October 6 at 7:26pm
Alt Lit is failing as an artistic movement because it is aggressively incurious. Essentially, a lot of work is creative non-fiction, however the brilliance of the genre is the new approach to communication in a developing environment by technological natives. But the writers themselves haven’t proved to be up to the challenges those who aspire to make meaningful art are faced with–or that they’re even aware the challenge exists. In fact, Alt Lit seems increasingly preoccupied with reducing conflict, a comfortable see-no-evil sort of approach that is overly reliant on positivity or defeatism without offering solutions, rather than engaging with the struggles its readers face and representing meaningfully the consequences of the effects it has on all of us. I may be naive, but I think people writing on the Internet could make something great. Unfortunately, very few people appear to be trying.
: I am sitting on a balcony in Las Vegas, the night is warm. I am sitting on the concrete floor of the balcony, listening to Langhorne Slim’s Hummingbird on repeat, and drinking IPA. I read Heiko’s comment on alt-lit.
I think it is a question of ‘goals.'
Before the internet writers, had 'a goal.’ The goal was to get published by one of the five major presses or one of their subsidiary companies. This goal led to certain behaviors on the part of the writers, how to write, what topics to write about, you had to go through middle-aged editors, you had to know people and probably live in New York or at least have a very good agent. But the 'goals’ of alt-lit are different.
The internet doesn’t have middle-aged editors editing your things, it doesn’t really even have editors.
To get published on the internet, to get your things seen on the internet, well, it isn’t that hard.
If your goal is only to get 48 people to look at your image macros, or read your 3 stanza poem, well, you can be an unread person that doesn’t have to care that much about writing.
If you want to get published by a major press, well you need to be well read and you need to learn how to write in a certain style, to appeal to the editors of major presses. That will take a lot of time and patience, and hard work.
If you want to compete with the great writers, if you want to write things that are truly emotional and well constructed and original, well don’t even try to publish something till you’ve written over a 1000 pages of prose, write 3 novels, trash them, and maybe the 4th one will work.
Personally I wish, everyone in alt-lit would go and buy a bunch of Wittgenstein, Sartre, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, then sit and just read them over and over again, and really try to understand before they write anything.
The thing about writing is that, once you publish something, it is there forever, YOU can’t take it away, it is THERE for the whole world to see forever. Wait, till you your voice, you are a person, from somewhere, from some social class, from some sociological position in the overall landscape, your own voice, is somewhere inside there.
But ask yourself what your 'goal’ is? Do you have a 'goal?'
I hope you do.
Read Dostoevsky, yeah, read Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, The Devils, Crime and Punishment and the Adolescent. Don’t even write before you read all those books.
If you’re American, read Hemingway and Steinbeck, British Dickens and Hardy, Asian Murakami and Soseki, and if you want read them all.
Us Americans and United Kingdom Affiliates we don’t have religion, we have literature and philosophy, to guide our path. The Asians still have Buddhism, the Native Americans have their culture and beliefs. But we, we just these things called literature and philosophy, and if you want to add to it, you gotta be part of it, you have love it, you have to be a monk or nun for literature and philosophy. You have to truly believe. (most will never understand that last paragraph, but I hope some will, and you will know, whatever there is to needed to know.)
Wait, be calm, read a thousand books, write a thousand pages, feel a thousand things, write that book.
As Whitman wrote:
Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than
Arouse! for you must justify me.
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.
I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.
or Ezra Pound:
I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman -
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root -
Let there be commerce between us.
Yeah, like that. Have you tried taking a long walk, and listening to the wind.
An Open Letter to Heiko Julien and Noah Cicero from Morgan Myers:
Re: this: http://www.altlitgossip.com/post/63324631025/failing
And this: http://www.altlitgossip.com/post/63358802905/noah-cicero-facebook-post
It’s great that you guys are these superserious, hypersensitive writers. Seriously, your monomaniacal focus on some of the basic questions of being and society makes for some of my favorite writing today. Heiko, your work is hilarious and frightening at the same time. I appreciate how hard you are to pin down, how the “true” voice of the author is always slipping away, leaving me alone in a maze of ideas where I have to reconsider my own values in order to find my way out, except I never do and then the poem ends and, oh, that’s just life. Noah, you’re a documentarian of damaged lives that very few writers have seen and experienced as intimately as you have; but you’re also a writer with a distinct point of view that brings some light and even charisma to those dark places.
