Dishonesty vs. Stupidity: Exposing The Dumbing Down Of Culture by Hacks, Flaks, And Apparatchiks

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/4/06


*to young writers with talent and potential


Introduction   General Stupidity   Agent Dishonesty   More Online Stupidity   Poetic Horror   Blog Dishonesty & Stupidity   Summary   Addendum   Addendum 2   Addendum 3   Addendum 4   Addendum 5




  In the last few decades there has been the rise of a strong cult in the Western World. I am not speaking of Christian Fundamentalism nor Radical Islam, nor am I even speaking of assorted political persuasions. Yet, this cult has had an even greater and more widespread deleterious effect on culture than any religion or political party could ever hope to get. They go under many monikers: Political Correctness, Postmodernism, Moral Relativism, etc., but they all have in common the silly notion that there are no objective standards to what is good and bad in the arts and sciences. Now, certainly there are some good ideas- or, at least motives, behind these movements. It is manifestly wrong to be racist, one needs to move beyond simply the old ideas in art for innovation breeds growth, and there certainly is a relativism immanent in ethics (morals- which are imposed from without, can be argued to be fundamentally unethical in and of their nature), however all of these groups and schools have gone off the collective deep end from their beginnings and plunged into the abyss that propounds what I call The Myth Of Subjectivity.

  Of course, there are subjective things in life. Many things are relative, but, if one truly believed what these cults propound, that all is subjective, then there is fundamentally no reason to do anything, for nothing matters. One should simply exist in an immobile idyll of life, for that’s all that can ever be achieved. But, there must always be objectivity, lest there is no rational explanation as to why anything is done- from the smallest biological action to those actions borne by free will and its exercise. Manifestly, you, as the reader, agree that there is an objective writer of these words you are reading, that the cup of coffee you last drank was objectively real, and so on down the line. I’ve long stated that one objective fact objectifies the whole universe in relation to it. Subjectivity has to be total. Objectivity does not. Therefore, in art and writing, there are objective facts and things to be gleaned. It is objectively provable, say, that Walt Whitman was a greater poet than current Poet Laureate Donald Hall. A great poem, while it will possess that mark of the ineffable, will also have tropes, images, phrases, music, line breaks, etc., that mark it as great, whereas a bad poem will not. And these things can be measured. One can disagree over the measuring sticks, but the very fact that they can be objectively measured means that there is an objective basis to claims of excellence, or its lack. Of course, one can ‘like’ Donald Hall’s poetry better than Whitman’s, and I, nor anyone else can seriously argue with that. I like Richard Brautigan’s slight, humorous doggerel better than Robert Frost’s poetry, but I’d have to be lobotomized to think Brautigan the better poet. The point is that what one likes or dislikes is far more subjective than excellence, for one need only point to the ugly spouse of a good looking man or woman and such tastes’ subjectivity is manifested.

  Yet, the Subjectivist Cultists deny such manifest claims. Their reasons usually have to do with claiming that a writer or artist cannot be judged by anyone outside their own peer group- a black, a woman, a lesbian, a Jew, a disabled person, a blind person, an AIDS victim, a homosexual, a Christian, etc. These are valid points….to a degree. But, the idea that I cannot judge a cliché in a Maya Angelou piece of Hallmark greeting card level doggerel because of my skin color and sex is ridiculous. A cliché is a cliché because it is a phrase that is numerically used to a far greater degree than other phrases, and is used in the same contexts over and again. Angelou’s sex and skin color have nothing to do with a valid claim that she indulges in clichés, and points up the intellectual, if not ethical, bankruptcy of such defenders of bad writing. Most bad art- written or not, falls prey to clichés more than to other marker of badness, be it Maya Angelou’s ill worded boasts about her blackness or Donald Halls dull poems about tossing hay as a young white boy.

  It should thus come as no surprise that most art is created by bad artists who claim they are ‘real’ artists, even as they willfully hide behind these false claims precisely because they know they cannot stand a true scrutiny. They use the myth of subjectivity as a shield from having to actually produce real art. They merely want the appellation, and ego boost, of being called an artist- for great artists are valued far more in the long run that diurnal professions. If you doubt this, ask yourself who was the richest merchant in Leonardo Da Vinci’s time and town? Who was the most successful diplomat in Shakespeare’s day? Who was the leading doctor in Vienna during Mozart’s day? The very fact that even a long search online and through libraries may not be fruitful bolsters my point, and the reason that so many people think that merely by the act of writing, they have somehow entered the craft of writing. I may be able to swing a bat at a baseball, but that motion does not make me Babe Ruth.

  In this essay I will try to pull back some of the curtains that try to hide these bigotries and biases by the Subjectivist Cultists. Yet, is it all merely the dishonesty of their methods? Or, is it that culture has been so dumbed down that people truly are ignorant of what really constitutes excellence and what is trite? Is it a combination of both? If so, which is the predominant destroyer of good art and writing? I may not be able to parse that query down into constituent numbers, but I hope that an essay like this will show many other good writers and artists that are struggling- especially the young and talented, that they are not alone, and that when they think that there is some form of conspiracy against them that they may not be too far off. Granted, it’s not an active conspiracy, in the sense of the 9/11 bombers nor the JFK Assassination, merely a tacit attempt to keep out good and innovative writing by claims that it won’t sell, that it has no market, and thus these claims become self-fulfilling prophecies, just so that the hacks can feel that their promotion of bad art is somehow the result of a demotic impulse, not their own egos running rampant over higher culture.

  To kick things off, let me start with a spate of items that show just how stupid most people, in or out of the arts, are; and if you have ever dealt with this sort of nonsense- in the arts or at work, you will empathize with where I am coming from.


General Stupidity


  Those who have read Cosmoetica for years know that I have, every so often, done essays where I display the idiocy of various people who send in hate mail and only display their own envy, hatred, and stupidity. They range from political bloggers like Dean Esmay to wannabe poets but bad visual artists like Bob Grumman, to atheist dogmatists to Academic bilge like Clayton Eshleman, to horrid wannabe arts sites like Web Del Sol to charlatans like Kent Johnson to bad boy poseur writers, and on and on. Of the tens of thousands of emails I’ve gotten over the years, the vast majority are of the ridiculously puerile, and self-defeating FUCK YOU! variety. I have usually written a piece that ‘disses’ the semi-literate emailer’s favorite writer, book, film, etc., and in their ignorant anger they resort to silly name calling. Such a tactic immediately renders the person a loser in their argument, for if one really knows what one is talking about, the lurch into profanity or ad hominem is a white flag of intellectual surrender. Of course, never are my legitimate criticisms accounted for. They are never spoken of or they are just lumped together as a display of my claimed bigotry against a certain group of people, thought system, or individual. That almost all my criticism are done with generous dollops of humor glides serenely above these folks’ disturbed little crania, for one of the hallmarks of the Subjectivist Cultists is a near total lack of humor- not to mention grace.

  Yet, even supposedly humorous people lack this ability to laugh at themselves. Not long ago I receive the email below from a man named Dan Schneider. No, it was not myself, but an actor, comedian, and tv producer. He was best known as being the fat kid in the 1980s Howard Hesseman tv show Head Of The Class. In the last few years he produced a bad movie or two, and a few children’s television shows for cable tv. I’ve never seen any of his work save for Head Of The Class, but as Cosmoetica’s popularity increased I have become the most linked to Dan Schneider online, if you Google my name, despite the other Schneider’s two decades in television. In the last year or so the other Dan Schneider, or his publicists, have seemed to have taken some mild umbrage with the fact that a man with a mere website was more popular than a man with a long career in television, and thus started adding links to sources like Wikipedia and IMDB, in a weird sort of ‘arms race to try to take over as most popular ‘Dan Schneider.’ While the top slot for my name switches back and forth between me and the other Dan Schneider, due to the waxing and waning of hits that Cosmoetica gets, I never had any desire to ever contact the man who shares my name. Then, I received this email:


From: Quisp@aol.com

Tue, Jul 18, 2006 at 1:05 AM

Well, Dan Schneider... my name is Dan Schneider. I live in Los Angeles where I write movies and television. Back in the 1980s I used to star in a TV show called "Head of the Class". I'm writing to you because, on more than one occasion, I've been contacted by someone thinking I'm you. So, I looked you up, discovered you're a poet, and I figured I'd write to you and say hello, being that we have the same name and all.
Currently, I write and produce two TV series for Nickelodeon. One is called "Drake & Josh" and the other is called "Zoey 101." If you have kids or nieces/nephews between the ages of 6 and 14, they probably know my shows pretty well. I created them and I'm the executive producer.
Well, that's all for now. Didn't mean to bug you. I just figured since there are two Dan Schneiders in the world, both of whom are writers (albeit very different kinds), I thought I should say hi.
Write back if you have time.

--Dan Schneider

P.S.  Have you ever been contacted by anyone thinking you were me?  If not, say 'yes' anyway... I have a fragile ego. :)


  Notice the manifest emotional references, such as thinking an email would bug me, or mentioning his ‘fragile ego.’ I won’t even get into the humor implicit with labeling himself a writer, and the metaphor of a Kindergartener commiserating with Picasso. Given that he’s likely a multi-millionaire and I have to slave for a living, this is a bizarre first correspondence. However, despite my always being busy with the website, work, and other diurnal do, I wrote back:


Tue, Jul 18, 2006 at 6:48 AM

To: Quisp@aol.com


Hello. Yes, I recall that show: Howard Hesseman and a bevy of babes. I don't have cable but I've seen your name, as well. Cosmoetica and your IMDB listing seem to vie for top Dan Schneider Google slot. There used to be a Florida fisherman with our name, but don't see much of his site now- must've retired. Also a MLB player from the 60s.
A few people mail me thinking I'm you. I usually say you're richer but I'm older.
Did you ever get to cozy up to Tyson's wife, or that sexy redhead gal who played a poet?
Keep in touch. DAN


  Tired of the way people constantly quote things out of context I always BCC such emails to the regular Cosmoetica e-list so that I have hundreds of ‘witnesses’ to the verities I state here. Notice how I did not even take a sly jab at the man’s weight, and mentioned he was merely richer. I even try to go ‘guy’ on him by mentioning the two sexy babes that starred on that show. Likely, he never got within a mile of them sexually, but I’m trying to booster his odd ego after the contact email.

  The next day, after I was finished with a long shift, and had a day off, I wrote back, when I got no reply. I figured the man might have been busy, or that a spam filter did its worst:


Wed, Jul 19, 2006 at 12:27 PM

To: Quisp@aol.com


Have a bit more time to write today. Had an 11 hour shift yester.
Have you ever wanted to write some op-ed pieces? If you do, you'd be welcome to post them in my Bylines section, be they on the arts or politics, etc. I know that that blond chick from Too Close For Comfort, Lydia Cornell, has a popular blog; but that's dumbed down writing.
If you wanted to opine on life in the entertainment industry, it would be an interesting perspective. Also any reviews on things. You could be 'you', rather than what the industry expects of you.
If you got emails thinking I was you they probably mostly started off with FUCK YOU! I've gotten tens of thousands of emails from the vapid anonymous losers that troll online. I don't even reply to them any longer. Sorry if you've taken some flak for me.
Every so often I get an angry email accusing me of being a hypocrite for ripping bad literary writers because I wrote GOOD BURGER. I had no idea of what they meant, until I Googled it. This was some indy film you did in the 90s. Apparently it is a cult film.
Have you ever tried to move beyond comedy, and produce indy works in the John Sayles/David Gordon Green mode?
Some reviews by you might benefit both of us. One of my most popular reviews was of Gilligan's Island, and I even posted an email I got from the Professor, Russell Johnson.
Anyway, lemme know if this interests you. Also, if you've enjoyed Cosmoetica I can put you on my e-list.


