial system is too centralized on the island of Manhattan, which makes nuclear financial meltdown possible.
A similar situation afflicts literature, along with a similar intertwining of institutions public and private; the Buddy System of conglomerates, elite schools, and foundational grants, all Insider run; a literary merry-go-round.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Machine

The Machine of literature destroyed David Foster Wallace, as it has destroyed many writers. (See Ray Carver.) DFW was "all-in" to its standards and aesthetic ideology; its postmodern insanity. His suicide was a suicide of the mind. We need to question why this occurred.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Death of Postmodernism Part III

David Foster Wallace was the star of stars of the literary intelligentsia. Dave Eggers, George Saunders, and many others borrowed DFW's hyper-talkative style, if not the full madness of his hyper-intelligence. Where does their cause go now?

Philosophically, postmodern literature is a dead end; self-referential to the point of becoming an endless vortex collapsing into itself: untethered madness. Its writers convey not knowledge, clarity, or wisdom, but linguistic posing-- the most educated writers in history whose glibness hides a collection of know-nothings. They show the markers of schooling, the footnotes and academic jargon, prisms of theories and assumptions cribbed from textbook after textbook, which serves for them not as avenues into the truth of the world, but barriers layered upon it, which is just as well because the fundamental premise of their philosophy is that truth is an outmoded concept.

It's a philosophy without core meaning, with nowhere to go. Literature isn't a way for them to become better persons, or to touch the soul-- another concept they disbelieve-- but serves instead merely as an affirmation of self. Members of a privileged class, they've already arrived at the end of their journey. Their nonsensical scribblings are celebrations of this fact. Even when they're critical of something the emphasis is on the scribbling: Look at me! SEE George Saunders care about the environment with attention-getting prose. SEE Dave Eggers befriend starving Africans. What they create isn't truth, but illusion; linguistically gaudy movie posters. Not gaudy enough to reach the populace of course, which has never been their goal, but to impress their elevated beings along with a coterie of similarly miseducated affluenti similarly in love with their stations and themselves.

It's not enough. It's not enough for literature and it's not enough ultimately even for them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Death of Postmodernism Part II

I'm more interested in defining the 21st century than in becoming boxed into any of the literary categories of the 20th.

The underground has drawn from many streams, from the oldest sources, but represents in itself a new source of refreshment and sustenance, set apart from the stagnant cesspools of literature now.

Our goal has been not to become the academy but to overturn the academy, along with the moldy premises which define the academy-- to see literature as a living thing which exists in society outside the academy. Maybe, the underground means no more academies.

The literary underground represents roots writing: literature at its beginning. A new beginning. It's grounded writing and has to be based on grounded thinking.

My emphasis on truth and honesty-- my insistence that demi-puppets not be demi-puppets-- has not been for tactical reasons. It's an essential part of the movement we're trying to create. Truth, the search for truth, has to be our fundamental principle. Not tactically, but philosophically. It's fundamental to our battle for groundedness, for sanity, which I fight for and which all of us should fight for, as our culture is swiftly slipping away from it into the solipsistic madness of the mind.

It's what distinguishes us from postmodernists, who beginning with Heidegger, Derrida, and DeMan have embraced belief in the Lie, the philosophy of the Lie, which has continued through to the postmodernists of our own day, who'll be discussed in Part 3 of this essay.

Liberal Psychodrama


It's interesting to watch Sarah Palin being viciously and gleefully mocked by Sarah Bernhardt, Julie Brown, Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Garry Trudeau, and so many others in a kind of piling on. She's attacked for her look, background, accent, and culture-- in a way that would never be done to a minority candidate. It's a visceral, undisguised hatred of the white lower-middle class. By contrast Obama is treated by white liberals as one of them.

What's happening?

The white liberal culturati based on their islands of privilege don't see themselves as white Americans-- they're "Citizens of the World"-- ironically enough, as THEY were the beneficiaries of America's racism, and not the gun-toting hard-scrabble citiziens of places like western Pennsylvania, many whose families worked in coal mines, or of Alaska, for that matter. It's because of this very guilt that liberal minds disconnect themselves from their own heritage.

Sarah Palin is everything they hate, in part because she clings to the ideals of America past-- and it must be said that much of affluent liberal hate is self-hate.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Artificial World


One of the most important books of the last 100 years is Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, which looks at the effect of technology on human beings as a species. Part of Mander's argument is that technology is driving us crazy.

Noteworthy to me is that early in his career David Foster Wallace had a hyper-relationship with television. He wrote long essays about the shows he'd watched in his childhood. (I covered this back in 1994 in a parody in New Philistine #17.)

