The UNLV Believer Mag Matter

WILL THE BELIEVER MAGAZINE BE SAVED?

A host of questions are raised by the decision of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to shut down iconic literary journal The Believer.

The Believer magazine has long been the flagship for a particular kind of upper-middle class literary self-importance. From the beginning they presented themselves as a better-than-thou cultural aristocracy, as indicated in their “belief in the good book review” and “nod to the inherent good” (per Wikipedia).

The Chief Question: Will that presumed aristocracy– including the many names published at the magazine, and the magazine’s founders– rouse themselves to save one of the pillars of their kind of literature? To date there’s been hand-wringing, but no action.

Other Questions:

-WHY did the journal fail so spectacularly to pay its way that UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute felt compelled to drop it from their line-up?

-IS the type of precious-if-not-pretentious literary writing featured in the journal itself to blame?

-WILL there be pushback from UNLV’s faculty and students for the university’s choice to drop the publication (while at the same time spending $43 million per year on its sports teams)? Is this an indication of higher education’s real priorities? In an era when sports are dominated by gambling, and the gambling industry remains centered in Las Vegas, should a university located in that city be more concerned about the message sent by its bread-and-circuses choices? (Or, is UNLV in fact a sports program with attached university, instead of the reverse?)

Priorities? Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

In the meantime, at least one staffer– Kristen Radtke, The Believer‘s listed press contact person– has already jumped ship, taking a position with The Verge as art director.

Does anyone believe in The Believer?

(FOR THE RECORD, the author of this editorial was once discussed in an issue of The Believer, in its first year, 2003. I retain some nostalgia for its existence, am surprised no one else appears to strongly feel the same.)

Do we live in a casino society?

Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Where’s the Literary Underground?

FINDING THE UNDERGROUND

WHERE is underground culture?

NO ONE online is underground. We’re on a system this instant– the Internet– that was initiated and in large part paid for by the United States Defense Department. An electronic arrangement where every word can be recorded and tracked with a few keyboard clicks.

With our new state-of-the-art print zeens, we at New Pop Lit are partially underground. They’re handmade in-house, and unregistered. No barcodes.

Why is this important? Because print underground literature is an actual alternative– samizdat!— a free space of ideas not subject to self-appointed hall monitors and censors. Breaking the hive mind. No bureaucrats, official or unofficial. In the tradition of Thomas Paine, Davy Crockett, Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Robert McAlmon, the Beats– and including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and a host of other international samizdat writers. The genuine article. The authentic American yawp.

THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE

We’ve begun exploring ideas behind new analog culture (vinyl, zines, film) in a newsletter, The Analog Experience. We’ll soon send copies to our “prestige” customers– those who’ve purchased three or more of our zeens. BUT you can subscribe to four issues now at our POP SHOP.

Doing so will keep you abreast of underground happenings, ideas, and debates. Plus in some small way it keeps this project alive.

Consider it a door to another world. A portal to underground culture.

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The Strategy Behind Zeens

RETHINKING THE LITERARY PRODUCT

FROM THE START the thinking behind our zeens was to create a better literary product. We’ve done that by incorporating color and design into the inside pages, not just the covers. Big Four publishers– as well as some boutique outfits– do this to a minimal extent, usually for non-fiction offerings (on diet and fashion particularly). Seldom for novels or short story collections.

The idea no doubt in not doing it– besides inertia– is to keep the reader focused on the text. Our approach is to enhance the text by incorporating design into the narrative. Use of colors– pages or text– or changes of font, or font size, to emphasize conflict or emotion. Breaking all accepted publishing rules in so doing. 

Being from Detroit, we’re influenced as much by car design– emphasis on sleekness and efficiency– as by standard graphic design.

In addition to innovative design, we also use different types of printing paper to enhance the visual effect of our zeens. The goal: to have words, colors, and art “pop” off the page. Effects which can never be achieved on an electronic screen.

Our first zeen, Extreme Zeen, released in April 2020 during the first surge of the pandemic, is fairly crude by the standards of those we’ve produced since, but does contain striking visuals, including a blown-up photo of a rose to illustrate a poem about same, and psychedelic centerpiece art, “Lucy in the Sky,” by our own Kathleen M. Crane.

Our latest, Extreme Zeen 2, goes further in utilizing design– not solely to enhance the individual stories and poems, but predominantly to project a consistent aesthetic theme throughout the issue. The overall impact is both apparent and subliminal.

Among our models are upstart record companies of the past like Motown and Subpop, but also the many new EV motor companies of now who are challenging the giants. We consider Extreme Zeen 2 a prototype pointing the way toward further innovation in creating the Ultimate Literary Publication.

(Purchase one of our zeens at our POP SHOP.)

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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.

Lessons for Cultural Insurgency?

IS IT TIME TO CHANGE LITERATURE?

c/o Sidiqullah Khan/ AP

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.

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Are Maildrops the Future of New York Publishing?

NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE AS TREND INDICATOR?

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 their Contact page, 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.

CARE AND HANDLING OF YOUR EXTREME ZEEN

HOW TO TREAT A LANDMARK PUBLISHING MASTERPIECE

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!

Bought yours yet?

Available exclusively at New Pop Lit’s POP SHOP.