  Notice how I don’t state that his film is routinely panned as Lowest Common Denominator tripe that makes the old Porky’s movies seem intellectual. Yet, perhaps the fact that I mentioned ‘hypocrisy’, and implied that others think the film is crap is what turned him off? I even offer him a way to post ‘serious’ writings, and get on my e-list, but I never heard back from him. Here was my last contact:

Sun, Jul 23, 2006 at 7:35 AM

To: Quisp@aol.com


Have you rec'd these emails? DAN


  As of this writing I have not heard back from the man. Now, before you ask what this has to do with the asinine domos who run college writing programs and the like, I will state that this just shows you the typical mindset of a Joe Average. Yes, the other Schneider may be rich and have some small fame, but he is manifestly a Joe Sixpack sort in terms of the arts. If one could buy into the biases that intellectuals have against the working class, this could be explicable, but the white collared degreed set are no better in their fundamental lack of understanding about the arts and anything else deeper in nature. Nor are they less prone to making asses of themselves to people they have never met.

  My next example of the human tendency to just react strangely to people online is of an intellectual who sent a bizarre email my way. His name is Peter D. Ward, a college professor at the University of Washington. A few months back, in August, I reviewed a book of his called Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, And The Greatest Catastrophe In Earth’s History. I actually gave it a positive review, even though I pointed out some of the manifest bad writing within. Apparently, having been fattened on the fellatric reviews that such books usually receive in the mainstream media, I got a bizarre email from Ward, which I include unexpurgated, just as I do all emails and selections I quote from, so that I cannot be accused of misquoting, selectively quoting, or quoting out of context. It was bizarre, to say the least. Whether it was an angry email, or merely evidence of a mental problem is difficult to parse, even if one follows the link, which seems to lend support to some of his book’s ideas. However, it also tends to diss the ideas of a rival science writer I mention in my review of Ward’s book. That a college professor would go out of his way to basically make de facto cyber childish faces at me because another source claims that a rival of his was possibly wrong, says enough about the man than I cared to know. Here it is:


From: argo@u.washington.edu
Date: Oct 6, 2006 11:29 PM

So - just saw your review of gorgon jokes on you:

Professor Peter D Ward
Dept of Biology
The University of Washington
Seattle, 98195
206-543-2962 (Office)


  Now, I don’t expect people to thank me for a positive review, but this is just a silly response. If you click on the link it details minutia that Ward sees somehow as relevant to my review. As stated, he was apparently miffed that I unfavorably compared his book and writing to that of a female scientist who has a much better way with words, and the link seeks to expose her book’s scientific flaw. Of course, that’s irrelevant to what is wrong with his book’s writing, and has nothing to do with the other writer’s style, either. But, never let it be said that emotional hysterics cannot overcome intellect.

  I will return to Ward’s book and my review, later, for it will highlight another level of stupidity in the arts- specifically the online community which is riddled with the Lowest Common Denominator and cliques who seek to keep good writers and works of writing offline. Of course, this obtuseness that Ward displays is rampant in the arts and Academia, and I include both his and Schneider’s emails merely as appetizers for far greater stupidity to come. But, let me veer more toward the dishonesty side, now, for while there is a great deal of stupidity in the next group of people I will explore, it is their dishonesty which is the even greater sin.


Agent Dishonesty


  That group of people is literary agents. Over the years, my wife and I have had limited success in landing literary agents. Usually, the agents are small, just starting out, and unconnected, therefore have little better chance of successfully placing a work than an individual has. To step back, the very nature and import of a literary agent is a tacit admission of the failures and artistic bankruptcy of most publishers, for the very profession has a parasitic quality to it. And this goes well beyond the plaint that it is the big monied corporations that are ruining literature. More books are published today than ever before, in the United States, but there are no big nor small presses that are regularly publishing great nor innovative literature on a regular basis. Years ago there would be an Ecco Press or New Directions, and even though they were hit and miss literarily, they discovered new writers of note and also brought foreign writers to an American audience. Today, as almost all small presses are suckled to the teat of the grant giving machine that is the National Endowment for the Arts, they are dumbed down by both government censures, as well as their own lack of knowledge of the art of writing by decades of promoting the noxious idea that anyone can be a writer, that everyone is creative. Yeah, and I can play basketball as well as Kobe Bryant because I can dribble a basketball.

  Yet, this fallacious belief has led to the last few decades of terrible writers being churned out by the thousands by the American college writing mills- and, yes, they are as cruel as puppy mills in that they swindle money from talentless hacks, and foist bad writing on the public. Is this a crime in league with Nazism or Jim Crow? No, but it is a crime against literature, for the books that are being published, merely because of friendships, debts, or the well timed blowjob, take away slots that can be used for real writers of quality. There will always be far more bad writing than good published, just as there are far more ugly people than beautiful, but as long as all the good writing is being published I don’t care of the bad that sees print. In other words, to break it down into an easy equation, if there are 100 books published every year, and only five good books are produced in a year, I do not care that 95 bad books are published, as long as the 5 good ones get their due. It’s when only perhaps one of the good books gets published, and the four other slots are taken up by crap as bad or worse than the other 95 books, that I get angered.

  Think of all the talentless poetry hacks- white, black, ethnic, lesbian, gay, male, straight, Jew, etc. Almost all these people get published because of who they know, not what they write. They gather in schools or –isms, like pond scum retreating to the dark edges of a pool so that the destroying sunlight cannot affect them. And they grow and grow. Of course, time will weed and winnow them, but nowadays the sunlight, or criticism, does not even exist- outside of yours truly and a few other folks. How many great writers suffer in anonymity, with good or great works ready to affect people, because detritus like the Louise Glücks, James Tates, David Foster Wallaces, Jhumpa Lahiris, and on and on are given book deals and awards for work that will be snickered at in a few decades, much as dozens of once popular, now forgotten, writers from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s are?

  Yet, the agents, who have now become the first line of defense, so to speak, for Fortress Subjectivity, seem oblivious to this fact, as well as to what constitutes good writing, or what even is saleable. The very reason that writers typically get so little return for their intellectual effort- usually 15% of book sales, not including agent’s fees and taxes, is because the big book publishers have co-opted Hollywood’s Blockbuster mentality for making money, and dumbing down culture in the name of pelf, thus leaving the little presses to continue to foster the noxious cronyism, which dumbs down culture in the name of self-satisfaction and careerism. Rather than nursing fifty books of quality per year- assuming there are that many out there to be nursed, and promoting them with the hopes of making slight or solid profits on all but a few of those books within a few years, and guaranteeing that they come out a bit ahead, and that the writers’ names become ‘branded’, the publishers instead shoot their loads- editorially and financially, on four or five books they deem have blockbuster potential, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter, the writer’s ethnicity, or story of grief, etc. That publisher might go 0 for 5 that publishing year, which only ratchets up their desire for a big payoff in a few months’ time, with a million seller, the following year. All of the ill-written titles only play into this delusive fever, so that one of the bad books will catch on for reasons that are ultimately indiscernible, and can cover the financial losses of dozens of other bad books. Could the financial success of an Angela’s Ashes have been predicted? After all, the spate of Irish themed books that inevitably followed it, in the late 1990s, failed to sell. Thus, it was not the idea of ‘suffering Irish’ that was the selling point. Perhaps it was because Frank McCourt’s book, albeit flawed, was pretty well written, and a cut above other memoirs?

  If a sales frenzy like that attached to Angela’s Ashes does not happen, however, a panic cycle sets in, and the search for more all or nothing blockbusters takes hold, resulting in the publication of a piece of tripe, like Prozac Nation, a memoir of drug addiction by Rolling Stone reporter Elizabeth Wurtzel, that is not well written, and about how hard it is growing up white, female, and beautiful. When something like that hits it big- for sundry idiotic reasons unrelated to literary merit, the cycle kicks into an even more noxious mode, and the result is a spate of bad memoirs by even worse writers. Some sell well, like Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius- about, literally, nothing but how hard it is to be white, male, and privileged, or James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces- a terrible novel masquing as a memoir, about how hard it is to be white, male, and privileged, as well as a dumb drunkard; while other bad books are marginal sellers, yet pushed so hard by publicists that even their marginal financial notoriety is treated as if a blockbuster, and is optioned for a screenplay, like Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors- about how hard it is growing up gay, talentless, and with a psychotic mother, or Brad Land’s Goat- about how hard it is growing up white, male, privileged, and having to endure sexual hijinks at a fraternity. And I’m not even going to now digress too far into the fact that most agents, editors, and publishers cannot tell good writing from bad, much less provide good editorial criticism, for I shall touch on that as I proceed.

  For those stating that this is merely the whining of a bitter writer on the outside looking in, this is not true, and I shall now quote from a raft of emails and rejections my wife has received for her and my works over the last few months of her querying about. This will show that the agents in question a) are clueless about quality, for I will do demonstrations of writing quality side by side, and even worse, clueless about how to even do their own jobs. For legal purposes, since these were not emails directed to Cosmoetica itself- for which I have the legal right to post any correspondence, for the sending of an email to the website is consent for its possible publication, I shall not quote the agents’ names within. I will, though, extrapolate on some of their points.

  Jessica had been sending around the first book of my memoirs, True Life, to some agents, and as it is well written, mixes poetry with prose, and speaks of gangsters, art, philosophy, sex, violence, and beauty, and is truly innovative, it would seem to have a great chance at mass appeal, as well as having obvious staying power. You can read some excerpts from it here. Yet, here is a typically stolid reply from an agent:


Dear Jessica  Schneider, I don't have the foggiest idea how to go about placing your husband's manuscript TRUE LIFE. There may be an audience for this sort of confessional fictional outpouring but if it exists it is part of a generation and culture light years removed from mine. I wish you luck in finding the appropriate agent and/or publisher. 




  Putting aside the poor punctuation and ill written nature of the email, notice how he (and I use the masculine in the generic not sexual sense) likely has not read more than even the first page. Jess submitted it as a memoir, yet the James Frey effect- that all memoirs must really be repackaged novels, is in place. Clearly, as my memoir is episodic, picaresque, and punctuated with great poetry, it is not like a novel in form, much less fictionalized. Of course, names, dates, and places have sometimes been altered, but that’s standard operating procedure in memoirs, to avoid nuisance lawsuits from guilty parties, or parties who do not like their true nature revealed.

  Note, too, how he uses the term ‘confessional’ in a negative light. This is decades of Confessional poetry’s decent from Plath, Lowell, Berryman, and Bishop to modern poetastry, and its infection into the cultural consciousness, skewing the very neutral reality of the term. Of course, by its very nature, a memoir will be ‘confessional’ in that it reveals previously hidden things in its writer’s existence. When the agent states, ‘it is part of a generation and culture light years removed from mine,’ he is basically stating that he has absolutely no idea what the market today is, nor even a desire to find out. It ends with the trite ‘good luck’ bon mot. As you read these writings, please note how these agents cannot even write mildly interesting nor individuated letters, nor even state their ideas well. This negates the idea that they are ‘pressed for time’. I doubt anyone online is more pressed for time than me, yet I take my tasks as a writer and webmaster seriously.