You are both extremely awesome writers, but you’re also both completely wrong and basically full of shit when it comes to alt lit.
See, most of us have more than one mood. Which may be one reason we’ll never be the great writers you are, or at least not the kind of great writers you are, but it also means we actually like the fact that alt lit is able to include more than one perspective re: ironic vs. serious, re: the value of “greatness” as an aesthetic category, re: whether there should be a canon and what should be in it if so. We find value and, yes, meaning in a funny-sad tweet from Spencer Madsen or Mira Gonzalez, or a manically upbeat Youtube clip from Steve Roggenbuck, the same way we do in a bleak look into the heart of human hopelessness and despair from one of you guys. We also encounter writers who we don’t find as well developed or gifted as those, and we give them a look and then move on, because we realize that there will always be a few things we appreciate more than most other things; and we recognize that those writers aren’t really hurting anyone or wasting any of the world’s resources by putting their first three novels up on the internet—where maybe someone who likes them more than we do might find them, even if it’s only forty-eight people (what’s wrong bringing pleasure to forty-eight people?)—rather than tossing them in the garbage.
Heiko, if you really think something new and great can come from writing on the internet, maybe you need to let it go its own way and develop organically, rather than prescribing some form for it that you’ve already determined is the nature of “great”/serious literature. Because doing that will only ever get you the same thing you already have fed back again. If you think the internet has so much potential, maybe you should try to listen to what it has to say and extend your values to accommodate some of the things that it seems to favor—like spontaneity, freshness, ephemeral exchange rather than timeless monuments, persistently being in/with our irreducibly troubling existence rather than “offering solutions” to our problems—instead of demanding that everyone else make their subculture over to suit your tastes. You can’t expect something to come along and change the world, and yet refuse to let it affect you.
Noah, literature has not replaced religion for people in the US and UK. Seventy-five percent of Americans still identify as Christians. Subtract all the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Rastas, and everyone else with some definite religious creed, and you’re left with 15-20% of people who are a lot more likely to look to science or film/television to tell them how their world works and what it means than they are to literature or philosophy. So it’s absolute bullshit to claim that anyone who wants to write a poem or a novel is obligated to take up some kind of preistly mantle for the sake of preserving Western Civilization. Which is a good thing, because religions are pretty much obligated to always and only be serious and profound. A religion without some kind of answer for all life’s questions is basically pointless. Literature doesn’t have that limitation. A novelist can raise questions and then admit to not knowing the answers. He/she can write something just to express and alleviate pain, or even just to get a laugh. A poet can take everything totally seriously all the time and try to constantly address the meaning of existence or whatever, or they can just devote their life to writing funny limericks. Or they can switch back and forth, or do a little of both at once. And those different attitudes produce different kinds of literature that have different kinds of value for different readers.
Nobody needs to read Dostoevsky in order to learn how to write. Sure, a lot of writers might benefit from reading him, or anybody else, but every writer is different. You can get there by reading Dostoevsky and Wittgenstein and Sartre, Tao Lin can get there by reading Lydia Davis and Schopenhauer and Anne Beattie, Steve Roggenbuck can get there by reading Lil B and Horse E-books and Flarf (note that Steve also really likes some canonical literature, not the point). Somebody else might have their style ruined by trying to emulate a writer like Dostoevsky; they might take away all the wrong lessons from it and just get themselves confused.
The mass of alt lit writers, especially the ones you both seem to be specifically criticizing, are basically a lot of kids just learning and messing around and trying to have fun. They aren’t necessarily looking to create “great” literature (though some maybe are, and some will and have succeeded), and that’s fine. “Greatness” is traditionally just an ideological function created to make sure that women and minorities and young people and poor/uneducated people (ones who haven’t read the canon) don’t go around writing books and expecting their voices to be heard. (I don’t think either of you guys want to silence any of those groups, but I do think you’ve maybe unwittingly bought into an ideological construct that’s designed to do so. It’s no coincidence that Noah could only name white dudes and two Asians in his post about this.) “Greatness” is a burden on literature, it’s basically just an old way of justifying telling writers what they can and can’t do in writing, something to legitimize the authority of whoever wants to play the fun police for literary taste.
