Canonical Follies

Harvard-University

It frankly doesn’t matter if “The Yellow Wallpaper” is taught in high schools instead of The Great Gatsby (which is too deep and well-structured a book for high schoolers anyway). Raising the question is asking which texts students will be bored by.

THIS is a quote of mine in a review about a new book by Dana Schwartz about white male writers and the Western Canon. My own view has long been that to be a living art, that art needs to survive and thrive outside institutional settings. Categorizations such as the so-called literary canon say more about the mindset of the supporters and curators of such places than they do about the art form being preserved and celebrated. (One need look only at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with its curious list of omissions and entrants.)

IF I cared more about the literary canon, I’d mention several writers who should be in it, or ranked higher within it– beginning with the American novelists Frank Norris and James Gould Cozzens, masters at that particular art.

gatsby cover

(p.s. For what it’s worth, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is a far superior, more complex work of fiction than “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Stetson— one of those overwritten, obsessive inside-the-head tales of the kind often done by overrated canonical author Henry James, and later popularized by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who no one is rushing to put into any canon. Outside that of mystery writers.)

mary roberts rinehart(Mary Roberts Rinehart.)
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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

Year-End Wrap-Up 2018

CONCLUSIONS OR DELUSIONS?

Paranoid-schizophrenia
(Painting c/o wikipedia commons, “outsider art.”)

2018 was a challenging year, as we injected ourselves, on several occasions, wisely or unwisely, into debates in defense of free expression and of truth.

A score of posts at this blog were devoted to our investigation of the Junot Diaz Controversy. See one of our reports here.

We also came out publicly in opposition to the depublishing of poets in response to pressure by what I called “Poetry Cops.” One of our reports on that matter is here. In this post we asked the question, “Is American literature becoming a censorship horror show?” As of this writing it remains an open question.
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AMID the noise, we found time to present some of the best fiction and poetry found anywhere, from present and future literary luminaries and of all kinds and styles. Examine them and their work at our Features line-up here.
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OUR own highlight at this blog and in our lives in 2018 was this trip back up to northern Michigan’s Hemingway country, this time for distinctly personal reasons.
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2019-page-001 - Edited

What’s in store for New Pop Lit for 2019?

More new fiction and poetry,

BUT ALSO–

We’ll attempt to reinvent the short story. That’s all.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Questions for National Book Foundation

CiprianiWallStreet

(Pictured: Cipriani Wall Street, location of 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony.)

NOTE:  We requested an interview with National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas about their upcoming awards, but never received a response. Here are several questions we would’ve asked:

1.)  Does New York City exercise too much dominance over American literature?

2.)  Would you say the National Book Foundation is a promotional arm of Big Five publishing? Are New York publishers the foundation’s chief support?

3.)  Is it a mistake for all ten of your 2017 Non-Fiction nominees to be slanted politically one way? Should a tax-exempt arts organization be open to a variety of viewpoints?

4.)  We note the National Book Foundation is sponsoring a reading program in Pakistan. Is this done for political reasons?

5.)  How does one attend the awards Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street on November 15th? How much are tickets? Is the event not open to the public?

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Literature and Foreign Policy

ciahq

THAT key Anglo-American literary figures during the Cold War used literature as a tool of foreign policy, through journals like Paris Review and Encounter, raises a host of questions.

-Has literature been used as a tool of U.S. foreign policy at other times during the past sixty years?

-During this year’s renewed Cold War, the West versus Russia, are segments of the establishment literary world being used as instruments of foreign policy NOW?

-To what extent do U.S. intelligence agencies support current journals or institutions of literature?

 

The Lit Scene Now

typewriter

All sides represent contradictions, as American literature is in a state of flux and objective(?) observers such as ourselves wait for things to sort themselves out. For the moment, intellectual thought about all matters literary is polarized.

THE RIGHT
We pass over long-time conservative journals like Commentary and National Review, which are adjuncts of an internationally focused intellectual establishment based in Washington D.C. and New York. We’re talking about the new Right.

What is it? Can it be defined? We wait for someone to define it. There is new thought, new energy coming from that end of the spectrum. To us it seems a badly put-together Frankenstein monster; a contradictory amalgam of Nietzschean paganism and tradition-leaning Catholicism. Its origins are found in intellectual journals like Taki Mag, with writers ranging from libertarian to libertine to anarchist to all things. Hardly conservative– many have opened Pandora’s Box. The aesthetic attitude is often snobbish and effete, and as such, out of synch with the mass of populists who voted for Trump. The impact to date on the literary world of these writers is small.

THE LEFT
The energy on the Left comes from a spate of journals like Jacobin Mag, The Baffler, and n+1— along with at least one interesting new one which we’ll discuss at a later time. All espouse some variety of Marxism. All editors, writers, and interns of these journals are from real privilege. Are they the Left? A curious form of it. Their common origin point is the Ivy League. What the publications present in their essays, editorials, poetry and prose is the skewed “View from Harvard Yard.” The tops-down acceptable narrative from cogs and creators of the established machine. Each individual has paid dues within the current literary system. They’re artistic conformists in every aspect.

Today’s nobility, representing a tiny sliver of America, peering at the Unknown from their Brooklyn/Manhattan fortress. Living a 2017 variation of Margaret Mitchell’s Plantation Madness.

overseer
(Former overseer Jonas Wilkerson and “white trash” Emmy Slattery getting thrown off the Tara estate.)
Well-bred aristocrats united with loyal retainers of color against the Enemy: white populists of sketchy background who carry the potential to upset their flimsy Potemkin facade. That high and narrow construction of paste and plywood labelled “LITERATURE,” which they present as the legitimate article– when it’s clearly NOT.