  I generally do not respond to such manifest stupidity, for there is so much of it and so little time, but Jess was frustrated, and wrote this reply:

As per your reasons for your response, I felt they deserved my comment. See interpolated.

Dear Jessica  Schneider, I don't have the foggiest idea how to go about placing your husband's manuscript TRUE LIFE.

I said how to do it in my letter. A poor kid with a violent childhood who grows to be a great writer. There aren't any of those being published today. What other clients have a website with 62 million hits and growing? How did James Frey's crap get published? There is no art there. True Life is real literature.

There may be an audience for this sort of confessional fictional outpouring

It's a memoir, so of course it's 'confessional'. But it's not based in fiction, it's based in memory. Frank McCourt did it, however more conventionally in his approach. This goes beyond McCourt. And yes, there is an audience. Were there no audience Cosmoetica wouldn't be receiving the many, many emails from young kids who are bored with their dull writing professors and what's being published, and are looking for real quality literature. They are starving for something new. Not to mention that 1.5 million hits a month ain't a bad start when it comes to promotion/placement.


  Jess touches on one of the best points, how out of touch the fossilized set in the publishing industry is to the power of the Internet. It’s like how the music industry took years to get behind the download craze. Even if I were just another crappy political blogger, or rambling versifier, Cosmoetica’s popularity (which stems from my NOT being a crappy political blogger or rambling versifier) as one of the handful of big arts websites should clue someone in to the fact that there is a potential, at least, for sales, even if they are wholly clueless to the wads of great writing that exists within it.


but if it exists it is part of a generation and culture light years removed from mine.

Young people are the future, and there is a culture starving for real literature, of which is not getting published. (Yes, it's much more exciting to read James Frey- a druggie loser with no clue how to write or all these self-indulgent works drenched in clichés).

I wish you luck in finding the appropriate agent and/or publisher.  Sincerely, AGENT

Luck is about the only thing that's going to do it, since quality doesn't matter. And I'm sure a similar thing was told to Max Brod, regarding his pal Kafka's work. Anyhow, thanks for skimming it.

Jessica Schneider


  I would have written a bit more deft of a reply, simultaneously making the agent look even more foolish while keeping it more impersonal, but Jess does twist the knife with her thanks for skimming the book- really the first two or three pages, most likely.

  Of course, memoirs are not the only thing that stolid agents are clueless of. Here is an email Jess got from an agent regarding my novel The Trial Of Horacio Guzman, which is about a pedophile coming to terms with his life after he is falsely accused of a sexual crime he did not commit. The book also has the lead character reading excerpts from a science fiction about human-android marriage, and it has obvious parallels to the current ‘gay marriage’ issue. Here was the email:


Dear Ms. Schneider:

Thanks very much for your query letter regarding the novel THE TRIAL OF HORACIO GUZMAN.

I'm sorry to say that I don't feel we could represent this for you successfully because of the fluctuations in the publishing marketplace. The publishing business has been erratic since the latter part of 1995, when most publishers took a big fall in sales. Sales were mixed until 1999, and then got better. However, 2001 was a very bad year in terms of bottom-line profits, because most publishers produced too many units of too many different titles, and therefore were either marginally profitable or actually took a loss for the year. 2002 was also marginal, and sales fell apart in early October through the Christmas selling season. 2003 was better for nonfiction, but fiction sales were still very soft, and 2004 continued the same.  It was similar in 2005, with nonfiction selling much more strongly than fiction (even by the biggest best-seller authors).

Publishers are still cutting their lists, and editors are still buying extremely carefully. We take on very few new clients, and only on projects that strike us as having very special "handles" that strike us as fresh and vivid.

I wish I could say something more specific about what you've submitted, but we are receiving between forty to sixty queries a week these days--and it is just impossible to read and consider and comment in detail.

Of course, another agent may feel differently, and good luck with your work.

Best wishes,



  This is another standard technique to discourage writers- the claims about the ‘toughness’ of the market. This is all bullshit, of course, for no one could predict that the aforementioned poorly written memoirs would become bestsellers, or nearly so. Now, look at what he describes the agency takes on- ‘fresh and vivid’ projects. A novel with a pedophile protagonist, in this age of rampant child abuse, and wild priests? Could my book be more timely in exploring the psyche of such an individual? Of course, had Jess sent my nonfiction memoir, True Life, the excuse would have been something else, albeit another off the rack comment.

  The truth is that excellence has no place in today’s book market because a) most writers, agents, editors, publishers, and critics cannot discern what goers into quality writing, and b) even if they did, they feel- with some justification, that it would not sell to the deliterate masses. It’s all about what someone ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes.’ Period. Be they an agent or reader. When the agent claims ‘I wish I could say something more specific about what you've submitted, but we are receiving between forty to sixty queries a week these days--and it is just impossible to read and consider and comment in detail,’ he is stating that he only looks at what he likes. It’s a de facto admission of that, as well as his having no idea what the saleable market is, not having any desire to be a ‘leader’ and not a ‘follower’ in terms of promoting literature.

  This time, Jess did not even respond. Instead, she merely wrote her response, to get it out of her system, and never sent it. Why bother with this sort of stolidity?



Thanks for your reply but I need to respond to 2 things. First, how can you be so sure that the query isn't 'fresh and vivid' when the story itself also has a novel within a novel that deals with the themes of homosexual marriage, in addition to using the technique from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying about a man wrongfully accused of a crime? I've never even heard such an approach by any other writer. Second, how many clients do you have that already have such a platform, i.e. one of the most popular literary websites in the world www.Cosmoetica.com with a so far readership of 62 million hits and growing? I only bring these points up because you went to such a detailed response, of which I think warrants my response. The reason sales are plummeting is because too many books are being published by too many bad/mediocre writers via cronyism and the public doesn't care. Here you have a novel that not only is 'fresh and vivid' but also from an online personality that would generate sales. 
I wouldn't have said any of this if this had just been a standard 'dear author' rejection you sent, but I know how the publishing business works, and from what I can see even more so than the publishers as indicated by their poor sales. Anyhow, thanks for emailing, but I just had to toss in my 2 cents on the matter. Please don't read anything more into this email- I just wanted to make my points and that's all.

Jessica Schneider


  Again, my wife makes the good point that the downward spiral of publishing bad writing that no one wants leads to the effect I described before, of publishers panicking and trying to get a blockbuster all the time, rather than developing a few dozen good books and writers. I won’t touch upon the deleterious effects of writing workshops too much, because there are people who can write well, who are outside that networking vehicle, and an agent, editor, or publisher with a zest for great writing, would not have to dig that long to find some talent- as infrequent as it might be. Or, do they really believe that a literature that makes a star of a Dave Eggers is one of value? I doubt that because, both online and at readings, such writers are openly mocked. Granted, unlike me, the mockers have no ability to descry why Eggers and his ilk are bad, but they know he is, and that’s the point.

  Yet, even when an agent shows a mild interest, it’s muted and puzzled. Here is one from an agent that seemed a bit less stolid than the other two:


Dear Jessica,

Wow, that's a lot of work in one place!  ;)
I looked around the website for a while, at both yours and Dan's work. You're both very productive, but I can't say what interests me unless I know what it is you feel is ready for, or in need of, publication.  What is it you're looking to achieve in print that you don't feel you're achieving in pixels?  Or what do you think would be enhanced by going to print?
I just want to be sure you have a definite direction you want to go, and then I can decide if that's a place I can take you.  It may not be for me, but at the very least you'll have a better focus; better to attack the market with a rapier than a blanket, you know?
Hope to hear from you soon!




  Of course, there are some ridiculous things this agent asks- such as why publication in a book is preferable to print. Money, honey! This again shows how utterly clueless the literary world is to online popularity. Also, in her query letters, Jess details what the work- mine or hers- is about, what its market potential is, and how to best market it. If one reads between the lines one can see that this agent is already backing out- perhaps scared off by my un-PC writing? Perhaps because she has no clue as to what is good nor bad in writing?

  Here is what Jess wrote back:



Thank you for your kind response. Well, to answer your question, the one thing that being in print that a website will never do is make money. Despite the popularity of Cosmoetica, we've been unable to support ourselves from our writing simply because it's not in print. The both of us have many works of fiction that are not on the website- Cosmoetica is primarily criticism, poetry, and essays, as opposed to straight fiction, which brings me to you. Ideally, we were looking for an agent who could recognize the bulk of what Cosmoetica is, and knowing that with such a strong starting point, the books could sell.
There are a few books of Dan's that I've been querying about, and one is his novel called Tumbleweeds, which is a sustained meditation on loss and grief in youth, as it details the other 1960s in America, the unspoken of, the urban poor, and not the spoiled rich hippy movement. It takes place over a several year time period from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. In a sense, it is a later 20th Century version of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, or a 20th Century equivalent to Huckleberry Finn, save that it follows the lives of three male children, covers a shorter time frame, and deals with more modern problems, as it takes a deeper, broader look at the violent world of inner city New York during those turbulent times, of the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, that changed a nation forever. Dan brilliantly writes of that time and era like only someone who experienced it could.
He also has a memoir series that is the non-fiction version of Tumbleweeds, called True Life, about his having grown up poor in urban New York, educating himself on literature and poetry, and becoming the writer and critic he is today. In addition, he also has a non-fiction work called Show & Tell that discusses the current scenes involving race in America, (and especially in light of Katrina couldn't be more relevant) as told from the point of view of someone having grown up in poorer neighborhoods.
I think that with his online personality, and especially since these works in particular deal with his background and how he grew up, it makes it easy to market a 'personality'. His True Life I think could be what Angela's Ashes was in the 90's (only Dan claims that his childhood was worse than McCourt's simply because McCourt wasn't getting shot at). As for me, I have multiple works as well- one which I've been sending around is the beginning of a sibling series called American Earth. I have been querying for the both of us, sending whatever book might interest an agent, depending on where that agent's interest lies, which is why I queried you- to find out what you were looking for and see if we had something that might interest you.
If this sounds interesting, I think that Tumbleweeds would be a good place to start commercially, because it really is a lot like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn , and for many people I know (including me) that is a personal favorite. I don't want to overload you with tons of synopses and excerpts, but rather just give a single place to start and see what you think from there.

Thank you for your consideration, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Jessica Schneider

  Note all the things Jess details, and compare it to the sorts of agent and publisher query letters you can find online by Googling. Yet, this agent declined. Of course, he did not display some of the stolidity that the next agent did, who fell back upon the use of bald clichés to make his point:


Subject: Young Adult Query for Winky Tales

Thanks for thinking of our agency.
I'm going to pass. The narrative both opens and closes with "author telling."
The middle is more traditionally developed with scenes and dialog, but the author keeps stepping in to tell the reader about the characters. Better to show the characters performing actions that develop a story.
I'll pass.


  This was a query about a group of short stories, The Winky Tales, Jess wrote about a minor character from another of her novels. Set in the Great Depression, the character is a more smart-ass version of Tom Sawyer, although the tales are more adult themed than Twain’s story. What he is basically saying is that he and American readers are so dumb that they need to have things ham-handedly plot-driven to follow what’s going on. God forbid there is an interior monologue- often mislabeled as stream of consciousness (as I will show in a bit), or some depth of character where the protagonist proves he is more than an automaton- or someone very like the agent and average American reader.