All About EZ2

ANALYZING EXTREME ZEEN 2

ABOUT “AT THE OPERA”


“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.

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Styles of Failed Literature

MOVING BEYOND THE PRESENT: A DISTEMPERED ANALYSIS

fahren 451

FEW individuals involved in the creation and packaging of literature would argue there are any failed styles. After all, the Big Five book conglomerates remain in place, authors still receive six-or-seven-figure advances, and several of their books sell millions of copies. The industry chugs along.

HOWEVER, if the goal is to push the art and industry to new levels– to no longer consider “literature” as a separate phenomenon, but to compare it with other cultural happenings such as sports, movies, music– then as a whole literature is failing, because it’s no longer at the center of culture (as it once was), and is not connecting to large segments of the public in any fashion.

CURRENT OPTIONS

What are several of the current alternatives for writers and readers?

MEDICINE LITERATURE

harper lee

This comprises novels and books you’re supposed to read because they’re good for you. They address a cause or societal ill. At times they’re “of the moment” and sell well. Usually though they’re hitting you over the head with a problem you already know about, are poorly written, and deadly dull. They win plaudits and awards, but 999 out 1,000 aren’t going to generate excitement within the culture-at-large, sorry. Life isn’t fair.

“LITERATURE” LITERATURE

oates 2

This category includes standard big novels written by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, as well as short stories by Oates, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, ad infinitum. The works are distinguished by Detail Disease, aka word clot. Meaning, they’re a slog to get through. Only the most intrepid young person (or adult) will make the effort. For those who do, it’s all the same tepid insights and weak-tea conclusions. Going to save literature, when it’s been the cause of literature’s downfall? Nope.

ADOLESCENT FANTASY LITERATURE

martin 2

An enormous category with a host of big-selling authors cranking out massive volumes of unending sagas. Behind them await tens of thousands of other wannabe-novelists creating their own interminable tomes. Why are these novels not the answer? After all, they do sell.

They’re not the answer because they’re crap. It’s impossible for any serious person beyond the age of seventeen– or twelve– to take any of it seriously. Yes, many do. You see them dressed in bizarre costumes at fantasy or sci-fi conventions. The books are popular. That’s good. There are lessons to be taken from it. It remains silliness, not great art.

On top of that, none of the famed authors has the requisite charismatic persona to upend the culture. George R.R. Martin is not going to.

DYSTOPIAN AND POST-APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

atwood

Margaret Atwood is the best-known contemporary practitioner of this kind of work. In the Age of Hysteria we’re living through, they add more hysteria. Truth is, there have been two or three, tops, of these kind of authors who’ve been any good, George Orwell among them. Even Brave New World is a terrible novel.

DEPRAVITY LITERATURE

martin-bukowski

Maybe horror novels can be grouped in this category (though many belong in fantasy with the vampires and werewolves). This category includes sub-Bukowski Lit, where the author becomes as gross and psychotic as possible in constructing the narrative– and likely, in real life, is. (Incel Lit is a new variation.)

NEOCON LITERATURE

brad thor

This category was popularized by Tom Clancy of Hunt for Red October fame, but might be more typified by spy novelists Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, who each presumably have teams of agents in Langley, Virginia writing their books for them. (They’d have to, because Ludlum and Flynn have moved on from this world.)

My attitude toward these novels might be typified by a review I wrote about one of their number back in 2012 at a now-defunct blog.

CONCLUSION

My informed conclusion is that nothing coming from one of these categories will rescue the literary game. They’re accepted and known.

What will take the literary art to another level?

THAT is what we’re working on. Stay tuned.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

The Social Justice Merry-Go-Round

OR, VIRTUE-SIGNALING MUSICAL CHAIRS

am dirt cummins

Pity the poor book conglomerates! New York City’s “Big Five.” They want to do the right thing, to be on the side of progress, social justice and all that, but they keep making missteps. Could it be the giant institutions and their Ivy-educated staffs are too removed from these issues? Too out of touch?

The latest mistake being the seven-figure-advanced publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Intended as a takedown of the horrors of the border crisis, instead the book has caused a furor among LatinX writers, who see the novel as exploitation of the issue by a person who shouldn’t be commenting. (Ms. Cummins looks Latina, but apparently isn’t.)

cummins 

Another Rachel Dolezal? Elizabeth Warren? Or not?

I’m not going to comment on the book, its author and the controversy further, other than to say that perhaps the problem is with the huge conglomerates themselves. That the solution is to encourage more independent publishers, smaller and closer to the ground, instead of a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy that will always get things wrong– in the flurry of virtue signaling-run-amok, with so many ambitious writers out there, a bureaucracy that will continually behave incorrectly or be scammed, despite or because of their good intentions.

(And no, the answer is not to nationalize the book business. Sorry, Marxists. Replacing five too-large cronyistic-and-insular monoliths with one even larger monolith solves nothing.)

The best answer, as with so much else in this contentious country, is DIY. More access. More options.

(Note: American Dirt was published by Flat Iron Books, an imprint of Macmillan Corp. Flat Iron’s publisher Amy Einhorn, who gave the seven-figure advance, is a graduate of Stanford, not an Ivy League college.)

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS