The defunct Underground Literary Alliance lacked the cohesion and discipline necessary to take down the tottering tower of mediocrity that represents today the literary world. Only if we’d been a tight, unstoppable unit—as we were in our early days—would we have had a chance of success.
The literary system has discipline. That’s what it’s about, from the winnowing process of MFA programs on up. The objective is to fulfill the system’s bureaucratic requirements. This it does ably.
Those who rise through the process, like Jonathan Franzen and Dave Eggers, are utterly ruthless bastards. That’s the reality. Anyone who works within a bureaucracy, or has worked within them, well knows this.
The creation of art is a secondary consideration. It’s the public justification for the machinations and maneuverings of those within the process. The true goal is producing apparatchiks loyal to the system, and to the system’s art. Conformity, from step one in a writing class, to the endpoint of bureaucratic position or lauded author, is the rule. No dissension and certainly no rebellion allowed.
The U.S. literary system today IS the Soviet Union, IS the Evil Empire. Understand this and you understand it all.
I see it as middle stage Soviet Union. Most apparatchiks still believe in their edifice of power. They’re blind enough, brainwashed enough, to continue to praise the shallow and mediocre works produced. More cracks will need to appear, more corruption pointed out—mirrors held up—and yes, also a valid alternate put in place—before anyone of them would dare flee, mentally and physically, the security of what’s already there. The cold safety of enveloping stone walls.
Do the major players really believe in their art? Do any of them have enough real intelligence not to? Does any one of them have the cynicism of a Stalin, to recognize that the stated ideals are fluff and nonsense; that ruthlessness is all?
I’ve previously identified Franzen as a Sholokhov type. Is there a Molotov? (Likely hundreds of them.) A Khrushchev?
Speculating about the tower of literary power can be amusing, if not fun.