A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone 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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For Wont of an Engaged Focus, Self-Vaunt and Boast Hackneyed “Excellence”

Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense... Independence is loyalty... to ones self and ones best principles, and this is often disloyalty to the general idols and fetishes...
—Mark Twain

As part of my ongoing experiment testing the waters of democracy in Academe, this blog entry (wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com) was fashioned for the Creative Writing Program of the University of Oregon. Karen Ford, the director of the program, is urged to bring it to the attention of faculty members and students in the hope of instigating a little debate! The entry was inspired by my perusal of the Northwest Review website (www.uoregon.edu/~nwreview). The satirical cartoon arose from that site and might even be considered an unappreciated “hybrid form” (that seems to be one of the literary in-terms of the day), where engaged criticism is melded into art. It is likely far too “honest” and far too “unforgettable” for the review to publish.

What renders NWR quite unoriginal and sadly typical of academic literary journals are the self-serving comments of its purported greatness: “Among the nation's oldest and most esteemed literary reviews.” Well, I don’t “esteem” it at all. But I’m not a card-carrying member of the academic-literary established order that gets to do the official esteeming, kind of like the former Soviet Writers Union had done in the old USSR.

“The only criterion for acceptance of material for publication in Northwest Review is that of excellence,” notes the website, sadly however failing to define the term. Likely, most likely indeed, “excellence” as defined by the literary establishment is but a simple euphemism for “bourgeois acceptability”? “Excellence” is certainly not an objective term when applied to art and literature, though NWR certainly implies that it is. Besides, who ordained its staff to be the judges of “excellence”?

Finally, it is my humble opinion that not one English professor at the University of Oregon would dare display “disloyalty to the general idols and fetishes,” spoon fed to them by the academic-literary established order. What a bleak picture that paints of U. of O.! My experience has sadly supported the hypothesis that university English professors in America are essentially indifferent to such debate, intolerant to criticism, and entirely incapable of thinking out of the established-order box that pays them so nicely for that lack of capacity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Experiment in Democracy: Mills College

Truly men hate the truth; they’d liefer meet a tiger on the road. Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying...
—Robinson Jeffers

From: George Slone To: five80split@gmail.com; cyns@mills.edu; moses@mills.edu; dcady@mills.edu; amach@mills.edu; xango@mills.edu; jchen@mills.edu; yli@mills.edu; amance@mills.edu; mehta@mills.edu; cnixon@mills.edu; pollock@mills.edu; sratclif@mills.edu; kreiss@mills.edu; ktsaxton@mills.edu; rsaxton@mills.edu; jspahr@mills.edu; toms@mills.edu; kwalk@mills.eduSent: Thursday, May 21, 2009 10:38:31 AMSubject: Mills College English Dept.

Dear English Department faculty and students, Mills College:
An anonymous student on your website mentions how you have helped her think out of her box. (www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/eng/index_grad_core.php). Perhaps you ought not to be encouraging anonymity? In any case, will you allow me to help you think out of yours? Please check out and comment on the two cartoons I sketched on your English Department and literary journal, 580 Split (http://wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com/).

This email communication is part of an on-going experiment on testing the waters of democracy in academe. Are those waters murky? Sadly, evidence supports that hypothesis (i.e., vigorous debate is the cornerstone of democracy, but not of academe). Please do respond. Your response will counter the growing evidence. Other institutions tested include the University of Massachusetts (all campuses), Tufts University, and Middlebury College (my alma mater).

G. Tod Slone, Founding Editor, 1998
The American Dissident, a Journal of Literature, Democracy & Dissidence
A 501 c3 nonprofit organization providing a unique forum for vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy
1837 Main St.
Concord, MA 01742

Thursday, May 14, 2009

As Tenured Academics Weep Crocodile Tears over the Faltering Economy…

In cultured circles art for artsaking extended practically to a worship of the meaningless. Literature was to consist solely of the manipulation of words. To judge a book by its subject matter was the unforgiveable sin and even to be aware of its subject matter was looked on as a lapse of taste.
—George Orwell

The following essay comprises the comments I made regarding an article (see below) published by Inside Higher Ed. The comments were censored by editor Doug Lederman, who argued when I queried: "When you post comments that do not engage in ad hominem attacks and are on point, I'll post them." Yet ad hominem was calling someone names to avoid dealing with the arguments put forth. I certainly did not do that. Also, I brought to Lederman's deaf ears that he'd just published an interview with someone doing a doctoral thesis on Orphan Annie (I'm not joking!), who stated: "Since I think George Steiner is a fraudulent windbag." Double standard? You bet! Or should I rather say that the censor never has logic and reason on his side. Inside Higher Ed censored me three other times. Vigorous debate was the cornerstone of democracy. Evidently, it was not the cornerstone of academe.

