Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Master of Distortion


WHEN HIRED to do a hit job on someone, propagandist Tom Bissell uses many of the same techniques used in his hit piece on the Underground Literary Alliance.

One of the tricks is to get his blatant putdowns out front. He asserts them as fact, planting them in the reader’s head as if they were facts.

For instance, note this sentence from “Euphorias of Perrier,” an essay about Robert D. Kaplan which is also included in the Tom Bissell collection Magic Hours:

“Kaplan's real problem, which has becoming growingly evident is not his Parkinson's grip on history or that he is a bonehead or a warmonger but rather that he is an incompetent thinker and miserable writer.”

The designations given to Robert Kaplan set the tone for the entire essay, predisposing the reader to thinking about the target in Tom Bissell’s terms. It enables Bissell to get away with further distortions that fit the theme he’s laid down.

One could examine the essay, sentence by sentence, pointing out distortions, and spend an entire book doing so, because nearly every sentence is a distortion. The bombardment of misrepresentation is so full it becomes overwhelming. The density of it is too much for the brain to handle at once. The brain is forced to accept the essay in its entirety. Or, we accept the objectivity and good faith of the essayist as a given. We’re not trained to believe it could be a nonstop subtle assault on the truth.

I’ll give one example to show what I’m talking about. Here’s a sentence about the second President Bush, talking about how he changed after 9/11:

“Bush has gone from an isolationist to an interventionist minus the crucial intermediary stage wherein he actually became interested in other places.”

This sounds plausible, doesn’t it? I bought this presentation myself on first examination. It’s a trademark Tom Bissell phrase which comes off as effective and insightful. Surely as solid as any sentence in the book. It’s obviously true.

But is it?

Look at the first part of the sentence, which has George W. Bush entering the Presidency as an isolationist. By “Bush,” we also mean his entire team, which happened to be in this case a very strong team. Two of them, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, ran the first Iraq war for Bush’s father! Added to the team were aggressive individuals like Don “Rummy” Rumsfeld.


Were any of these people ever going to disengage, Ron Paul-style, from American Empire? Was George W. Bush truly not interested in “other places”? Of course not!

All of them—W included; W being a Bush maybe most of all—had significant investments in that world; in those “other places”; particularly the Mideast, which in Bissell’s narrative they were suddenly expected to disengage from! To call them “isolationist” at any time is an absurdity. They’d be expected, on the contrary, to maintain a strong interest in the world, and to look for opportunities to strengthen their standing, settle scores, and so on. Which is what happened. Why else were they there, in positions of power? Why did they go after those positions? To disengage? To be isolationist?!

How does Tom Bissell get away with calling them isolationist?

He gets away with it because the mass media was selling two narratives about George W. Bush at the beginning of his administration. A minor narrative and a major narrative.

The minor narrative was that George W. Bush was not his father’s son; i.e., the media exaggerated minor personality differences between the two men; even though the fact that W brought in much of his father’s team showed the actual differences between the two men were slight.

The major narrative depicted George W. Bush as an isolationist uninterested in foreign policy—a narrative which was always a lie.

We buy it when Tom Bissell repeats the lie in his Robert D. Kaplan essay because we remember, vaguely, the storyline of George W. Bush as isolationist. The sheer memory of a media talking point has become a fact in our brains.

When you have a media without scruples, containing an essayist without scruples, willing to pile on distortion after distortion, lie after lie, to create an intended effect, you’re dealing with propaganda at its most masterful and devious.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Elite publications like The New Yorker and New York Review of Books parade themselves as liberal—yet the kind of literary art they promote is stripped of social relevance. Insular; personal; ornate—as reactionary an art, in fact, as could possibly be.

I was thinking about this after a discussion about boxing (that once great sport). Note the change in two great boxing movies; one from the 1940’s, “Body and Soul”; the other from the 1970’s, “Rocky.” The first one is tougher. More than this, it shows a broader context: the machinations of the boxing managers and promoters take place within a corrupt framework. In comparison, “Rocky” is a mere fairy tale.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tao Lin versus Miranda July


This is a first: A shoplifting contest between two renowned lit-hipster writers. Has American literature (or American satire) reached a new low? Read about it only at the crazy new blog THE LITERARY CIRCUS:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Groupthink at New York Review of Books

There’s an interesting blog post at the New York Review of Books website. A celebration of New York Review of Books 50th anniversary by former intern Andrew Haig Martin.

In the piece, “The Intern Who Went Out in the Cold,” Andrew Martin describes the reaction of long-time NYRB editor Robert Silvers to the introduction as VP candidate of Sarah Palin: “Who is this awful woman? . . . She does seem rather sinister, doesn’t she?”

This is Robert Silvers’ first visceral response, mind you, when nothing was known about Palin. In her introductory speech, Palin went out of her way to praise Geraldine Ferraro, as well as Hillary Clinton’s “determination and grace.”

Yet Robert Silvers finds her to be an alien creature. Quite a display of class prejudice.

Why does Andrew Martin include this incident in his essay? Andrew Martin is certain that the hostile sentiment expressed by Robert Silvers will find widespread, maybe unanimous agreement from New York Review of Books’ readers. An example of groupthink at New York Review of Books and the established literary community.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Understanding the Media Mind

Because of its power over whole populations, the most dangerous force in America today is the mass media.

The Tom Bissell essay on the Underground Literary Alliance has been for me a useful case study. By taking it apart, one can understand the mentality of the person who created it, as well as of those who agree with it. One can extrapolate, from this one essay, to the entire media.

If a media member is able to create outright falsehood—if fellow establishment writers eagerly believe the falsehood—then we can legitimately ask the question: Are many other media essays and accounts falsehoods?

The overarching premise of the Bissell essay is that there is no literary establishment. Yet Tom Bissell himself has spent his entire life behaving as if there is—from his early connections to name writers; to attendance at the renowned Bennington summer workshops to obtain more connections; his internship at Harper’s in New York; his defense of powerful lit figures like Franzen and Eggers; and so on.

Why, then, the mythmaking?

As interesting is the fact that nominally intelligent writers like Garth Risk Hallberg, Maria Bustillos, and Thomas Beller not only agree with the essay in its entirety—they refuse to question it, and flee from questions about it.

This alone proves an unquestioning, monolithic mindset.

Study the New York media for any period of time and you see this worked out on issue after issue. Close to 100% agreement—if you don’t agree on every point you’re treated as subhuman and read out of their ranks. Every major question for them is Yes/No; black or white.

Question the accepted truth and you’re treated not just as a skeptic, but as an outright nut. Ostracized. An example of herd behavior.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Twitter Account Hacked!

Earlier today my regular twitter account, @KingWenclas, was hacked into and spam sent out from it. Score another point for the literary blackballers—unless it was simply coincidence. Free speech seems to bother some people.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep this blog going, which also appears to be a target. If this goes down, I’ll keep posting at my other blogs. Look for me there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Behind the Curtain


A nation’s literature should primarily be about telling the truth. Yet we’re stuck with an established literary scene incapable of telling the most basic truth about itself, and which blackballs those who do speak the truth. Why is that?

The New York Review of Books is a case study in that regard. They’ve been busy the past weeks patting themselves on the back—for fifty years of remaining stagnant—while presenting a strictly mythicized version of their history and founding.

The New York Review of Books was created as, and has always been, an extension of and front for the publishing industry. As is well known, the journal was founded during a New York Times newspaper strike. No one mentions why.

With the famed New York Times Book Review not being published, the major publishing houses were not getting ads out about their products; their new releases. So they created what in effect was a dummy substitute, a similarly named stand-in. Co-founder Barbara Epstein was the wife of Random House big Jason Epstein. Paid ads from the big houses paid for the journal’s existence. Back in the 1970’s, long outcast essayist Richard Kostelanetz did an examination of the publication, discussing the incestuous relationship between the already large Random House book empire and The New York Review of Books. Kostelanetz showed a relationship between ad space bought and company books reviewed.