  Jess replied:

Subject: Fwd: Young Adult Query for Winky Tales


Why is it better to show than tell? Who made the rules?

  Jess is right, for if one only shows, not tells, then the poetry of a Wallace Stevens, as example, is ‘bad poetry’. The question is not whether a writer nor a piece of writing tells, but whether it tells well. This sort of advice is Workshop 101 level, and shows where the agent comes from, as well as how unsophisticated and unable to cope with innovation a reader is. Beyond poetry, however, this sort of advice wholly exempts lauded foreign writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka, and Milan Kundera, not to mention great American fictionists like Mark Twain and Herman Melville. Moby-Dick is almost all telling!

  The only thing worse than seeing the first sentinels to published literature reciting clichés is when they try to sell you something- just like writing contests that want you to buy the crap they chose in favor of your great work. Here was another agent reply:


Hi: Cannot use your story. Get the book My Little Writer's Book by James V Smith a novelist. You do have talent, so keep learning and writing and developing your craft into detail that sets up imagery for the reader's entertainment.
Thanks for thinking of us first.


  Let’s overlook the ill writ email, and all that suggests about the agent’s ability to discern good writing. The book recommended is itself is a horrid little book that, naturally, tries to sell a formula on how to write banal stories. There are the sections on how to develop a character, which involves setting up hurdles, and include ludicrously bad examples of writing. While I think much PC pseudo-art never even tries to entertain, when this joker says ‘entertain’ he’s really advocating stripping writing of its depth, lest he would not recommend such a formulaic book, likely by an acquaintance or client of his. Or, even more pathetically, he might actually find such delimiting tripe helpful. Of course, one must realize that many of these ‘agents’ are really assistants to the real agent, who is too fat and sassy to even deign to read most submissions, and merely using the real agent’s name in business. Trolling through the slush pile is usually left to college aged interns, often unpaid and working for college credit, to decide what gets passed on.

  Knowing this, is there any wonder the pseudo-angst laden deliterate crap of the Wurtzels, Eggerses, Freys, and Foster Wallaces is being published regularly? Remember that it is this age group that has brought the ADD-infected MTV-level film to Hollywood, and made television hits of such shows as Jackass and Fear Factor, where people are rewarded for their stupidity, as well as making anorexia and bulimia chic. This is not exactly a deep nor profound part of society. That they should be the arbiters of literary excellence, as well as taste, is exactly why this culture is so shallow and shortsighted, and its writing infantilized and dumbed down. That literary agencies trust their financial fortunes to such hands says as much about the reason the American economy is in such bad shape as it does why American literature is. If this demographic group cannot even decide whether or not to drink and drive, how can a socially important resource like literature be left in such hands?

  Here is another example of an agent asking for work that is formulaic. He goes so far as to not only recommend a book, but quote a horribly uninformed and shallow attempt at literary criticism to back up his desire for inanity. That the agent cannot even use the tools of language to formulate his own opinion shows how much a joke the arbiters of literature have become. Imagine having your surgeon ask you, before a heart transplant if the heart was in the thorax or buttocks. Here ‘tis:


Dear Jessica,


Thanks for sending the opening chapters to your YA novel, but I don't think this can compete with newly published novels.  The mix in diction, literary for descriptive passages and lowdown for dialogue, didn't work for me.  I've copied below an excerpt from The Art of Fiction.  Your writing doesn't show "defects in character or education," but the rest of the passage elaborates on my response to the manuscript.

With revision, I think this may have potential as a historical, but I don't read these books.  Historical fiction has its conventions, so I would suggest you query agent and editors working in this area.

I appreciate the opportunity to consider your work.



Diction problems are usually symptomatic of defects in the character or education of the writer.  Both diction shifts and the steady use of in appropriate diction suggest either deep-down bad taste or the awkwardness that comes of inexperience and timidity.  There seems little or no hope or the adult writer who produces sentences like these:  "Her cheeks were thick and smooth and held a healthy natural red color. The heavy lines under them, her jowls, extended to the intersection of her lips and gave her a thick-lipped frown most of the time."  "Her cheeks were thick and smooth" is normal English, but "[Her cheeks] held a healthy natural red color" is elevated, pseudo-poetic.  The word "held" faintly hints at personification of "cheeks," and "healthy natural red color" is clunky, stilted, slightly bookish.  The second sentence contains similar mistakes.  The diction level of "extended to the intersection of her lips" is high and formal, in ferocious conflict with the end of the sentence, which plunges to the colloquial "most of the time."  There may be slightly more hope for the writer who uses steadily elevated diction—sentences that pomp along like these: "The unique smell of urine and saltwater greeted him as he stepped through the hatchway. He surveyed the area for an open sink or shower stall but, finding none, had to wait in line."  ("Had to wait in line" is of course a sudden diction drop.)  The writing here has most of the usual qualities of falsely elevated diction: abstract language ("unique smell"), cliché personification, ("[the smell] greeted him"), Latinate language where simple Anglo-Saxon would be preferable ("surveyed the area" for "looked around"), and so forth.  If a writer with difficulties like these sticks to the relatively easy kinds of fiction—the realistic story and the yarn as opposed to the tale—he can get rid of his problems simply.


-- John Gardner, "Common Errors" in The Art of Fiction (p. 101-102)


  Of course, Jess’s novel, Quick With Flies, is not a Young Adult novel, and her writing is nothing like Gardner’s, nor the sentences quoted within the Gardner passage. Gardner himself was a very hit and miss writer who never approached greatness, and it’s always a curiosity when the mediocre are quoted from as if gods. The sentences quoted from are not in context, which makes much of the point of the Gardner quote useless, and some of the claims, like ‘"Had to wait in line" is of course a sudden diction drop’ are utterly baffling, for they are manifestly subjective. A drop in diction would occur if a Shakespearean sonnet ended with a hip hop couplet. The sentence this is taken from is wholly consistent, if rather generic. This sort of criticism is classic Dead White Male criticism, and, again, wholly inapplicable to Jess’s writing, for better or worse. Of course, never let irrelevance stop an ignorant from making a point; especially one who has no interest in historical- i.e.- literary- fiction.

  To give you an example of the difference between Jess’s book and a recently published novel, here is the start of disgraced ‘memoirist’ James Frey ‘s latest book, My Friend Leonard. Initially it was marketed as another memoir, just like A Million Little Pieces. But, when that memoir was revealed to be filled with little factuality, his publisher’s PR department decided to market this book’s even less autobiographical tale as a novel. It begins:


  On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray. I was standing in line for lunch and didn’t see it coming. I went down. When I got up I turned around and started throwing punches. I landed two or three before I got hit again, this time in the face. I went down again. I wiped blood away from my nose and my mouth and I got up I started throwing punches again. Porterhouse put me in a headlock and started choking me. He leaned toward my ear and said I’m gonna let you go. If you keep fighting me I will fucking hurt you bad. Stay down and I will leave you alone. He let go of me and I stayed down.

  I have been here for eighty-seven days. I live in Men’s Module B, which is for violent and felonious offenders. There are thirty-cells in my module, thirty-two inmates. At any given time, there are between five and seven deputies watching us. All of us wear blue and yellow striped jumpsuits and black rubber-soled slippers that do not have laces. When we move between rooms we walk through barred doors and metal detectors. My cell is seven feet wide and ten feet long. The walls are cement and the floor is cement and the bed is cement, the bars iron, the toilet steel. The mattress on the bed is thin, the sheets covered with grit. There is a window in my cell, it is a small window that looks out onto a brick wall. The window is made of bulletproof glass and there are bars on both sides of it. It affords me the proper amount of State required sunlight. Sunlight does not help pass time, and the State is not required to provide me anything to help pass time.

  Note the run-on sentences, with no emotional, aesthetic, nor dramatic need for them, the bad punctuation (there should be semicolon, not a comma, by ‘There is a window in my cell….’), and unnecessary- as well as poor, descriptions which serves no purpose. As example, a jail cell is a jail, but if one wants to describe it, and is going to, should not some effort be made to elevate the prose and/or description, or at least bring some insight to the plight of the character? Were there some dramatic reason- an internal monologue in a moment of crisis, or verbal poesy, a good writer, like a James Joyce, might be able to get away with descent into ostensibly the bad writing I’ve detailed, and yet raise it above the crap that Frey spews. Frey cannot. Yet his garbage is published.

  Here, by contrast, is the poetic and engaging opening to Jess’s Quick With Flies. Ask yourself whose writing- hers or Frey’s, is more in need of the didactic idiocy that the agent spews?:


            Spawned, no rain. The land was empty, but my mind was full. It was summer, 1934, with some of the hottest temperatures ever. Nebraska alone reached 118 degrees one day in July, and a week later I read how one man even lived in his refrigerator for a whole week, trying to keep cool. When they finally got 'round to yankin' him out, they had to treat his fingers for frostbite. Yes, I could read, and rather well at that. My mother was a schoolteacher who taught me well- books and the Bible to say the least. And don't think I didn't appreciate it- many Negroes at this time couldn't read or write, but I could do both. I always tried making my ma proud, and doing right by her, and some days when the summer air blew like a hot furnace upon my face, loosening the dust, I couldn't but help from thinking of this thing that killed her.

            Pneumonia. Dust. She died almost two years ago, in the fall of 1932, coughing up clogs of dirt long enough to be pencils, or snakes even, until eventually the coughing ceased and she was left to smile at what was left of us: our rickety Kansas farm house layered in a foot of dust on all sides. Dad was wearing thin too- the crops weren't doing well, and we used to think that the color of the dust would tell you just where it blew from. Black was Kansas. Gray was Colorado or New Mexico, and Red was Oklahoma. But at our house there were so many layers filled with so many colors I could not tell what had blown from where. This dust would be the death of us. It spawned from the mere touch of human toes, from the hooves of tired animals and from the inertia of riverbeds. Even the weight of eyes seemed to rattle it out of place and drift it upwards, just to make the sky we saw a darker shade. It was everywhere in a land once fertile and full now dwindling to desert and as barren as our chances.

            After ma died, my brother set out for the north- only to end up in Chicago. But last I heard he was traveling to the east, probably to stay with our cousin who had a farm in Maryland. Dad sent him out to earn a little more money. He sent some, but then the writing stopped and we haven't heard from him since. My father, Howard Johnson Sr., who was as close to me as any father and son would be during these times, fell sick and passed away a year after mom died. I had them buried together in the graveyard, between and under the dust. It was the dust that brought them there in the first place; living in our home and between our teeth until finally it lodged a spot within both their lungs and hearts- so to speak. And it would get me too if I just stayed and let it take me.

Earth was the name for when things stayed put. But dust- dust was when it was let to waft on the wind. We needed the earth for our survival, but it could have spared us the dust. I myself had keeled over many a time only to emit a black sludge- dust and saliva. No, these times were never very fun, so when fun came along you had to be sure to take it all in and have somethin' to hold on to.

            Prairie dogs loved the dust. Now they could tunnel up several feet from the ground, burrowing their ways through their complex mazes, poking their little heads out every so often when there were no storms. Once one of those critters popped its head up at me and stared at me for what must have been a good minute. When it returned to its tunnel, it didn't seem to be too impressed with me, for it did not pop out again for the rest of the day. Even small things had their ways about them.

