Wake Up the Tastemakers!

ONE of the reasons literature is in sad shape– its role in the greater culture plummeting– is that staffs of Manhattan magazines, beneath surface differences, are invariably the same. Well-educated upper-middle class climbers from the “best” schools. Usually the same schools. Their ideas on art and culture are the same.

Will they be able to recognize the radically NEW when it lands on the desk in front of them?

Why does it matter? It matters because they have the remaining promotional infrastructure for all things literary in today’s media world– an infrastructure underground publishers lack.

What we offer are ways to engage the larger culture, via more exciting literary products. We’re little different from hip-hop creators and others who’ve come from outside the cultural system and with new ideas were able to reinvigorate that system along with the culture at large. They depended on perceptive outliers among media able to spot an opportunity and jump on it.

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HOW do you revive an art? Another example from pop music history is the early 1990s when groups like The Pixies and Nirvana injected pop elements into punk rock and thereby created a new hybrid. Not dissimilar to what we’re doing at New Pop Lit via our zeen creations. Check us out. Drop into our POP SHOP.

On Clarity and Clowns

THE TASK OF THE NEW WRITER

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CLARITY is totally underrated by today’s literary community. It starts with what the text looks like on the page. The wrong way to write in our eyes is to present dense blocks of text with no way in.

THE FIRST TASK of the writer is to show the reader a quick way into your narrative– your world. (Why hooks are important.) Reading can’t be a leisurely activity because we don’t live in a leisurely world. Life is fast– boom, boom, boom— rushed hustling images words sounds bombarding the body and brain from all directions, overwhelming.

HOW DO WE COMPETE?

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HOW do we as writers stay relevant against distractions of every kind, from video games to TV screens smartphones Pokemon, chat rooms, all the unintelligible irrational noise and nonsense, talking head politicians blabbering blather waving arms around, give me your VOTES, give me power you can trust me really you can. . . .

It’s all a circus sideshow.

The one thing you can say about the current occupant of the center ring of the three-ring circus is he recognizes the spectacle and is happy playing the clown.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Mass Media Hysteria!

WHAT ARE WE GETTING HYSTERICAL ABOUT TODAY?!!

pillage of rome unknown artist

EVER NOTICE that all electronic media anymore is filled with hysteria? From television news to the twittersphere and other social media. 

Gone are the days when individuals could step back and keep everything in proportion put all things into context, adopt for themselves for the sake of society or at least their own sanity an objective perspective.

Instead it’s a scene from a bad 1970’s disaster movie: “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna DIE!”

This past week we’ve had Trump Impeached, Rogan and Bernie, Tulsi suing Hillary, latest fronts on Climate Change and a Killer Virus in China. Rockets Dictatorships Doomsday Clocks Billionaires in Davos, Meghan and Harry, with the unsettling Disappointments of the Queen across every tabloid– look at her face– people executed someplace latest Earthquake, Blizzards, Shootings, Revolutions and Revelations– you name it, and the intentional beneficiary of these flurries of mad mob behavior is the news media. Bump up those ratings!

At New Pop Lit we want people hysterical only about ART!

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The Tunnel Vision of Contemporary Literature

THE ROAD TO THE 3-D STORY

PostcardDetroitRiverRailroadTunnel(c/o Wikimedia Commons/T.C. Photochrom.)

THE RISK for any arts critic is to embrace the consensus of the presumed greatness of their art.

They’re almost forced to believe in it, surrounded as they are by the promotional noise of giant media conglomerates– including “Big Five” publishing– and other arms of an enormous status quo literary scene. That for all its enormity, whose many appendages carry the same premises and think the same way.

On some level the careers of the inhabitants of the established literary hive are dependent upon that belief in their art’s greatness. Their very number and the very size of the hive reinforces the belief. Which prevents them from looking outside the art, away from the current system.

The latest well-hyped release appears on their desk, and everyone is praising it. Can they fail to do likewise?

This limits their imaginations. They don’t search for those who don’t-play-the-game-the right-way. They don’t look for ways their art could be changed– or seek out those who are changing it. They fail to glance outside the tunnel– for instance, at other possible ways of writing the short story. At alternate modes of literary creation.

Many of them dismiss the idea.

Which reinforces cultural stagnation.

The mundane, the predictable, the dreary.

The authentic artist destroys the predictable. The cautious. The same.

It’s the only way to operate.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Junot Diaz: Captive of the System

THE HARASSMENT CONTROVERSY VIEWED FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE

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IF all men are monsters, then that psychic grievance needs continual proof in the form of visible examples. Junot Diaz fit that need.