That’s it, kids. A front journal. Creature of a monopolistic book business. The much-lauded “intellectuals” writing for them, the fairly unexciting Joan Didions and Susan Sontags, for all their ability and intelligence, were likewise always products of the big houses. As is someone like Lorrie Moore now. Puppets, to the extent that they were and are allowed to be esteemed “intellectuals” as long as their intellectualizing remains within certain parameters. Criticize Capitalism, by all means—but never criticize the Capitalism of the publishing industry! Don’t even look at it.

(The New York Review of Books’ much lauded Leftist posture in this sense has been like a magician’s misdirection. Look over here, audience, but don’t see what’s really going on.)

This includes not looking at all the many ancillary pieces of that publishing industry, like nonprofit foundations handing out grants and awards at swanky black tie dinners attended by the publishing industry’s managers and high-level soldiers; the purpose of the awards to further hype and legitimize the same products being hyped and reviewed and legitimized in New York Review of Books. A cozy environment, albeit one which has always remained fairly static, while the outside world—while other cultural entities like sports and music—moved swiftly on all sides around it; mutating and growing and expanding many times over. The nation’s culture as a whole expanding—while the New York Review of Books and its sponsors remained stuck in their careful elitist niche. They’re still there now.

Monday, February 18, 2013

More Blackballing

I HAD set up yet another twitter account, @ULANews, in preparation for an eventual Underground Literary Alliance restart. The idea will be to use it to get word out about various ULA actions, should they ever come.

I’ve sent out a few tweets on the address, trying things out. A few too many. I find this twitter address already blocked by the prestigious New York Review of Books twitter account, @nybooks. “You have been blocked from following this account at the request of the user.”

Hmm. That was quick. These people don’t mess around. What was my particular offense, I wonder?

Possibly it was my blog post here:

--dissecting a New York Review of Books article by Lorrie Moore.

More likely it was a reply I tweeted on 2/14 to a retweet by @nybooks, concerning an article by Alissa Wilkinson on the Books and Culture web site about a swanky New York Review of Books 50th anniversary affair in New York. In my tweet I said: “Sounds elitist and stuffy. A funeral oration over the body of literature passed.”

A fair opinion, actually. A valid intellectual statement from one who believes the worlds of literature and publishing as we know them are drastically changing, like it or not. Of a piece with my post about Lorrie Moore.

Well! The literary snobs at New York Review of Books apparently are having none of it.

No, it’s for sure that you see 100 times the opinionated tweets thrown around, a free-for-all exchange of ideas, in the world of sports!—than in what passes today for the literary scene. Surely moribund, if they can tolerate not the slightest criticism. The New York Review of Books block of my twitter account proves the truth of my tweet. Static mannequins with dust over them, in a closed and stuffy room—windows sealed closed—occupants of the office removed from the hectic noise of the world below. They must be protected, at all costs, from such give-and-take, such bustle, such noise.

Little minds inhabiting a weak and fearful world.


(p.s. I note a line in Alissa Wilkinson’s article, in which she disdains “the flattery of representation, a personal world that merely reflects ourselves back to us—“  She could be speaking about no one so much as today’s establishment literary world.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Suspended Again!

My @McSweeneysGang twitter account has been suspended for a second time. Can we guess that the a—holes at McSweeney’s complained?

They’re such frauds. They work hard to shut down anyone who criticizes them or mocks them. They can’t take it. Dave Eggers has shown over many years he’s not a fan of free speech. He wants total agreement.

The bottom line? They’re intellectual mediocrities and intellectual cowards. All their fighting is behind the scenes. Truly reprehensible people. (Yeah, I know: say what you really think.)

I’m actually being polite.