  If you seriously have to ponder the query I laid out before this excerpt, go slit your wrists now, for you are amongst the walking dead, already. Despite the idiocy, and barely hidden contempt for good writing that the didactic agent showed, Jess wrote back and defended herself quite well:



Thanks for considering the mss, but I can't say I agree with this text below. I've read John Gardner and while he's written some good stories, he's not a great writer, so I take what he says with a grain of salt. There is a difference between truly poetic and being overwrought, as in some of the examples he gives- but I don't write like those examples. My writing has music and is light and whimsical and doesn't clunk like these sentences he gives. The modifiers he uses as examples aren't fresh, they aren't poetic because of their lack of freshness, and I'm someone who avoids stale modifiers, where as writers getting published today, don't. Prose today is so banal and straightforward, and all the fun and art is taken out from it. This advice is like trying to make a Fellini film into a conventional a-b-c Hollywood movie that no one will care about in five years. Also, the mix of the elevated prose in my novel with that of the 'lowdown' dialogue is meant to contrast the high and low, ala the way Steinbeck did in Grapes, which isn't considered a historical novel at all, but a novel placed into a setting, as is mine. I am very well aware that my writing style does not match the conventions, which is why I know it will take me longer to find print than some average writer, but I'm willing to deal with that. One cannot force an artist into a box- that's what those editors back in the 30's tried doing to Emily Dickinson's poems, and it didn't last. Great art will never follow rules as these- I avoid reading books about writing for this very purpose, because very often I've found that even a good, solid writer like Gardner isn't necessarily the best critic for others' work, and even of himself.
Again, please know I appreciate you looking at the mss, but I just felt I had to say these few things in response. Please don't read any bitterness, etc. into this email, I just needed to make my points.

Thanks again for considering it,
Jessica Schneider


  I stick by my original comment, when I forwarded this exchange around to Cosmoetica’s e-list:

Here's an email Jess got from an agent for one of her novels. What amazes is how, when you read between the lines, the agent is saying, 'Be unoriginal, uninspired, and generic.'  DAN

  Another variation on the recommendation of following formulae is when someone starts using phrases that make no sense. Here is a rejection Jess got for some short stories I wrote. The real reason for rejection was likely because of the un-PC nature of the stories, which all featured women who would not be considered physically attractive in contemporary culture. That I was critiquing the society, not ragging on the characters, of course, slipped by the agent:


AGENT wrote:

Mr. and Mrs. Schneider,

I've reviewed the submission of three shorts from 'Ugly Girls'.  I've decided to pass on this project.  It is my feeling that short stories need to be very tightly written.  Each word has to have validity.  I didn't find this to be so in these submissions.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work and I wish you success with this manuscript.


  Of course, anyone who reads anything I write- poem, story, essay, review, will note that I do not mince words. ‘Tightness’ is not a problem. Even more ridiculous is the vapid claim that ‘Each word has to have validity.’ This is a clichéd PC term for, ‘I do not agree with the political/religious sentiment here, and reject its worldview, which is not valid, and shows the writer to be a racist/misogynist/homophobe/uncouth bigot of some variety.’ People who use such off the rack terms simply do not want to address their own shortcomings as a reader and person and fall back on euphemisms as this. Again, if one were to follow his recommendation, a writer would have to overdescribe minor things and characters simply to overdescribe, or leadenly plot out tales so that every fart a character made was given cosmic import. What is implied by the agent is that well-developed characters and ‘real’ situations to deal with will not interest people yet weaned from overwrought teen angst and melodrama. It is usually not a good tack to describe things that serve no purpose for a tale, unless the nature of describing things is immanent to the story’s nature, or that of the protagonist.

  Of course, if one does give a reader well-developed characters and ‘real’ situations, it’s no guarantee that the dimwitted will get it anyway. Here is a reply from an agent in regards to my novel Tumbleweeds, whose only interest was that Cosmoetica is a popular website. This agent was so obtuse that Jess called him a ‘fucking moronic tool.’ I simply called him the ‘Fat Man,’ and it should be noted that this agent is a fan of the Nicholas Sparks school of writing- i.e.- he likes cliché-dappled Romance novel level literature, and in a prior email did not know the difference between the words ‘loath’ and ‘loathe.’


Dear Jessica,


I read the material you sent, well that's not strictly true. Let's say I read laboriously and found myself lost, continually. As a stream of consciousness it has it's merits but those thoughts are too idiosyncratic for my tastes. In the end, we have to represent material we can comprehend (not something I am sure I actually achieved with your husband's writing) and believe in.

So, I am sorry, but we'll pass. I'll destroy the sheets you sent.

Thanks for sending the material, sorry it didn't work out.




  Of course, after Nicholas Sparks even James Frey can be considered a ‘difficult read.’ Aside from the poorly constructed grammar of the email, the Fat Man has to reveal his ignorance by stating that he labored to read the first page or two of my work. His attempted diss chokes on his own stupidity. Let’s compare the opening of my book with another published work’s opening. Here is the sort of writing that appeals to the Nicholas Sparks-loving Fat Man. It’s the opening fourteen paragraphs of Dave Eggers’ atrocious memoir A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius:


  Through the small bathroom window the December yard is gray and scratchy, the trees calligraphic. Exhaust from the dryer billows clumsily out from the house and up, breaking apart while tumbling into the white sky.

  The house is a factory.

  I put my pants back on and go back to my mother. I walk down the hall, past the laundry room, and into the family room. I close the door behind me, muffling the rumbling of the small shoes in the dryer, Toph’s.

  ‘Where were you?’ my mother says.

  ‘In the bathroom,’ I say.

  ‘Hmph,’ she says.


  ‘For fifteen minutes?’

  ‘It wasn’t that long.’

  ‘It was longer. Was something broken?’


  ‘Did you fall in?’


  ‘Were you playing with yourself?’


  Not exactly a great and memorable opening, and don’t you love these MTV-based ‘paragraphs?’ Look how he then tries to lend gravitas to the first sentence’s end with the word ‘calligraphic.’ Aside from being bad imagery, given the rest of the selection it’s very forced. The rest of the imagery is even more banal. Now, compare that to the physical description that starts Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Even worse than Eggers’ description is the horrid dialogue. Literally, this ‘Huh?’, ‘what?’, ‘yup’ sort of dialogue runs, at times for several pages, with nothing of import being said. Fans of Eggers think this is realism, but it’s merely bad writing. Great dialogue takes such banal situations and frames them so they do become poetic by contrast or by how the dialogue is positioned in the tale. Good dialogue appears to be merely tossed off, but focuses on the unexpected  poesy that characters are unawares of speaking, not the immanent dullness of most real world conversations, which this dreadful book full of. By contrast, here are the first three paragraphs of my novel Tumbleweeds, which the deliterate agent, Fat Man, laboriously got lost in:


  Without understanding, the distance of color is what drew me to the window. Such shimmers like spume off the sea of what was. It was close, to me, though; closer than I cared for its reach to go. Yet, it was deceiving in its approach to me. And that was surely what it was doing. I drew no steps, yet my mind could feel the approach of the other, that thing that is always within and without the self. Imagining all that has ever been stationed between each breath, each heartbeat, the murmur of self rustling against its own boundaries. Emotions roll in me not like tides, but a thing more conscious than that. I cannot well convey it, but I know what I feel. Perhaps my own flesh rebels against time? It has used me, not the other way around. I have been chosen as a marker to decay. Yet, I cannot withstand its approach. Like the shell of an atom I am affected by the other in proportion to its propinquity. It is the bonds that are unseen in the micro which rule the macro with such impunity. Yet, both worlds exist within each other. The smaller within the larger on a physical level, yet the larger within the smaller on a psychological level. A quark spins left, not right, and a year that is dead rages from the grave. Whether it is noticed by all, or the other, makes no difference to the percipient, for notice clangs through the cosmos individually, at all times. That which we choose to notice is usually an aspect of our own past or future manifesting itself ever so briefly before the mist makes its union.

  The color I saw was, specifically, my cat Harry- orange, black and white. He was engaged by the day outside my 21st Century suburban Texas home. Or was he? Upon moving toward his color I noticed that he was focused upon a balletic scene just outside. It seemed two dragonflies were locked in what seemed mid-air mortal combat- one shimmering yellow and orange, the other a deep navy blue. Their iridescence had always fascinated me, when young, and reminded me of creatures dreamt of in science fiction novels or superhero comic books. Then, as their free tumble crashed into my window’s wire mesh screen I could see it was copulation, not destruction, which possessed the insects. Their legs would frantically, but only momentarily, lock upon the screen mesh as they did their deed, then they would tumble downward, relock their legs, and continue. Perhaps it was just the color scheme, but I felt the blue dragonfly was the male. They did not mind the gaze of me, nor Harry, for the long minutes they tumbled down our sight. This diseros lasted several minutes, as Harry and I were rapt. In fact, they seemed wholly oblivious to us, as if they realized we were unlooked upon, by them, thereby unimportant. Their struggle was somehow primitive, yet understandable. Harry might swipe at the pair, with his paw, and his gesture might cause them to fly off the screen, less than a foot, then tumble back at us, into the screen, to try to fasten themselves again, as if their very mortality were no price for their desire. Desire has little relation to reality- how many of us have desired a person or a thing that was clearly, in retrospect, not worth the effort? Yet, still we desired, just to desire, regardless of our desired thing’s quality, or qualities. So, too, it seemed with the dragonflies. Aimlessly they seemed to tumble, through space alone, at first. Then, of a sudden, as I looked into the vastness behind them, time was also in remission, and the insects were not outside where I thought they were, but I, alone, was back nearly forty years earlier, to my childhood, in an impoverished section of Queens, New York.

  The struggle of a pair of mindlessly driven creatures had wedged me back, myself, tumbling through the memories and aridity of years that were not mine, alone, any longer. I was part of a larger scheme- stars, desires, losses, deaths, and trivial moments that framed all the rest. It was the smaller things that roared back into me, as if a first love. It is said that a first love fills the heart even as it empties the head. So it was for me in the return to my past. I was stripped of all presuppositions and rationalizations of that time, even as I was confident of their return. I was me, them, you, others, all things at all times in all ways. I was here there, and beyond, where any soul could read my meager existence like some newly discovered star, or a fossil whose heft weighed the life of its discoverer. It was as if I had fled past the barriers of the known cosmos and was waiting for someone to notice the schism. Having read Abbott’s Flatland, I was reminded of the scene where A Square encounters a testy Sphere, who resents his existence being denoted a hallucination, so sweeps into A Square’s world, and forever shatters his illusions of reality.


  I use words of heft, but since my writing is literate, filled with imagery, and sucks a reader in, it loses deliterate dullards like the Fat Man. And look how, at the end of the third paragraph I play with the very notion of clichés that bad writers like Eggers simply indulge in. If one has read the book Flatland, one is aware that the phrasing of shattering illusions is not a cliché, but what actually physically happens to A Square. Yet, to bad readers like the Fat Man, a seeming cliché like this- especially one of many, will pacify them, and draw them in further, even as the same effect will be rendered upon a better reader who can discern what I am doing by undermining such.

