A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

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A FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND VIGOROUS DEBATE, CORNERSTONES OF DEMOCRACY
[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kevin Larimer

There is little need for literary censors these days. The writers have learnt to do a proficient job of censoring themselves.
—Ma Jian

"Daring to stand alone" is ideologically criminal as well as practically dangerous. The independence of the writer and the artist is eaten away by vague economic forces, and at the same time it is undermined by those who should be its defenders.
—George Orwell

This morning I was pissed off, well, slightly. It was yet another gloomy, overcast, and cold New England day. On the floor by the front door lay a copy of the latest issue of Poets & Writers magazine. After microwaving a cup of yesterday’s coffee, I picked the magazine up, brought it into the tiny alcove where I dwelled, put on my glasses, checked the mail ticker on the cover, and discovered it was addressed to Jeanne. What pissed me off was that I’d mentioned P&W’s URL to her several weeks before, suggesting she look through the classifieds, find a couple of pertinent ones, then send out a chapter or two of her unfinished novel. She rarely ever sent her writing out. So, what pissed me off was that she bought a subscription, instead of simply consulting the online version. In other words, because of me, P&W had another subscriber and P&W was as established order business as it got.

An article, listed on the front page, attracted my attention and inspired this blog entry: “Nerd Alert: Where Are All the Badly Behaved Writers” by Amy Shearn. Immediately aftr reading that title, I thought, hell, I was a “badly behaved" writer and was hardly hiding out! But for Shearn—proud, self-professed nerd woman—"badly behaved" did not indicate the fury, the anger felt and incorporated into the writing provoked by the intellectual corruption and cowardice inherent in so many citizen-writers. For her, "badly behaved" did not mean bucking the academic/literary established-order, of which she was evidently striving to become an integral part., if she hadn't already become one. For her, “badly behaved” meant booze and screwing a la Bukowski, whom she didn’t mention. Instead, she noted Mailer, Thompson, Hemingway, Burroughs and Fitzgerald, amongst others. She was proficient in the art of name dropping! What she described about herself was sad, though I assumed it wasn’t meant to be taken that way at all, but rather as a kind of witty rationalization of a very sad state of mind:

“I have a particular memory of graduate school that has come to define for me the new Life of the Writer. It involved neither drunken carousing by moonlight nor frisky bedroom escapades, but rather sitting in the computer lab alongside a few of my MFA classmates and peering down the row only to realize that our wrists were all armored in similar carpal tunnel syndrome-preventing braces. Clearly we were spending too much time in front of our keyboards. Here is the mystery I've been chewing on ever since: Why don't writers get to be barely functional, substance-abusing eccentrics anymore?”

The answer to Shearn’s question was egregiously evident: the mass of MFA writers were simply not taught, let alone encouraged, to stand up as individuals in contradiction, if need be, to their very colleagues, friends, and family. Instead, they were being taught to beggar for letters of recommendation and the favor of literary influence peddlers, which would enable them to climb the literary ladder of dubious “success” and likely take a spin on the ole tenure track. So what the hell was the big “mystery”?

To say the least, Shearn’s article was an irritant. Evidently, that wasn’t such a bad thing for if it hadn’t irritated, I wouldn’t have written this and sent it to her (mail@amyshearn.com). Few things were more satisfying for a rude-truth writer than shoving criticism under the snouts of self-vaunting established-order poets, writers, editors, academics, and artistes.

“After a while it became clear that the writers who were going to make it—the ones who were getting the grants and publications and cushy fellowships—were those who buckled down and worked hard,” wrote Shearn, “the nerds in the wrist braces who filled out paperwork with the diligence of accountants. As for me, I forced myself to stay on a prudent schedule and wrote a few hours every day before heading to my day job.”

Rather than “make it," why not instead flip burgers, drive a cab, or teach adjunct courses on Navy destroyers and, at the same time, keep ones DIGNITY as a writer and human being. DIGNITY meant not groveling, not writing for an audience, not writing to get published, not writing to make a fucking living, but writing, as Orwell once stated “because there is some lie [...]to expose.” Yet how could someone so indoctrinated like Shearn ever understand? How not to vomit upon such a shadow of a human being? When was the last time she’d ever taken a RISK, even just a RISK of upsetting or offending someone… with a good dose of truth? Perhaps, if not probably, NEVER!

How to make those like Shearn realize they were becoming, if they hadn’t already become, an integral part of the problem (i.e., the writer as co-opted entity of the Great Business Machine). While they wrote their cutesy horseshit AND got published (whoopee!), the nation continued spiraling down the toilet bowl of tie-and-jacketed corruption, censorship, professorial speech codes, multicultural inanity, war, greed, massive self-censorship and, especially, citizen worship of fame and wealth, as opposed to democracy. “It wasn't sexy, but it worked,” wrote Shearn about her writing career as a literary beaver. “My first novel was published last summer.” Yes, whoopee. And this summer, buy it for $.01 on Amazon.

Shearn probably got paid $500 or more for her innocuous article, since P&W received thousands of dollars in public grants from, amongst others, the National Endowment for the Arts (http://www.theamericandissident.org/NEA.htm). It also must have been making thousands of dollars from its classified ads. P&W was a business and its writers of the “accountant” mentality. What Shearn succeeded in doing in her article was further propagate the myth of the writer and poet as godlike and, in that sense in a most perverted way, bolstered her self. In America, self-vaunting had become far more pervasive amongst writers than truth telling. The websites of Shearn (www.amyshearn.com/checkindesk.html) and most every other writer in the country proved the point. They were as unoriginal as it got. Where were the ideas on those websites?

How to make those like Shearn realize that “so well behaved” meant a hell of a lot more than simply not boozing and not screwing. What it really had come to mean was not bucking the system. And when a nation’s mob of writers chose not to buck the system, then that nation was surely in trouble. “This carefree denial of the meaningful role of an artist in society is a blight that inflicts great numbers of China's unofficial cultural elite,” had noted writer Ma Jian. Well, the same goes for America’s cultural elite, official or unofficial.

In an effort to rationalize her lame behavior as writer-nerd, Shearn quoted Cornell University creative writing professor J. Robert Lennon: “It's getting harder to make a living writing, so many of us now have jobs teaching, and you can't go around getting drunk if you're trying to get tenure.”

Of course, what Lennon should have written, in a much more honest vein, was "you can't go around speaking truth if you're trying to get tenure." But that would have implicated him as someone not encouraging freedom of expression. Lennon was likely making $100,000 or more per year teaching students that acquiring proper bourgeois tastes and manifesting proper bourgeois behavior were far more important than, to paraphrase Emerson, going upright and vital, and speaking the rude truth in all ways, especially with regards Cornell, the creative writing department, and its cocooned professors. Evidently, if Lennon had followed Emerson's advice and been a really good role model to students, he wouldn’t be feeding so nicely at Cornell or at any other institution of higher education, where truth telling was the last thing a professor, tenured or not, would be apt to do. Unsurprisingly, the others Shearn had interviewed concurred with Lennon. “I basically work four jobs.... There's little time for me to indulge in any­thing rehabworthy," noted Ed Park, editor of Believer. What crap! If he had had any guts, Park would have rather said “indulge in anything truth telling.” Let him at least stand up and declare his cowardice!

"I think that the shrinking opportuni­ties for publishing—print publishing, I mean—have something to do with the new, super fit, goody-goodness of writers,” suggested Uni­versity of California (Santa Cruz) professor/writer Noria Jablonski. “Unless we are the especially attractive author of ‘Special Topics in a Heartbreaking Work of White Teeth,’ we need to become adept at marketing and self-promotion (writing articles such as this one, and saying 'Yes, feel free to quote me' in articles such as this one)."

Again, how not to barf? “We abide by deadlines and focus on self-promotion,” concurred Kate Torgovnick, author of 'Cheer! Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders'. No, I didn’t make that title up! Clearly, two kinds of writers existed: the generally safe established-order types accorded public monies and prizes and given voice in articles like Shearn’s and those against the established-order and normally not given voice or money. The latter, of course, existed as a tiny minority. They would never achieve accountant-like “success” with their writing because they chose, unlike Shearn, to “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways” (Emerson) and indeed to let our lives “be a counterfriction to stop the machine” (Thoreau).

Shearn summed herself up quite accurately, quite deplorably. After all, the article was really about her and her generation of bourgeois-kowtow writers. It was an unabashed confession in the same light as the coward who always dismisses herself by openly, if not eagerly, declaring she's a coward, as if somehow that excused her cowardice. “I’m a nerd, and thus easy to work with. I re­spect authority. I aim to please. I fol­low rules. I don't drink to excess—not even coffee. I can be trusted to behave, if at times awkwardly, at least never salaciously in public, which is a salient new requirement of the writer. My personal life is pleasant but probably boring to the outsider, and (thank­fully, for me) in today's literary climate no one cares very much either way.”

Again, how not to spit in the face of this MFA product! “These are lean times, for literature and everything else,” noted Shearn. “The public isn't interested, and no one has money to throw around. And thus we writers are pretty much left alone to the eerie light of our computer screens, to our too-many commitments, to our fin­gers tingling with the friendly hum of tendinitis.”