You two dudes don’t have to have fun if you don’t want to, but you’re too smart and too good to be the fun police. You are each really, really good at being Heiko Julien and Noah Cicero, respectively. So good, in fact, that nobody else really needs to try. So let the other writers be who they are, and maybe they’ll write something you like, and maybe they won’t. And literature will change and grow because kids will come along who don’t share your values and don’t think literature has to do the things you expect it to, and that will probably be okay. Literature, like all art and culture, has always worked that way, so it will probably not “fail” or disappear from the earth because of it.
Personally I’m looking forward to it.
Noah Cicero: Concerning the Canon comment: I never think about the Canon, I feel like maybe Paradise Lost and Hamlet are in the Canon, but what else is in there I’m not sure. I don’t have an English degree but a Political Science degree, I can easily be more scientific on what is considered to be in the Political canon than what is in the literary canon, just by training. Dostoevsky is awesome regardless of canon.
But the idea of me noah cicero telling someone to read the canon, doesn’t make any sense in the context of me being a real person, and not your instant judgements by random nouns I was using. A person that has read like two of my interviews or even one of my books would know that.
I feel like you read my post and didn’t understand it, but you saw several random nouns and concluded you 'knew’ something. But since you are a man and cannot get naked to attract undeserved attention to yourself, you decided to character assassinate me to bring attention to yourself by reaching for some sort of weird racist thing.
“Somebody else might have their style ruined by trying to emulate a writer like Dostoevsky; they might take away all the wrong lessons from it and just get themselves confused.”
I feel like that would never happen. Feel like somebody telling people not to read Dostoevsky is odd, like a scientist telling someone not to learn about Newton or a painter telling someone not to learn about Di Vinci, or a Nascar driver telling someone never to watch an old Richard Petty race, or a boxer telling someone not to watch an old Muhammad Ali fight.
That is what you said put into a different context.
Saying that 75% of America is religious is insane, either you have an inability to observe human behavior or don’t understand how polls are conducted or have never been to another country or on a reservation to observe different cultures and how they interact with religion.
Probably, maybe 15% of Americans go to church in reality. Then the other people who answer polls asking, “Do you believe in God?” A lot of them answer “yes”, that is true, but most don’t do anything resembling belief in God, most are nihilists with goofy praying hands tattoos and also at the same time believe in aliens and Mayan prophecies. I wouldn’t even answer, “I am an atheist,” and I never go to church, but still that poll puts me into the 75%. I feel like, even if you answer, “I believe in ghosts” they put you into the 75%.
Feel like viewing literature as religion is really fun, and I feel that your comment was strange, like it had nothing to do with comment.
Concerning the list of white male authors:
1. Dostoevsky is from Russia, Dickens from England and Hemingway from Illinois. Those places are vastly different culturally. To lump cultures together into one race is a trick created by Republican politicians in the 20th Century to get more votes. I am not going to argue with someone who bases their paradigm in Republican Political tactics. Feel like lumping a person from Russia, from England and from Illinois together is an oversimplification and not to be taken seriously. (Forgot Wittgenstein, a half Jew millionaire, who worked at a monastery, taught school children, fought for the germans in WW1, exiled from Germany in WW2, and sucked men’s dicks at public parks on writing breaks. TOTAL WHITE MALE DOMINANCE)
I don’t even comprehend how a drunk guy talking about his favorite authors of his early 20s turns into, “White male dominance.” If you were truly rational and not concerened with gaining attention for yourself, you would have asked, “Well, what have you been reading lately?” or something. But to immediately jump to a conclusion without asking questions to gain deeper information, that is a political tactic and not an intellectual one.
Also still: I think if you read even two of my interviews and one novel you would know that I enjoy many different authors, and that I was only listing the novels of my early 20s. But yet, without knowing anything about me, you decided to accuse me of horrible things to gain attention for yourself.
““Greatness” is a burden on literature, it’s basically just an old way of justifying telling writers what they can and can’t do in writing, something to legitimize the authority of whoever wants to play the fun police for literary taste.”
You are truly the Last Man amigo, given up even on greatness. It reminds me of harrison bergeron (sorry to mention the canon), where people are forced to be equal. Is this the “No Child Left Behind” version of literature, where everyone gets stars regardless of hard work or talent? “No writer left behind"
I love greatness, I want to be a great hiker, a great friend, I even want to be great at drinking craft beer, I love when others want to be great, greatness is awesome. I love to even watch TOP TEN greatest of sports athletes documentaries.
