Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

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People fail to realize the extent to which most things in life are influenced by the supply-demand situation.

For instance in politics, the enormous oversupply of liberal arts graduates is one of the drivers of left-wing activity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who after college worked as a bartender) is a classic example.

But what about art? Writing?

WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Many competent short story writers are published every year in literary journals across the country. Several of them are crafting short stories better than vaunted New Yorker magazine fiction– which for decades has been the model for writing programs across the nation. We’ve published a few of those better writers at our main New Pop Lit site.

Having fiction placed in The New Yorker has been thought of as the Holy Grail for the standard MFA writing student. Thousands of MFA grads are attempting to follow that model. To squeeze through that narrow doorway. Lining up. Jamming up. A department store before the doors open on Black Friday.

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THE PROBLEM

The problem is that there are too many creative writers, and too few paying-or-prestigious outlets for their work. A vast oversupply of product. To meet it, tiny demand: very few people who read the overwritten New Yorker model. Today the creative writer’s audience consists of other creative writers, who’ve been trained to read and appreciate that obsolete style of story writing. (New Yorker stories themselves, with rare exceptions, are unread by most New Yorker subscribers.) Well-crafted literary stories are made to be admired, not read.

Today it doesn’t matter how well you the writer can write. The margin of difference between the best and the merely competent is small enough that decisions on who deserves publication and attention are made for reasons other than quality and talent. Instead, they’re made for reasons of politics, correctness, or connections.

THE SOLUTION

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The solution is to bust the supply-demand equation which currently exists in writing. This can be done on both ends.

1.) Create a faster, vastly more readable and exciting short story model– one so new and thrilling it demands to be read. Done right, this could grow the audience for short fiction several times over.

At this point the art is so marginalized there’s ample room for growth.

2.) Create a short story prototype so different from the standard– and difficult to do well– that few writers will be able to write it.

Doing this will create the “perfect storm” of jump-started demand, with few writers able to fill that demand. Those writers a step ahead of cultural history will be in a valuable spot. The vocation of fiction writer will become a worthwhile pursuit, for the first time in years.

Creating that new product won’t be easy. I’ve been working intensively on the matter for many months– really, longer (did my first rough version five years ago)– and am finding the going anything but easy.

Then again, life isn’t easy.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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Alpha Male Wannabes

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THE LATEST NEWS among the established intellectual community is they’re all in a frenzy over renegade professor Jordan Peterson, who’s begun to follow his own thoughts and ideas– independently!– and has left the politically-correct intellectual reservation.

AND SO, every intellectual pretender has penned his-or-her own takedown of the guy, the latest coming from Current Affairs head editor Nathan J. Robinson, whose own project we profiled recently. As in, last week. (See my last two posts.)

LIKE his colleague Briahna Joy Gray’s essay on rock n roll history and cultural appropriation, Robinson’s is skewed and from a narrow viewpoint. Also like her essay (see this) it misses the real story.

It’s by his essay’s one-sidedness that Robinson gives his own game away.

Noteworthy about Nathan J. Robinson is his lack of self-knowledge. He seems to live in a bubble-world constructed of his own role-playing. In his complaints about white males and the patriarchy, he doesn’t notice that he’s a white male, and Current Affairs is a patriarchy.

What bothers Robinson most about fellow academic, fellow Anglo-Saxon Jordan Peterson? That Peterson has the #1 book on virtually all best-seller lists! Robinson mentions this pointedly. Jordan B. Peterson (not he, Nathan J. Robinson) is at the top of the intellectual hierarchy. The alpha male of that scene. And so, Robinson attacks him vociferously.

Jordan Peterson, a Jungian psychologist, must be amused by the attack– as well as what wannabe Robinson misses in Peterson’s ideas. Jordan Peterson is essentially right– that behind our masks we’re brutal animals. Much of our communication and most of our behavior can be explained by subconscious forces which, often against our will, drive us. Nathan Robinson acts this out in his posturing with his magazine.

And yes, Jordan Peterson is right that without the strictures and controls of civilization, relations would return to a more primal reality. Notice what occurs at stray times when civilization leaves. One recent example is the end of World War II in Europe, when Patton’s army moved east and a horde of German women moved west, giving themselves to American G.I.’s to avoid the more brutal celebrations of the New Soviet Man coming from the east. Little acknowledged but able to be found in dusty military histories, or in anecdotes from American vets, is that the end of the war was a rape fest. A reversion to type?

A Jungian would notice monsters of the Id. Those we try to wipe away, like Dr. Morbius confronting his Id near the end of the 50’s sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet.”

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The Jungian would notice hidden forces in Brooklyn hipsters, wearing long beards and lumberjack shirts, markers of masculinization, as their subconscious minds rebel against their own socially-compelled feminization.

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What then of Nathan J. Robinson, who usually appears clean-shaven? Deliberately nerdy and harmless. How does he fit this analysis?

One could surmise the harmlessness is merely a mask, obscuring the ruthless being– the alpha male wannabe– lurking beneath.

-K.W.

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

 

Contradictions of the Left

OR, ABSENCE OF THE AUTHENTIC

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WE’VE ALREADY examined some of those contradictions, in our analysis of n+1 magazine and of The Baffler. Today we look at another “hard left” publication, Current Affairs, founded and edited by Nathan J. Robinson.

WHAT readers of his magazine and Robinson himself don’t seem to realize is that any revolution which springs from Harvard University– where Robinson is a Phd candidate– is co-opted from birth. Sold out at the start. It wouldn’t matter what label they put on themselves or their system: “Marxist.” “Communist.” “Democratic Socialist.” It’d be packaging. Labels like the kind slapped on soup cans. At the core of things nothing will have changed. The same people will be in charge. The same careerist technocrat mindset would dominate.

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Why else does someone attend Harvard or Yale (Nathan Robinson has been enrolled in both places) other than to be at the top of the pyramid? After the revolution it’d be the same hierarchy, with a twist in messaging. (Robinson is said to be good at messaging.) Nathan J. Robinson and his Ivy League editorial colleagues carry that stratified hierarchy within them. It’s embedded in them.

Doubt this? Who runs the civilization now? Two of the richest men on the planet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, both attended Harvard. The founders of Google went to Stanford University, which is almost as elite. Jeff Bezos of Amazon went to Princeton.

Politics? Every President of the United States from 1988 on before the present one was a graduate of Harvard or Yale. Or in George W. Bush’s case, both. Donald Trump went to the Wharton School, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university.

Do we see a pattern?

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Oh, but Nathan J. Robinson, like his peers at other leftist magazines, is different. His ideas are different. He’s a socialist. Probably, a Marxist. He cares. He really does.

I suspect that in their New Socialist World they’d be part of Shigalov’s Ten Percent– still at the top of the pyramid, controlling the people– for their own good of course.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Just as in every person there’s a conscious and subconscious, so also there’s the role the person plays– the face shown to the world– and the authentic individual sitting behind the John Keegan “Mask.” They’re not always the same. If ever the same.

Who’s the real Nathan J. Robinson?

Is it leftist radical at the forefront of a neo-Marxist intellectual movement? Or the son of a man who worked in international corporate training? (And no doubt taught young Nathan J. many corporate world tricks.) Scion of money and achievement– is that Nathan’s core reality? At crunch time, would Robinson throw his advantages away? Really?

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THE FLIP SIDE is the person from hardship and poverty passing as an exemplar of class and refinement. This was not only a plotline of many plays (see Pygmalion) and Hollywood movies– it was much of Hollywood reality. Witness the careers of Cary Grant and Clark Gable, who transformed their very beings– their voices, gestures, dress, speech, teeth– to fit the role they wanted to play.

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A BETTER EXAMPLE is the career of Elvis Presley. Dirt poor. Born in a shack. The embodiment of “white trash.” When he became massively successful he suddenly found himself playing doctors or suave playboys in Hollywood movies. In “Blue Hawaii,” the slumming son of big money.

Did he fool anybody?

That Elvis was out of place was part of the appeal. It was fantasy. He was living the dream. His audiences knew it and loved it.

Elite intellectuals of the Harvard/Stanford variety (except for a few rock n roll fanboy writers) never accepted Elvis as legitimate and to this day haven’t accepted him. Rock music itself was not taken seriously as an art form until middle-class pseudo-intellectual troubadour Bob Dylan began playing it. That’s reality.

-K.W.

Is The Baffler a Leftist Magazine?

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THINK ABOUT IT. The “hard left” publication The Baffler aka “The Baffled” lobbies for the abolition of capitalism and presents itself as having democratic populist solutions for the ills of this flawed-and-ridiculously-complex civilization. They advocate for wrenching changes to do away with the plutocrats once and forever. Yet they, the know-everything prescriptionists, haven’t been able to abolish plutocracy even from their own little enterprise.

In 2015 billionaire Winthrop McCormack donated $3 million to the struggling magazine and installed his son, Noah, as its publisher. The Baffler is a tax shelter, so for the McCormacks it was a win-win situation all around. Nepotism, cronyism, inherited wealth– everything the Baffler editors pretend to oppose.

At least when I ran an activist writers group from 2000 to 2008, we were the genuine article. We lived our ideals– no plutocrats to be found– and still cranked out a shipload of DIY zines, made a hurricane of noise and pissed-off a great many elite people– especially in the island plutocracy of New York City– as a cooperative venture. We were proles for the most part and we slept on floors and endured short rations to keep our rebellion going.

Why do I suspect most of the Manhattanites who staff The Baffler are silk scarf revolutionaries from the Ivy League or similar prosperous spots?

Their editor, Chris Lehmann, product in his own words of downwardly-mobile social workers, has a pronounced fear of poverty, and so is unlikely to buck the system when the shit comes down and he’s required to make a choice. He is, in fact, like the rest of the staff, a Professional Leftist. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, one of their idols, they dip their toe in the real world on occasion and rake in the resulting big-system attention, financial grants, and awards.

In a twitter exchange, Lehmann assured me that “–nonprofit left magazines have always relied on financial angels, and I’m grateful that ours are genuinely principled.”

HOW principled is principal investor Win McCormack?

Win McCormack apparently overlooked the sexual harassment shenanigans of three of his buddies.

Two of them, Neil Goldschmidt and David Wu, are spotlighted here and in other news outlets. The third, fellow blue blood/rich guy Hamilton Fish V, has a long history of sexually harassing women, but friend/crony McCormack, who hired him as publisher of The New Republic when he bought the publication in 2016, just didn’t know! (If you believe that I have some toxic land in Detroit I’d like to sell you.)

This cozy world is the left in America now. Excuse me, “hard left.”

-K.W.

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Barnes and Noble: More Layoffs

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NEWS ITEM: “Barnes & Noble Is Laying Off Workers Amid Declining Sales”– headlines at news outlets like Forbes proclaim. What’s really happening?

The big box model for books was always flawed, in our estimation. Gigantic structures. Enormous space with attendant high rent and heating costs. Too many titles (yes: oversupply reducing the value of writers). Plus, half the customers read books or magazines at the cafe without buying them. I always suspected the cafe was the most (only?) profitable part of the enterprise.

Can we do better? We do happen to have on our drawing board our own model for a profitable-and-fun bookstore. One piece in our foundation for a new literature which we’re putting in place.

Just saying.

-K.W.

Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

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One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

Literature and Foreign Policy

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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?