Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Conflicts of Interest

IT APPEARS that PEN American Center buys its immunity from criticism through its wining and dining of leading editors and journalists like David Remnick, Henry Finder, Adam Gopnik, Margo Jefferson, Patricia Cohen, and others. I hope these people can see the extent to which they're compromised right now.
If anonymous poster "Harland" is indeed Rick Moody, as now seems likely, then this throws light on the behavior of PEN staffers like David Haglund, given Moody's documented influence in the organization. PEN's impetus to shut down the whistleblower or dissenter then becomes comprehensible. Their behavior runs counter to PEN's mission-- but is the natural result of PEN's embrace of money and power.

FURTHER, if Rick Moody has engaged in anonymous attacks, then this adds to the record of dirty tricks carried out by his friends Dave Eggers and Daniel Handler against the ULA and myself, as has been well-documented. We have the outlines of a covert campaign to destroy a competitor. Such behavior is unethical, if not illegal.
As for PEN's David Haglund-- given that he's been published by The Believer, and given that he represents a regulated tax-exempt charity with obligations to the public, he needs to demonstrate SOME fairness and cease stonewalling the Petition to PEN's, and this blog's, legitimate questions.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Real Failure

The noteworthy point about the literary establishment is its utter mediocrity. This is something I realized as far back as 2001, when at CBGB's in New York the Underground Literary Alliance destroyed the preppy Paris Review staff in debate.

Even when the System tries to be imaginative, as with HarperStudio, it's dependent on time-serving ticket-punchers-- apparatchiks-- who've made careers out of being unimaginative.

In its various aspects-- including HarperStudio; including PEN-- when encountering hard criticism and whistleblowing the System knows only how to stonewall, only how to exclude and block; to put tape over its eyes and cotton in its ears, black paper over its windows, to ensure it sees, hears, and knows nothing. "Don't tell me!" is the prevailing attitude.

Stonewalling-- the unwillingness or inability to engage-- is not the sign of a dynamic establishment but instead of a stagnant and frightened one. NONE of its bureaucratic occupants, from the highest Francine Prose/James Wood critic to the lowliest Murdoch HarperCollins staffer, is able to debate, which means having to think. They've lived in an airless room for so long without questioning or dissent that to let questions in now-- fresh air-- would turn the lot of them into dust.

DIY change is coming and coming fast. Some of the apparatchiks recognize this-- and so the desperate grasping of DIY language by desperate outfits like HarperStudio desperate to hold onto their control over writers.

If authentic DIYers were better able to network and work together they'd bring the house of cards down now.

The real failure lies with media watchdogs like the New Yorker; too part of a corrupt system to cover the corruption-- or stagnation-- at places like HarperStudio or PEN. And so these media giants risk their own Soviet Union-style collapse when the tidal wave of change finally hits them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Literary Suicide

Creative writers of all stripes had best wake up at the news that TV celebrity Lauren Conrad has the best-selling novel in America. This is the explicitly anti-writer trend conglomerate publishing is following. It's no accident that Lauren Conrad is published by HarperCollins, which is also the force behind HarperStudio, whose stated mission is to publish celebrities.

For American literature this is suicide. It's the publishing conglomerates admitting they can't create their own stars, so they're going to borrow some from other realms. It's as if Indy Car racing, in its attempt to regain its once-lofty status, stopped developing talent like Danica Patrick and instead put TV personalities into its cars. For any business, any sport, any art, it's to become a joke.

Development of writing talent is what HarperStudio specifically doesn't want-- which is why it's stopped paying advances to writers, instead offering them a share of "profits." (Accounting no doubt done Hollywood-style by HarperCollins itself.) There's no thought of taking a loss on a couple books while building a writer's brand-- unless perhaps said author is independently wealthy, or willing to starve. The bottom line is all. Developing a novelist or poet, building their name and their audience, isn't wanted. This is considered old-fashioned according to HarperStudio's "Publishing on the Edge." (The edge of a cliff?) Instead: "Bring on the TV stars!"

That PEN American center is complicit in this should cause every PEN member, and every writer everywhere, to vomit.

(Underground writers may occasionally dress up like clowns, but we're also dedicated writers. HarperStudio has bypassed the writing part and gone directly to Ringling Brothers.)
A Protest for Authentic Radicals Only

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Fake Artaud

(First of Two Parts.)

OUR CIVILIZATION is the most sophisticated of all time. Its tricks go beyond the ability of commentators to catch them. Intellectuals-- historians, literary critics, political scientists-- are themselves bamboozled by the onslaught.

For instance, the ability of the Machine to quickly co-opt all dissent and difference-- to claim ownership for itself of every cultural happening and quirk.

