Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cozzens Quote

Here’s a quote from the notebooks of James Gould Cozzens, overlooked American novelist, which could apply to today’s postmodernists. The quote dates from 1961/62.

“In practice certain obscurities of style, though they may repel many readers, can and do serve the reputation of several authors very well. They make certain that no one is going to see right away how banal the material is, or how childish or second rate the thinking. And this is not the end. Hardly anyone who has put himself to the long trouble of guessing meanings so hard to get at is going to admit that the findings weren’t worth the work—or bluntly, he has let himself be made a fool of. He will in nine cases out of ten save face by being next to the author himself in claiming this work is of Profound Significance.” 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

King Wenclas Ebooks

A reminder that, when I’m slow at posting new material here, the best source for my thoughts on today’s literature is my collection of five ebooks.

-The most recent of the group, The McSweeneys Gang, while part satire and part mystery story, also contains many opinions and observations about the current literary world, and about the direction of American literature.

-My e-novel The Tower, an examination of a protest, contains a more subtle array of observations (though much of the plot is over the top). Included, for instance, is a chapter about a cultural hipster.

-One of the tales in the trilogy Mood Detroit contains a scene set at a literary reading. Another story, about two female rock musicians, could be seen as an analogy to the lit world.

-Crime City USA is a pulpish novella about a corrupt city. What’s more corrupt than today’s literary world? Is not “Fake Face” a recognizable character?

-Ten Pop Stories contains an array of new approaches to the American short story, which in the hands of workshop scribblers has, as an art form, been stuck at a dead end the past fifty years. New approaches are demanded.

The great thing about these five ebooks is they’re available at Nook Books or the Kindle Store, or on associated apps. The five ebooks are also ridiculously affordable. There’s no excuse for not having them in your ebook collection—representatives of a tiny corner of literary dissent. Read them before they’re taken down! In style and thought they’re unlike anything being published on-line or off.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Buddy System

When I take a look at what’s going on within the literary establishment, I notice nothing there has changed. It continues to operate on the “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy. Everyone’s okay. Literature is okay. It’s wonderful.

See this article in The Daily Beast by Insider writer Ben Greenman:

(Note my comment at the bottom of page.)

What’s Greenman’s essay really about? The essay is a glorified sucking up to fellow members of the Club—and to writers in general. It’s of a piece with the mindset of trained writers; taking an insular viewpoint, from within the literary world, without placing that world within the context of the larger culture. From the outset it reflects a defensive posture, from behind the walls of the castle.

While reading Ben Greenman’s essay, one sees heads nodding: “Yeah, that’s right.” Protect the published author. The work is valued by fiat; by its existence.

Note the ready outrage and perplexity at a review not properly in line. It violates the First Principle of Insider Lit, which is the Principle of Sucking Up. The principle which undergirds the entire shaking establishment. An establishment powered by the energy of this principle. A principle, within that world, which is everywhere; on every level and in every corner.

With the essay, Ben Greenman is looking for agreement, as all writers are always looking for agreement. Consensus. Conformity to what is.

Their concerns are the concerns of privileged writers, those who already have station and standing. Many other writers, especially over the past few years, have been concerned with sheer economic survival, and with obtaining the time, energy, and availability to write.

Note that in Greenman’s view of literature there are no standards, and there are no distinctions—other than assumed workshop standards of the well-written sentence, meaningless or not, and mild situations and emotions sure not to displease writing peers. Agreement. Beyond these basics, there’s no judgment of literary works, and no way to judge them. “Some people will like the work and some won’t,” is the notion, all a matter of feelings and impressions with no thought involved.

After all, standards were thrown out long ago—again, except for making the writing sound good. Making it vaguely look like an example of literary art—a facsimile of what others are doing.

The qualities which make a good novel—pace, clarity, intelligence, structure—are never mentioned. “Some people will like it and some won’t.” Which means, it’s all good. If it’s produced by them, and approved by existing institutions, it must be good.

It’s all wonderful.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crisis of the Culture


Talking points. That’s all you hear from the media. Talking points! But what do politicians or reporters mean when they say talking points? They mean they’ve distilled their lies and obfuscations down to a precise, manageable, effectively efficient number which they think or at least hope will fool people. Let’s work on those talking points! Remove this. Can’t say that. Save face. The least—the very least ignored forgotten factor in their considerations is the truth of the matter.

The activist writers group I once belonged to, the Underground Literary Alliance, was destroyed and kept down by talking points. I’ve never seen them; no one’s dared leak them to me; but when everyone who writes or comments about you is repeating exactly the same distortions, untruths, and misconceptions then they’re relying on someone’s talking points. Do the talking points sound plausible? The truth? Nowhere.

The problem we see today with current political scandals isn’t with specific bureaucracies (though it’s in the nature of bureaucracies to abuse power), or even with specific individuals. It’s with all of it. Most of the individuals involved are products of an educational system carrying an underlying philosophy that places expediency above character and integrity.

The people running this country have no character. This statement has nothing to do with political parties, but with how people in power behave—how they’re expected to behave to achieve their station.

