This article was originally published on Return of Kings.
Many men are aware of the backlashes to the depredations of cultural Marxists on video games (i.e. Gamergate) and science fiction (i.e. Sad Puppies). Yet literary fiction has already been so compromised that the prospects for change are about as good as those of a secular-humanist revolution sweeping through Saudi Arabia. One should not simply balk, understandable though the urge may be, that literary fiction is just flowery, solipsistic indulgence—for that would be dismissing some of our greatest thinkers, from Cervantes to Tolstoy to Beckett, due to our modern emasculated writers and the prattle of the social justice class.
To be clear, making it onto the NY Times bestseller list or getting published by Random House is brutally hard for anyone not writing crime, vampire or chick-lit novels. But the obstacles that non-leftist men face in an industry where 80% of executives are women are soul-crushing. This article will examine the current literary world—centered around New York publishing and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs—the SJW stranglehold thereof, the literary men of today vs. yesterday, and a prognosis for modern literature.
New York, New York
First things first: New York is publishing. If you haven’t spent a year riding the N-train between Brooklyn and Manhattan attending readings and expos, sucking up to magazine editors and readers (i.e. those who read submissions), and building contacts, then you’re like a goldfish swimming with sharks. If you want to make it in literary publishing, which means signing a deal with a New York agent and publisher, then the only excuse you have for not living there is if you attend a respectable MFA program outside the city.
The recent mushrooming of these programs—where writers workshop their stories and study craft while escaping from the daily grind—has resulted in more perfectly cut gems of sentences, more aesthetic groupthink and conformity, and a literary class system, where an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop opens many doors and an MFA from a lesser program opens none.
Landing a book deal or finding an agent is far easier with a publication record, meaning having placed stories and essays in prestigious literary magazines. But a litmag might publish four issues per year, each with 10 poems, 5 stories, and 2 essays. Two of these story slots (of interest to would-be Ernest Hemingways) are reserved for contributing editors, 2 are given to established writers whose names will boost the magazine’s profile, and 1 will be given to a newish writer—maybe. And if the choice comes down to you, an unknown male with a possibly white-sounding name from the Midwest, and the painter girl with 2000 Twitter followers who the editors party with in Bushwick, who do you think they’ll choose?
An internship paradox exists in literary publishing, where in order to get a book deal, you need a reputation, and in order to get a reputation, you need publications, and in order to get publications, you need a reputation. Two factors explain the existence of the literary class system as a substitute for talent. First, it’s hard for a magazine or agent to make value judgments between two solid pieces of work based on reading them for 5 minutes. Whereas listening to two musicians for 5 minutes each could deliver in-your-face impressions, browsing two stories often won’t. With most agents and magazines inundated with submissions, there’s no time to read everything and so they choose the person with the top MFA, the New York connections, and the five-digit Twitter followers.
The second reason for the literary class system relates to the economics of literary fiction. Though agents want to find and sell the next Great American Novel, the reality is that most books, authors, editors, and agents make no money. While the literati gloat that the industry is unique in standing outside the profit motive—as if it purely serves the human imagination—this lack of market orientation can be disorienting.
Most small magazines have no expectation of a large readership and no real business model, surviving instead on local arts council handouts. As such, considering that almost no one reads literary magazines (besides The New Yorker or Harper’s) and that they’re not appealing (or readable) to anyone but a tiny in-group of museum-going, naval-gazing yuppies, a magazine will leverage the literary class system and throw in some high-profile Iowa MFA writers in order to justify itself as not completely disappearing up its own ass. It needs to lend legitimacy to its drivel, which was never designed to appeal to anyone but the Brooklyn literati — or wannabe Brooklyn literati (the border is porous).
Think of the literary class system as a sort of coupon system in a communist state.
The SJW Takeover
So far, my intention has been to disillusion anyone who hopes otherwise as to the patent falsehood that what you write is half as important as your membership in the New York literary class. While an outsider can’t count on agents and editors reading their work for more than two minutes upon submission (unless they’re a card-carrying Park Slope resident with an MFA), there is one other way you can try to jostle your way into the Communist Politburo of Books: leftist virtue signalling.
