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.
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 ourPOP SHOP.
We operate under the premise that the current literary system is top-heavy and ready to be taken down.
The Question: What strategy will accomplish that end?
(It’s been revealed by recent world events that all is illusion, power is illusory, that which seems stable can collapse overnight. The trick then is to apply this realization to other realms. Such as: today’s literature-and-publishing empires, where all is hype and bluff, dusty academies or skyscrapers filled with time-servers and ticket-punchers, with an original idea nowhere to be found. Instead, a well-trained herd following blindly a well-trod path.)
The Countdown to Change has begun. We at New Pop Lit are prepared to document it, and whenever possible, to light a spark. The stakes are huge, the prize enormous: a revived more colorful and exciting literary art.
WATCH this blog for steady updates as we report on the ongoing transformation of American and world literature.
I’ve long argued for the vulnerability of the top-heavy conglomerate model of publishing, centered as it is in two hyper-expensive global cities, New York and London. Lease rates, rents, cost-of-living, salaries– everything about doing business in those two towns should make them uncompetitive in comparison to a city like, say, Detroit. The prestige of a swanky address, and the ability to woo clients in Manhattan bars and restaurants, as a value can go only so far.
Newsweek magazine anyway seems to have discovered a way out. Go onto theirContactpage, and you see a large logo for something called EnveritasGroup. Enveritas is a digital marketing agency. Presumably they were hired by– or partnered with– Newsweek, to restore the publication to its previous standing. And lo and behold, the new strategy appears to have moved Newsweek headquarters to the most prestigious address in New York City: One World Trade Center. The lofty skyscraper built to replace the twin towers.
But has it? Search online the listed address with suite number included– 8500– and you come up with not Newsweek, but an outfit called Servcorp. Servcorp sells virtual office space– meaning, a prestigious address. They are, in other words, a glorified maildrop, for Newsweek and other companies.
Where is Newsweek magazine’s headquarters actually located, including their editorial office? Elsewhere in New York? Individual editors’ homes and on Zoom? A small town in Arkansas? We don’t know. But it sure looks as if Newsweek is perpetuating the illusion they’re still based in Manhattan, while cutting costs drastically by working elsewhere.
The downside: no more swanky three-martini lunches.
In any group, Ernest was the most impressive personality. -Charles Thompson, quoted in The True Gen.
THE HEMINGWAY PERSONA
First place to start in any examination of Ernest Hemingway is the larger-than-life Hemingway persona, which he spent a lifetime creating and perfecting. In that sense he was not unlike self-created Hollywood stars Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. Intentional myth, which included his trademark macho bluster and swagger, but also his deliberately pushing himself into dangerous situations which could fuel that persona, that myth.
THE LOST GENERATION
Much of the author’s myth and mystique came from being part of an artistic movement of expatriate writers and artists who congregated in Paris after the First World War. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway placed himself at the center of that movement.
Hemingway fictionalized his experiences, many of which were traumatic, such as being wounded during the First World War. This is most noteworthy in his first two novels, in which he gave his intense experiences just the right amount of distance, creating powerful effect and universal meaning.He was also a hard-core student of craft. His short story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” is the most structurally complex story ever written, with deft switches between time and viewpoint, yet making the complexity unnoticeable. Seamless.
REVOLUTIONIZING THE LITERARY ART
It’s impossible for us to fully realize today the full extent to which Hemingway’s writing style (building on what he learned from Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, and Ezra Pound) hit the world with the shock of the new. His concise, well-crafted, often abrupt fiction was like the introduction of a new technology. It didn’t just add to the art of writing and the world of literature, but transformed them. His writing changed the way people viewed the world.
The popularity of the Hemingway style and ethos influenced the way people thought and talked. The very concept of noir fiction, for instance, stemmed from early stories of his like “The Killers” and those included in his collection In Our Time. One could most notice the influence in early sound movies from 1930 on, via tough guy actors like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable (the early version), and Humphrey Bogart. Bogie in particular played a Hemingwayesque character– the scarred existentialist hero– in most of his starring roles, including in one of the best films of all time, Casablanca.
AT THE CENTER OF HISTORY
One of the reasons Ernest Hemingway stood out from other writers during his lifetime was that he put himself at the center of world events, from World War I as an ambulance driver; the war’s aftermath as a correspondent, his public socializing in France and Spain, including his writing about bullfights; participant and war correspondent again during the Spanish Civil War and World War II in Europe, and of course his adventures hunting in Africa and deep sea fishing in the Caribbean.