Most of DFW's writings have been examples of the overstimulated brain. Wallace had an extremely high I.Q., but it was intelligence largely untethered from reality. This was evident to me even in his recent book of "Lobster" essays, full of embarrassingly ignorant, albeit facilely-written, screeds about questions of society or race. He carried the standard liberal qualities of narcissism, arrogance, and wish-to-believe while knowing little about how the world actually operates.

For those who celebrated DFW, intellect was all. In his books he took readers on ever-more convoluted journeys into ever-more solipsistic workings of the brain, through ever-more layered levels of sentences of words piled upon words, linguistic fireworks deconstructing in ever-more complicated ways the meanings and dis-meanings of language itself. The books were pathways into madness and insanity. The real world was glimpsed through distorted funhouse mirrors of the massive amount of information which had been pumped, since birth, from reading, television, and computers, into David Foster Wallace's hyper-developed brain. Like the characters in the sci-fi movie "Forbidden Planet" he'd taken a hit from the brain-boost machine, and it destroyed him.

The danger for America is that our best-educated people are also the most psychotically detached from the natural world. They're the most immersed in the wonders of virtual learning, of artificial reality. It distorts their ability to judge what is actually happening, and fills them with myths about a planet they no longer fully experience..

That, for instance, the oceans will soon cover the earth is to them accepted belief. Eve Ensler writes emotional essays about polar bears without ever having seen one, except for CGI versions in Coca-Cola commercials on television screens, and puts her knowledge of the subject above that of an Alaskan governor who has lived in a wilderness land her entire life. Can you see what's unreal about this? Yet Ensler is affirmed right, because she's of the intellectual "in" crowd and because she carries the received myths of the hyper-intellectual postmodern age on her side; is more sympathetic to the plight of polar bears than Governor Palin, has more feeling for them, because she doesn't know them, even though the feeling is more for HERSELF and her detachment from nature including from polar bears than for polar bears themselves.

The suicide of David Foster Wallace, or of Liam Rector-- the transparent insanity of so, so many of today's literary people-- represents the failure of today's literary ideology. It's a subject I'll explore in Parts Two and Three of this piece.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Election Hysteria

I've never seen such waves of mad hysteria over a Presidential campaign that, whichever way it ends, isn't likely to change much of anything, given that Presidents are front men for a status quo system, and that both major political parties are owned by giant corporations. (Both parties are implicated in the current financial mess.)

Never have I seen so many media persons losing their heads at once.

If Obama somehow loses an election he should win, it will be because of public backlash to the mainstream media. The media response to Sarah Palin has revealed the media's innate snobbishness, and is turning off large segments of the American populace. There may be many reasons to question Palin, but that she graduated from a little-known college, is from a faraway state, talks with a twangy accent, and-- unlike a Hillary Clinton-- is a self-made woman, aren't among them.

I recall the literary establishment's reaction to the DIY outsiders of the Underground Literary Alliance, the sense of entitlement that privileged Ivy Leaguers have, and can't help noticing now the same classist, hyper-emotional hatred and scorn.

David Foster Wallace

In my opinion, DFW pushed the envelope of overintellectualized postmodernism, and paid the resulting price.

Too much writing burns out fuses in the brain, which has happened to me of late. Trying to read DFW's style of work gives me a headache. I couldn't imagine writing it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Dally

Jeff Potter of the ULA is supposed to have a table at the Dally in the Alley street festival in Detroit. I'm on my way there now. Look for me at the ULA table.
NOTE: I'm moving to my other blog, www.literarymystery.blogspot.com. Any posts on this one will be responded to there, likely Monday. That's my new hangout. (Comments about the theme, thesis, and plot of the narrative there are welcome.) Thanks. Bye.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Post Mortem II

THE BOTTOM LINE about the literary rebellion is the way it revealed the intolerance of the high priests of the literary mainstream.

When we exposed blatant cronyism, corruption, and plagiarism there was no attempt by the individuals involved to admit mistakes, return ill-gotten monies, and reform the mechanisms of the system. Instead, TO THIS DAY, there's been denial and stonewalling. There was, by the bulk of the lit community, including from many lit-bloggers, embrace of the corruption, and attacks upon the whistle blowers; accompanied by rationalizations and lies; accomplished in the most underhanded and cowardly way. Behind the reaction were some of the richest and most pampered members of the literary community.

This is the reality. This is the truth of the matter. This is the story which should be told and remembered; the literary history. It's the story of democracy against aristocracy. It's the story of the failure of an art to accept disagreement and dissent; of its unwillingness to reform itself. It's the story of the monopolization of culture, the insularity, snobbery, and closed-mindedness of establishment literature centered in the privileged salons of New York.

Have I made mistakes? Yes, tons of mistakes, as I wrestled with venomous ghosts around me on all sides.

The principle-- the necessity-- of the literary revolution remains.