Yet clearly these were not "lean times" at all for Poets & Writers magazine, the recipient of its $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize, or for the MacArthur $500,000 poet grant recipients, or for the MFA professor-writers with their $50,000-$100,000 salaries and life-time job security, or for the NEA poet and publication grant recipients, or for the Pinskys, Snyders, Angelous, and Giovannis with their $100,000+ salaries and $10,000+ speaking fees, or for Poetry magazine with its $175 million endowment, or for the censoring Academy of American Poets (www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm). They were only “lean times” for those few of us who dared go against the grain that Shearn had so willingly been sucked into. Shearn was nothing more than another Good-Housekeeping marm with a pen. Sure, she possessed an MFA, three glowing letters of recommendation, and was cutesy, witty, and in-vogue nerdy and even published in Poets & Writers, but she was a failure as a writer.

Finally, the title for this essay was inspired by Ma Jian’s observation that under Mao’s rule, intellectuals had been branded “The Stinking Ninth”—the last and the worst category of class enemy. In America, intellectuals (writers et al) tended to be quite the opposite, that is, humble friends of the ruling class, thus The Fragrant Ninth.

10 comments:

mather said...

This is funny, hombre. They do all the work for you, don't they? This is all difficult for me to understand. I can't wrap my mind around it. Not only is this woman a successful writer, but she is only a successful writer because at this point in this over-rich and bored society there are many opportunities for a say-nothing to be successful. Times are hard! Oh, sure! Pobrecita! If times were really hard there'd be no way she could write this crap and get it published, let alone get paid for it. Shit, this brain-mulch is pretty much famous in the small press world if she gets printed in this BIG magazine. It's all relative, right?

In the same vein (I think) DiGangi on Thieves Jargon has posted a blog cheerleading the success of his friend and co-editor, who apparently got into Brown University Creative writing program based on an essay he wrote about cocaine, even though, in the words of DiGangi, "the guy doesn't even drink". So, he's writing about something he knows nothing about, which is exactly what everybody's looking for, it seems.
This is what "hard work" leads to. Ja! Surrr....

G. Tod Slone said...

Good points as always, Mather. Thanks for the input. Something just works on me, works in me, wrenches at my guts. The inner force becomes too much for me to remain silent and simply ignore it. I am absolutely compelled by the Socratic daemon within my guts to RESPOND... even if to the proverbial brick wall.
Where is this DiGangi thing you look at and keep talking about? I look forward to reading your essay. I hate to say it but the guy's name brings to mind gangrene. I think, what's his name again, de gangrene? Well that's between us because we both are against stooping that low.

mather said...

I'm talking about the Thieves Jargon messageboard...

I haven't written the essay yet, I'm lazy when it comes to real work. I'll get to it. Manana...

mather said...

Kind of quiet around here?

I've been looking around the wide world of web and have recently read where poets Christopher Cunningham and Hosho McCreesh (friends) site American Dissident for being one of the first places to publish them, something like ten years ago. Not sure why I am mentioning this except that you don't publish either one of them nowadays, I don't think, and in those ten years both have become masters of self promotion, on a par with Don Winter. To me they've all got more talent than the average poet and more common sense. It got me thinking about this smaller reason for writing: to find a way to escape the work-week grind of a regular job by creating a product and a network through which to market and sell it. The part of me that understands this is the part that HATES working for a living. I am torn.

G. Tod Slone said...

McCreesh? Yeah, I remember him and do see his name here and there as an OUTLAW poet, whatever the fuck that means. In fact, Draime is on that page too. I thought I wouldn't mention it to keep from battling with him on it. They all love Todd Moore for some reason. Haven't heard from Goude and doubt I ever will. Haven't heard from Shaulis and doubt I ever will. Thin skin is part of being a poet todayd. I was tempted to contact him, but thought I'd just skip it. He must have a reason for not contacting me. You can't make money from poetry. Ask Winter how much he's made? Winter, btw, quit Fight Da Bastards. Why? I don't know. I haven't heard from him in ages or lustres, as the French say. Now, why don't you stand up and stop this childishness and send me a goddamn email!

mather said...

Yeah, well, the thing is I blocked your emails a while ago and can't figure out how to unblock them. I'm not kidding. I've tried punching every combination of buttons and keys I can think of. Maybe my computer is censoring you on its own? Anyway, what's wrong with writing here? I don't see too many others chiming in. I think people are actually afraid of you, though they would not admit that, ja ja.