  Show me any book published in the last quarter century that has a better opening than that. Note he calls my writing ‘stream of consciousness,’ as I earlier said the ignorant mislabel inner monologues. There is no stream here. This is a catch all phrase that ignorants use whenever they encounter ANY interior monologue or writing where new phrases, great images, or deep characterizations occur, and they are forced to think and not just suckle on clichés. Now, aside from the fact that no writing can ever be a true stream of consciousness, the term is generally used for the James Joyce-Virginia Woolf brand of rambling on without punctuation. Of course, minds work punctually or else punctuation would never have been needed. But, aside from that solecism of logic, even if the agent is merely referring to the Joycean sort he’s absolutely wrong. This is like calling me an African-American writer simply because a hundred thousand years ago my dim ancestors stumbled out of Kenya. Even if one is referring to the less strictured so-called ‘stream of consciousness’ of William Faulkner, this too is clearly inaccurate.

  Of course, the point is that the agent could not even ‘comprehend’ such vivid and lucid writing as starts my book. Ah, to be Nicholas Sparks! What pissed me more than his stupidity and ignorance was the fact that he shredded my manuscript. Apparently, most publishers and agents don’t give a damn about the expense of printing up a full manuscript. That’s why no more than fifty pages should ever be requested for a first read. If someone cannot get great writing in fifty pages- or really twenty should suffice, they are simply hopeless.

  Then there are agents who reject a work with a form letter, then weeks later email you to see if they rejected your work. Of course, this is the dead giveaway that the ‘name’ agent never even read the book and that it’s the teenaged assistant who’s pored over it, or- as Jess has said, skimmed the first few pages, at best. In response to the constant idiocy, Jess has taken to calling her writing style- i.e.- great and literate, ‘international’, as a tacit admission that America is the land of the terminally dumbed down:



Thanks for your interest. I've attached the first 2 chapters of the mss.  Just as a brief intro, as I mentioned in my query this is part of a three book sibling series, and Quick With Flies is book one of that series. I follow in the tradition of international writers such as Milan Kundera, Sandor Marai and Kazuo Ishiguro, where there is much internal rumination within the lead character, rather than point by point straightforward action like with most American writers. So basically, it's a piece of Americana written in a more European style.
Thanks for your willingness to consider it, and if you'd like anything else just let me know.

Jessica Schneider


  Naturally, when the way out of claiming the writing is difficult or not as good as a hacks is taken away, there’s always the bullshit of ‘the market’ to fall back on, albeit not as rigidly as the prior email that detailed the supposed last few years in publishing:


AGENT wrote:


Thanks for the look, but I'm afraid this didn't come across as something that would work for us commercially. Good luck, though, in finding the appropriate agent and publisher.





  The book is about a black man in the Great Depression who deals with familial loss, racism, and poverty. Jess replied:

Why? Edward Jones and Toni Morrison don't sell?

  The doltish agent’s reply? Naturally, it’s to fall back on the old standby that he wants dumbed down work. Read the 
codewords, as well as his huffiness at Jess’s daring to challenge his safe, cozy little vacuole:


My preference is for more plot-driven stories...Nowadays most mainstream publishers seem to agree.

  Why can’t people like this simply admit that they are idiots? To say one likes plot driven stories is an admission one is lazy and dumbed down to the point that one needs a nipple to suck on when encountering art. For another such email, Jess forwarded an agent’s reply to Art Durkee, with this comment:


Hi Art-

Just look at this agent's reason for declining. I've gotten a few compliments like this here and there, and they've either thought this way or just didn't 'like' the story. I don't know if this gives me hope or just makes me want to cry. Why do such passionless people involve themselves in the arts?


Dear Ms. Schneider,

Thank you for allowing me to consider your novel QUICK WITH FLIES.  Your writing really is quite beautiful and it really does follow more in the tradition of international writers.  It is precisely for this reason, however, that I think I would have a hard time selling your work. 

I know you'll find an agent who feels differently about your work and I wish you all success in finding the right representation and publisher for your work.

Yours sincerely,



  Perhaps it’s a small comfort that this agent at least realizes that Jess’s writing is excellent, therefore she does not think there’s a market for it. But, does not this only beg for people in the industry who will stand up for what is excellent and right? Admitting one is a coward is not that much better than being clueless to one’s inanity and yellow streak. Then there are even agents who are game players. One such agent, from a major agency, emailed Jess that he loved both of our books- her Quick With Flies and my Tumbleweeds, and said he wanted to set up a time to call us about it. We emailed back, heard nothing, then waited a couple of weeks and called him, only to be blown off by his secretary. What in the hell could be going on in the mind of such a person? Another agent was even worse. Jess had mailed a query regarding True Life for me and the agent requested that I write the query letter. So, I did, as per the agent’s request. We received a reply dated 10/12/06 that read:


  Thank you, although I am not the right agent for the memoir. (Yours? Someone else’s?) AGENT


  Such snide condescension and an unwillingness to even look at the writing. If he had no interest, then why request I send it in my name? And suppose I were deceased and Jess was sending around for me? What would the reply have been then? It is this sort of vile scorn and overweening arrogance toward real writers of substance that defines all that is wrong with the current system for publishing books.

  Yet, scorn, as well as clichés and flat out untruths, are the provinces these hacks, flaks and apparatchiks peddle in. They have no coherent intellectual rationale for why they work in the industry nor why they choose what they choose to promote, merely emotional biases- and this is just the first wall, literary agencies. Then there are the stolid editors and publishers who dumb down culture simply to try to make a profit, even though, as I’ve explained, the very reason publishing is in decline, financially- as even that one agent admits in detail, is because they have gotten away from promoting excellence. Then they wonder why the general indifference to most books published. While the average reader cannot tell good from bad intellectually, they feel it, which is why so many published writers, these days, are one hit wonders. Wurtzel, Egggers, Foster Wallace, Frey, and even Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahiri- multicultural but deliterate poster girls for PC, have all seen steep sales declines in their books that followed their biggest financial successes. Within a decade or two they will be as forgotten and unread as a John Gardner, or more likely even more obscure for other writers will fill the cultural, rather than literary, niches that their generic and awful presences now hold.

  I’ve always said that the reason literature- be it fiction, poetry, criticism, is in such bad shape is not because of the bulk of bad writers, for there have always been bad writers. It’s just that so many of them have never been published before, a fact which obviates the absurd claim of some agents that the market I so tough. One can make an argument for publishing Dan Brown’s or Tom Clancy’s formulaic thrillers because they at least sell, but most formula crap a) does not sell, and b) has no real chance of selling. So, why publish it? Again, the old American business axiom holds- it’s not what you do but who you know. A more realistic version of that axiom might substitute the word ‘blow’ for ‘know.’

  The reason for published literature’s decline, and increasing irrelevance, to most readers lies with lazy publishers, editors, critics, and agents, far more so than the bad writers, who used to rarely get into print. Yes, the workshop mentality that bilks the talentless of money for degrees is partly to blame, but that only creates and widens the pool of inanity that the aforementioned must wade through, it does not excuse their refusal to do their jobs- be it finding new talent, and not publishing crap- which never seems to have trouble cracking the vaunted ‘difficult sales market’, nor even telling name writers, like a Frank McCourt or Toni Morrison, that they need help from a good editor. It’s not only that agents and editors do not edit what needs to be edited, but that they try to edit things that need no editing. In short, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain, would not get published today, in their natal land, unless their unique work was severely bowdlerized, thus removing all of its excellence and mnemonic power. Literary agents have had the work of editors sloughed off on them, and they have, in turn, sloughed it off on eighteen and nineteen year old interns. Thus, not only does the quality of literature suffer, but most of the industry today has no clue as to what will sell because one can fool the public with crap one time, but rarely twice, as many one hit wonder writers who have faded into oblivion can attest to. Great writers, and writers with real talent, are thus frozen out of the publishing game, at the lowest levels, and must rely on the growing power of the Internet, whose selling potential yet eludes most agents, editors, publishers, and even critics, and pay the price for the literary word’s obliviousness to both quality and salability. Thinking and discerning readers also suffer, for there is not anything of quality offered to engage them, much less move them to commerce, for, if quality is not published- nor even sought out, of course it won’t sell. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a bitch!


More Online Stupidity


  Lest one think this essay merely an envious online rant against the print world, fear not. I will now detail how equally clueless the online world is, for although I’ve had more success in getting published online than on paper- about four to one in favor of online credits, and growing, I’ve had about 60-70 pieces that have appeared in print- in venues as large and international as La Prensa, as prestigious as the UCLA Journal Of The American Indian, and in many smaller college and local journals, I recognize that the online community is no less susceptible to their own subtle and manifest biases and bigotries than the print side, especially confronted with writing that is superior to the usual crap that is posted.

  Here, for example, is an email exchange I had with the former editor of Culture Vulture, a website that had posted a review I did of the Marx Brothers film The Cocoanuts. Its editor, Arthur Lazere, was the founder, and the site was popular, and a good outlet for me to expand my online name value. However, when I sent a second review, on A Jacques Barzun Reader, it became obvious that Lazere was balking at posting it not because it was not brilliantly written, and critically incisive- it is, but because he had a personal bias for the writer of the book. While it was his right to not publish whatever he chose for whatever reasons, I feel that an honest reply is always needed when rejecting a work. But, just like the print world, Lazere could not muster a dram of honesty. His rejection was this:


Dan –


After spending considerable time editing the Barzun review, I have decided not to use it.

If you are going after a big target like that, the writing has to be far more precise, far less pretentious. It’s also a whole lot longer than our pieces run.



Arthur Lazere

Publisher and Editor


  Of course, this is like calling Halle Berry ugly. It’s flat out silly. The comments were just plain bizarre, and I felt it had to be the man was upset because I was ‘attacking’ a hero of his, or a former professor. If you click on the link above, to the posted piece, you will see that the review is precise, unpretentious, and accurate, as well as brilliantly worded. That Lazere added the bizarre comment about the piece being too long displayed his dishonesty, for, as I showed in my reply, it was well within the world limit he detailed to me:

Dan Schneider wrote:

3) Please note -- we generally are not interested in extended pieces, even when appropriate to the particular material.  I’m talking maximum 1,500 words.

From your 7/30/06 email. The piece is only 1450 or so words. It's a little longer than the Marx Bros. piece. Secondly:


Faulkner….said that one of Keats’ odes ‘was worth any number of old women.’ Such literary conceit is also bad logic. Life is good because it is the source and container of everything we value. It is old women, not Grecian urns, that have in their time borne Keatses and Faulkners.


  It’s amazing that a scholar could literally be so dense as to a) not see Faulkner was speaking metaphorically and b) not see Faulkner was speaking as an artist.


