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:
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…)