If Imperial Rome had been that sophisticated, it would've co-opted the Jesus Movement by presenting a slicker alternative. Jesus without the edge. The replacement version would've been better-looking, more patrician-- more Roman-- would not have carried any anger, and not been so poor. He wouldn't have been crucified-- how gauche; what a loser-- and above all would've been pro-Imperial Rome.

Those doing the coopting today are today's patricians; our own Imperialists; indoctrinated and credentialed at the most prestigious schools, then given high positions in the highest academies or the conglomerates. The young priests live in a high-up realm from which they look down upon the rest of society. They don't comprehend this other world, but their insularity and arrogance assures them they do. The world is something the highest caste owns.

Young priestess Debbie Stier at HarperStudio, in the upper realms of publishing hierarchy, imagines herself to be an insurgent. Real literary insurgents of course are socially and economically crucified, eliminated from caste vision, they and their writings tossed into garbage dumpsters to be seen by no one. Stier easily steps into their role. She's oppressed and oppressor in one. It's the split identity of a comic book superhero. Debbie Stier is both INSIDE the towering office of power, on the 26th floor, and simultaneously OUTSIDE the building, on the streets, protesting herself. It's how her mind resolves the conflict generated by her station, by her power, by her main career role.

Another example of the phenomenon of high caste power is an essay by Rick Moody in that organ of Imperialist literature, The Believer: "Analects on the Influence of Artaud," in the June issue. Moody not only discusses Antonin Artaud, he identifies himself with him, as if he, Rick Moody, is the latter-day Artaud; or, at least, the leader of today's avant-garde. In his mind, Moody fully believes he is.

Are other latter-day Artauds mentioned? Kathy Acker perhaps? No.

Rick Moody explains to us how he came to become the new Artaud. It was in the academy; the illusion factory; at Columbia or Brown-- Moody doesn't specify which one. He's performing in an Artaud play there, for a course. In his enthusiasm-- rare enthusiasm (I've witnessed him read and saw no enthusiasm)-- Moody cuts his hand. This is his baptism into Artaud; his license to inhabit the role. As Moody tells us:

"It took a long while for the wound to heal. I was launched on the world. I was a graduate."

Now safely put into the superhero uniform of Antonin Artaud, because of a cut on his hand, in college, Moody is able, through agreement with the man's life and ideas, to further strengthen the identification.

The agreement, mind you, remains in the essay. Needless to say, Rick Moody isn't another Artaud. The idea is ludicrous. He's made his way in the lit-world by being as conformist and bourgeois as possible; gathering credential and credential, award after award; bonding with arts institution upon arts institution: becoming, beyond all else, APPROVED.
(To be continued.)

See a related essay now up at
and join the protest at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Literary Monopoly

I intend to tie the remaining loose threads together and show that the current literary system is a monopoly which excludes critical and contrary voices. This monopoly is maintained through implicit control of literature's watchdogs, from PEN American Center to the New Yorker.

Can we expect the New Yorker to cover corruption at PEN, including the public charity's close relationship to the handful of media giants, when the New Yorker's leading editors and writers-- David Remnick, Henry Finder, Adam Gopnick-- are PEN members who attend PEN's swanky galas and participate at PEN events; who in many cases are published by the media giants, and in some instances (Steve Coll) are the recipients of PEN largesse?

The reason I'm hyper about HarperStudio and Burn This Book is because it marks the coopting/stealing/destruction of the underground brand by a monopolistic giant; an underground brand which was launched in 2001 with large ads in major publications like Village
Voice. The "ads" weren't paid for-- they were feature articles obtained through ballyhoo-- but they were ads, generated with a purpose, all the same.

Now we have the fake-DIY employees of a fake-DIY section of Harper-Collins/Murdoch gushing in mock-amazement ("Wow!) at the appearance of their fake-radical PEN book appearing on a shelf at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, as if they were genuine impoverished undergrounders who did it on their own. Left unsaid is the fact that they and that book are backed by billions of dollars.

Sweetheart deals cut by the media giants with the huge book chains Borders and Barnes & Noble is itself an important topic. Who's covering it?

I've documented on this blog the actions of Daniel Handler and his apparent agents (Tao Lin; "Quilty10") to derail the underground cause. The motive was to squelch even the weak competition we offered.

The motive for PEN's stonewalling against questions and criticisms is the same: to shut out competition to things-as-they-are. What they've done, through their silence, is create an irrefutable record of bias and inaction. Someone should remind them they're a public organization, accountable to the public.

