September 2nd, 2013 / 2:10 pm
Massive People & Mean & Random

Why The Troll’s Been Bashing Blake Butler


Is the comments thread of a post eulogizing Seamus Heaney the place to be snarky and to attack Blake Butler?

Well my long-time (and still) friend Philip Hopkins thought it was:

“Oh, did Heaney die? I guess that’s cool”


“…I thought clarity was outré. Heaney hasn’t written a magnum 700 page spooj-laden opus on tennis and corporate sponsorship has he? Has Blake Butler’s blog lost its edge?”


And in reply to those comments ZZZZZIPPP (who only writes in ALL CAPS) asked: “DID BLAKE BUTLER HURT YOU IN SOME WAY” ?? (Perhaps ZZZZZIPPP had also seen Phil’s comment to my post about who is the best tweeter amongst us writers:

Blake Butler is the best person at everything in the world all the time because he’s so literary. Always. Especially when he’s not.”)


To clear the air now (ie, to stop the trolling, silly and embarrassing–and it’s happened before) and because, also, I am sure many people actually agree with his opinions, I asked Phil to flesh out his ideas, passions and grievances in an intelligent, civilized way (while I don’t agree with Phil’s strong positions I’m fine with his having them.) And, so, this, is what he sent me:

Against Blake and His Minions
by Philip Hopkins

To clarify some of my recent comments on HTMLGIANT.

Blake and Rauan have said on this site and elsewhere that they find ethical considerations trite and boring in literature. Then Rauan recently eulogized Seamus Heaney on HTMLGIANT. Heaney was an internationally known poet of conscience. I reacted to Rauan’s post with a sarcastic comment when I should have let that particular thread function solely as a tribute to Heaney’s greatness.

That said, neither Rauan or anyone else has to agree with all that their touchstone writers have done. But there are many problems with rejecting the conscience that your hero(es) have embraced:

First, it’s wimpy. Blake and Rauan seem to think they’re being tough minded or hardcore by assembling macabre images in impressionistic heaps. What do these heaps amount to? These writers are too afraid to take a stand, so they strike a pose. This is true of other talented aesthetes like Aase Berg and Johannes Gorannson.

Second, it’s naïve. Our power as writers increases when we fully engage in an ethics dialogue. Cormac McCarthy might say he doesn’t write with ethical considerations in mind, but his best work (Blood Meridian) foregrounds them, and his worst lapses into macabre self-parody (The Road.)

Third, it’s trite and lazy. Some use Art for Art’s Sake, that 19th century pseudo-philosophy, as an excuse for being decorative. Like Warhol, Tao Lin is a less acute critic of superficiality because he embodies it so thoroughly.

Note that I didn’t say that the sum of Blake and Rauan’s work is wimpy, naïve, etc. I am saying that their work would be more powerful if they learned from examples of conscience in writing like Heaney’s.

I also think the indie lit community, like the mainstream lit community it so disdains, has become an echo chamber. I wrote a detailed article about my issues with Rauan, Blake, and Johannes Gorannson that was rejected by TheRumpus, TheMillions, and The Collagist. It was better written than any of the critical articles I’ve published so far.

I admire the community Blake has built in HTMLGIANT and I hope this discussion becomes vigorous and wide-ranging and honest. I’ll stop being a troll online, and will participate like a human goddamn being from now on.

Have I succeeded in doing all the things I demand of Rauan and Blake? By no means. But I’m trying.

(Bio: I write fiction, and plays for stage and screen, and I work in technology in Los Angeles.)


and that’s that, I guess

(ahhh, the challenges of friendships, aesthetics and dealing with trolls…sigh…)

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  1. Brian Nicholson

      Have they said they find ethical considerations trite? As in, they don’t like ethics in other people’s work, rather than just not being interested in such things in their own work or- and this seems more likely- that they don’t like criticism of works of art predicated on supposed morality?

      I think that any limitations the authors place on their own work, of what they don’t want to include, are problematic inasmuch as they limit the scope of the feelings they can hope to effect, as well as the size of the audience they can hope to reach. And while I don’t think that an artist should really think about the latter consideration while making the work they make- generally I feel that an artist can only make the work they make, due to the limitations that stem from having a single self- I think you, Phillip, should consider that indifference punishment enough before resorting to trolling. Like, maybe the reason no one wanted to pay you to run the long piece that you think is better-written than your other pieces is not because there is an echo chamber, but because you wrote about a subject very few people care about.