Lamenting the fact that so few book reviews quote well or cogently, I strive to pick good examples to not just TELL why something works nor fails, but SHOW it. I could have written a 10,000 word piece laced with quotes as the above, but this one was as good as any, and it's hard to be more precise than to show such an utter disconnect by Barzun.
Lastly, the very point of the review is to show Barzun's pretensions, as above. I would not need to write: ‘But a critic’s task is that of an unbiased evaluator, not a translator of the art. Translation may play a small part, in special circumstances, but it is the how of an art’s success that is the critic’s focus, not the why. To see art as an active verb not a static noun has bedeviled far greater critics than the too often lazy Barzun,’ were Barzun not guilty of the many misinterpretations, as he does with Faulkner.
If one is writing an essay on Immanuel Velikovsky's wacky astronomical theories, one cannot accuse the debunker of being as bad an astronomer as the person he's debunking, simply because he has to mention the bad ideas to refute them.
Of course, if you are a Barzun fan and simply don't like the piece, that's your right and choice, but two of the three stated reasons given are demonstrably false, and the third is subjective, at best.
That said, here is a totally different take, 100 words shorter, on someone at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum. DAN


  I attached a review of How To Draw A Bunny with this email and fully expected a cowardly reply, if any at all. I never received one, but, knowing the man was stepping down from Culture Vulture at the end of September, decided to let the matter go, for I’d not have to be dealing with such dishonesty and stolidity in the future.
  I emailed the exchange around to my e-list with this comment:


Here's an example of someone with a hidden agenda. Read my piece on Barzun below, then read what this fellow said. Keep in mind my fallout with The Simon website, where they, too, were dishonest. It wd not surprise me if this guy were a fan of Barzun or a former student. Now, Culture Vulture posted a brief review I did of a Marx Bros film. It's a good solid piece, written in a different vein, as I do for all my essays.
This one I skewer Barzun like a laser, but note how this fellow cannot be honest in his crits. This is not a 'safe' piece for him to post. Just look at most of his reviews they have online, and compare them with Cosmo's. No comparison. He wants generic, formulae.
Here's a game. Before I get a reply from him, can any of you tell me what you think a guy like this might say? Maybe he'll just ignore it, and reject the second piece w/o a word. We'll see. DAN


  He ignored it, but the claims in the email were just so bizarre. Was it envy? I mean, one only has to compare some of Lazere’s online reviews to mine and it’s clear that I am a far better writer and critic. Just compare his review of the latest Woody Allen film, Scoop, to mine. Lazere’s review is generic and leaves not a single image nor phrasing in the mind. My reviews always do that, at minimum, and often much more. Lazere was a practitioner of what I call critical somnambulism. Just look at the reviews of films at many online websites, or on Amazon, or IMDB and you will see what I refer to.

  When I followed up with the new editor of Culture Vulture, he immediately posted a review, and had none of the objections Lazere did. But he did inform me that Lazere had died, which was why he turned over Culture Vulture. Here were two online notices:


Arthur Lazere, the founder of this site, passed away on September 30. His Memorial Service will be held November 11 at 2pm at the Clift Hotel, 495 Geary Street, San Francisco. All are invited.


Arthur S. Lazere On Sept. 30, 2006, Arthur died peacefully and with dignity after succumbing to a long illness, in San Francisco, CA. He is survived by his sister Susan (Harold) Reichwald; his brother Andrew (Vicki) Lazere; and three nephews. Born and reared in New York, Arthur graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1957 and the University of Michigan in 1961. He completed his studies with an MBA from Columbia University's Business School in 1964. Arthur spent most of his professional life in San Francisco as a CPA and freelance writer for both print and electronic media. He was the creator, publisher and editor of Culture Vulture.net, a web based arts and entertainment review site. Arthur was a member of the Online Film Critics Society, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the International Association of Art Critics. Always active in community affairs, he served as a past board member of the United Way and was president of the Golden Gate Business Assoc. Arthur was a co-founder of the Horizons Foundation. A memorial service celebrating Arthur's life will be held at a date and time to be announced. Contributions in Arthur's memory may be made to the Horizons Foundation, 870 Market St, Suite 728, SF, CA 94102.


  I was a bit taken aback, thinking Lazere merely got tired with the site, as often happens, or that he had gotten a paying job. I even debated whether or not to include his idiocy in this essay, but chose to do so because even an illness is no excuse for dishonesty, most of all, although one might argue that possible chemotherapy may have scrambled his intellect, thus rendering him so stunningly obtuse. But, again, that cannot explain, and should not mitigate the dishonesty.

  Yet, if one accepts that a terminal illness and/or its treatment can partly mitigate Lazere’s behavior, what are the excuses that some other websites can offer? When I first started watching and reviewing foreign films I sought out film sites that had an interest in older and foreign films. Too many of them are merely review sites of the latest releases, as if more noise is needed online. One of the first sites I queried was a site specializing in older films, Not Coming To A Theater Near You. Again, as with Lazere, a quick comparison of the typical Not Coming review to mine shows a huge gap in the quality of the writing and the incisiveness of the criticism. Theirs hew more to the Ebertian Lowest Common Denominator, “I liked it/I hated it’ line, where my reviews are really essays that often mimic the film’s structure, and put the film in a greater artistic context.

  When they asked to see some reviews, I sent three to start off with, John Cassavetes’ Shadows, Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. I sent the review of Shadows first, and got this reply:


Rumsey Taylor wrote:


Sorry for the late reply, Dan. I'm sans computer at home (due to a logic board that needs replacement, whatever that is), and have been inordinately busy at work.
We did begin a round of edits on your submitted reviews, and frankly, we balked. I know you permitted us to excise portions of the text if we wanted; a manner of editing that extreme - or liberal - is not what we're accustomed to employing (mostly, we tighten and clarify, if necessary). As-is, we wouldn't be interested in publishing the reviews you submitted in their current form. Being as, in correspondence, you've demonstrated tastes that deviate from the mainstream, I would be very interested in what else you'd like to review.


  Ok, it’s clear from this email that something’s wrong. Just read the review of Shadows, and it’s clearly superior to anything on the Not Coming site. But, I let it go and submitted the other two pieces. I got this reply:


From: Rumsey Taylor rumsey@notcoming.com

Fri, Apr 7, 2006 at 11:05 AM


Hi Dan.

I've been inordinately busy lately, and have had little time to edit anything that's gone up.
That said, I've taken another gander at your reviews, and I'm still balking at a few things. Your thoughts are clear, but under-supported. For example, you cite the critical consensus of Shadows' "brilliance", and later refer to the critics as "myopic." These are generalizations, and are somewhat of an unwarranted jab. (You'd be excellent at writing polemics; are you familiar with Pauline Kael? I'm referring specifcally to her "Why are Movies so Bad?")
I know you've given me a green light to comb through your texts, but currently I don't have the time (we're launching an enormous feature in the coming week, and I've about a half-dozen reviews in the queue). I certainly appreciate your interest, but I would not be interested in publishing these reviews as-is.

  Of course, as with the Lazere exchange, these claims about my review of Shadows are ridiculous, and I detailed such in my reply, showing that his claims were far more apropos to the reviews on his own site:


Fri, Apr 7, 2006 at 3:31 PM

To: Rumsey Taylor rumsey@notcoming.com


While you certainly have a right to post anything you choose to or not, please do not fall back on distortions. The claim of myopia was preceded by this highly specific paragraph:


What most critics miss in this admission of Lelia is something far more cogent, which does hold up even to this day, and that is that Lelia’s declaration is not born out of some grand political need to transform society, but merely a part of the overall psychotic reaction the cockteasing and self-centered Lelia has when Tony wants to continue their lovemaking, declaring his love for her after one date. She turns cold, demanding, almost manically depressive and suicidal. Men in the arts world have all been here before, and what Cassavetes captures on film brilliantly distills the masochistic and immature nature that most artistic women tend to revel in, to the point of questioning whether she now ‘belongs’ to Tony.


That's hardly a 'generalization'. I point to a specific misreading of a scene that many critics, in researching the film, flat out flubbed. While you can think it a wrong interpretation, or reinterpretation on my part, please do not mischaracterize an objection so lazily, especially by stating it's unwarranted, when I state my reasons in detail. This lends one to think you either did not read the article, merely skimming it, or did not understand it, or the words you used in characterizing it. As for referring to other critics' characterizations of the films- that is hardly a generalization, rather a consensus. Therefore there's no need for specificity.
As for generalizations, I quote this from your recently posted review of The Mysterious Lady:


Garbo is, of course, the other standout feature of this film. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, she is a talent as well. Her surreal beauty makes it easy to overlook her sublime ability; she conveys thoughts and emotions with just a gesture or a glance. Garbo was a master at the art of silent film acting and had the ability to elevate some of the most vapid scripts into very good movies. This is one case in which the story did not have to rely completely on the magnificence of Garbo to make the film watchable.


  'Stunningly', 'talent', 'surreal', 'sublime', 'vapid'; all these go unextrapolated upon in the review. I'm not saying the reviewer needed to. This was his impression. My point is simply, if you've an objection for other reasons, fine. If you feel you do not wish to state what they are, fine, but if I send you a sublime sonnet, and you tell me there are only eleven lines when there are clearly 14, I'll object. You have a right to 'like' or 'dislike' any work of art, criticism, or even a theory, but simply justify it by what's there, not with offhanded, throwaway lines that are simply wrong in content and fact.
  Yes, I've written polemics, but whether it's an anti-war piece, a film review, a reinterpretation of Crime & Punishment, or an argument over the superior intellectual virtues of agnosticism over atheism, I back things up. Again, you can disagree, but to willfully mischaracterize is a form of deceit, and whether borne of sloth, ignorance, or malice, the end result is the same. Too often arts sites are like art groups, they become insular cliques that close in on themselves. This has destroyed many a good avenue an art headed in. The same is true with criticism, which can be an art.


  Needless to say, Taylor cowardly and dishonestly never replied. If one reads between the lines, however, it is fairly likely that the real reason he objected to the piece was not the demonstrably false claim that I was making generalizations, but likely because he thought my view on the scene of the cockteasing arts babe was somehow misogynistic. There is a vein of PC Elitism that often threads through such sites, especially those like Not Coming, which are not the purview of a single person- like Cosmoetica, or many of the other websites that feature my work regularly, such as LauraHird.com, Hackwriters, Alternative Film Guide, and They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? All of these sites, unlike the Web Del Sols or Not Comings, are run by individuals who have a strong idea of what their sites should be- i.e.- a vision, for better or worse. Sites run by committee always fall prey to the dumbest member of the committee, and the Lowest Common Denominator impulse. Thus, it’s no wonder that my essays and reviews on the above mentioned sites have proven to be amongst the most popular and read that they proffer.