Who's giving PEN its marchingorders?
Is there enough here for anti-trust action?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Surprise

It's amazing to me that I can present an overwhelming case for changing PEN American Center, bolstered by argument after argument after argument, and the entire organization continues to stonewall. At what point does one reach memories of integrity and conscience in them; the recognition of their own principles? They're monolithic stones. Their attitude toward criticism, toward free expression and debate, has gone beyond mere hostility, into immunity. Pathological unreachability, as if they're floating far away from other writers, above humankind; above the planet, far above, in the vicinity of Pluto. When I post a comment on one of their blogs, it's as if a switch is flipped turning off their minds. They become blind deafmutes. They see, hear, and speak nothing.

THEY have become the strongest argument proving the literary world's corruption.

(Happy Bastille Day! Long Live the Revolution.)


I have three book reviews in the works, which I'll be posting either here or elsewhere. Stay posted. In the meantime, check out the recent posts at one of my other blogs,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

PEN History

Here's PEN background from the 1990's, detailing the transformation which led to the condition the organization is now in. Not a good thing! (Note: these are to some extent establishment viewpoints, and the picture painted is still scary.)

To work to turn this around, join the protest at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book BCS

The U.S. Congress has held hearings about the college football BCS system; alleging that 90% of funds generated are monopolized by six conferences. Senator Hatch called the system "elitist."

How much more so is the lit-bizness, centralized in New York, monopolized by a handful of giant media conglomerates; and within the system, influence wielded chiefly by the graduates of a handful of east coast universities. When does Congress hold anti-trust hearings about this monopoly?

The problem is exacerbated by the actions of legal public charities like PEN American Center, whose charity is used to subsidize the multi-national giants. Most recently, this "charity," instead of seeking an arrangement with a true independent press (much less a radically indy press like the one run by the ULA), chose instead to have their book of allegedly dissident essays published by new boutique press HarperStudio, a fake-indy outfit run by Murdoch Media.

As kicker, HarperStudio seems to be aggressively anti-writer, in that
A.) it doesn't pay author advances;
B.) most of its authors are mass media celebrities.

Writers have become unnecessary in this scary "new" world of establishment publishing. Very uncomfortable, ya know, keeping around actual writers. . . .

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I've had some inklings at to the REASONS used to justify PEN's stonewalling; rationales to support established literature's blackballing. Judge how valid they are.

It's true that someone would have to be mad to take on literature's totalitarians.

Are writers ambitious for wanting to be heard? For expecting to be part of a democratic conversation by and about literature? A serious charge.

When you approach the Overdogs of Lit, do so with a submissive mien on your face and your hat in hand.

This is strong argument for changing it.

The quickest way to exclude writers you disagree with is to designate them "not writers."

The arguments are persuasive enough that they have to be stonewalled. Any argument becomes unpersuasive when it's censored; when it's not heard.

There must be other rationales for PEN's stonewalling. We don't know what they are, because PEN's staffers and bloggers aren't talking.

Friday, July 03, 2009

George Garrett (1992)

A 1992 quote from George Garrett which appeared in the Rollyson-Paddock Sontag biography on page 241; originally in Garrett's hard-to-find My Silk Purse and Yours:

"Most of the writers (practically anybody you ever heard of) are involved in a close symbiotic relationship, cozy you might say, with the publishing world. Without the acquiescence and tacit support of the writers (especially the most successful ones), the whole creaky system might collapse. They can fool you, though, the writers. Take PEN, for example, forever using our dues to battle against some form of overt censorship here and there, against racial separation and segregation in South Africa if not, say, Kenya or Ghana, firmly committed against torture everywhere in the world except in certain Eastern Bloc nations, and mostly keeping their own mouths shut about the inequities and injustices, trivial and profound, perpetuated on the American public by the same folks who give writers their advances against royalties and publish their books. Whatever the price is, it doesn't include a vow of silence or even very much self-sacrifice."

I wonder about that vow of silence!
Have a Happy Fourth, writers. Show your own independence by joining this protest FOR free speech and AGAINST stonewalling.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Man Bites Dog

There are three levels to the Petition to PEN American Center protest, centered at
I.) The well-documented corruption of PEN itself, including grants, parties, and salaries, as well as its incestuous relationship with multinational conglomerates.
II.) The refusal of PEN to respond to questions regarding these matters. PEN staffers and bloggers remain silent. A stone wall has been erected around the organization.
III.) The failure of media outlets, other than Z Magazine, to cover this. That a "public charity" whose mission is to protect dissenting writers, is instead ostracizing them, is a bizarre enough happening to warrant press coverage. Yet where are journalists from outlets like the New Yorker? Has their presence at swanky PEN affairs swamped their judgement?