I am not joking when I say that one of the best possible investments in your writing career, as a straight male who wants to get published, would be to hire a fat transgender “woman” of color and simply ghostwrite for “her,” or else acquire pictures of one and add “agoraphobic” to your Twitter resume of socially appealing forms of oppression—so no one expects to ever meet you.
No occupational field has inhaled diversity quotas this much. Looking at lists of award winners, grant recipients and editorial board members, made up predominantly of women, one would think that men are half-way illiterate. But in truth, far-left badges are ravenously shared and traded by the NY literary establishment, with many magazines and agents expressing a preference for “underrepresented writers,” not to mention all the literary events based around LGBT youth, minorities, inner-city kids, etc.
For example, let’s look at the identities and leftist credentials of the just-announced winners of the Whiting Awards:
Brian Blanchfield: white, LGBT
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs: African-American, BLM, ebonics
Madeleine George: lesbian, generalized SJW
Mitchell S. Jackson: African-American, BLM, former drug dealer
Alice Sola Kim: Korean-American, lives with editor of Buzzfeed Books
Catherine Lacey: white, pinned tweet: “Fiction is the practice of queering reality.”
Layli Long Soldier: Native-American, SJW
Safiya Sinclair: Jamaican-American, BLM
Ocean Vuong: Vietnamese-American, gay
D. Daniels: white, non-SJW?
In this group, I only see one person with no immediate SJW affiliation (or Twitter account). While I can’t comment on the skill of some of these writers, the selection, like other modern literary selections, reeks of a PR wet dream chosen by a Buzzfeed panel.
The identity-politic quota system, of course, hasn’t gone unnoticed by writers. Beyond the Sad Puppies episode in the more libertarian domain of science fiction, a recent incident in the Best American Poetry anthology was highly illustrative of the imposition of identity politics on literary publishing.
A writer, Michael Derrick Hudson, had his poem accepted into the anthology under the Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou, only to later reveal that he was a white man from Indiana who’d been perpetually rejected under his real name. There was a backlash, with Buzzfeed excoriating this talentless white patriarchal monster who should have “taken a hint” and stopped writing when he couldn’t get published. Some writers concede the vexed nature of getting published simply for being “exotic.” Ultimately though, they justify it based on the distinction between equality (equal treatment) and equity (equal access). That is, even if a white man is being discriminated against compared to a “translatina,” the white man faces fewer hurdles to publication (because his life is easier) and is still at an advantage despite the overt discrimination by publishing gatekeepers.
As in American life, identity politics will continue full-steam-ahead, powered by the unflappable nexus between writers of color and white women, whereby the former receive a platform from which to excoriate white people, so long as they trumpet the latter’s “rape culture” agenda. See, for example, one black writer’s response to the rape allegations facing Bill Cosby:
As far as Cosby’s alleged abuses, I was never conflicted. My only question was would this nation care if all, or most, of Cosby’s alleged victims were black women and girls. There wasn’t much intellectual or emotional reconciliation needed for me to understand that white Americans will go to all lengths to justify their terrorizing and pilfering of black folks, and most black men and boys, like most white men and boys, will go to all lengths to deny our active roles in sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual humiliation, and interpersonal violations of women and girls. The reality that white Americans are responsible for some of the most lasting, crazy-making violence on Earth does nothing to negate the reality that black men and boys, like white men and boys, are formally and informally educated by other men, boys, and patriarchal structures, to unrepentantly harm and sexually violate black women and girls.
What Kind Of Books Does This Produce?
The artistic goal of diversity quotas—if there could ever be a half-way acceptable one—might be to infuse lesser known narratives into the artistic zeitgeist through memorable but seldom heard characters and experiences. But we know this isn’t how it works in practice.
In novels from the Brooklyn intelligentsia, almost any African-American character is witty, pragmatic, agreeable, and surrounded by fools. But calling such a 2D cut-out a character is like calling a Pop-Tart baking. How such a character is supposed to elevate black people and nourish black artistic consciousness, let alone satisfy the average reader, is unclear. Rather than creating characters instead of identity-politics pets, establishment writers reach for the evermore rarefied tokenism.
Witness Garth Risk Hallberg, whose novel City on Fire recently received the possibly highest advance ever given to a novel: $2 million. Right from the first page, Hallberg introduces us to an interracial gay couple comprised of a wealthy but negligent white man who walks out on his long-suffering, paragon-of-virtue black boyfriend.