THE GLOBAL AUTHOR
It was because he placed himself visibly on the world stage– in addition to his compelling writings– that Ernest Hemingway became one of the best-known persons on the planet. Universally read (only Jack London among American authors is comparable). One of America’s chief cultural exports at a time, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when American popular culture was sweeping across the planet.
Ernest Hemingway was a popular writer and at the same time an artistically serious one, that too-rare combination, which raised the standing of the literary art and inspired countless individuals to take up that art as their cause.
Our zeens, especially Extreme Zeen 2, for best use require special handling to retain their unique characteristics which place them above every other literary journal on the planet.
-DON’T smear the cover or pages with grimy or greasy hands. For example, it’s not recommended to read EZ2 directly after a.) frying and eating hamburgers, or b.) working on a car or other machinery. (If your car is an electric vehicle using no gasoline or crankcase oil, an exception may be allowed.)
-DON’T place glasses of cold beer, soda, or other beverages upon your copy of Extreme Zeen 2.
-DON’T toss EZ2 willy-nilly across a room, or at someone.
-DO NOT use EZ2 to strike a person. Or even an animal. Animals have feelings also. Or to kill insects. (It is however allowable to strike an intruder entering through a window with EZ2, if the miscreant interrupts your reading pleasure.)
-KEEP your copy of EZ2 OUT of the bathroom. The toilet paper shortage is over.
-REMEMBER, Extreme Zeen 2 is not a generic book, and must not be treated like one. It is, rather, a rare collectible.
-BEST PRACTICE. Best policy of course is to purchase two copies of Extreme Zeen 2: one for reading and admiring, the other to retain in its sealed sleeve to be placed into a safety deposit box, or a vault.
-FINAL CAUTION. Be wary of loaning your copy of Extreme Zeen 2 to any other person. Not only may they not exercise proper care and handling of it, but you may never get the issue back!
“At the Opera” in EZ2 is a cut-up multidimensional short story inspired by the innovations of avant-garde pioneers William Burroughs and Kathy Acker– but also by the editing techniques of pop music (sampling) and cinema (montage). The presumptuous goal: to create a literary collage, using public domain writing by several of the greatest novelists who ever lived.
ABOUT THE FICTION
The three other main fiction works are subtly dystopian– subliminally speculative– about where our world is now, and where it’s headed.
ABOUT THE POETRY
The poems in EZ2 were chosen specifically either for their ability to comment on an adjacent story (“Common Note” by John Zedolik commenting on “Care” by Sam Paget), OR for their ability to be part of a word-and-design fusion, where the poem is not simply accompanied by an illustration or design, but fuses with it.
THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE
Extreme Zeen 2 is the ultimate in analog literary experience, presenting words and colors which “pop” off the page and cannot be duplicated on any digital electronic screen.
THE NEW POP LIT MISSION
The New Pop Lit mission is to create publications which can engage all segments of the population– with words and presentations that are fun, stimulating, and thought-provoking. Not off-putting text-dense books, but instead, inviting attractive zeens.
THE STORY begins during my zine-making days in the early 2000s, when I lived in Center City in the hectic town of Philadelphia, walking through a labyrinth of narrow streets to a tiny, out-of-the-way copy shop run by an aging hippie-type guy. Tall and thin, with a graying ponytail and a slow vibe to him. Occasionally I’d run off copies of my then-zine, New Philistine, on the self-serve copier near the front window.
When I finished I’d give the man a roughly accurate count of how many sheets I’d copied, and he’d tell me a price off the top of his head, invariably lower than it should’ve been. Maybe because he had several zinesters as customers and appreciated what we were doing.
On this particular afternoon the proprietor motioned me toward the back room where he did larger print jobs. He showed me one of his art printers. He also revealed a few limited edition zines printed for a friend of his, and a special kind of paper made by a small specialty house in ______. (The name of a state.) I remembered the name of the little company.
“This is the best thickness and weight,” he explained. “Can print on both sides even with jobs that use a lot of ink, yet it’s light enough to use as pages in a zine. Very flexible, not stiff like standard photo paper. And look at those colors! They jump off the page. Synergy between ink, paper, and printer.”
With that comment he shook his head.
“Kids today have started making e-zines. E-zines! Zines on computer screens. Electronic dots. Turn off the screen and they vanish. Putting me out of business. They have their attributes, but they’ll never match this for quality. For artistic experience.”
