Adrienne Miller and the Big Brain Boys Club

DISAPPEARING FICTION AND WHY

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THE LATEST BOOK WORLD NEWS is a memoir by former Esquire magazine Literary Editor Adrienne Miller entitled In the Land of Men. In it Miller details her problems handling giant male egos during her years in the Manhattan magazine realm– most notably that of David Foster Wallace. The book is discussed in various publications, including in an essay, “Infinite Jerk” by Laura Marsh at the New Republic.

MOST INTERESTING to this commentator are the assumptions made by Ms. Marsh about the decline of interest in fiction, at Esquire and throughout the clubby New York City world:

Miller declares her faith in “vibrant, necessary fiction. . .”

. . .the decline of the publishing industry and the shrinking demand for literary fiction.

• . . .her industry is dying and that her publication is less and less interested in acquiring fiction also puts limits on her career. When she starts at Esquire, the magazine is publishing 10 short stories a year; by the time she leaves, she can barely get anything into print, and her bosses kill a Wallace short story that she has labored on for months. All this comes after she wins an ASME award for fiction.

Never once does Laura Marsh question why fiction was disappearing at Esquire. That maybe the award-winning stories Miller was accepting were failing to engage the public. That perhaps, “literary” fiction of the prestigious self-involved style written by David Foster Wallace and other Big Ego Members of the Club was obsolete by the time Adrienne Miller came along. (And more obsolete now.) That to Miller and her friends, impressive fiction was more important than an exciting story a typical Esquire buyer might actually read.

(During the 2000’s, while Adrienne Miller plied her trade, a change-oriented writers group named the Underground Literary Alliance, whose mission was to promote more authentic and relatable writing– as well as to expose corruption in the established literary realm– referred to hyped authors such as Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, George Saunders, and others of that type as “The Big Brain Boys Club.” No one listened to the group. Even for an Adrienne Miller it was more important to “go along to get along.” Question nothing.)

ARTISTIC CHANGE

In any field– including literature– change is inevitable. The more it’s delayed, the more drastic that change is going to be. One day the Manhattan literary crowd will glance over the high walls of their crumbling castle to see change approaching– and still won’t understand what’s happening.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Power Grabbers of Literature

HISTORY DOES repeat itself, but in vastly different ways. The patterns are there if you look for them.

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The ship of culture– even of literature– floats placidly along, but below deck revolution is taking place. All is conflict. The takeover of the ship is of a Gramscian variety– one room at a time.

SIMULTANEOUSLY occurs a struggle within the revolution itself, the pertinent question there being: Who controls it?

It’s a truism that in revolutions the communists devour the anarchists. (See Russia 1918; Spain 1938.) Philosophically, this is happening in the English language poetry scene– Control Freaks taking over, seeking to eliminate all who hold the opposite viewpoint. To shut down those who believe poetry– art itself– is imaginative commotion. Who think the way to attain this is through unrestricted expression. A vanishing attitude being squeezed between Left and Right. For the Control Freaks– the Poetry Cops and their go-along-to-get-along acolytes– this casual attitude is dangerous.

(The P.C.– Poetry Cops– are extremely casual about the poetry itself– but not about what it says, or who says it!)

DIFFERENT patterns from the past occur throughout the ship. One is a last gasp reaction of the (academic) aristocrats, similar to what happened in Russia during the civil war of 1919 between “Reds” and “Whites.” It’s what the noise of Jordan Peterson, Claire Lehmann, Quillette Magazine and their allies is about. This is doomed to failure. You can’t reimpose an ancien regime.

The question remains–

WHO CONTROLS CHANGE?

Old power structures are beginning to crumble, and a new paradigm in which a multiplicity of voices and identities hold authority is emerging. 

This is a quote from an article at Dispatches Poetry Wars, one of the new literary outfits struggling to get to the forefront of radical change in the poetry field. The key to their mindset is to “hold authority,” because that’s what the poetry wars they promote and document are about. Publicly denouncing alleged abusers like Joseph Massey is a means toward that end. It’s not about the poetry. For thirty years or more it hasn’t been about the poetry– which is why an Anders Carlson-Wee poem in The Nation won’t find too many defenders, because in truth it’s not very good. It’s political posturing more than poetry.

IT’S NOT SURPRISING that most if not all of the writers being attacked or taken down by MeToo advocates the past six months or last few years have been on the Left– because that’s all who inhabit the scene. (Not surprising that both Joseph Massey and Anders Carlson-Wee have had poetry in the faux-Leftist magazine The Nation, which publishes short examples of the dwindled art on their site, in-between splashy ads for hyper-priced Alfa Romeos.)

What a Dispatches Poetry Wars is about is the total politicization of the art.

I’ve read their manifesto. I have to say, I agree with much of it. It could’ve been distributed fifteen years ago by the Underground Literary Alliance and no one would’ve been surprised. But let’s understand why these fellows are using activism– for the same reason the ULA used activism: To increase their profile. To upend the literary scene and become a credible player within that scene. With DPW however I smell a trace of phoniness– in that they don’t really want to liberate “autonomous” zones (safe spaces). They don’t actually support unruly, “wild poets,” because otherwise they wouldn’t be joining the chorus of Poetry Cops eager to remove from the scene the work of all those who scribble or act outside the lines of acceptable behavior. (A Rachel Custer, say.) But they do see in which direction the parade is headed. They call for Robespierre-style denunciations and more denunciations.

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–we’re appalled by the silence emanating from institutions that have supported this person and granted him platforms from which to extend his predation.

A LITTLE CHECKING reveals that Dispatches Poetry Wars is run by two older white guys, Michael Boughn and Kent Johnson, who have ties of their own to the established poetry world. Boughn (if it’s the same Boughn) seasonally teaches at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson’s old stomping grounds. Kent Johnson (if it’s the same Johnson) has received grants from the heart of the cultural establishment, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a PEN grant.

I suspect their position is analogous to that we outlined here of Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen. Unleash the mob and it may someday turn on yourself!

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(Titanic paintings by Karl Beutel and Henry Reuterdahl. Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre by Labille-Guiard.)

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS