How to Save Literature

THE PROBLEM with so-called serious literature is that it’s pitched at a narrow audience, and not at the vast bulk of the American public. (Pitched really, at upscale editors at desks in London and New York.)

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Occasionally establishment writers give the game away, as did renowned young novelist Sally Rooney in Issue #30 of The Moth Magazine:

A lot of what (literature) does, to me, is reassure bourgeois readers by saying, you read fiction, you are a member of a particular class. . . the question for writers who have a social conscience is, how do you challenge that in some way while still working within the same industry that produces it, and I don’t really know what the answer is.

Then there’s the recent rant in Paris Review by esteemed short story writer Peter Orner, explaining why he will not defend the short story– his remarks making clear he doesn’t believe the story art is for the general public– and no apologies for this from establishment writers are needed, thank you.
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boxNeither Rooney nor Orner consider a way out of the box in which the literary art is trapped, currently accessible only to “a particular class.” They have no incentive to seek an alternative.

We at New Pop Lit do, as we and our modest literary project exist on the margins of what has become a marginal art. We’re thinking of ways to change this.

ONE WAY is the multidimensional (“3-D”) short story, designed to be faster and more thrilling than the standard literary model, answering those attention-span questions Peter Orner scoffs at.

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One prototype example of this kind of story has been released by us, “Vodka Friday Night.” More are coming.

CAN THE ART BE SAVED?

elvis-60-years-of-rock-and-roll-1(Early Elvis and friends.)

Business history of other arts shows that it can. I’ve given often the example of the music business and the rise of rock n roll– which multiplied the size of that industry many times over. This is well explained in this article by Johannes Ripken. Can writers duplicate that outsized success? Maybe– if they create more exciting short fiction that’s even faster and more direct than our prototype. Moreover, what’s needed are young writers who can connect with a new generation of readers via personality, talent, and attitude. In other words, stars.

Screaming_Jay_Hawkins(Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.)

Is this do-able? We’ll see.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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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

The Decline of Literary Criticism?

OR THE DECLINE OF LITERATURE?

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

AN INTERESTING ARTICLE appeared last week at the Time Literary Supplement“Death of the Critic?” by Michael LaPointe. The article addresses the topic of the decline of literary criticism via addressing two recent books on the subject.

LaPointe argues against nostalgia for bygone literary days. He says the importance of literary critics circa 1950 was an aberration. In his eyes the absence of strong figures like Edmund Wilson and Lionel and Diana Trilling today is not to be taken too seriously. He concludes, in fact, by suggesting literature must become more detached from the culture-at-large. From general society. You know, like monks scribbling away in monasteries in bygone medieval days.

The bigger story is right in front of him, but Michael LaPointe waves the story away– the decline of literature in the culture.

CULTURAL FOOTPRINTS

Publishing seems as healthy as it’s ever been. Book readership has kept pace with GDP growth, demographic changes and the like. But that’s the point– it’s only kept pace the last seven decades, maintaining incremental improvement year-by-year, while overall cultural noise has exploded exponentially. While rival claimants for attention– notably sports and music– have increased their cultural profile many times over.

QUICK: Can anyone name an NFL player from 1950? Bob Waterfield maybe? Or a basketball player??

c o ebay(photo c/o ebay.)

In 1950 NFL football was scarcely a blip on the cultural radar screen. It produced zero (0) figures as recognizable and renowned as Ernest Hemingway.

Today the situation is reversed. With the rise of the NFL has come countless commentators and analysts– magazines by the score and entire cable networks– devoted exclusively to picking apart every last personality and encounter involving their favorite game.

Music? The music business began increasing its cultural footprint beginning in 1956– interest generated by energetic new products and wildly charismatic personalities.

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With the rise of rock came the creation of the rock critic, via flagship rock magazines like Creem, Rolling Stone, and many others.

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Meanwhile, the ship of literature floated placidly along. Unconcerned. Unaware. Complacently satisfied that within the stuffy world of letters, all seemed fine.

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Literature’s leading figures became less charismatic, less interesting. Finally– with the likes of Donna Tartt and Jonathan Franzen– either reclusive or irredeemably bland.

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The art’s attempts to reverse this situation– with authors literary or popular from Roxane Gay to George R.R. Martin– are going no place. (Bret Easton Ellis fights heroically to gain cultural attention, but is himself too identified with a moribund and stuffy “Big 5”-backed establishment literary scene to make much headway.)

Without an exciting underlying art to describe, there are unlikely to be exciting critics to describe it.

IS THERE A SOLUTION? 

YES! The solution is the one we prescribe: to mesh both poles of the art, the literary and the popular, creating a new synthesis that’s relevant and meaningful yet connects with a large portion of the populace at the same time. Popular critics would arrive as byproduct.

This starts with a better product. (See recent posts of ours about the 3D Short Story here and here and here.)

Then, more striking personalities to become faces of a renewed art.

Quixotic? Maybe. Art is never transformed by the timid.

Titanic_the_sinking

It’s time for literature to walk away from its clubby salons and musty university lounges and step fully back into the game.

THE 3D STORY DEBUTS JUNE 6 AT OUR MAIN SITE.

http://www.newpoplit.com
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Should Writers Be Purged?

LITERARY EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS are divided over the question of whether or not a writer’s work should be purged over misbehavior imagined or real taking place outside the sphere of the art itself. We may well be in the minority for answering, “No.”

Another question inevitably arises during such censorious periods: Where does the purge end?

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For instance, should Ezra Pound, founder of literary modernism, be deleted from memory banks and lit-history books? Should every award granted him be expunged?

(We addressed the question here in our yet-to-be-resumed All-Time American Writers Tournament.)

What do you do with a host of classic-but-problematic writers whose lives or art would today be considered beyond acceptable bounds?

American_Psycho_by_Bret_Easton_Ellis_first_US_paperback_edition_1991

ARE WRITERS BEING BLACKBALLED?

We have the case of poet Joseph Massey, accused earlier this year of harassing women. According to Massey,  this was based on anonymous, distorted, and fictitious allegations. His chief accuser is a poet who had a two-year affair with him. I haven’t looked into the substance of the claims. Massey did admit, in a Facebook apology which was later taken down, to having issues.

WE’VE SEEN in the Junot Diaz controversy that an apology isn’t enough.

Joseph Massey, well-regarded though he’s been, lacks as big a name and reputation as Diaz. After the allegations, accompanied by an article or two about the matter, Massey’s work was deleted from The Academy of American Poets website, including an essay written about his work. Joseph Massey was also deleted from The Poetry Society of America, where he’d been announced as “New American Poet” in 2009. Down the memory hole.

NO DOUBT there are many flawed individuals within the walls of the literary scene, as there have always been. Some seriously flawed. As there have always been in the arts, period. History shows that many of the best artists, writers, composers, musicians, have been in some ways disturbed, wrestling with demons in the world, and within themselves. An argument can be made that it’s part of experiencing the world with more intensity than the rest of us. To feeling, raging, and suffering more than “normal” people.

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(Some will regard this as mere excuse making.)

Do we delete them and their work, all of it?

HOW MANY of the rest of us writers and poets have misbehaviors in our backgrounds which could someday be exposed? A few of us? All of us?

Do we all submit to background checks before submitting our work, just in case?

In this hyper-regulated day and age is the following statement obsolete– or does it still have relevance?

Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone.

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-Karl Wenclas for 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 Rachel Custer 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

 

 

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.

Elvis_Presley_in_King_Creole_1958

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.

Publishing Industry Feeding Frenzy

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THE LATEST big news in publishing are the charges of sexual harassment taking place at writers conferences put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This must-read post at School Library Journal is revealing on several levels– particularly if you read the comments, of which there are many. It reminds me of a fish tank in which the fish have begun feeding on themselves.

