Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Questions Electric Literature Couldn't Answer



A quote from the Two Million-Dollar Man, Garth Risk Hallberg, from 2012:

"--the 'inside literary world' as such no longer really exists--"

Is that a true statement? It's a question worthy of debate. It's also a question the "inside literary world" itself won't acknowledge.

Yesterday I had an interesting exchange on twitter with Electric Literature-- www.electricliterature.com-- and a host of essay writers touted by Electric Literature as the best out there. The impromptu discussion was touched off inadvertently on my part when I merely asked EL if all the writers they discussed were New York City writers.

In truth, though not all of them live in Brooklyn, all of them do write for New York media; including for major outlets like the New York Times. They've been given the seal of approval from the center of media empire.

The lot of them jumped on me, assuring me-- or themselves-- that they were actually DIY, or at some point in their lives had been; they worked very hard (a fact I'd never doubt); and so on.

Then the exchange stopped. Everyone ran off, Electric Literature included, because I raised questions that none of them could answer. The four questions:

1.) "Would any of you write for our site?"
2.) (To EL): "Where did you stand on the Hachette vs. Amazon question?"
3.) (To EL) "Do you review DIY writers?"
4.) (To EL) "Will you debate us in Chicago or Detroit?"

I asked the questions to test how real these people were in their protestations. Not very! Electric Literature had claimed there were no sides in today's literary game; and strongly implied they didn't take sides.

Most of the writers involved likely write "literary" essays which aren't exactly our thing. We prefer writing that's sharp, punchy, to the point and very readable. Nevertheless we're open to all kinds of writers. Our mission is to bridge the gap between pop and literary.

What distinguishes us from the herd, on both sides-- both camps-- is that we're willing to present all sides of ongoing literary questions. Few others can claim that. Including this question: What should the literary art look like?

To close this post, I'll make several points, and invite-- in the interest of open discussion-- Electric Literature and the essay writers to dispute or explain them.

-Approved writers are trained in a certain acceptable style of writing, whether at Yale, Berkeley, or Iowa. It's a style which wins awards and funding, publication in university literary journals, and in some cases, publication by the New York big guys. It's a style which we at NEW POP LIT believe is outdated. Unfit for today's changing economic environment.

-Electric Literature is part of old-style New York literary media. Are they an adjunct of the Big Five publishers? They sound and act like it. They require gatekeepers telling them what's acceptable and what's not. They blaze no new aesthetic paths.

-Electric Literature and their writers won't criticize the current system of publishing and promotion-- even though that system at the moment is under extreme stress. To do so would outrage many in the publishing business, and in the established literary world. Being on the right side is a safe policy. It also means that EL's stated broadmindedness is only a statement.

-Electric Literature, and literary outfits like them (n+1, Guernica, et.al.), won't touch writers, literary groups, or ideas that exist outside the current bubble of approval.

But the freewheeling exchange of ideas, about art and process, should be what any literary scene is about.

Dialogue anyone?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

More n+1 Hypocrisy?

Did you read my NEW POP LIT report about the very esteemed New York literary journal n+1 magazine's coziness with billionaires and media moguls?


http://newpoplit.com/opinion/beyond-hypocrisy-the-n1-story/


Now we stumble upon this interesting tweet from n+1 founder and lead guy Keith Gessen:


Keith Gessen @keithgessen Dec 12
Recent criticism of US journos for working w/ Kremlin media is great IF AND ONLY IF same scrutiny leveled at US and oligarch-funded media.

We ask: Does Keith Gessen consider his own publication to be "oligarch-funded media"?

(You know the saying. If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck. . . .)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Ode to N+1"


A Poem

Gessen, Greif, Roth, and Kunkel,
looking for funding from somebody's uncle

Always they are on the make,
to Big-Time Money they're on the take!

They hope to finance their revolution,
billionaire friends is quite the solution!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

New York Literary Hypocrisy Update

Here's what's left of the exchange I had on twitter with n+1 editor Dayna Tortorici-- which began when I asked why she was saying nothing about the Daniel Handler National Book Awards incident (see previous two posts):


 New Pop Lit@NewPopLit
   
@dtortorici I guess fighting racism, privilege & power a tad harder when it's in your own field :-) literarycircus.blogspot.com/2014/11/why-is… - 25 Nov
Dayna Tortorici@dtortorici
 
@NewPopLit dude step off I don't know who Daniel Handler is and don't care
  
 01:51 AM - 25 Nov 14
  

Ms. Tortorici subsequently blocked the New Pop Lit twitter account, and later deleted what she could of the exchange. Yet the key question remains unanswered: With all of n+1's activism, their outcries against privilege and racism, why do they refuse to speak about elitism, racism, and privilege in their own field?

