RELATIONSHIPS TO POWER
While I’ve fairly well eviscerated Tom Bissell’s Believer Books essay about the Underground Literary Alliance, at the same time I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ve yet to dig into what’s actually taking place. For instance, I haven’t looked into the essay’s relationship to power.
The entire literary establishment, which writers are approved or not approved, is determined by relationships to power. Nonsense, you say! Yet the point is easily demonstrated, as I may show in an upcoming post or two. I’ve yet to become bored by the topic. Understanding propaganda, and a propagandist like Bissell, can become fascinating and enlightening.
Know this: The purpose of Bissell’s essay was to defend certain powerful literary figures like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen, at the behest of another powerful literary figure, Dave Eggers. This is why the essay was written—stated or unstated; consciously or unconsciously. It’s not an accident that those Bissell was defending were known collectively at the time as “The New White Guys,” or that Bissell threw a defense of another of that group, Jeffrey Eugenides, into his essay. On Tom Bissell’s side he was making a clear statement—to them—showing his support of them and of the system he’d worked for and had wanted to be part of his entire life. The sell-out point.
Ask yourself: Is Tom Bissell an objective journalist, or a propagandist? What do we make of the Robert Kaplan essay? Is this not an intentional hit piece? In it, is Tom Bissell showing his support for a larger cultural area than literature, by going after a neo-con? In this instance, as in the ULA instance, it’s acceptable for Bissell to write a hit piece, a piece no doubt (in my mind) filled with slants and distortions. This is acceptable because Kaplan has been designated, like the ULA, as an enemy of the proper people. Of the politically correct herd.
Tom Bissell isn’t fair and objective, and Johannes Lichtman, in writing about Bissell’s book, doesn’t have to be fair and objective, because that’s not what the game is about. What game, you ask? You should know the game. Many of you reading this blog are playing it. Or have played it.
Here are two contradictory statements to think about. Understand them and you understand what’s really happening with Bissell’s essay. You’ll understand the “game,” and something of the nature of sophisticated propaganda as practiced by contemporary media. It takes examining different levels of intention and meaning in the same essay.
The two statements are this: The theme of Tom Bissell’s essay on the Underground Literary Alliance is that there is no literary establishment. At the same time, the theme of this same essay is that there very much is a literary establishment.