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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Experiments in Free Speech & Democracy

University of Pennsylvania
Open Letter to the Professors of the English Department

The American Dissident, a 501 c3 nonprofit journal of literature, democracy, and dissidence, would like to know what you think, as individuals and, even moreso, what your students think. The journal believes that all icons and institutions should be open game for hardcore criticism. Oddly, or rather conveniently, however, the large majority of established-order poets seem to think that poetry organizations, celebrities, prizes, and journals should be off limits. And indeed, established-order poets tend to live in protective cocoons of incessant praise and funding. It is next to impossible for outsider organizations like The American Dissident to get satire to penetrate those buffered cocoons.

The American Dissident is a firm believer in free speech and vigorous debate, democracy’s cornerstones. Yet how can debate be vigorous when, for example, the Academy of American Poets censors opinions it does not like and its professor chancellors respond with indifference (see http://www.theamericandissident.org/AcademyAmericanPoets.htm). And when most college professors seem to favor censorship (either turning a blind eye to it, preferring euphemisms like moderation, civility, and good taste, and/or proferring to be too busy to be concerned), democracy itself is in peril. What do you think? Have you perfected excuses as part of rationalizing your silence?

The cartoon above, inspired by a brief review appearing in Entertainment Weekly, which normally critiques the love-life and attire of Hollywood celebrities, satirizes your colleague Charles Bernstein. Yes, yes, we all know that he is revered by the academic/literary established order and has climbed that ladder, wearing blinders wherever necessary. But should criticism of Bernstein be taboo? What do you think?

For more unusual critique of those who are rarely if ever criticized, examine The American Dissident, which firmly believes that poetry should be more than mere intellectual ENTERTAINMENT and diversion or bourgeois past-time. In fact, why not subscribe to the journal (only $20/year) to help expose your students to alternative negative viewpoints regarding literature and the literary establishment. Are the doors of the English department at the University of Pennsylvania like those of so many other universities hermetically sealed against uncomfortable outside critique? Do you help your students create and fortify “mind-forged manacles” like those observed by William Blake? Your SILENCE will certainly support that hypothesis!

Thank you for your cordial attention.

N.B.: Notice of this blog was sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper and the following English instructors and professors:

eng111@mailman.ssc.upenn.edu, charles.bernstein@english.upenn.edu, nauerbac@english.upenn.edu, rbarnard@english.upenn.edu, hbeavers@english.upenn.edu, nbentley@english.upenn.edu, tbowers@english.upenn.edu, bushnell@english.upenn.edu, cavitch@english.upenn.edu, pconn@english.upenn.edu, rcopalan@english.upenn.edu, tcorriga@english.upenn.edu, davistm@english.upenn.edu, degrazia@english.upenn.edu, dcherney@english.upenn.edu, deng@english.upenn.edu, jenglish@english.upenn.edu, esty@english.upenn.edu, afilreis@english.upenn.edu, mgamer@english.upenn.edu, jajii@english.upenn.edu, amkaplan@english.upenn.edu, kaul@english.upenn.edu, kazanjia@english.upenn.edu, zlesser@english.upenn.edu, loomba@english.upenn.edu, loveh@english.upenn.edu, cmazer@english.upenn.edu, amparo@english.upenn.edu, jnpark3@english.upenn.edu, perelman@english.upenn.edu, jmrabate@english.upenn.edu, prackin@english.upenn.edu, psain@english.upenn.edu, sanchezm@english.upenn.edu, pstally@english.upenn.edu, steinerer@english.upenn.edu, wsteiner@english.upenn.edu, stillet@english.upenn.edu, dwallace@english.upenn.edu, cmyang@english.upenn.edu, madams@sas.upenn.edu, rallen@ccat.sas.upenn.edu, janthon2@english.upenn.edu, maxapple1@verizon.net, azzolina@pbox.upenn.edu, psethbauer@hotmail.com, beckmank@sas.upenn.edu, benamos@sas.upenn.edu, blochj@english.upenn.edu, broussard@writing.upenn.edu, kbrownie@sas.upenn.edu, dburnham@english.upenn.edu, lcary@english.upenn.edu, ADeCurtis@aol.com, kathydemarco@writing.upenn.edu, tdevaney@writing.upenn.edu, djanikia@writing.upenn.edu, edwards@english.upenn.edu, despey@english.upenn.edu, marciaf@english.upenn.edu, dfox@sas.upenn.edu, lf@lisefunderburg.com, funkhauser@adm.njit.edu, agaedtke@gmail.com, pgaffney@sas.upenn.edu, gautsche@writing.upenn.edu, kg@ubu.com, devin.griffiths@rutgers.edu, adhall@english.upenn.edu, sharzews@english.upenn.edu, khellers@sas.upenn.edu, phendric@english.upenn.edu, mjens@sas.upenn.edu, jjossely@writing.upenn.edu, mkant2@english.upenn.edu, iamblel@aol.com, adlevy@english.upenn.edu, mlotto@english.upenn.edu, rmalague@english.upenn.edu, jmalcolm@english.upenn.edu, maxwellr@sas.upenn.edu, mmazaj@sas.upenn.edu, cmcgrath@uchicago.edu, dianemw@sas.upenn.edu, mamills@sas.upenn.edu, lizmoore1234@gmail.com, susan.murray@nyu.edu, michols@phillynews.com, cristinp@english.upenn.edu, polman@writing.upenn.edu, tipowell@sas.upenn.edu, jrezek@sas.upenn.edu, riebling@english.upenn.edu, krile@writing.upenn.edu, vross@writing.upenn.edu, rydel@sas.upenn.edu, schlatt@english.upenn.edu, rebecca@sas.upenn.edu, a.shonkwiler@gmail.com, scottstein@verizon.com, tarr123@gmail.com, vtodoroz@sas.upenn.edu, traister@pobox.upenn.edu, tricia@pointedpress.com, catumer@sas.upenn.edu, valterza@sas.upenn.edu, wahlert@english.upenn.edu, kwatters@english.upenn.edu, lweissbe@sas.upenn.edu, emilyw@sas.upenn.edu, abrahams@english.upenn.edu, curran@english.upenn.edu, rlucid@english.upenn.edu, vmahaffee@illinois.edu, randkregen@juno.com, jrichett@english.upenn.edu, gweales@english.upenn.edu, swenzel@english.upenn.edu