And every culture celebrates its great heroes, the world is covered with statues and memorials and legends of past people. The idea of greatness being only western, just shows a lack of knowledge of other cultures.
I just want to say, before anyone, accuses someone of such grand things as 'dominating white people’ or 'gender something’ or something. Please, at least go and read something they wrote, or an interview. Because if you don’t, then you need to have the self-awareness that you are only trying to get attention for yourself, and actually reading Dostoevsky can help you achieve that self-awareness required to notice such a thing.
Stephen Michael McDowell: i think a significant idea that heiko is completely overlooking in this mini-essay/critique is the conflict of introspection
i think that in-action he is more often than not 'on-point’ in terms of asking the questions that initiate a dialogue or internal monologue, but also more often than not it seems that he prefers the murky upper layers of what happens to be a vast ocean of conflicts that, once pushed through, result in the warrior, soldier, person, whatever, realizing that the conflict at some point just becomes remaining oneself and not being crushed by the overwhelming force of introspection
i think that for centuries writers and artists have been looking at the world around them and seeing as much as they could see and doing as much as they could do and then documenting that, but as that pursuit became more and more an internalizing of the external, ppl, to some degree, have forgotten or ignored the really terrifying inner battle of 'why’ we do what we do
we have come up with words like 'why’ to ask each other (externally) but haven’t spent the time in our individual lives using this observational faculty we developed as a survival mechanism and now, thanks to the internet, thanks to the progress made by writers and artists over the past centuries and millennia, some of us have the comfort, security, and access to data that ppl were previously required to go out into the world and get, that we can spend time using this vast mirror of data to find out what happens to us when we close our eyes and turn off our language centers
'alt lit’, i think, is the first movement of literature where its main proponents and contributors are known as much for their introspection and how to benefit the world around them as they have been to seek fame and intrigue, they use their writing to go and explore the world, not as an excuse to do vice versa
i think (and i don’t want to assert that i /know/ anything that heiko thinks, but, i, personally think) what heiko has deemed 'unfortunate’ is a tendency on his own part to look at surface details and for his brain to intuit relationships between disparate types of human behavior in himself, process through the central mechanism of how he views his 'self’ and then parse it as ways of 'staying alive’, turning the mode, tone, and themes of his work into a giant, cacophonous self-manifestoed survivalism
but the other contributors to 'alt lit’ who the media fancies as its figureheads all seem to me preoccupied in equal parts with removing themselves from the equation enough to let other ppl, forms of life, of art, everything, assert itself first, then, when they have built up enough internal understanding of what’s been happening to them, they assert themselves enough to fill a need, sometimes, maybe often, at their own expense, something i’m not sure heiko would be willing to do voluntarily
i don’t think focussing on the obvious 'solutions’ is as useful, literally and literarily, the mode of trying to solve what’s external has been played out, 'alt lit’ and this coming generation of writers are, i think, for the good of the survival of humanity and life in the universe in general, ceasing and desisting looking outward for answers and fighting for resolution and the world, as humanity almost always tends to do with respect to landscape-changes in literature, will follow (into themselves, not out into the shitscape our ancestors keep building and destroying)
also feel rigidly aware that what i’m describing is a trend i’m observing, not a fact, i just typed some words, i don’t know what i’m talking about, i didn’t even edit this at all
: against the backdrop of discussions about writing 'doing something’… i find that i am often writing out of… love. that feels unfashionable to say, & embarrassing, and, but… it is true, isn’t it? for many of us? we write about love, directly or in some roundabout way. and yet, despite everything, the writing i read about love so often seems the freshest alt lit there be.
i read the first book of philosophical sexts and i think… this the exact same subject that has been tackled by practically every poet and writer throughout history. and yet it is still utterly fantastic. and i think, what is this shit about well-readness and incuriosity. there is still so much to be written and here it is being written right in front of us.
i am planning to start a gdoc and write about everyone i love when i love them, and to let all the affairs just mingle together into one dirty swimming pool of 'u’. do you write love? do you hide it? what does love mean to us right now when all love seems messy and the purity of the 'romantic poets’ seems as far-removed as the age of kings. how do you write it?
: don’t write about what others need to do to be good writers. just be one