Them, Meaning Us

Them, Meaning Us

Curtis White

Former FC2 Co-publisher Curtis White defends radical fiction against Left radical intellectuals.

Let me say first that this response to Michael Bérubé’s penetrating and important essay comes from someone writing as, first, an editor and publisher, second, as a writer of “lunatic” fiction (or so says Kirkus Reviews), and, in only the most distant, dim and feckless sense someone who has any sort of role in the various debates over theory and cultural studies.

I’d like to take up Bérubé’s comments on “selling out.” When I was younger, in “the days that used to be,” as Neil Young put it on Ragged Glory, “selling out” really meant something, but it really meant something in only a very general sense. Selling out was not something one could be accused of as the result of a rigorous scrutinizing of one’s “Position.” At the time, 1968, say, you were either for corporate/militarist culture (them) or you were for communal/pacifist culture (us). The issue of where you stood was handled with broad gestures and some bravado, as when David Crosby sang, “Almost cut my hair.” It was much more a matter of sympathy than it was of doctrine.

But those heady days of countercultural optimism and generally vague commitment to unity were followed by the now dominant fragmenting of the left (known on really positive days, when the serotonin is just gushing, as “war of position”). What this fragmenting amounted to was a lack of interest and trust and an absence of common language for all concerned. This was the beginning of “identity politics.” It’s harder to be “us” now. It’s easier to slide into being one of “them.” (Especially for a middle-aged, upper-middle class, white, male, hetero professional.) Punks, slackers and other denizens of youth cultural politics seem to distrust everybody’s politics, especially their own, and they’re not even on anybody else’s screen (except Greil Marcus’ and Kathy Acker’s (but whose screen is Acker on?)). Feminists are unsure if anyone “other” can understand their position, especially other feminists, whose ranks are (delightfully!) multi-hued and startlingly incompatible: N.O.W. trad-fems, french fried academic feminists, pro-censorship anti-pornographers, and flagrantly pornographic and in-your-face Angry and Riot Girlls. Or Girrls. Or Girrlls. ACT-UP and Queer Nation are in their own isolated (and perfectly wonderful!) zone. Blacks and socialists struggle to find something to say that can be understood as anything other than “We’re fucked.”

I don’t know. Seems like we used to just call it The Movement and were content with the fuzzy content, trusting to each others’ vague but unabashedly progressive inclinations. (The utter impoverishment of which we can now see in Beavis and Butthead’s opposition of “sucks” and “cool”.) (I know. I’m romanticizing. The sexist, racist, heterosexual, self-serving gaffes of the ’60s are well known. Nonetheless, there were a hell of a lot of “us” then and “they” were on occasion quite scared shitless.)

At any rate, I’m as guilty as anyone. What’s my faction (or “affinity cadre,” as the Weathermen used to call it)? I’m in what Fredric Jameson calls “The Underground Party of Utopia” - Literature Division. I publish and write non-conventional/weird/adversarial/comme ça fiction with an organization (rooted in the logic of hippy communalism) called FC2 (formerly the Fiction Collective). Our strategy: to contest the right of corporate publishers to exclusive claim on the shelves of corporate bookstores. That’s how narrow my engagement with ISAs has become. I can measure it for you at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble (both of which, by the way, are quite eager to buy our books and pay for them so that we can publish more books…unlike many of the politically correct independent bookstores which either a) can’t stock us because they can’t afford to keep low volume titles on the shelf or b) can’t pay because they have zero cash flow or c) just plain can’t be bothered). How’s that for all sold out?

Or consider this, which book review do you think reviews more books by independent presses like FC2 and Dalkey Archive Press, The New York Times Book Review or the VLS? We haven’t had a full review in the “alternative” Voice since 1984. Last year The Times reviewed our African-American novelist Ivan Webster’s Cares of the Day. What about The Nation, In These Times, and Z (especially tight-ass Z), and the rest of the “progressive” media? Forget it. Nada por hoy. You know who carefully reviews almost all of our books? Publishers Weekly. Tell me about sold out.

What I wanna know from Victor Navasky and Art Winslow and John Leonard at The Nation is why the hell shouldn’t I read Time Magazine if they are only reading Random House and Harvard University Press? Give me a fuckin’ break with sold out!

Okay. What about critics. Marxist literary critics. Surely they’re in there pitchin’ for resistant culture on all its fronts. Is that why Fredric Jameson ignores Semiotext(e) and its writers? So that he has all the time he needs for Doctorow? Or so that Lentricchia has all the time he needs for DeLillo? Or so that Linda Hutcheon (who, I confess, is no Marxist) has all the time she needs for Rushdie? And then they complain that “postmodernism” is politically neo-con? You know who writes about FC2? That sold out guy Michael Bérubé. (But maybe that was indiscreet. Maybe writing about FC2 is another sign of Bérubé’s sold-out-ness. It’s just not clear to me. Michael, I’m sorry if this causes you trouble, man. But I’m tellin’ you, Michael, you can’t win. The last time I made an argument like the one I’m making now, Joe Tabbi called me “self-serving” in a book published by a famous American university! Brother, it’s just like Bob Dylan said, “They’ll stone you.” I have to admit, though, that Tabbi implies an interesting theory of resistance. Let’s see if I’ve got it: you sit quietly and in time the kindly ISA, whether Jameson or the American Broadcasting Company will say, “You know, we’ve done those people a disservice. Put them on Good Morning America.” Is that how it works?)

So here’s the bottom line: our efforts to find and publish deviant, non-commercial, avant-whatever fiction has made us conspicuous to Borders Inc., Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, and running dog mainstream lackeys like Bérubé. Our efforts to resist McCulture over two decades and more than one hundred books have caused us to be invisible to the progressive media in general, The Nation and Voice in particular, and Marxists young and old wherever the hell they are. Hello!

Sheesh. No wonder I like the old days better. I’m just gonna let my freak flag fly. And by that sign you shall know me as one of “us.”