We walked back to the front. I thanked him for the information and collected the sheets of my modest newsletter. Before I stepped outside I saw the man shuffling again to the back room, holding in his hand the specialty paper.
When I passed by the shop a couple months later, it’d closed.
The pandemic lockdown hit in March 2020, and as a retail job I’d lined up for myself fell through, I decided to put the extra time I had to use. To create, as I’d long planned to do, an upscale, high-quality version of a zine. A “zeen.”
I already had the right art printer, and with some difficulty located the specialty paper house located in ______. They stocked the perfect-weight paper for my project. I ordered it, as well as yellow paper of a particular weight I’d found to be also effective.
But what would the new “zeen” look like? What would it be called?
My graphic design skills were yet primitive, but I had two assets to compensate for that: a pair of spectacular images my wife Kathleen Marie Crane had rediscovered when rearranging boxes of memorabilia from her days as a punk model in downriver Detroit. One, an edgy photo of herself with platinum blonde hair. When developed, black dots had appeared around the edges of the large photograph, which gave it a decidedly otherworldly effect. That’d be the cover.
The other image was a watercolor she’d painted called “Lucy in the Sky,” inspired by the famous Beatles song. The painting was of a large blue psychedelic eye. We’d put a copy of that at the center of the zeen, so the pages fell open naturally to a view of the hypnotic image.
Copied on the specialty paper, the painting became truly spectacular.
We both wrote stories for the zeen (the plot for mine provided by KMC), and solicited work from several talented writers we’d worked with in the past– one of them Philadelphian Frank D. Walsh, best undiscovered poet on the planet.
What to name the issue?
We came up with Extreme Zeen, for extreme design.
The zeen, though a bit crude, contained stunning visual effects enabled by the analog artistic synthesis described to me years past. Extreme Zeen was the first of several New Pop Lit print zeens. With each one we learned more about design and art.
NOW we’ve released Extreme Zeen 2— culmination of that knowledge, containing a synthesis not just of image and medium, but of words and art. You need to order a copy to know what I’m talking about. Available at our POP SHOP.
The fact that so many books still name the Beatles “the greatest or most significant or most influential” rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art.
This is the opening sentence to Piero Scaruffi’s famous rant about the Beatles– which can be read in its entirety here.
Scaruffi’s article has been endlessly cited, quoted, and referred to. The kicker is we can see from the very first sentence that he’s operating under a misconception of what rock music is, was, and was intended to be– likely because he looked at the phenomenon retrospectively, through layers of rock music criticism built up between the years of 1964 (the time of U.S. Beatlemania) and 1999, the year Scaruffi wrote his essay.
What he misses completely– like a baseball player striking out–
— is that rock n’ roll music from the start was a popular-not-“serious” art. Like its antecedents, rhythm and blues and country music, it was music of and from the lower classes. This includes the low-rent hustlers who recorded it, promoted it and popularized it, from the Chess brothers to Sam Phillips to Alan Freed to Colonel Parker to Dick Clark to Berry Gordy Jr. The only people who took it “seriously” were members of its audience.
One can use numerous examples to illustrate this. Among them are the movies made to capitalize on what nearly all critics and tastemakers believed to be a temporary fad. For instance, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” starring buxom Jayne Mansfield and featuring Little Richard and other rock n’ roll stars.
Or, notice this sequence from the Elvis movie “Jailhouse Rock,” when Presley encounters a group of academics.
The entire point of rock music in its formative stage was that it was not in any way intellectual. It stirred the emotions and senses, was beyond analysis.
This was the situation when Beatlemania broke upon England, the United States, and the world. The Beatles’ appeal was aural and visual, direct and immediate, including their unique look. “Well, but they’re not serious artists!” hopeless reactionaries upset at their enormous popularity cried at the time.
Was rock n’ roll widely heard on college campuses before the Beatles broke big?
NO! College kids listened to jazz, classical, Broadway show tunes, or, increasingly, folk music from the likes of Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and a fledgling songwriter named Bob Dylan.
As Scaruffi mentions, there was nascent activism at colleges in the early 1960s, but it centered musically around folk, not rock. The protest song became a cliche– “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Little Boxes,” “Blowin in the Wind,” “What Did You Learn at School Today?” and so on. They were serious alright– but in no sense were they, or did they, rock.
A good way to judge the musical environment in the United States into which the Beatles arrived– to see what music was taken “seriously”– is to read thelistof Grammy Award nominations for the year 1964. Interesting– or comical.