  2. Mark Cugini

      I’d be interested in seeing that detailed article.

  3. postitbreakup

      I’m not familiar with Heaney but this “conscience in writing” sounds an awful lot like John Gardner?

  4. jereme_dean

      Man, you have to be an arrogant cunt to tell someone to change the way they write, to be inauthentic. Like, I completely understand shitting on a person’s writing. If it isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. Okay. Shitting on an author because of how he/she interacts with the world I can dig too.

      But to say an author should change the way he/she writes out of some sort of ethical obligation is just fucking retarded. Blake writes because he writes. Same with Raun. Same with every other writer.

      There’s no obligation in writing to anyone other than one’s self. It’s a solitary act.

      What does it matter if Blake dislikes ‘ethical’ writing (whatever the fuck that is)? He’s just some asshole in Atlanta anyways.

      For as long as I’ve known Blake, which has been for a few years now, he’s never once claimed a style of writing shouldn’t exist. He simply expresses his disliking of it, which is fine.

      There are plenty of authors/poets who write from a moral or ethical base. Go read them. Maybe get laid too.


  5. Guilherme Joshua Fantini Blake

      It’s not that serious. It doesn’t matter. Let it go.

  6. Richard Grayson

      So do you think we should bomb Syria?

  7. Rauan Klassnik
  8. Rauan Klassnik

      it’s on Montevidayo now (see link above)

  9. Ryan Crane

      Just feel things, guys – and write as impossibly well as you can. What else, the fuck, is there?

  10. markbaumer

      Someone’s dad was slapping leftover bags of donut meat in the parking lot next to the rib house and I heard that he didn’t stop slapping these leftover donut meats until the mayor’s dog came over and peed on one of the bags which was unfortunate because the dog peed so hard that the donut meat started bleeding.

  11. Frank Rodriguez

      Not too interested in the discussion but GAWD do I hate the word trolling (in the internet context).

  12. Frank Rodriguez

      okay read the rest. seems like a discussion worth having–though I don’t know why we can’t enjoy our wimpy writers and our writers interested in ethics. both these types (taking the distinction as a given) can flesh out the potential of prose.

      also, I laughed at “our power as writers increases”.

  13. Rauan Klassnik

      owning dogs is completely unethical

  14. Rauan Klassnik

      i’m with ya, man,… it takes all times,… wimps and ethicists,..

  15. Phil Hopkins

      A few further thoughts:

      1. In science the test of an idea is how well it stands up to fair and thorough evaluation relative to other ideas. I don’t think Rauan attempted that here.

      2. Words can carry ethical meaning in a way music (sans lyrics) does not. I wanted to explore this question: if you reject that aspect of writing, are you a primarily a decorative writer? I think that’s worth discussing. There’s an aspect of emotional effects vs. ideas that is interesting too. Maybe my hastily assembled piece for Rauan didn’t bring that out. I’ll try to address it more directly elsewhere.

      3. I found it striking and ironic that Rauan chose to eulogize Heaney, a large part of whose program Rauan disdains, or doesn’t try to live up to, or both.

  16. jereme_dean

      1. Nobody here is a fucking scientist, dude.
      2. Eh.
      3. Rauan can’t appreciate a human being while not appreciating its ‘ethical’ body of work?

      I don’t eat meat but still appreciate a good ol’ boy who knows how to bbq proper. There’s nothing ironic about it. The meat isn’t what matters, it’s the person who’s dedicated their life to knowing how to cook that meat in a way nobody else can which is appreciable.

      Why the hell would you argue for a writer to be inauthentic for the sake of ethics anyways? Isn’t that unethical.

      Blake and his minions–guessing Rauan is the Himler of the bunch–write the way they write. It’s their choice.

      No obligation exists.

      Deal with it.

  17. Phil Hopkins

      Jereme – 1. I’m a scientist, actually. 2. Eh? I tried to be clear. 3. Your point three makes sense to me.

  18. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      It’s such a narrow vision of ethics

  19. jereme_dean

      Okay, you are aware literature/poetry isn’t science then. I mean, peer review is cool and all but only where applicable.

      I said “eh” because I don’t think it’s worth much discussion. I’m sure someone else will dialogue with you about it though.

  20. Rauan Klassnik

      regarding Himmler: “He was known to have good organisational skills and for selecting highly competent subordinates.” (Wikipedia)

      I have no such skills.