The recent announcement that Middlebury College (The Bread Loaf School) would cease sponsoring The New England Review by 2011, if the journal didn't become self-supporting, was good news. Hopefully, other colleges and universities would follow with similar decisions, for anything that weakened the literary established-order was, in the long run, probably good for literature. Fattened literati did not necessarily make great literati at all. On the contrary, what they tended to make were entrenched academic literati.

Two types of literary journals existed: those with tons of cash and those without. The former tended to be journals of a bourgeois pro-status-quo, established-order nature and, for that reason, reaped tons of money from universities, nonprofit foundations, and taxpayers (e.g., the National Endowment for the Arts and state cultural councils). Those journals without tons of cash could be divided into two sub categories: those indifferent to the established order, thus, in essence, forming part of it, and those highly critical of it. A journal like The American Dissident, which I’d been publishing since 1998, formed part of the latter, which were certainly rare. It would likely never receive a cent in public-grant monies because of its highly critical stance vis-à-vis the established order and because of the egregious unequal- opportunity nature of the public-grant machine. Even turning the journal into a 501 c 3 nonprofit (cost $500) did not help an iota. In fact, the same year I made that decision, the Concord Cultural Council passed a regulation that explicitly prohibited it from ever obtaining local public funding because of its inherent “political nature.” As for the NEA, it simply dismissed the journal as “low” and “poor,” refusing to accord any additional information. Vigorous debate, after all, was the cornerstone of democracy, not of cultural and academic autocracies.

Regarding Middlebury College, I was an alumnus (1980) and couldn’t even get the college library to subscribe to The American Dissident (only $20/year). In fact, it wouldn’t even respond to my requests. In any case, perhaps leaner, less-funded journals would become better journals—less gloss, more substance, and people writing not for money and recognition, but rather to satisfy a driving passion or even as Orwell put it: “I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” Yes, that would be quite unusual indeed for an academic literary journal. Stephen Donadio, editor of The New England Review, ought to be satisfied with his $100,000-plus salary as a Middlebury College English professor. In fact, with that kind of money he ought to have been able to pay for the production costs himself. Was he paid additional money as editor? Why did he decline to reveal how much cash NER received? Why the secrecy? Whatever happened to the liberal-mantra of transparency? By the way, some of us were unemployed and still running literary journals. Perhaps Donadio would like to do an internship with The American Dissident and learn how small “revenue streams (subscriptions, for example) […] support the magazine sufficiently to operate without college financial support.”

"We're an incubator for literature," noted Donadio to Jaschik, author of “On the Chopping Block” (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/05/14/ner), which brought my attention to the impending financial dilemma of NER. A thinking individual, however, ought to wonder what kind of “literature” that implied. Literature apt to promote vigorous debate or literature apt to close the door upon it? Literature open to the questioning and challenging of established-order literature and icons or literature that would never permit such a thing? Did the student interns, offering free labor to NER, learn to question and challenge or were they simply taught (indoctrinated) to acquire and “appreciate” the same bourgeois taste and aesthetics harbored by college professors like Donadio?

So, NER had about 2000 subscribers. But that translated into about 25 to $35,000 per year! How, therefore, could Donadio complain that amount didn’t lend itself to a “self-sustaining business model”? What kind of paper was the journal printed on? Gold leaf? The American Dissident had about 40 subscribers and was perfectly “sustaining” (since 1998). It published twice yearly for under $1,000 and was professionally printed, flat-bound, with a beautiful color cover, but without gold leaf paper or silver-threaded binding. It was published not because it looked good on my resume (in fact, it likely looked pretty damn bad) and not because I was making money off it (I was making nothing at all), but rather because it was a bona-fide passion. Did not the editors of journals like The New England Review have sufficient passion to run them on extremely restricted budgets like mine? Had they not the passion to run them without filling their own pocketbooks? If not, perhaps they ought to go bust. Would the country really miss NER? Could anyone actually tell the difference between NER, Agni, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The Antioch Review, and any number of other unoriginal university-based literary journals? To get a good idea how much some of those journals actually rakee in, consider Virginia Quarterly Review with its 4500 subscribers, 1500 copies distributed at newsstands, and 2000 copies for individual sales. Its subscription rate was $32 per year and single copies cost $14. According to Ted Genoways, editor of VQR, that made for about $200,000 per year! How much did VQR also rake in from taxpayers via the NEA et al? It certainly did give a good idea how the established-order swamped the market with its literature.