ROCK GOES MIDDLE CLASS
First, the massive popularity of the Beatles, which converted entire social classes and age groups to the rock music cause.
Second, on July 25th in 1965, Bob Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, which outraged a significant portion of the audience as well as fellow performers, including Pete Seeger. Dylan in essence converted from folk to rock– and brought intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals along with him. (To be fair, the prod for this conversion was the April 1965 release of a rock cover version by the Byrds of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which became a monster hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard top singles list.)
It was only after bourgeois acceptance of rock n’ roll that rock criticism came into being– and “rock” displaced “rock and roll” as accepted terminology for the genre.
In sum, rock music was wholly the creation of the lower classes, first in America, then in Britain. The Beatles themselves were working class, from the rough seaport city of Liverpool. “Serious” intellectuals– not unlike Mr. Scaruffi– appropriated the genre, some ten-plus years after its birth in the U.S., and made it their own. In so doing, they made it more pretentious and overblown– rock musicians taking what had been quick entertainment all too seriously. Which in turn led to the creation of punk music in the 1970s to burst that bubble of snobby pomposity.
In 1948 when the film “The Red Shoes” was made, much of Great Britain was still in ruins, the country near bankruptcy, rationing in place. The population existed in what was by all accounts a gray, dreary world. This was the context for the movie’s opening scene when a crowd of college students eagerly rush up the stairs of Covent Garden to the cheap seats– there to imbibe the wonders and beauties of art. To receive an assault on the senses of color, costumes, scenery and music.
Filmed in glorious three-strip Technicolor, “The Red Shoes” is a tribute to beauty and magic in art. An ideal which has been eroded and lost over the ensuing decades, so the culture now is devoted to death, darkness, and zombies– to grovelling in the mud and saturating itself in the worst of mankind and society, instead of the best. The past year of gloom and lockdowns accentuated this trend, but didn’t create it. Darkness exhibits itself even in the literary world. Perhaps there most of all.
STYLES OF LITERARY ART
1.)Popular Genre. The dominant style according to sales and number of writers (given the number of ebook authors who adopt this style). Artistically it ranks at the bottom, because it’s unoriginal– generic– by definition. Imitations of imitations. To be artistically relevant, the style and its various genres need to change.
2.)Bureaucratic. The most admired style by both writers and the culture’s regulators of writers. This has three subcategories:
a.)Literary. The product of MFA writing professors and programs. It has itself become generic, manifested by emphasis on the well-written sentence and which includes an unselective mass of description and details.
b.) Postmodern. Taking literary writing one step further, with the added pretensions not so much of intelligence but intellectualism.
c.) Transgressive. This takes things one step further yet. Like postmodern writing, but darker, more negative and more solipsistic, with if anything even longer sentences and larger paragraphs. To break the hypnotic run of words is breaking the incantation of incoherent murmurs– the rhythm more important than sense or thought. The style fits with the bleakness of lockdowns and hospitals. With the depressing world of now. We don’t need to worry about a coming New Dark Age. Culturally, we’re in it.
What the three subcategories have in common is making words the prime value. Like a bureaucrat cranking out edicts and regulations, the bureaucratic writer produces mass amounts of words. The writer is prioritized over the reader, like a bureaucrat giving priority not to the consumer or citizen, but the regulation, and behind that, the system– the accepted, acceptable way of doing things.
2.)Polemical/Political/Religious. The “novel with a purpose.” Works for which the theme or mission or ideology is of prime importance. A style much frowned upon with the onset of the Cold War after World War II. Examples can be found on the left and the right. Two of the better novels in this vein are The Octopus (1901) by Frank Norris, and TheFountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand. Many current novels are written in a polemical style, with themes either of social justice or the climate, or both. As it’s a difficult style to master– the author has to either be balanced in viewpoint or go completely over the top– few are worth reading from the current crop.
3.)Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism– or, a romantic pursuit of beauty. More seen in 19th century poetry from the likes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, but aspects of this style permeated many of the period’s novels. The works of Alexandre Dumas, for instance, among the plotting, pay homage to beauty and art. The best later example is F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his beautifully-written and controlled stories and novels, which express the tragically romantic– the pursuit of an ideal, a “green light” at the end of a dock. As in “The Red Shoes,” to live and die for beauty and art.
Any such art movement, thrust into the gray world of today, would give the shock of the new. That would be truly transgressive.
The question is: Which style of literature is most needed now?