(Strike a blow for free expression against literary totalitarians. Buy your copy of the satirical ebook novel The McSweeneys Gang at Nook or Kindle today. Get it while it’s still available!)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Intellectual Herd Alert

Liberal blogger, tweeter, and media voice Michael Wolff (@MichaelWolffNYC) has lost 900 twitter followers in the past twenty-four hours simply for saying he likes Roger Ailes as a person. The lockstep march goes on!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More Reality

Have I been unfair in these posts?

Put yourself in my place. Last year I find an anti-ULA smear essay republished, leading to smears against the organization I’m still strongly identified with, in influential publication after influential publication. (Most recently, a smear against me.)

In an interview for the book containing the essay, author Tom Bissell calls ULAers “authoritarian.” This, about blackballed writers of absolutely no standing.

The worst slur in the essay was likening us to genocidal Bolsheviks. I’m not exaggerating. (”—lots and lots of tombstones.”) Malicious? Just possibly?

An unaware reader would never know that Tom Bissell’s sponsors were the ones holding power and influence in the literary world (including his unnamed editor friends), and ULAers were the banned writers reduced to cleaning toilets. “The Big Lie” at its most egregious.

What would happen if actual Bolsheviks took actual control of the country?

Outspoken, anarchist-leaning undergrounders would be quickly liquidated. On the other hand, the go-along-to-get-along crowd, writers like Bissell and Beller, would join the Party immediately, and claim they’d always been in it.

Conformists and apparatchiks in one system would be conformists and apparatchiks under any system.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Real Story

It’s funny, in a way, that an outfit which has been inactive for four years, the Underground Literary Alliance; many of whose remaining key members were destroyed during that period by economic circumstance, or by life; could still achieve today from the supposedly UNmonolithic established literary community widespread and unanimous hostility. Slur and smear against us continue to appear in esteemed publication after publication. Not one “reputable” writer will take our side—or acknowledge we have a side.

Instead of republishing an essay filled with distortions, with every available alleged crime of the ULA he could find, it’d have been more interesting if Tom Bissell had instead gone after the real story. If he’d presented the deeds done against the Underground Literary Alliance, beginning with the reams of hate mail we received from the moment of our founding; or bookstores pressured by the Eggers gang not to carry our zines; literary writers we were reaching out to pressured not to show at our events; publications (such as Punk Planet and Zine Guide in Chicago) pressured not to participate in or cover our events; fake letters and emails and web sites created in attempts to discredit us; endless anonymous attacks against the ULA in every public forum available, including Amazon; including this blog; ULA members pressured to break ranks and turn on us, and so on. A hurricane of hostility which continues to this day, though, for all intents and purposes, there remains no ULA. Only the name and the memory.

That story would be fascinating and revealing, but it’s a story which can’t come from me, only from those inside the established literary community, or inside McSweeney’s, and they’re not talking.

(The new ebook The McSweeneys Gang is fiction but it’s also real, if you know what I mean.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Cleaner Crime City?

The blog version of “Crime City USA” has been cleaned up. All the past posts about the crimes of McSweeney’s have suddenly become more readable.

The Creative Writing Con Game

The con is that hyped writers like Thomas Beller and Lorrie Moore are teaching an archaic form of creative writing that will be irrelevant in a new literary world in which writers will need to connect with readers as quickly as possible. Here’s an example of the hype of the con:

The question: How much will Vanderbilt students pay for a creative writing degree which will be essentially useless? There are, after all, only so many such university teaching positions to go around.

To read an examination of the art of Lorrie Moore, see the new post at American Pop Lit, here:

Did Franzen’s Freedom Get It Wrong?

The new lit blog Literary Circus asks the question: Did Jonathan Franzen get the population question wrong in his novel Freedom? See what you think.


Literary Circus also examines the gun control issue:

We didn’t invent the literary circus. We’re just living in it.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Literary Circus Concludes First Fantastic Week!

The first week of the crazy new lit blog, The Literary Circus, nears its close. Check out the week’s humorous or not-so humorous posts:

New arrivals include Daniel Handler singing, the New York Times bestseller list, and (up soon) the Jonathan Franzen bird-and-birth-bust controversy.

What could be better than an entire week of Literary Circus?

Only one thing: reading The McSweeneys Gang! Over-the-top literary ebook satire sticking it to ALL the nation’s lit snobs at least those who could be fit into one narrative—EggersFranzenBellerVidaMarcusJulavitsSaundersLopatePlimptonMailerEgan—also The Man in the Black Hat and Mr. Empathy. The line-up is breathtaking.


Upcoming: Literary Circus looks at the gun control issue.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Thomas Beller, Unreliable Narrator

Here’s the part of Thomas Beller’s essay, “River of Berman,” in the 12/13/12 Tablet Magazine, which refers to myself:


“Sometime around 2004 we were attacked by a maniac from Detroit who had long been a fan, even a friend. His name was Karl “King” Wenclas. He had reviewed Open City’s very first issue—negatively, but still, with energy and attention. I was so impressed that his byline appeared in issue #3, though I had misspelled his first name. (Ken. He wrote me a postcard that began, “Dear Tim.”)

Then Wenclas changed titles and tactics. The hostility to Open City (among many others) moved from the page, where it was welcome, to disruptions at readings and so forth, where it was not. Wenclas and his gang were throwing out taunts and dares, calling us (to be defined as everyone other than them) a bunch of pampered wusses who were marginalizing literature. All the people being thus insulted or harassed metabolized this in their own way. Most people ignored it. I tried to engage, at least for a while, as did George Plimpton, who memorably joined the group on stage at one of their events—a press conference held at the opera house next to CBGB.

The person who handled this antagonism most gracefully and usefully, I thought, was David Berman.”


(Beller goes on to quote from Tom Bissell’s very selective reference to David Berman in Bissell’s attack piece on the Underground Literary Alliance, reprinted in Bissell’s essay collection.)

How accurate is Thomas Beller’s presentation? Not very. He mentions 2004. The events he refers to took place before this.

The ULA press conference Beller attended, along with George Plimpton, was February 8, 2001. It took place not at the Amato Opera House, but at CB’s Gallery, a performance space then owned by, next door to, and part of, CBGB’s. The ULA did perform a show at the Amato—six weeks later. Neither Beller nor Plimpton were there.

The ULA’s attendance at a Housing Works reading, which upset Beller greatly, was also before 2004. It happened on January 30, 2003. A small detail—but a crucial one, as I’ll explain in a separate post. The timing of what was happening then had a lot to do with why we were there.

It’s not just that Thomas Beller gets small details wrong, however. He also presents the literary establishment’s standard false narrative about myself and the Underground Literary Alliance. (My “gang.”) But note the viewpoint.

Beller says, “calling us (to be defined as everyone other than them)”.

Everyone other than ourselves?

We were in fact calling out a select coterie of writers, centered around a handful of key individuals, mainly the so-called “New White Guys,” who were receiving an inordinate amount of largesse and media attention. A sliver—a powerful sliver—of the literary world. To Thomas Beller, this is “everyone.”

In Beller’s mind, the ULA was calling this select circle “a bunch of pampered wusses who were marginalizing literature.”

“Wusses” is Beller’s term, not mine. But is the statement untrue? Were and are these people marginalizing literature?

All one need do is look at The New Yorker’s “Best Books of 2012”—Thomas Beller one of those doing the choosing:

The books and authors named are relevant to one percent of the American population, if that. They’ve marginalized themselves. We’re dealing now with a slightly larger sliver of America. Mr. Beller’s world. They’re a tiny privileged minority even on their own island; an aristocracy hovering, at class-segregated parties, high above the mob. I attended one of Open City’s parties in the late 90’s. Trustfunders, scions, and Eurotrash. Snobs among snobs.