Could it be because the established literary and publishing circles based in New York City-- including what I call Old Literary Media-- are among the most elitist endeavors in America? Where success is based on connections and cronyism more than any other factor? Where the lead mouthpieces for establishment literature, like Dayna Tortorici-- like virtually every editor, staffer, and intern at n+1-- attended the most exclusive schools in America? (Places like Brown, Columbia, Yale, and Harvard.) That when they profess to fight against "the One Percent" or "white privilege," they should first go after themselves?

The idea is to clean up literature and publishing-- to democratize American literature, and thereby make it more representative of the genuine American voice. Accessible and open to all-- not solely to a select group of  mandarins presuming to dictate from on high to everyone else. "What does democracy look like?"

This is what my fights over the years for literary populism have been about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sgt. Schultz of the Literary World?

"I know nothing!" "I see nothing!"



Yes, even those at the very center of establishment literary activity are not always up on what's happening in their own world.

At least, this is the indication given by trendy n+1 editor Dayna Tortorici, a leader of Brooklyn's Literary Snob Set. Note her tweet:

Dayna Tortorici @dtortorici Nov 24
dude step off I don't know who Daniel Handler is and don't care

Not know about Daniel Handler's "unfortunate" racist remarks? They took place in Manhattan, right across the river from Brooklyn, at the well-hyped National Book Awards dinner, a scene of New York City's literary connected and powerful. One would think the editor of one of New York City's leading lit journals would be up on it. Handler's "unfortunate" remarks were the talk of New York, including Brooklyn-- and of the literary world as a whole.

Perhaps Ms. Tortorici was indisposed? Out of town? Climbing mountains in the Himalayas? Visiting the South Pole?

It's understandable, I suppose, that Dayna Tortorici might be more concerned about a grand jury verdict taking place a thousand miles away, over which Tortorici has absolutely no influence, than about an incident taking place in her own backyard, in her own field, over which she might have a great deal of influence, given her standing as editor of an influential prestigious well-connected well-hyped et.al. establishment literary journal.

Ours is not to wonder about the whys and what-fors of the mysterious happenings of elite literary circles. We're only here to report.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Is Daniel Handler Celebrating?


IS THIS THE FACE OF LEGACY PUBLISHING?
Daniel Handler is celebrating because he has "gotten over" on his careless, inadvertently revealing racist remarks at the National Book Awards last week. By making what for Handler was a token donation, to a token "diversity" organization-- "We Need Diverse Books"-- most of the New York-based literary and publishing establishments have rallied behind him. He's too rich and powerful for them to do otherwise.

I'm sure the folks at We Need Diverse Books are fine people. But it's also a virtually in-house organization which is unable to change anything about today's literary and publishing hierarchies. Its President, Ellen Oh, is herself published by HarperCollins. She's a graduate of New York University and a former corporate lawyer. As long as the awarded and promoted authors come from the most privileged schools in America-- and therefore from the more privileged classes in America-- literature will be a long way from representing a truly diverse and authentic presentation of the American people; the American voice.

Meanwhile, we've found the face of Big Five publishing, of establishment literature. It's Daniel Handler! Could a more stereotypical embodiment of white male arrogance and privilege be found?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jonathan Franzen's Farewell Tour?




RUMOR HAS IT that much-lauded novelist Jonathan Franzen, entranced by the Derek Jeter farewell to baseball tour, is toying with the idea of doing a farewell tour himself.

"I think it would be neat," proto-hipster Franzen is alleged to have said to his agent. Or maybe to his girlfriend. Or to a coffeeshop barista.

"We could present me in large chain bookstores across the country," Jonathan Franzen suggested. "I wouldn't answer questions-- I don't answer questions-- but it would give the public a chance to see me. You know. Be in my presence. That sort of thing."

"You realize, don't you?" the agent/girlfriend/barista said. "That it would mean you'd have to retire."

"Retire?"

"Yes. You know. Stop writing."

"Stop writing?"

Jonathan Franzen is said to be pondering the implications. He has time. His next big novel isn't due for at least a decade.