THE NARRATIVE

Evidence shows the accusations against Junot Diaz to be flimsy– more a case of bruised egos or a dismissive personality than sexual harassment. Junot Diaz fans blame the accusers themselves for the controversy. (Two accusers, in fact, are ambitiously eager to exploit every opportunity to gain publicity.)

For me the matter is caused more by a politicized literary scene– and by the media which covers that scene needing a steady supply of victims and guilty. The accusers are the Id of that media– the realized expression of their beliefs and needs. Without encouragement behind the scenes, the matter would never have become a story in the first place.

THE MACHINE

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One has to write outside today’s New York-centered literary system in order to see it AS a system. Those inside it have no perspective on it.

THE PRISONER

Junot Diaz’s reaction to the accusations against him has been constrained by his membership in the club. He became successful as a creature of the machine, but now the bill has come due and he’s paying it.

MUCH has been made about Diaz hiring a PR firm, and by appearing at his Boston Globe interview accompanied by a lawyer– but these are shackles on no one so much as him.

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Did you see the expression on his face in the photo by Suzanne Kreiter which the Boston Globe used? The expression of a prisoner. What you didn’t see are the invisible handcuffs chaining him to that lawyer. Said attorney and said PR firm exist to keep Junot Diaz from speaking his mind. From being himself.

That’s a hell of a position for any artist to be in.

BUSINESS

What was the quote from the Hyman Roth character in the movie Godfather II?

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“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Junot Diaz chose the world of establishment literature when he signed up for the MFA program at Cornell University he was later to write about in his 2014 essay “MFA vs. POC.”

Cornell_University_arts_quad

Diaz was one of the few writers of color in that writing program. He also may have been the only non-bourgeois person in it.

MFA programs teach students how to write in the proper upper-middle class “literary” style of long slow paragraphs of finely-detailed descriptions expressed in well-wrought sentences and it’s all very impressive to the cognoscenti but it’s also removed from the fast-paced real world lives of 95% of the American populace– a big reason why the short story, once the most popular American art form in the vulgar days of O. Henry and Jack London, is today only the delicate captive of writing programs, MFA grads, and New Yorker magazines sitting unread on Manhattan-or-the-Hamptons coffee tables.

manhattan c of alexkotlickDOTcom(Photo c/o AlexKotlik.com.)

It’s to Junot Diaz’s credit that his talent rises above the limitations– the handcuffs– of that very same refined writing style.

NOW he’s being judged by the same people he loathed when he was in those classrooms. Yes, those perfect beings currently staffing Buzzfeed, The Cut, Slate, The New York Times, etc. etc.; almost all from privileged backgrounds and in their Resistance daydreams looking for purpose, looking for causes, looking for harsh macho misogynists looking for anyone they can accuse hang and shred on the altar of their virtue signaling. Someone to nail to the wall for offending their sensibilities with too much reality brushing indelicately and intolerably against the fragile bubbles of their sterling New York City lives.

pelt on wall

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Who Defends Artistic Expression?

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THE LATEST NEWS is that literary editors are adding what they themselves refer to as Morality Clauses to their sites. Not an aesthetic guideline for submitted work– the clause regards the writers themselves. Editors are doing background checks on writers via google and other tools. Background checks! The mindset has come full circle. We’ve entered a neo-puritan world.

For these uptight-to-the-max editors, getting along with the herd– enforcing an ideology– is their primary focus. Art is a secondary consideration.

THE EDITING POLICE

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These literary editors have taken it upon themselves to monitor the writer’s behavior– including after the work has been published. “Yep, he did something regrettable and embarrassing. We published his poem five years ago. Doesn’t matter. Yank it out!”

The entire history of literature is filled with writers engaging in bad behavior. (It once was a badge of honor.) Beginning with Christopher Marlowe– who wouldn’t make the cut in this day and age. Neither would Shakespeare. There’s that rather disconcerting speech in Hamlet when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hurtful words. Yank his works.

WHEN I fronted an activist group from about 2000 to 2008, our numbers included many outcasts, outsiders, and those who regularly engaged in bad behavior. They were from every possible ideological stripe, left to right. We had no litmus tests or background checks.

Today, we see Editor-as-Cop. “Are your papers in order? Where are your papers! Can you prove you did not engage in harassment and abuse?” (One silly lit editor argued for R****l C****r proving she hadn’t engaged in verbal abuse.)

AT ONE TIME, the novel, poem or play itself was considered verbal abuse! Its very existence.

Has the writer engaged in bad behavior outside the walls of  our little literary project known as New Pop Lit? What’s that to me? I’m a literary editor. If he or she has broken a law, report them to the authorities.

A QUESTION: Would you publish a story or poem by a convicted murderer sitting in prison if the work were good enough? 

LAST LINE OF DEFENSE

Every other segment of society has reasons to limit or crush artistic expression. The state, the advertiser, the dependent-on-donors foundation, the speech-squelching university, the project-a-proper-image corporation. It’s the task of the artist; the writer– and the editor, the publisher, the promoter, the arts impresario– to stand up for creative expression. For the ability to be creative. The ability to surprise, stir, anger, or shock. If not us: Who else?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

How to Write a Hatchet Job

PRELUDE TO EXAMINING SLATE’S JUNOT DIAZ ARTICLE

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THE TRUTH is that a character assassination can be written on anyone– especially when you delve into the person’s long history of writings and cherry pick from them to bolster your argument.

Did Slate‘s Lili Loofbourow do this in her examination of the Junot Diaz sexual harassment controversy now dividing the literary world?

THE TRICK is that the same treatment could be performed on Ms. Loofbourow. For instance, two minutes of google searching found this article:

“In Praise of Fleabag and the Unapologetically Flawed Female Antihero.”

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The television show Loofbourow acclaims is, in her own words, “–a tremendous, oddly nourishing show about a liar and thief.” “It’s the story . . . of a woman who reads people too well and takes advantage of them,” “somehow desperate,” “a lean, amoral Matilda with no impulse control.”

(Anyone we know. . . ?)

Reading the article, one would think Lili Loofbourow doesn’t care, really, about apologies– nor about ethical behavior and truth. One could readily believe that Lili Loofbourow is simply a media gun-for-hire, fixing her opinions to fit the needs of her editors– or those of the greater conglomerate media herd.

That would be unfair.

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THE SLATE article is interesting to me, because it reminds me of a long essay that was written fifteen years ago for a major literary publication, about an activist writers group. A writers group coincidentally devoted to exposing blatant corruption in the established literary world. That long-ago essay was a well-written hatchet job, filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions. It defined us, creating a narrative which became “the truth” about us in everyone’s heads, so much so that any journalist afterward covering the organization read that essay as part of their research on it, viewing it through the same prism of misconceptions.
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I’m not complaining. I’m stating how the game is played. Those who rise to a position where they crank out articles for a variety of publications play the game very, very well.

The solution? To create an alternative literary world, and alternative lit-media, not based in the shark tank of New York– one devoted to facts, talent, and truth.

COMING SOON: A more direct look at the Slate article.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

Who’s Appropriating Whom?

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AS DISCUSSED in our previous News blog post, Current Affairs magazine and other “hard left” periodicals are staffed by well-educated cultural aristocrats appropriating the voice and stance of leftist radicals.

Yet we find to our surprise that Current Affairs published an article by Briahna Joy Gray about the very subject of cultural appropriation! It’s here.

NOT surprising is that the essay presents the Harvard tops-down viewpoint, and is filled with distortions.

New Pop Lit‘s editor (me) is writing a series of posts at his personal blog addressing the Current Affairs essay’s viewpoint. The pieces are being written in reverse order. The second one is “All About Chuck Berry.” The third and concluding part of the series is “All About ‘Hound Dog.'” The opening salvo is upcoming.
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ABOUT APPROPRIATION

The charge of so-called cultural appropriation, applied to rock n roll history– coming from of all places Harvard University; home of the Elite of the Elite– seems to this commentator designed to shut down (and wipe history books clean) of small-scale business run by street hustlers. IF the culture of the 1950’s had worried about matters of appropriation, that would’ve been the result– and rock and roll would never have happened. Including England’s Beatles, who did their share of appropriation, of artists black and white, and of every possible style, including Broadway show tunes and 1920’s English music hall ditties.

(My series is showing that during the rise of rock music, everybody was freely appropriating everybody– with one of Ms. Gray’s chief victims, Chuck Berry, as one of the appropriators.)

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THE PROBLEM with the tops-down Harvard Viewpoint is that it eliminates artistic diversity, integration, mutation, choice, and change under the guise of doing the opposite. Without such appropriations by low-rent wannabe-capitalist scramblers trying to make a buck, the music industry would’ve remained as static and uninteresting as the literary scene is today; dominated by unknowing conglomerate machines and Ivy League-dominated foundations understanding only one way of viewing the art; one safe way of thinking, writing, promoting and publishing.

-Karl Wenclas

 

Fake Diversity

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NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.