Even when the lit elite leave Manhattan, they take their island and its narrow tastes and viewpoints with them.

But, “wusses”? Are these people not examples of intellectual courage?

NOT! Most frustrating is that they’ll smear you in print, as Beller has done, then run and hide when called on it—as Thomas Beller in fact is doing now.

Because they’re members of a special crowd, the literary elite, they’re never held accountable. There exists no one who’ll hold them accountable. Unmentioned in Thomas Beller’s slam is the real crime of the Underground Literary Alliance—attempting to hold the literary darlings accountable for such things as abuse of the grants process. The well-connected and privileged keeping all goodies for themselves.

Why didn’t you mention in your essay, Tom, what the ULA campaign was really about? Anything else was bells and whistles intended to draw attention to our documented facts; our protests. We did draw such attention, which created outrage in your crowd.

Thomas Beller complains that his journal Open City was “attacked” by myself and colleagues. Attacked? Where? If you’re referring to the Housing Works incident, Mr. Beller, you’re getting your facts wrong, as I can prove.

Thomas Beller’s statement about my criticisms of the establishment, about “where it was welcome” is revealing. As he makes plain, at one time I was tolerable—to a limited extent. A curiosity piece for the aristocrats’ amusement. Many subscribed to my newsletter. Now I’m not tolerable. I criticized the Wonderful People too harshly (Mr. Beller’s isolated, marginalized world is muffled in wonderfulness). Unlike them, I actually believed in my stated principles and ideals. So now I’m blackballed. My mistake was in pointing out that in the approved literary scene all is not always wonderful.

Noteworthy about Beller’s Tablet essay, and all his essays, is that Thomas Beller clings, clings, to his illusions. His writings are invariably nostalgic, about a more wonderful time. The smell of bagels on Manhattan’s upper west side. Snow in Central Park. In line with this, Beller grasps at any defense he can find of the literary familiar. Don’t bother him with something different, or dissenting, or new. Writers who write and live outside the acceptable lines. Someone tweets him that books are “knowledge” and e-readers “information.” Precious! Thomas Beller hurriedly retweets this. Yes! The past! Childhood!

The literary elite comprise the mentality of children, expressed by writers who’ve never left intellectual childhood.


(Be sure to read the new ebook, The McSweeneys Gang by King Wenclas, which contains a fictionalized version of Thomas Beller, among others. New pop fiction. Not the stale literary status quo. Available at Kindle or Nook.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Organization Men

The ideal of the writer used to be of the fearless independent voice, the truth teller standing against injustice, incapable of being broken. That was my ideal—men like Voltaire, Marat, Tom Paine, Tolstoy, Zola, Jack London, Frank Norris—Solzhenitsyn of course—among them. These were writers. Writers!

Those who dominate the U.S. literary scene today are not of this type. We get instead the organization man—very competent inside the narrow parameters within which he’s allowed to be competent, but utterly lost away from the literary system: the Machine.

Tom Bissell and Thomas Beller exemplify this type. They’re two of the system’s approved writers. Best of the best. They appear regularly in high profile mass circulation magazines like GQ and The New Yorker. Yet one senses—one knows—they’re utterly dependent on the system which sustains them. And so, in face of criticism of his essay on the ULA, Tom Bissell doesn’t answer the criticism directly. The stance you’d expect a writer of character and backbone to take. Instead he makes posts at Facebook, seeking affirmation of the herd. He requires the literary herd’s approval and backing. As long as he remains in tight with the McSweeneyites, all is okay.

Thomas Beller is the same. In the Tablet essay, in which he takes an unnecessary shot at me, he’s also sure to pay proper homage to two supposed literary giants of our time, Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace. Beller falls just short of groveling.

Thomas Beller’s reaction to the ULA at Housing Works in 2003 was of a piece with this. Beller demonstrating, in case any suspected he was not!, that he was on the approved side.