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sam Hamill

From Fierce Contention: Conversations with the Established Order and Other Parodias de Discursos y Diálogos con Sordos

While hunting for a photo of Ron Camel, co-founder of Nickel Chasm Press, I came across an interview. Camel was a fattish gray-haired character, a little older than me, and with heart problems. I’d been fishing around his Poets against Conflict website and didn’t like some of the things on it at all, including its highlighting of established-order poet Martin Blada. So, I wanted to cartoonify the fellow. That’s what I did, I cartoonified established-order fellows, mostly literary and academic, sometimes big, often little. I read through the interview, which resulted from Camel’s appearance at a university in the mid-west. So, I contacted the Chairperson of the Poetry & Writing Department of that institution, Barbara B. Bright Meth, and threw out the ole gauntlet:

As a dissident poet and editor, perhaps I would make an unusual speaker at your university. As a Poet against Prominent Poets, I would stand in direct antipodes to Ron Camel and his Poets against Conflict. If there is no chance, as I highly suspect, might there be a chance that your university library would subscribe to the nonprofit journal I’ve been editing since 1998 (only $20/year)? It might be of interest to your students to be exposed to the alternative viewpoints expressed in the journal.

It was tough as nails getting universities to subscribe… for evident reasons. But I persisted and persisted and persisted over the years. To my surprise, Meth actually responded. Normally, challenged professors did not respond. Her response was a good one in its revealing brevity: “How could you possibly be against Ron Camel? Ron is a dear friend of mine. What did he possibly do to you?”
So, Camel was a friend. The poetry networks fostered backslapping, eulogy ad nausea, and general incest. Throw in a sudden jolt of fiery critique and it would shock the system like a stick in the spokes of business as usual, though only for a moment. The American Academy of Arts and Letters didn’t even try to hide the incestuous nature of its system. To become a member, one had to be selected by a member. Thus, Ginsberg chose Burrows who chose Ferlinghetti who chose Creeley who chose Snyder who chose Baraka. In any case, Meth’s was the old don't criticize my good friend because if you do, I'll shut the door on you. But since she asked, I responded:

It is really amazing to me just how closed so many academics can be to criticism. Yes, Camel is your friend, so anyone daring to criticize him must be ostracized and excluded! How sad. It is as if your poet friends are somehow above reproach. But poets are not gods. They are mere mortals. Yet you and so many like you seek to deify them, always pushing the fame of their names. Camel parades around as a dissident, but was pumped up by established-order monies. How to explain that? He drools obsequious thank-yous to the NEA on his website, yet the NEA is a corrupt public organization if ever there was one. Moreover, it is an easy thing to criticize war afar, but a difficult one to criticize the very close-to-home academic hand that feeds a lot of the Poets against Conflict, especially the “prominent” ones (did you hear that?).
Camel doesn’t want to heed that criticism. I suppose academe has been feeding him well too, directly or indirectly via invitations like yours, etc. He will not put my anti-war poem on his website… probably because it is critical of leftists Hillary and Obama. He will not include my essay on socially-engaged poetry with other essays he’s included… on socially-engaged poetry. He probably won’t do that because the essay is very critical of academic poets, including the ones he’s published.
Camel admits he made an error by voting for Obama, the anti-war candidate war president. But I ask how someone his age could have been so easily duped, unless of course he buys into PC, heart and soul. In fact, one must ask how someone like him was invited to the White House in the first place. Evidently, he and the other “prominent” invited poets were perceived to be docile… and for good reason.
Camel provides a separate page on his website: “Poems by Prominent Poets.” But what constitutes a “prominent poet” and why should a “prominent poet” write better poems about war than poets, who, for example, actually spent time fighting in war? Evidently, “prominent poets” are poets who, for the most part, acquired a certain expertise at playing the game of climbing up the ladder of “success”, turning a blind eye, right and left, making sure not to criticize, making sure to kiss ass wherever ass should be kissed. They are poets of the system—the established order. Finally, it seems that the creation of Poets against Conflict was a nice ploy for Camel to further his name and give himself a title, Director of Poets against Conflict. Christ, do we really need a director of that? SILENCE (is always golden in academe).
BTW, I just noticed Branchlet Benson, CEO of the Academy of American Scribes was CEO of Camel’s Nickel Chasm Press. The Academy censored and banned me. So, let’s add that to the list of why I think Camel ought to be criticized. Would you protest the censorship incident? SILENCE.