Hillary Clinton has no character and likely never had any character. Surely you know that, as a young lawyer, she was bounced from the Watergate investigation because of her unscrupulous behavior? No?

Great attack dog. Useful in certain situations. Not a leader. No character.

Why the obfuscations about Benghazi? The truth of the situation is easy to see. The administration’s ambassador—their own guy—and his team were trapped in an eight-hour firefight. Eight hours! Trapped! The ambassador’s bosses, Hillary, Panetta, Obama included, ran away from the situation. They threw their own people overboard in the interest of what? Talking points?!

The problem starts with the university system, to this extent.

Human beings are irrational animals. Read Gustave LeBon’s analysis of the French Revolution. Our task is to fight, every day, against our own irrationality, our flaws and drives and failings, and against the distortions of information we receive: i.e., talking points. We need touchstones. Touchstones for behavior and for viewing reality. Your touchstone might be A.) Religion used practicably. A set of values; rules of good behavior. B.) Devotion to classical principles; the teachings of Aristotle and the like.

America once had both these foundations of strength, combined.

What’s being taught in the academy today?

Students are taught a mish-mash of Marx and Nietzsche, and French postmodern/crackpot philosophy, with added dashes of feminist make-believe reinterpretations/distortions of history and human nature. Students graduate with heads filled with a nightmare of contemporary beliefs and confusions and little understanding of how the world works in reality. No foundation of moral principles and ethics.

They’ve learned how to recite back to their teachers indoctrinated information thought necessary to achieve. The one thing they haven’t learned is how to think.

They’ve learned talking points.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Where's Our Culture?

The revelations of the horrors of the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia should give persons of conscience pause, no matter what side of the issue they're on. It's caused me to wonder where we are as a society and culture in general.

Certainly, American attitudes and American culture are darker than they once were. There's a tone of complacency about life, death, humanity, which is approaching sociopathy. A lot of it stems from those who, indoctrinated by the academy, rigidly place ideology before humanity. One sees this in the abortion issue-- or should see it, whatever your stand-- in the corruption of thought and language through the use of euphemisms like "women's health" and "fetus" for what is at its core an abhorrent, horrific procedure. Especially when you get to where Gosnell was.

I wonder if the robotically-brainwashed Harvardite trendies at n+1 magazine are still selling their celebratory "I Had an Abortion!" t-shirts. At best, the procedure is nothing to celebrate. Under any circumstances it's more of a tragedy.

Stand back and look objectively at American culture, and you have to conclude it's far sicker than it was fifty years ago. Is this the result of underlying philosophies/belief systems? The triumph of Nietzschean-based postmodernism? (Our culture today is aggressively Nietzschean.) It's a question worth examining.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

How the Media Lie

During my time with the Underground Literary Alliance, I well learned that so-called journalists from the establishment media are in fact propagandists. Which means, they’re not seeking objective truth.
They have a set narrative in line when they begin to write—often but not always based in partisan politics. Everything in the article will comply with the predetermined narrative.

We see this from mainstream media about yesterday’s Benghazi hearings. Perhaps the most distorted account of those hearings comes from esteemed Time writer Joe Klein. It’s not really an account, but more of a diatribe in defense of the Administration, with not a speck of objectivity, and scarcely any honesty.

Much of what Klein says is pure misdirection, away from the actual subject. For instance, the question of adequate funding provided to defend embassies and consulates. We should all be able to agree that there are adequate funds in the federal budget in general, and the State Department in particular, to move funds around, if necessary, to protect crisis points. Others have pointed out the lavish sums of money for embassies in safer places like Jordan. or Moscow, for that matter. No money to protect a mission in the middle of a global hot spot? The idea is ridiculous.

Amid the constant mentions of, and apologies for, a YouTube video, by Obama, Hillary, and Susan Rice, did the President in fact call the 9/11 Benghazi attack an “act of terror”? Yes and no. In his Rose Garden remarks Obama mentioned “acts of terror” in general. Klein’s presentation is a half-truth that fits well with the slanted thrust of his article. See the matter discussed here:

More important than Joe Klein’s misdirections about the Benghazi hearings are his omissions, and his outright lies.

Note the caption under the photo on the page of a “protester.” The caption says, “A protester reacts . . . during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film. . . .”

Two quick comments. 1.) Note the weapon. That’s a hell of a protest! 2.) “said” to have been protesting a film? “Said”—by whom?

Joe Klein and his Time editors seem not to have listened to the hearings the article is supposed to be about. In his testimony, Gregory Hicks said there was “No protest” at the consulate. Everyone involved in the 9/11 events—everyone—called it an attack. Hicks also dismissed the idea of an obscure YouTube video being the cause, calling it “a non-event in Libya.” If anyone was in a position to know, he was.

To confirm this, we have the email from Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, quoted at the hearings (Klein and Time seem to have missed it), dated 9/12, the day after the attacks, in which this assistant to Hillary Clinton said, “—the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”

Hmm. Doesn’t sound quite like the “local street gang” in Joe Klein’s depiction.