Regarding their stations in the literary community, you won’t find in either of these fellows much daring.

Beller’s remarks in the Tablet essay prove this point—and incidentally prove my portrayal of him in The McSweeneys Gang e-novel. Worth reading beyond any comedy.

Have I asked too much of the two literary Insiders when I’ve asked that they explain their portrayals of me and the Underground Literary Alliance? No. They initiated the matter. With their facility with words, their trained glibness, if they had accuracy and merit to their arguments, they’d quickly put me in my place. Yet they remain silent.

What would I do in their place?

If I were Tom Bissell, I would’ve long since admitted, “Hell yes, the essay’s a slanted, biased hit piece. What did you expect?”

This, at least, would be honest.

I haven’t hesitated to defend my own words and ideas, anywhere and everywhere, offline and online, from Columbia’s Miller Hall to HTML Giant to a Tao Lin web site, always greatly outnumbered yet wading happily into the fight. To me, that’s what being a writer is about.

Interns from Harvard

Graduates of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, represent less than 0.1% of the American population. We know Harvard grads are overrepresented in the political realm. (Both Obama and Mitt Romney are Harvard grads.) Are they overrepresented in the literary field also?

The new blog Literary Circus takes a not-so-serious look at the problem, with its examination of the interns at a hipster literary journal out of Brooklyn, n+1. Further investigation of the plight of these underprivileged interns may be warranted! Stay tuned.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Proving the Point

One can show the dishonesty of Tom Bissell’s ULA essay in the micro, taking it apart point by point; demonstrating falsehood upon falsehood, distortion after distortion, as I’ve been doing. One can question it in the macro, by understanding the larger message conveyed subliminally to the reader.

We have now, with the Thomas Beller misstep in Tablet Magazine, a way to prove a distortion. To show with a photo that the ULA’s supposed “rampage” at Housing Works, as stated in Bissell’s essay, is a lie. As well, to show the selective editing done, by either Bissell or his source, of David Berman’s email exchange with the Underground Literary Alliance. Ancient history? Not when writers like Thomas Beller are repeating the false version everyplace, today.

What’s Beller’s motivation? I see him as another fall guy, conned by Tom Bissell or by somebody into taking a shot at me. The timing of Beller’s sudden attack is curious, to say the least, coming as it did a couple weeks after Johannes Lichtman’s blatant smear piece against the ULA. Beller’s remarks concerning me sound shoehorned into his essay. A writer, when doing such a piece, asks himself, “What sentence or phrase can be deleted? What’s not necessary?” Referring to me as “a maniac,” then distorting the ULA’s history with Berman (inadvertently, I believe) was hardly necessary.

Beller’s problem is that he believed Tom Bissell’s false narrative of the ULA. Because we’d attacked the nature of today’s lit scene, establishment writers like Thomas Beller, creatures of the system through every step of their writing lives, were predisposed to believe the worst about us. That we did some theater, made some attention-getting noise, added fuel to the fire. Our noise was always heavily exaggerated by our enemies. The true story about what happened at Housing Works, why we were there, is revealing.

This is a long way of saying that I’d rather not post that photo! Or give a fuller view of the David Berman-ULA conversation. The truth can be embarrassing.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Crazy New Literary Blog

Ya know what? If I'm going to be labeled as "a maniac" by the literary establishment, I may as well start acting like one. What do I have to lose? The generosity and courtesy of establishment lit people?

I've therefore started an entirely new literary blog. Yes, this blog right here goes farther, in attitude and ideas, than any other literary blog or site out there. But I can push the envelope farther. See:

I may as well have fun with what I'm doing. Just possibly a few of you may have fun reading "The Literary Circus" also.

(If you like it, be sure to purchase my new ebook, "The McSweeneys Gang.")

For keeping up on the Pop Lit/ebook revolution, read:

For updates on restarting the ULA outfit read:

For hard critiques of the U.S "Crime City" lit scene:

I have new posts up at all three sites. Something for everybody.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Missing the Boat

The New York Review of Books talks about great writers fifty years ago (Mailer and Company); “the shock and awe demonstration of intellectual firepower.”