Again, regarding NER, Jaschik noted that it was “considered to be among the best of its kind.” Yet a hundred other academic literary journals made the same claim. Why wasn’t he taught in college to question and challenge that which was served upon a platter? Contrary to popular educated belief, “best” when concerning literature was not a static, objective term, but rather one that needed always to be questioned and challenged. Today, few literati seemed capable of doing that.

To further build his case, Jaschik blindly cited Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses: "They [NER] have achieved grand dame status. They have published so many people who have gone on to have household status. This would be a terrible shame." Why didn’t Jaschik press Lependorf for precision regarding “household status”? Did it mean popularity? If so, since when did popularity necessarily mean quality? Who would consider NER the “best” and of “grand-dame status,” if not tenured bourgeois college professors? Were the nation’s supposed “best” writers tenured bourgeois college professors? Question and challenge, Herr Jaschik, and you shall find yourself in literary trouble! Or simply open wide and say ah like most did and find yourself with a literary job and literary money in your pocketbook. The choice was yours: integrity vs. the ole Faustian deal. Regarding NER, Jaschik cited the Boston Globe: “this is one of the journals most often mentioned by writers and readers—including editors of other journals, as among the nation's best.” Was there poll data to support that statement? If so, why wasn’t it mentioned? Indeed, without such data, the statement was vacuous.

Evidently, Jaschik and the Globe did not agree with Henrik Ibsen: “The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war.” Nor did they likely agree with Bertrand Russell: “There is no nonsense so errant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.” In this case, let’s replace “governmental” with “academic.” Jaschik also quoted a rather imbecilic statement made by Elizabeth Searle, again regarding NER: “it’s a 'high-class lit magazine that also happens to be secretly sexy.' What's not to love about that?" “High class,” of course, meant bourgeois and absence of truth telling, as in “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways” (Emerson). “Sexy” was a hackneyed business term used to label anything from a screwdriver to a new checking account.

Finally, Jaschik cited a handful of NER-published writers, “who are not household names but are well respected in literary circles.” But again what did all that mean? They were certainly not names in my household. And what “literary circles” were we talking about? Did members of those circles dare rock the boat—that machine Thoreau wisely advised us to “let your life be a counterfriction to stop the machine”? Of course not! Likely, they were the boat! They were the machine. Find me a job as a creative-writing instructor and maybe I’ll be able to help a few writing students think, instead of merely opening wide and just saying ahh. It was sad that a magazine supported by a college or university was likely a magazine that would never publish any critical writing about the college or university in question. In fact, it would likely discourage students to even think that such criticism could even constitute a viable subject for an essay or poem.

In any case, as tenured academics weep crocodile tears over the faltering economy, their designer literature fluorishes and monopolizes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Liberty Is Fun

The word liberty in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word love in the mouth of a courtezan. —Ralph Waldo Emerson on Daniel Webster

Perhaps Mr. Emerson wouldn't mind if we substituted "George Mason University" or "Ms. Amy Phillips" for "Mr. Webster." In any case, the brochure arrived, looking like a piece of junk mail. The word "liberty" caught my eye, not quite looking like the word "liberty" in the usual sense of Liberty Mutual Insurance or Liberty International Underwriters (did they have one for Undertakers too?) or Liberty Corporation (yes, it really exists) or even Liberty University, run by Baptist fundamentalists. Nope. This sort of looked bona fide.

Institute for Humane Studies (George Mason University) Summer Seminars on Liberty were free, and one of them would be held not too far away from me in Boston at Simmons College. Still, did I want to drive all the way into the city for a day-long seminar without pay? Well, I could hand out American Dissident flyers. It would, after all, be interesting to see if "liberty" students and professors would prove as indifferent to them as the poets had been. Hell, I had a large pile of them.

Thus, I filled out the application and included a required essay on “liberty.” I had tons of them. Which one had I chosen? Well, always prepared and eager to test the waters of... liberty, I'd asked myself what the Institute would likely not appreciate: “Warning: The Citizen General Has Deemed the Current Academic Culture May Be Harmful to the Spirit of Democracy” (see 10/16/08 blog). Hopefully, it would at least irritate a black-robed sycophant or two.

The Institute boasted: “Advancing a freer society by supporting students, recent graduates, and academics interested in the ideas of liberty.” Yeah, tell me about it, baby. When academics held seminars on liberty, likely what they had in mind was the liberty-for-us-but-not-for-you kind. It was akin to politicians holding seminars on truth or corporate CEOs on ethics.