Or consider the “masculine” baseball novel The Art of Fielding, which revolves around a college dean and his affair with a black male student. Or the brand new What Belongs to You, whose author markets his book by saying he’s been cruising public bathrooms since he was 14. While these Ivy-educated authors are skilled at craft, it’s impossible to know where the virtue-signalling impulse ends and the story-telling begins. Possibly, they are trying to avoid the fate of Jonathan Franzen, who, despite being a bespectacled, militantly Democratic bird-watcher who writes an excess of female characters, faces a wrathful literary establishment who can’t quite countenance a straight male writer who has opinions about things.
Dead or muted are the mainstream male literary writers of yesteryear—Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, John Updike—many of whom are now considered arch-misogynists. In their stead, we have a generation of soldiers of Clintonian globalism led by radical feminists who write about “MUH FEELINGZ” and getting abortions, not to mention race agitators who get front-page editorials in The New York Times for their screeds against the never-ending assault against the “black body.”
Artistic communities have often been marked by dilettante behaviour, in-group rituals, and urbanism. But whereas 1920s Paris gave us works of Joyce, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald that still live on (the ultimate test of quality), it’s hard to imagine longevity for any socially conscious work written in a rent-controlled Park Slope flat—or any pitch-perfect but insipidly conformist book cranked out of one of America’s writing factories. Rather than writing bravely about the issues that define our experience and have no easy answer, the modern writer has to kneel before and pay his dues to the shrine of social justice.
Not only must he gain a large flock of SJW Twitter followers and relocate to New York to win over gatekeepers, he must design stories that include grotesquely high representations of women, LGBT people, and minorities, lest his “privilege” be a noose around his neck.
To this generation, it doesn’t matter how anti-art this is. It doesn’t matter that diversity in literature can’t possibly be served by the industry’s domination by four Manhattan publishing houses. It doesn’t matter that Dostoevsky would have mangled Crime And Punishment had his goal been to write a suburban novel with a Tatar Raskolnikov, a lesbian Dunya, and a lower-class non-binary Razumikhin. None of that matters, because New York killed literature long ago.
I was happy to read that some found my article educational, and even happier to see that it gave solace to certain writers who’d been thrown under the bus by the pozzed Michiko Kakutani clique. However, I am going to counter-signal one line of response: that the answer to male writer tears is simply to go to Amazon, hit “Publish,” and rack up the dough.
In fairness, I agree that self-publishing and the Internet are a godsend in many ways for writers, as gatekeepers lose (some) power, freedom of speech is bolstered, and writers can run their own businesses. Indeed, no card-carrying cultural dissident is going to place their work with a traditional publisher. And if the choice boils down to a writer being a) fully unpublished and fully unpaid or b) self-published and paid a (very) modest passive income, then there’s no contest.
But remember that we’re talking about fiction here. While How to Offshore Dildo Manufacturing to Thailand or How to Make Millions on Call Options from Mom’s Basement might catch fire on Amazon, Hate Facts: The Novel will almost certainly not. Ask yourself:
How many self-published novels have actually seeped into the culture and rustled the jimmies of New York gatekeepers? Can you buy self-published novels at the airport? Will a girl sleep with you because you uploaded to Amazon? What percentage of self-published fiction is better than, say, excrement that sold 47 copies? Has anyone ever sold TV or film options for a work of self-published fiction? Has anyone gotten rich off of self-published novels (excluding shit-tier genre works)?
Please, don’t bother scraping together the exceptions. The point isn’t that the situation isn’t evolving, or that self-publishing is bad. The point is that—as anyone will tell you who’s spent years grinding out a novel only to sell 320 copies and not even get reviewed by the local rag after a desperate guerrilla marketing campaign—self-publishing fiction isn’t the same as music or non-fiction. You can’t passively attract an audience. The cultural and economic stranglehold runs deeper.
Self-publishing fiction is a bit like not qualifying for a competition, and then running your own event and declaring yourself the winner. It would be far better for male writers to shift the Overton window, to march a masculine Trojan Horse into the Avenue of the Americas. A red-pilled professional publisher of superior shitlord fiction that exists not merely in a manosphere silo but rather seeps directly into the culture—a literary Breitbart, if you will—now that would rustle the jimmies of the New York smart set.