  21. Rauan Klassnik

      A.D. Jameson is “a fucking scientist,” dude :)

  22. A D Jameson

      Way to drag me into this, Rauan.

      No, I’m just a fucking fan of science fucking fiction.

  23. Rauan Klassnik

      — you’re welcome, man (Mad Scientist Jameson — MS Jameson) …. blah, blah,… sigh….

  24. Jeremy Hopkins

      Hi. I don’t know anybody here. I have a question though.
      Given the last line of your newly un-rejected Montevidayo article, (the one about terror, disturbance, and the durations thereof, which I read only once yesterday) can I take it that you’re ultimately trying to describe a sort of writing which you find to be particularly effective, and doing so (in this case) by pointing at examples of writing you feel are falling short?
      I can understand why people get irked at any suggestion that there’s a “right” way of making art; but it seemed to me that you made it clear you were talking about your own tastes and sensibility.

  25. deadgod

      1. “Trolling” is ‘commenting only to incite, with no topical or argumentative effect’. It doesn’t mean ‘disagreeing’ or ‘criticizing harshly’ or even ‘being sarcastic’. I don’t think Hopkins is trolling; he has a point of view that he’s sometimes abrasively announcing.

      2. Not clear about what Hopkins seems to be implying about Blake’s view of that ‘eulogy’ (??). Because Rauan isn’t stopped from contributing a post, therefore the commitments embedded in that post are shared by Blake? That conclusion sounds completely false. In fact, if the premise is that Blake is against ethical determination in writing, wouldn’t that commit him to ‘allowing’ posts that he disagrees with and even despises? I mean, if it’s true that Blake is consistently against writers telling readers right from wrong, then he wouldn’t censor the writers he publishes simply on the grounds of philosophical disagreement.

      3. That Rauan–or anybody–is committed to the ethics of a writer he likes is almost contemptibly naive. One can admire and even love writing that one doesn’t do or with which one disagrees ethically. Heaney is a craftsman–and a hedonist of style–as well as a politically engaged writer. You can agree with his flintily nuanced political views and generally dislike his poems; likewise, you can scorn his politics and cherish his lyrical voice. Rauan’s appreciation for Heaney is surely as potentially complicated and even ambiguous as anyone’s for anything. What the hell.

      4. All writing–all action–is done by an ethical agent, a ‘doer-towards-others within distinctions of right and wrong’. (Maybe ‘writing by a sociopath for aesthetic self-pleasure’ is an exception to the universality of ethical dimension in writing?) But just because writing–all linguistic mediation–is social and socially entangled doesn’t mean that a writer has to tell a reader what to think about what they’re right then reading–or to think anything about it. That McCarthy has opinions about the difference between right and wrong doesn’t require that he lay them bare in his storytelling, or–especially–that he’s responsible for a reader’s conflicted or unsure feelings about his stories.

      “Lester Ballard”: are you fer or agin?

      How is THAT Cormac McCarthy’s problem??

      5. There is power in writing, and in writers. To sneer at it is stupid.

      But there’s also responsibility in readers. G’ahead: embrace gatekeeping.


  26. Phil Hopkins

      hey Jeremy – yep, this is my own taste etc. But when I framed my taste in contrast to what others had written, people thought I was trying to control the way they write, or prescribe something.

      I was frustrated at the inability of my article that’s now on Montevidayo to get published and start the conversation.

      I expected, especially once I trolled and snarked on HTMLGIANT, to get attacked here. But the chorus hasn’t been one of unanimous stupidity and conformism and fear, of course.

      If I were to do this all again, I guess I’d just have written a few questions to the HTMLGIANT community, because I really am interested in what this group thinks when they’re being thoughtful. I have a blog where those questions are going up.

  27. Blake Butler

      i have no idea what you guys are talking about (sincerely)

  28. Rauan Klassnik


  29. Bobby Dixon

      hmmm . . . maybe?

      Heaney did one of the more recent translations of Beowulf & did Gardner write grundel? I think that connection may just be a coincidence.

      Opened Ground is a great Heaney anthology, brutal.


      Upraid me for my songs:
      Catch a cricket instead,
      And shout at him for chirping.


  31. Mark Cugini




  33. Report from the Beseiged Poets: Defending the indecent // André Babyn

      […] Butler (and a blog no stranger to kerfuffles, controversies, and “shitstorms”). As catalogued here by Rauan Klassnik, disgruntled poet Philip Hopkins (and friend of Klassnik) used a post eulogizing […]