A month later, I received an unoriginal automaton form-rejection letter from the director of the Summer Seminars, Amy Phillips: "I'm sorry to inform you that after careful review of this year's applications, the Institute for Humane Studies Seminar Review Committee is unable to offer you one of the limited places available at our 2009 Summer Seminars. We received a record number of applications this year, and competition was extremely tight."

There I was, editor of The American Dissident, rejected for a free seminar on "liberty"! In other words, I certainly had the credentials. I examined the Institute's website and learned that “Amy enjoys musical theater, crime novels, and grammar.” Had I made a grammatical error or two on my essay? “Amy holds a bachelor's degree in Philosophy from New York University, where she was president of the Parliamentary Debaters' Union and a nationally ranked debater." So, she wasn’t even a professor. But she was still entrenched in the academic milieu, which, interestingly, had redefined “liberty” to essentially exclude free speech, vigorous debate, and criticism, especially when close to home. Was my essay thus too serious and too close for their comfort and particular brand of “liberty”? Was The American Dissident website, which I’d emphasized on my application, equally too close for their “liberty”? Of course, I’d never know because the director (i.e., Amy) would never respond to either question. Perhaps the non response was an affirmation?

The Institute’s website also indicated that each year “Amy works to make those seminars challenging and fun…” So, “liberty” now had to be made into a “fun” activity. Imagine our revolutionary patriots sitting in on one of Amy’s “fun” seminars on “liberty”! Well, I did obtain a certain degree of intellectual satisfaction questioning and challenging those who stood for anything but “liberty,” while openly claiming how much they loved it. But was it “fun”? Not really! It was often sad, depressing, and highly disappointing to witness the state of non-liberty in academe and elsewhere in America. In any case, I wrote the director an email, mirroring her “sorry” with “I'm sorry to inform you that I’m not at all surprised you’d rejected my application. After all, you certainly wouldn't want an IMPOLITE professor like me at your seminars, one apt to speak out against the herd, even the "liberty" herd.Yet “liberty” demanded such courage, as opposed to bourgeois civility, taste, and aesthetics. Oddly or perhaps not, given Orwell, George Mason University, home of the Institute, was designated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as one of the worst institutions of higher learning in the entire country with regards... LIBERTY. "George Mason University: Unconstitutional Policies and Suppression of Dissent" was the title of one of FIRE's web pages devoted to the subject (see www.thefire.org/index.php/case/690.html).

How could one possibly expect GMU professors and administrators to hold seminars on “liberty,” while in practice either propagating suppression of dissent or keeping their mouths shut regarding it?

Had the director even manifested the curiosity to examine the website I’d brought to her attention? After all, “liberty” demanded a certain degree of active citizen CURIOSITY. If she had actually examined it, had it disgusted her in its lack of deference to PC ideology, the university, and tenured professors and administrators at the trough? Likely, unlike most professors and students chosen to attend the summer “liberty” seminars, I actually believed in “liberty” sufficiently to fight openly for it and to manifest the courage and willingness to even RISK CAREER for it.

If the Institute were at all serious about discussing “liberty,” it would first discuss GMU’s terrible record with liberty’s regard, then seek out and invite rare professors like me who had fought for “liberty” in the university against probably the very likes of the director herself, other CEOs of the Institute, and PC Deans of the university spouting their love of “liberty.” My fear was that the director would be using the seminars to further indoctrinate and otherwise corrupt student ability to think critically and individually.

In my email, I mentioned those things and also asked whether or not selected candidates for the seminars possessed websites like mine and published journals like The American Dissident, devoted to literature, democracy, and dissidence; in other words, to liberty. I also asked whether or not the director had ever RISKED her career for “liberty,” or was she, as I fully suspected, just another contented careerist lodging at a highly authoritarian institution of purported higher learning run on the corporate model of rigid hierarchy, products to sell, clients to satisfy, and growth, growth, and ever more growth? Liberty, after all, demanded RISK, as opposed to arbitrarily defined and dictated CIVILITY. What had the director ever RISKED?

Finally, a clear choice remained for the director, host of "liberty" seminars, between ignoring my criticism and questions or engaging in vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy and… liberty. Like the director of Tufts University Experimental College, she opted for the former, as opposed to the latter. I’d also suggested she have her summer conference candidates examine The American Dissident website in the name of... liberty. But, as mentioned, she’d made her choice… and it was sure as hell not for LIBERTY.