Literary slap fight & Juggalo rampage

by Adam Reger

I wanted to direct your attention to this enjoyable AV Club rumination on the alarming news that a bunch of overzealous Insane Clown Posse fans attacked inexplicably famous person Tila Tequila at the Gathering of the Juggaloes. The rampant uncouthness of these fans was eerily predicted by this Scharpling & Wurster bit (about an hour to 90 minutes in).

And I’m also using this opportunity to sneak in a few links that I couldn’t quite turn into the considered, thoughtful post I wanted to post.

I wrote about a thousand words trying to make some kind of meaningful response to this list of 15 overrated contemporary writers, written by Anis Shivani, an all-but-unknown writer, in The Huffington Post. And I also wanted to approvingly link to Anna North, at Jezebel, who responded elegantly here.

The problem I had was in taking this guy’s idiosyncratic opinions, which he’d like to elevate above the state of mere opinion by using lots of jargon and trashing these writers (mostly women, as Anna North points out (although the baffling thing, to me, was the high number of poets singled out for punishment; how many readers are these poets reaching, and thus how much damage could they be causing? Maybe lay off a bit, playboy.)), and discussing something more than the article, the specific whining, and the specific writers.

I tried to connect it to Timothy Schaffert’s pointing out, over at Prairie Schooner’s blog, that Shivani is breaking exactly zero new ground here. A friend turned me on to the book-length version of B.R. Myers’ Atlantic essay, “A Reader’s Manifesto,” several years ago.

I tried some ruminations on Myers’ book. But ultimately the thing began to fall apart. I wanted to talk about the need, every few years, for some critic to flail about, decrying the state of modern fiction. But I couldn’t get past Shivani’s individual snipes, and in particular the antipathy he seems to show MFA programs and the writers—young students and old professors alike—inhabiting them. (See, for example, his takedown of Antonya Nelson, who otherwise seems to fulfill his implied requirement of straightforward realism but gets on his shit list by dint of being a Breadloaf and MFA fixture.) I felt that unbelievable anger, that angry inability to believe it, you get when you read a particularly egregious internet comment. I started venting on the presumption of trashing the MFA and workshop systems without offering a plausible alternative for young and developing writers.

But finally I decided to deep six the whole thing when I visited his website and got a load of his forthcoming book of criticism: Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies. Got it, loud and clear. He’s not just an asshole, he’s an asshole with a book coming out. Whatever bitterness and rejection are behind some of the absurd slashes he takes at better-published, better-loved writers, he’d also like you to buy his book and help him into a higher echelon of the literary world.

Screw that guy. Not a whiff of humor or generosity in any of these takedowns, and no sense that the guy enjoys reading. A list of underrated writers has been promised, and while I expect I’ll take a look at it, I almost feel bad for the writers this guy champions. Who wants to be promoted by a crank?