I contacted Chris Cunningham and he told me he doesn't work and he makes all his money from selling his poetry books and his art. Now, he didn't break this down for me EXACTLY, and maybe he's got a secret income he's not confessing to, I don't know. Nevertheless, he doesn't punch a time clock and he doesn't teach English. I know Winter is actually selling books too, more than most, but don't know how much...I know he quit FTB.

By the way I read a book by Dubus, The Last Worthless Evening, and didn't think he was much like Carver, except that the characters drank and smoked a lot. I didn't like the book at all.

I've still got nothing for you in the way of critical essay.

mather said...

Yes, Draime's in tight with them, and Moore is like a saint, I don't know why either. It's incredible how many reviews these guys are able to generate, and of course almost every one is gushing and they all say the same things, like they've just never seen anyone as talented. Most of them treat me like some nobody, even though I've been publishing just as long or longer, but because I haven't opened my arms to them. Simple as that.

G. Tod Slone said...

Why do so few look at this blog? Good question. First, I don’t advertise it much. I’m a terrible marketer. Second, I don’t think most people in literature or academe—careerists & sycophants—are/would be at all interested. Third, I’m not sure if deep down I really give a damn. In other words, I’m doing it for myself, not for others and not so others can see me. It gives me purpose, though minimal, to continue on in this senseless society we’ve been born into. Afraid of me? Well, that’s an interesting thought. All I do is present a thought or two or three. The thoughts contradict most people’s (academic’s & literati’s) behavior. If that provokes fear, good. But I’m not at all convinced. But part of what you say must surely be true, especially for those immersed in protective cocoons where smiles, nice salaries, and “success.”

If those guys can actually make money selling their poetry, they must be doing something WRONG. Of course, Winter was a big realty agent, so he probably doesn’t need the money. As for the other fellow, I know not a thing about him.

Well, I still think Carver’s stories were nearly identical to Andre Dubus’ in tone and subject matter. Make sure you’re not reading his son’s shite, Andy the III.

Well, the whole Outlaw poet thing is as asinine as it gets. Way back, I told Moore, and he said don’t write him any more. His son had contacted me and actually wanted me to write him an essay for St. Tits, his mag. So I did and it must have rubbed daddy the wrong way, so it was never published. Small potatoes… all of this… small potatoes.

mather said...

I don't know how many people read your blog, I suppose you can find out by tracking it, right? I think many more people read than comment. Spencer Troxell, poetry editor of Thieves Jargon told me to take my "rage" elsewhere and now he has started a hot discussion on his blog about whether we should worship God, or simply love God. Ja! Mention Nietzsche and they will brush him away like a little fly, while it is a virtual certainty that none of them have read any of N's books. Start a discussion like this on your blog and you are sure to get many many comments, and this will give you a fuzzy feeling of warmth, or maybe just a powerful feeling like you are really adding to the intellectual content and furtherance of society. It will really make you feel like you are orchestrating something BIG. Or you could start talking about intravenous drug use or mtv and the commentors will come out in droves. One thing that obviously bothers people is the busy-ness of your front page. I am used to it by now and don't find it confusing or overwhelming at all, but apparently that's a first impression people get, and maybe that makes them turn away too fast.

No, The Last Worthless Evening was published in 1986 by Dubus senior. He babbles too much, on and on, something Carver NEVER did. Carver never tried to explain or draw peoples' characters, he simply set them in motion and let their actions define them, often poignantly. He hardly ever tried to address world problems, he simply was concerned about relationships between men and women and how they seemed to always fall apart. Not a drop of pretention to him.

I had heard that Moore had a kid that was a writer too, but know nothing about him. I know that Cunningham's mom is an active supporter of his poetry, hawking his books and chiming in on his blog, calling him "her favorite poet". I find most of the blogs are just marketing tools, backslapping fests, as you have known for a long time.

Just thinking about it I find myself fighting the dry heaves, and I didn't even drink last night.

G. Tod Slone said...

Yes, I think a couple of Sklar's students actually mentioned the busy-ness of the front AD webpage. But I need to be convinced to reduce it. And nobody has done that yet. I'm an atheist and think those who believe in God tend to be puerile, weak, and indoctrinate followers. Not my cup of tea, baby!
I don't know that Dubus book. Look for the book where he talks about his accident, the one that left him crippled.
That's precisely why I'm not crazy about Carver. His was the relational thing that Hollywood keeps stuffing down our gullets to keep our attention diverted from world problems, as you call them.
Well, if true, this is really quite grotesque, a summum in the poesy world: "I know that Cunningham's mom is an active supporter of his poetry, hawking his books and chiming in on his blog, calling him "her favorite poet"."