There are as many dramatic moments within the comments, in fact, as in a novel. One is when author and diversity advocate Tristina Wright is herself accused of harassment. Another is when the son of SCBWI‘s founder Lin Oliver jumps in to defend his mother against charges of inaction.

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(Tristina Wright.)
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Before making any kind of judgement about this matter, one should understand what writers conferences are about. Aside from making money off wannabe authors, they’re about networking, schmoozing, and socializing– often accompanied afterward by ample amounts of booze. Introvert writers away from home, brushing up against– and no doubt lavishly complimenting– well-known writers. Stuff will happen.

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(Well-known author Sherman Alexie, one of the accused, at a Weinstein Books party.)
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The situation with SCBWI is especially pronounced. According to photos, women outnumber men at their conferences ten-to-one. Put a wandering male in that situation– especially one with a too-healthy ego– and he’s going to feel like a kid in a candy store. An environment designed for a stray predator.

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(Photo from recent SCBWI conference.)
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Might the problem be with the conferences themselves? Beyond this, with the way the entire industry is set up, putting writers– the talent– in a position of marked inferiority?Making them face from Day One a series of barriers to leap over and hoops to jump through: instructors, agents, editors, publishers; each one holding the carrot, the desired book contract, at arm’s length. Does anyone believe that with this situation, a ton of machinations, ass-kissing, and real abuse would not take place, human nature being what it is?

There has to be a better way. At New Pop Lit, we’re devoted to finding and constructing that better way.

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.

Fantasyland: Or, Rich Guy Slams America

THIS WEEK we highlight a new book trashing America by establishment trashmeister Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

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One doesn’t have to read the book– the text is in the title. The title is all you need to know about what’s contained in the pages.

Mr. Andersen is getting a splash of publicity c/o his publisher, with laudatory reviews.

“A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline–”  -The Guardian

Kurt Andersen’s publisher is Penguin Random House, a multinational company, part of one of the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates which dominate the trade. Their headquarters is in New York City. They’d better hope the nation isn’t in terminal decline!

“Reading a great revisionist history of America is the bookish way to feel what it’s like to be born again.”  -Hanna Rosin, New York Times

Andersen himself, curiously, is an Insider’s Insider; a Capitalist’s Capitalist. One of the Elect: Harvard grad married to a Harvard grad. From his bio:

“He was named by New York magazine as one of the “100 People Who Changed New York,” and by Forbes as one of the “25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media.” And he was named the 2014 arts Medalist by Harvard College’s Signet Society.”

In his career Andersen has founded start-ups and sold them for huge sums of money. See the negotiations for one of his companies as related by Ken Auletta:

“”I don’t believe that anyone is going to give the company more money,’ Cramer remembers telling Andersen.”

He took the best deal. Cashed in. Sitting pretty. Yet Kurt Andersen isn’t happy. You would think he’d be kicking back smoking a big cigar saying, “Isn’t America great?” There’s no disdain for Harvard or venture capitalists (those he knows) in his book, one can wager. Instead, he takes aim at the American people themselves– for their populist ethos and political choices, all of which makes Kurt Andersen’s life, if not unprofitable, at least discomfiting. (2016 was the first time since 1984 that a Harvard-or-Yale grad was NOT elected to the Presidency, and in Andersen’s lofty milieu, that is simply outrageous.)

Yes, trash America’s 500-year history– and make yet more money in the process. Open the door for Dostoevsky’s Demons. Who cares? The French aristocrats who sparked revolution in 1789 were consumed by what they sparked. What does that have to do with aristocrats today?

Meanwhile, we have a question for our readers. How would you describe Kurt Andersen’s expression in the photograph below? Smug? Pompous? Arrogant? Or does the facial smirk represent something else? Indigestion? Complacency? Constipation?

Hatred of his own country?

Let us know. Thanks!

KurtAndersenconstipated