No mention in Joe Klein’s article of the stand down order, and the Administration’s failure to act—in particular, Hillary Clinton’s failure to act to protect her own people, once the battle began—which is always the first test of leadership.

No mention by Joe Klein of the outright lies by Hillary, Susan Rice, and even the President blaming the attack on the obscure video, with no evidence presented then, or now, least of all by Joe Klein, showing that said video had ANYTHING to do with the Benghazi attacks. An administration lied to the American public—saying what they surely knew were lies. They tried to cover-up their inaction and incompetence. Esteemed journalist Joe Klein is like Sergeant Schultz from the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes”: “I see nothing. NOTHING!”

I could go on. The bottom line is that this magazine, and its scoundrel of a propagandist, are considered “legitimate” media. One has to laugh about it, because the alternative is to cry over what’s happened to the press in this country.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Visit to a Library

Recently I had occasion to spend an afternoon at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. The visit was enlightening. It provided a graphic example of how the Internet has changed our habits of reading in this country.

On the first floor, in various rooms, were banks of computers. Each was occupied.

On the upper level were large rooms filled with long shelves filled with many thousands of books. Thousands on the subject of literature alone. Priceless information, analysis, and opinions. On the entire vast level, there sat at the tables only two women of college age who were using the quiet area as a place for study. In another room sat two librarians side by side at a small desk. Both were occupied on computers. No one bothered them for information about books, neither by phone or in person. When I asked them a question, I had the feeling I was the first person to disturb them that day, if not the entire week. If not for a month. They were covered in metaphorical dust.

I found the books I was searching for, in a room far on the other side of the floor from the librarians, and sat down at a table with a stack of them to browse and read. The floor was eerily silent. I could’ve been in a closed building. The only persons I glimpsed in my several hours reading were the faces of two security guards, making their rounds, possibly surprised at what I was doing.

Meanwhile, on the ground level, scores of ever-changing people busily sat at computer screens.

What were they looking at? A few were doing research, perhaps. The rest were likely on the Internet, surfing the web or occupied with social media. posting notes at Facebook or reading and sending tweets.

What few if any of them were doing was learning a subject deeply. The Internet isn’t set up for deep reading. People learn instead a little about a lot of subjects—much of it gossip—instead of learning very much about one topic. Deep reading is what you do when you plunge into an actual book, or into many books.

This explains a lot to me. The new generation has seemed to me to have superficial knowledge about subjects like economics or the environment. Though ill-informed, they’re extremely arrogant about their positions on those subjects, positions more often than not formed for political reasons, and not because the individual objectively weighed all sides of an argument.

The way knowledge is now disseminated to us, I fear, makes it easy to push and pull a “herd” in the proper direction. The stances taken aren’t based on thorough knowledge, but on the stances others in their camp are taking. What’s the proper side to be on? What are the cool kids saying?

Other problems with the Internet are that the potential exists to determine how many people are reading which sites, what material. To determine exactly what’s being read and learned. Monitoring. Another problem is that parts of the Internet—improper information, say—could be closed off or shut down, in an instant. With a click of a mouse. If not the entire Internet in an “emergency.” I’m not saying that it’s happening, only that it could happen. With the Internet, everyone is plugged into the same tentacled beast.

With books, old fashioned and vanishing, no one knows who’s reading what—what books or information anyone has stashed away. The way things are going, in a generation or two there will be very few books stashed away.

(p.s. Why aren’t people protesting the Internet sales tax legislation?)

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Usual Conformity

It’s amazing to me how nothing within the literary establishment ever changes. Its promoters, like Lucas Wittmann at Daily Beast/Newsweek live within a narrow cultural room. They’re unable or unwilling to see outside. You’d think they’d be aware of changing currents—Newsweek, after all, discontinued its print issue. But instead they endlessly recycle the same stale ideas.

Case in point is this piece by academy-approved poet Charles Simic:

Daily Beast, incidentally, is always in step with establishment and/or administration political programs. Does the administration want to discredit Russia? Here comes the requisite article in Daily Beast. Is an Immigration bill on the table? Here comes the pro-immigration Daily Beast article on the proper day. A question: Are they paid to behave as administration mouthpieces? It mustn’t pay well, otherwise Newsweek would still be publishing.

Re the Simic article. The four writers mentioned at the top of the piece are thoroughly status quo writers, lavishly supported by waves of funding. The late Steve Kostecke did a piece for the ULA on Yiyun Li (his essay no longer available) which pointed out how she was published in The New Yorker and Paris Review simultaneously, when she was a star pupil at Iowa, though dubious claims were made that she was found in the slush pile. As with the others Simic cites, hardly a boat person or refugee from the Mexican economy. Their style of immigration is a universe apart from the unskilled masses being brought into this country to become a permanent underclass. Becoming high-brow MFA writers is likely not their fate! Odds are they won’t even learn the language; in this “multicultural” climate they won’t be encouraged to learn it, because that would defeat the point: obedient help for rich people, combined with lower wages.

Re the literary art. NO art progresses via status quo thinking and institutionalized conformity. History shows that art refreshes itself only through rebellion. Through creative destruction. Through artists willing to turn their art on its head.