No response. I waited two days, then shot out a brief email: “Nothing like VIGOROUS DEBATE, CORNERSTONE OF DEMOCRACY, eh?! What about my comments on your friend Camel?” The democracy-catch was my customary bait. Sometimes it worked, most times it didn’t. But Meth responded, this time even a tad more vigorously.

Maybe white/Western democracy, but not Native-American democracy, where true democracy was stolen. I am an Iroquois woman! I don't have time to argue with someone who simply wishes to argue. Good bye.

Again, I responded:

So, I take it your answer is NO regarding a possible invitation and subscription? Too bad for your students who would likely benefit from an alternative viewpoint, one critical of academics and academe. It would likely open their eyes a tad. But apparently you want to keep their eyes closed and focused on literary icons and the positivist literary established order.

And again, she responded, this time longer and even more revealing.

Some of us have to work to feed our families, versus attacking people who are working, or other poets who we do not know. The academic field differs little from the tobacco field, or cracker factory. My dissent, for the moment, is taking issue with some white male who lurks on the internet attacking poets for pleasure.

The cracker factory! Now how could you beat that one? Yes, teaching 2-3 hours per day differed little from the 60-hour work week of a cracker-factory worker. That one reminded me of Frank’s comment that his teaching college courses was akin to sharecropping. Christ, they couldn’t even recognize how relatively easy their jobs were! I worked at a factory, I welded at a shipyard, and I taught college courses. But I know damn well what was tough and what was not. College was not. Hmm. I wonder if Meth were trying to insult me with the C-word, “cracker.” And how they hated the white male! He was the cause of all their problems, including their salary raises, paid-vacation sabbaticals, three-hour workdays, and even their new president Obama, not to mention their life-time guaranteed job positions. I wrote back.

“Some of us have to work to feed our families,” you state, echoing the excuse of so many professors who would dismiss anyone critical of them for not manifesting the courage to speak rude truth. And yet the tenured professor, unlike other professionals with the exception of the supreme-court justice, enjoys life-time job security that can only be revoked if laws are broken. So, how can one possibly explain the amazing silence of 99.9% of the country’s tenured professors regarding the corrupt institutions and administrators that feed them? In other words, your “some of us have to work to feed our families” excuse is nonsense. SILENCE!
You even use that excuse to dismiss the rude truth. After all, that rude truth inevitably makes those who have to turn a blind eye so they can feed their families, though they don’t really have to, look bad. No matter. The criticism remains valid. And there will always be excuses for keeping ones mouth shut in the face of corruption, which is why whistleblowers should be commended. In fact, rare academic whistleblowers should be honored with statues on their respective campuses. Because you have to work to feed your family and thus must not criticize the academic hand that stuffs your face does not mean that I cannot criticize it and that my criticism is not valid. At least have the intellectual integrity to recognize that fact. SILENCE!
Criticism ought to be examined and point-by-point refuted if you, for example, believe it not to be valid. Dismissing it as “ATTACK” has become a truly sad modus operandi of academic established-order literati. And I can back that assertion with scores of actual examples and statements, adding your correspondence to the sad, sad pile! Christ, what do you teach your students: the art of literary icon worship and groveling for three letters of recommendation?
Evidently, you've become yet another closed-minded academic of the literary established order—Iroquois female or white male, what difference? None at all! Sadly, you can't admit that even to yourself. You cannot even admit to having writer’s taboos, as in do not criticize the corrupt academic hand that feeds and do not criticize established-order icons. You cannot even admit that there is an academic/literary established order and that those like me who dare stand up on their hind legs apart from that herd to criticize it must be dismissed as angry or whatever and banned, censored, and ostracized. How sad… for literature AND democracy.

Meth responded: “I am not tenured, nor tenure track. You are wrong.”
Well, the response was laughable. Okay, I was wrong. She’s not tenured. And so what? I wrote again, but this time attaching a cartoon I sketched featuring Meth, Camel, and Branchlet.

I repeat: Will you consider inviting me as a rare dissident poet? Will you ask your university library to consider subscribing to The American Dissident so that it might abide by the ALA Library Bill of Rights, as in "Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view..." not for the sake of faculty, but rather for that of students. Attached is a satirical cartoon I just drew on you and Ron. Enjoy.

No further response would ever come from her Barbara B. Bright Meth. DOA.