That’s exactly what the Underground Literary Alliance wanted to bring to the scene. Some scorn me as “a maniac.” Why? Because, unlike them, I have verbal and intellectual energy. It’s why no one dares debate me—which would be truly crazy.

What’s noticeably lacking in authors today from both the literary establishment, and the big selling wizard/zombie/vampire novelists, is personality. Energy. Charisma. Who’s got it? The hyped big names, like Jonathan Franzen, represent more a lethargic anti-charisma, in their persons and their writings. Can anyone argue that Franzen’s Freedom is in any way kickass? Energetic? Explosive? Is there “firepower” in it? Intellectual or otherwise? When Jonathan Franzen tries to present ideas in his weighty tomes, they’re so banal and shallow they’re embarrassing. When he enters a room, he doesn’t enliven it. He puts it to sleep.

The ULA troupe by contrast had striking personalities in its lineup, whose writings, at its best, could be comic (Wred Fright), relevant (James Nowlan), or attention-deficit (Crazy Carl Robinson). I think of larger-than-life macho throwback Wild Bill, beat writing in a 19th century East Texas dialect. Or our original zeen babe. Or uncontrollable poet Frank Walsh, whose language sounded like Ezra Pound on speed and whose performances were never less than wildly entertaining. Original personalities. I’ll throw even much maligned Urban Hermitt into the mix, whose rules violation was authentically recreating the sound of punk kid subculture, breaking several constipated schoolteacher rules along the way.

Could the literary world have used what we were selling? Maybe. Unfortunately our protests, theater and noise panicked too many uptight overregulated literary personalities, including Jonathan Franzen, Thomas Beller, and Dave Eggers. “Hip” writers who it turned out couldn’t take or tolerate much of anything. PBS Lawrence Welk would be too threatening to them. What we’re stuck with then instead is self-important monotone meandering, or self-involved hipster posing—literary birdwatching—all of it lacking the spark of life.

Bureaucrats and Bureaucratese

ONE THING the Underground Literary Alliance, as part of the DIY movement, sought to accomplish during its active history, was to find a way to readjust the relationship between system and writer. To begin to break down a widespread bureaucratic mentality, in which literature’s chief value—the WRITER—is forced into an inferior, hat-in-hand position of “Please publish me!” In so doing, when approaching literary journals, dealing with a thousand little dictators. When dealing with the publishing system in New York of agents and editors, ten thousand dictators, each one expressing his-or-her arrogance in as officious and dismissive way possible, as if they, legalistic system bureaucrats, were the artistic creators.

I received just a little of that yesterday, when I emailed Tablet Magazine to express my legitimate dismay as being characterized, in Thomas Beller’s 12/13/12 essay, as “a maniac.” A libelous, unfactual statement. A malicious smear showing Thomas Beller, like Tom Bissell or Johannes Lichtman before him, playing to an unseen audience of literary power people.

Here’s the response I received from Tablet Magazine, from senior editor Matthew Fishbane:

“I'm an editor at Tablet. Thank you very much for writing. I'm sorry to hear you differed in opinion with the piece, but I do hope that you'll find other things to like on the site. You are always welcome to participate in comments, repeating or linking back to blog posts where you have expressed your opinions. Do let me know if you have any trouble posting in the comments.

I regret your first visit to Tablet was an unpleasant one.”

This sounds like a form response from a computer program, more than from an actual person—a human being. Can we be certain that “Matthew Fishbane” is not in fact a fictional creation?

Yes, it is a bit unpleasant to be publicly called “a maniac.” I truly don’t much blame Thomas Beller, who has a tenuous position within the system to maintain. I know what he’s doing. Beller wants to still be able to write for prestigious publications. I understand that as a writer and thinker he’s a weak person who’s required to play the game.