well, not for art.
for the disgusted feeling down the alt-lit rabbit hole this week. not terribly long ago I did an event with a bunch of younger writers I didn’t know anything about. the event was stupid, embarrassing. they were drunk and drunk-bragging. the fragments of their work that came through seemed to me mostly sloppy and flippant. they were nice to me and I was uncomfortable. I wrote to my publicist that they were a bunch of yayas and he might reconsider collaborating on future events with them. some of those are the people being named in this festival of pain and righteousnesses. a few months ago I was asked to write something for a sidebar for an article on alt lit that I thought was going to be an LA times thing but maybe it was something littler? I had mixed feelings about what I offered the guy, who both never got back to me to let me know if he was using it (I would not blame him if he didn’t– I can think of several reasons it would not have been what he wanted), and then, when I sent him a link to the first rumblings I heard about the alt-lit sexual abuse outings (I don’t even know what terms I’d like to use for it) I never heard back either. Who knows, I didn’t think a lot about it, but in the rabbit-hole I did wonder who people think I am, and who “people” is. Like did the guy contact me because he thought I would be a big alt-lit-is-awesome person and I didn’t even know it was a thing? And then I wrote something that suggested I have mixed feelings about the politics of what I learned from googling and put together with some of what I HAVE read? I don’t like thinking about it. It makes me want to control it and I don’t want to make decisions based on those kinds of conversations with myself.
What has always creeped me out and kept me from reading what I only now think of as alt-lit guys– several of whom seem to know who I am and say nice things about my stuff–nice guys or nasty guys–good and better writers and worse ones– is the gleeful production of their own fish-bowl celebrity, which grosses me out. I don’t like it in the mainstream and I don’t like it in subcultures either. Even in subcultures featuring politics and aesthetics I can get behind more uniformly. I am a crawl-in-your-hole-with-your-books kind of writer-person. Maybe not even as much as I’d like to be. That, I am quite sure, is what’s best for my writing– a lot of time spent largely disengaged from current literary community– and engagement in a privately constructed community that picks and chooses its members utterly capriciously from any time and place in history. Engagement in community not as a writer but as a person– that’s what I’d like to work on in my life. I cannot think well with eyes on me, and I suffer my publicly visible mistakes and shortcomings enormously. The worst parts of my writing I am convinced come from this anxiety– and for me it is not adrenaline or the excitement that comes from encountering ideas, it is anxiety, which is not productive. it has that sick sad edge. But I’m also prone to social-network addiction — real and virtual fomo– another form of fallout from the same thing– caring so much what people think– that often leads me to prefer the company of the dead and distant. that current truth of my psychology makes me miss out on what I fantasize exists, based on idealized images of expats in paris at Stein’s house or all the queers and rockstar/artists/writers of ye olde greenwich village dancing in my head. Honestly, I think the meannesses in those communities would have sent me into hiding, too. Or I would have just gotten a heroin habit and that would be that.
the thing is, when writers start abusing people it’s just not about books any more, and it seems especially sick when people are conflating the conversations. it’s just about people, and when you’re interacting in real or virtual life with people who are mistreating other people it’s just everyday choices you’re making. they’re your neighbors or the people at your place of employment. it’s those kinds of complexities. when do you pretend you don’t know what you know, when do you shout from rooftops, when break their windshield, when do you call the police, when do you remember the complexities of humans across more and less predictable lifespans, when do you humanize, dehumanize, and wonder what you mean by human anyway, etc etc. it’s only about art anymore internally, as you face your own responses and wonder about the hearts and actions of others.
what I consumed & did in the last 30 hours, not asking myself until this second what it had to do with all this– of course it has something to do with it– the New Yorker article about the history of Wonder Woman, How to Marry a Millionaire (the movie), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (featuring SF & childhood memories of that final Donald Sutherland frame– ps omg this computer knows how to spell Sutherland) a hundred pages of Dear Sugar advice columns. It’s like taking a milk bath and then pouring salt on wounds moment by moment. Also worked a lot on the everlasting five pages of article in progress about magic and the intellect. I’m writing about men who write about violence against women and helpless things (I do not know what to do about the equation there, either.) I’m writing about ones I think are good art. But it’s sickening me a lot right now. The conflation is slipping into my own efforts to think about the essential ways books engage with the terrible in humans.