Arcane adjunct to an arcane literary scene

Earlier this month, Aaron Hicklin of The Herald (Glasgow) devoted eleven pages to the ULA. Here’s an excerpt:

….Wenclas does have a point. The novel has become so mannered and stylised, so relentlessly self-referential, that its value as social history seems increasingly redundant. The ULA’s tactics make it easy to dismiss them as frustrated wannabes, but their example has its parallel in Latin America, where a literary movement named McCondo (a jibe at Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s mythical land of Macondo) has rejected magical realism in favour of gritty realism. A similar school in Mexico, dubbed the “crack generation” – meaning they’ve broken with literary conventions – has followed suit, taking inspiration from writers such as William Faulkner and Herman Melville. The difference is that the McCondos and the “crack generation” seek to change things from within, while the ULA’s members view themselves as renegade outsiders, forced to make themselves heard in a series of headline-grabbing stunts…..

It is, of course, one of the ULA’s inconsistencies that they attack effete New York writers for alienating the great mass of ordinary readers while disparaging the populist books that ordinary readers read, or the television and movies they watch….

Wenclas is a passionate crusader for the cause, but the ULA has yet to evolve beyond an entertaining sideshow that made one good point (that rich authors don’t deserve grants) before descending into farce. For all their high jinks – crashing a Rick Moody reading in Philadelphia, or bursting a balloon in the middle of a reading by Vanity Fair columnist Elissa Schappell – the ULA is an arcane adjunct to an arcane literary scene. Of the novelists they target, only Jonathan Franzen has achieved genuine popular success, and that was due to Oprah Winfrey, who selected The Corrections for her book club in 2001. It is no small irony that Winfrey – a prime example of the “dumbing down” middlebrow culture that the ULA rejects – scrapped her book club last year, and launched a “classics” club in its place. After all, it is those very classics that Wenclas holds up as the exemplar of real literature….


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