To understand these journals and editors and the role they play in literary culture, one first has to understand their predecessors. We’ll examine those in our next post.

 

The Other Two

OUR OTHER TWO writers selected as top (#1) bracket seeds for the Tournament ARE:

C.) Herman Melville

Melville

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D.) Mark Twain

Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley

We’ll explain our choices tonight at New Pop Lit‘s “Fun Stuff” Interactive blog.

Let the catcalls begin!

#1 Seeds

Two American writers were so gigantic in standing and influence, even on the world stage, that they’re automatic #1 seeds. Both of them, in ways good or bad, helped define what it is to be American.

A.) Ernest Hemingway

hemingway at work

B.) Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

We’ll explain our choices this afternoon at New Pop Lit’s Interactive blog.

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We’re re-discussing the other two #1 seeds. May not announce those until the weekend. . . .

Hyper-Talents Part II

courbet-gustave-self-portrait

PORTRAITISTS: Part II of Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

We’re not into solipsistic convolutions of words, the postmodern linguistic games many status quo writers use to justify their funding and station. We prefer writing which is clear and direct, so that emotion and meaning hit the reader straight on, between the eyes.

We believe art is about meaning and emotion. We believe if done right, good writing can be appreciated by almost anyone. That’s where “pop” comes into the equation.

Many new writers are portrait painters. Their stories are usually short. Their words are brushstrokes, painting an image which enters the reader’s head.

These do not give you every last detail of the setting or experience. They’re impressionists, in which simplicity achieves a more intense version of reality. Less truly is more in their art. “Bang. Bang. Bang.” The tale is suddenly over. The reader is surprised. Moved. In some cases, devastated.

gaugin-self-portrait

Their work is the heritage of late-nineteenth century painters via literary interpreters like Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway– the past fifty years of postmodern game-playing passed over. To everyone’s relief, except French intellectuals and American professors needing tenure. But at least as great an influence as painting is American popular music, starting with rock and roll. The direct expression of emotion, culminating in the hyper-fast, hyper-simple expression of punk. Granted, most of the new writers don’t look like punks! We believe they’ve been subliminally influenced. (Sneering guitar-destroying DIY-focused Elvis Presley in the 1956 movie “Jailhouse Rock” has been said to have been the first punk.)

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Who are the best of the literary portrait painters?

anne-leigh-parrish

Near or at the top has to be Anne Leigh Parrish. While Anne Leigh lauds lit-establishment story writers like Alice Munro, she doesn’t quite go in for the long sentences, the lengthy descriptions and paragraphs which characterize the typical New Yorker magazine writer. The John Updike model where the sentence is all. What for a more literary-minded critic might be a handicap, we see as a plus. A new story by Ms. Parrish shows what we’re talking about: “Picture This.”

The story sneaks up on you. It begins simply. It’s a nice little tale about a couple in Maine. An artist trying to “make it,” and the woman who supports him. Then, suddenly, bang, bang, bang, emotion kicks in. Simplicity has become art.

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Another talented literary portrait painter is Sonia Christensen, whose second story for us, “Dry Bones,” was featured at our site a few weeks ago. As you can see from the story, Sonia similarly deals with relationships.

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Among other literary portrait painters is our own Kathleen M. Crane, a Detroit-area writer recruited into this project as a result of her first short story with us, “Donnie Darko,” a short tale about a shelter cat. Could anything be simpler? Her follow-up story presented at our main site, “Sam,” about a young musician fighting addiction, characterizes our pop-lit ideas. Indeed, Kathleen has helped define our ideas, pushing New Pop Lit in a Hemingwayesque direction– daubs of style and sophistication added to a pop core.

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I asked my consulting editor Kathleen how she writes her stories.

“I imagine I’m taking a visual snapshot of a moment or person in time. I use details, but not all details. Instead, the important details. One can get lost in too many details.” (This said with a deadpan expression but a wry glint in her eyes. Like her stories, her words carry a an underlying sense of humor which says the world can be cruel, but also absurd.) “I want my writing to be clear and concise.”

The Pop-Lit philosophy in a sentence.

We’ll present a new short fiction piece by K.M.C. in a few weeks to further illustrate our points and the kind of writing we look for– understanding that we want writers to outdo our own work. We’re mere literary travelers, seeking for stars and superstars.

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New story writing today is characterized by a large wave of flash fiction writers– who by the nature of the form are required to get to the point! No long digressions. No endless descriptions. No attempts to display for academy profs the well-written sentence. They have only so many words to use. (Flash fiction can be as brief as six words. We generally look for stories that are a bit longer.)

We’ve published some of the best of the flash fiction writers, such as Ana Prundaru and Andrew Sacks. Two new flash fiction pieces we’ve accepted from Mr. Sacks exhibit the way flash fiction gets quickly in and out. Tells the story and closes down. Like a quick, cutting pop song. We’ll be presenting Andrew’s latest in a month or so. Please watch for them!

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NEXT UP in our Overview of today’s new writers:

III. “The Lost?: A New Generation.”

IV. “Underground, Popsters, and Other Fronts.”

Or, much excitement to follow. Stay tuned.

-Karl Wenclas

(Self-portraits by Gustave Courbet and Paul Gaugin.)