  Another site run by committee is The Simon, which actually published a handful of my reviews until I severed my relationship with them after a couple of incidents where their PC and dishonesty turned me off. It wasn’t only that they refused to post a couple of negative reviews of mine, but the fact that they claimed the reviews were about things not worth their bother- even as they went the trite route of criticizing ‘safe’ topics, such as film star Tom Cruise’s idiocies. Then came the fact that they poorly edited my reviews, with no clue as to the fact that a great review is not merely a positive one, nor even one that makes good points, but one that shows the reviewer as an individual human being. For example, compare their review of the Sam Fuller autobiography, A Third Face with mine. You’ll note that their review is the same, save for dropping the final word/sentence/paragraph. Yet it’s that word which turns the review inside out and makes all the difference. Only a great writer and reviewer does little things like that. I also have experienced this elsewhere, such as a few reviews I did for The Dublin Quarterly. They even went further, chopping off whole paragraphs from the start and end, which made the review the generic thumbs up or down sort I think is fairly pointless. But The Simon went further and exposed their own hypocrisy, and this email is from when they rejected a review of 52 McGs I sent them:


Hi Dan,
So Tim and I both reviewed this, and I don't think it's quite right for us. The thing we like about your pieces is that they expose us to things you enjoy. It seems a little petty to run a negative review of a book that was published a few years ago. I hope this won't discourage you from submitting to us again. And I apologize for the delayed response. There's no excuse for that!
Best regards,


  Things to note- they run things by committee, they post what they ‘like’, not what is good, and they think it’s petty to run something negative- even though they run pieces attacking Hollywood stars and politics- again, very safe topics where one can remain general and paint with a broad brush. I replied:


Well, are you saying you only want positive pieces? Had I no interest in the book or the topic I'd not have read it. How is it petty to rip a book that's emblemic of all that's wrong with the publishing industry, but not petty to take shots at some big film stars? It's far easier, and less brave, to tackle an idiotic celeb or politician, no? Is it not more negative to really waste paper and pulp to put out a book that serves no purpose when there is good lit, and even worthwhile fluff that could be better served?
Here are 2 more pieces to choose from, on Oscar Wilde and a science book.  DAN

  The book review I sent them was by Peter D. Ward, Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, And The Greatest Catastrophe In Earth's History, which I mentioned earlier in this essay. Mr. Ward is obviously not all there, as I showed above, and when you read their rejection of the book review (they took the Wilde review, oblivious to the fact that I practice many of the tenets Wilde did in criticism) bear in mind that I actually gave a positive review to the book, something both Ward and The Simon editors miss, as both seem merely to have skimmed the review. Here is what they said regarding 52 McGs:


On 6/20/06, Editor editor@thesimon.com wrote:

Hey Dan,
Your points are well taken. But for us, the only reason to discuss something from the past would be to praise and bring attention to it. If you have a negative review of a current book (published in the last 2 or 3 months, lets say) then I think that has some value. But to be negative about something that's a few years old just seems petty. That's our feeling at least...
Anyhow... I'm excited to look at the new pieces and will be in touch soon.


  Well, as if I ever make points. Note, too, that this editor’s feelings matter more than his intellection- always a bad sign. Here was how he dissed and rejected the Ward review, after accepting the Wilde review, and saying that both reviews (the Wilde and the Ward) were ‘great’, and thanking me ‘very much’:


Editor editor@thesimon.com

Thu, Jul 27, 2006 at 12:14 PM


Hi Dan,
So sorry for the slow response....
We like the Gorgon book subject matter, but I think the tone doesn’t work when you insult him personally or when you talk about yourself:
1) ‘
If this goes against my usual criteria for recommending a book, so be it. If a man can't be willfully dissonant, on rare occasions, does his usual consistency have any virtue? As for Mr. Ward, he can thank me at a later date.’
2) ‘Yet, here is where idiot luck comes in. While Ward is no prose stylist, and one almost feels he is a primitivist or idiot savant banging away at keyboards, he made one very smart decision in writing this book, or, at least, a fortuitous one, which was to make this book less about 'hard science', and more about the soft stuff in between.’
I don’t know if you’re willing to re-work it a little and trim out any sections that are slightly nasty or belittling. It works nicely when you are talking specifically about the book.


  Note that the very things that make this review great, and not just the formulaic stuff of a hack, is what he wants trimmed, merely because he ‘likes’ that sort of writing. Look at other reviews on their website and you’ll see the formula. Yet, by Oscar Wildean barb-tinged standards, these are very tame criticisms, for these days, it’s hard to find any writers or critics who use humor at all, much less as well as I do. I replied:


Fri, Jul 28, 2006 at 8:18 AM

To: Editor editor@thesimon.com, Russell Brown russell@thesimon.com


I find it a bit disconcerting that you would have no qualms in running what many folks- Jew and non-Jew, wd consider a blatantly anti-Semitic piece, recently, or in your piece about film criticism, when you state, ' The truth is, most "critics" reviewing for newspapers and magazines have no business writing about film. Self-appointed and self-aggrandizing, you can generally sense the vacuousness of the thinking that compromises most of these "film reviews." Why certain people have been deemed worthy of sorting the good apples from the bad ones is pretty much beyond comprehension, and why every paper needs their own "film critic" is equally questionable.', yet quiver over my piece, or the earlier one I wrote on a book that highlights everything wrong with the print industry when you attack the film industry.
The only difference is I am succinct, specific, pointed, and funny. I did not, as example, see Roger Ebert nor Ken Turan or the like assailed for their gobbledygook. To be effective one needs to be pointed, and not paint with broad brushes- and humor is always an effective tool. I do however, agree with yr piece's assessment, and I don't think yr anti-Israel piece was offensive, but I'll guarantee you more folk will rail about that than wd ever rail over an obscure science writer being needled. I can only assume that broad invective is better for hits than pointed, and humorous asides, as well as 'safer'. And given that the piece submitted with the Gorgon review was about Oscar Wilde- the master of the pointed, personal humorous putdown, it seems bizarre that you would run a piece praising such a tactician, then reject one that is mild by Wildean standards. Of course, Wilde's dead, so that makes him safer.
My descriptions of Ward's work are accurate, as my later quote from him shows, and I actually do recommend the book. These sorts of passages you object to are the very things that separate me from a generic Ebert-Roper thumbs up-down mindless review, and make me a great writer. If you've read Wilde, Twain, Mencken, or any of the great critics, you'd see that. It also makes me wonder if, a century or so ago you'd be one of the folks defending Wilde, or quietly and safely roasting apples as he was damned?
So, no. My pieces are take'em or not. Below I have another review. I do find it a bit disturbing that you're only wanting to print positive reviews, and would like an explanation beyond, 'Well, we feel....' Surely, there is more to this iceberg than in your last email, and I think I deserve a real answer, whatever bias or ism it is you are subscribing to. Genericizing what you run is always slow suicide. There was nothing libelous in what I said. Regardless, perhaps the humor of Groucho Marx is more in style, and since he's dead, they're always safer to deal with.



  The piece I sent them was about Groucho Marx and his first film, but it never ran at The Simon. Ironically, it was picked up by the aforementioned Arthur Lazere at Culture Vulture, which, if nothing else, shows that even those with biases, have no logical reasons behind said biases. Here was The Simon’s reply:


Russell Brown <russell@thesimon.com>

Fri, Jul 28, 2006 at 9:21 AM


Hi Dan,
Thanks for your thoughtful response. In terms of printing positive reviews, what I had meant to convey was that printing a negative review of something that is a few years old seems a little pointless. The purpose of the "Diamond" column is to find things that have been overlooked and praise them. We're happy to print essays/commentaries on current topics that have a negative slant, as long as they're thoughtfully argued... In terms of going after people personally, for me it really has to be particularly funny or particularly insightful. What you had to say about Peter Ward didn't pass that test for me or my co-editor.
Best regards,


  Note, he cannot defend himself intellectually, so falls back on lazy feelings and distortions, such as claiming I attacked ward personally. Look at the piece, and it’s clear that I attack the writing. Granted, the later email from Ward displays some sort of mental or psychic instability, but the review is deadly accurate in its assessment. How is my specific quotation and description of the book not thoughtfully argued? It is, thus why the fall back to wan emotionalism and the subjective like/dislike critical axis.

  I replied, and also brought up the bowdlerizing of the Fuller review:


Fri, Jul 28, 2006 at 1:00 PM

To: Russell@thesimon.com


Putting aside the evasion of my last email's actual point, you took on a nebulous construct- film criticism, and did not dare take on a single reviewer, w/o an example. Ultimately, that smacks far more of pettiness, and envy, than a humorous jibe at an unknown, in a piece that actually recommends the thing in question, unlike your piece.
Again, it may be treading on whatever PC bounds you have set, but there has to be an iceberg underneath these evasions. Again, how can you logically want to run a piece on Oscar Wilde, a man whose reputation as a snarky social critic preceded any fame in the theater, and not run a piece that is clearly in that vein? Now, you cannot think that the jibes were funny, but the assessments of the books were dead on.
Why or how would being the 996th negative reviewer of the latest Spielberg crapola fest be anything of merit? The garbage of a Spielberg only exists because of the mountain of lesser known crap that buoys it up. If you allow that iceberg to prevent you from running pieces that cogently dissect and rebut the little pierces of swill floating around in the cultural cosmos, you are merely aiding their purveyors, and abnegating any effective role as a cultural critic. Yes, an unknown scientist is not as 'sexy' a topic as the 5 millionth opining on the Jews and the Arabs, but my piece is far more likely to persuade its readers.
As for anything personal, if you actually read the piece, and not just skimmed it, I go after the writing, never the person. Here's what you quote: 'While Ward is no prose stylist, and one almost feels he is a primitivist or idiot savant banging away at keyboards, he made one very smart decision in writing this book, or, at least, a fortuitous one, which was to make this book less about 'hard science', and more about the soft stuff in between.'
That is a comparison. I am not calling him a primitive or idiot savant. This is not semantics, but a clear distinction.
Similarly, in the Fuller piece you posted, you dropped the last paragraph, the single word 'Quoth:' which turned Fuller's trite quoted sentiment inside out, and opened the piece up to include the readers and voices he mentioned. That's a brilliant touch that raised the piece up beyond mere review. Yet, it was lost.
In short, I'd appreciate an honest reply. I have stated things straight up to you. I do not play PC games, and if you are not willing to be honest with me, and state what really was behind not publishing the piece, I think it's best to sever our professional relationship. It's a shame, but the choice is yours. If you do want to converse honestly, let me know about the Groucho piece. If not, good luck, but beware the ocean liners the icebergs crumple.  DAN


  If you look at most of the pieces run by The Simon it is clear that a PC tinge infects it, and that attacking Right Wing politics is ok, and can be unsupported, but if you are actually specific about a work of art, then that’s not ok. This was why I dumped them. Their lone reply was this:


Russell Brown russell@thesimon.com

Fri, Jul 28, 2006 at 1:13 PM


Hi Dan,
I'm not sure what else to say. It just wasn't for us. I think you're right: We have different ideas on criticism, and I think it'd good to end things. Good luck with everything and thanks again for your contributions in the past.
Best regards, Russell Brown


  The thing to note, above and beyond the poor reasoning and fall back to emotionalism is that, even after multiple attempts to extract the real reason for their not running my two reviews, the editor still cannot be honest. Does actually telling the truth ever occur to people like this? No, it’s never even on the radar. Why is another aspect that would likely take far longer than this essay allows. I forwarded the above email exchange to my e-list, with this caveat, so younger writers will see the hurdles that honesty and excellence bring:


Sat, Jul 29, 2006 at 5:48 PM

To: undisclosed-recipients


To the younger people on my e-list who've wanted some criticism recently. Here is a perfect example of all that's wrong with publishing.
This online site published 5 or 6 of my pieces, yet they were too pc to run anything that was not a piece of praise.
Yet, despite the PC, note the lack of honesty in this exchange- on his end. Manifestly, there's something gnawing at him, but he refuses to answer my direct queries, and instead willfully misconstrues and misattributes things like a personal attack that clearly are not. And, in reply to his last comment, the difference is I actually CRITICIZE in my criticism, and do so specifically, not nebulously, as well as being consistent in my argument and views.
If one cannot be intellectually honest with strangers, what hope is there for people to be honest with those closest to them? This is clearly someone responding emotionally, because he evades direct intellectual queries.
This is the sort of thing that unfortunately passes too often for discourse in these times. DAN


  Of course, there is a mixture of both stupidity and dishonesty in these emails, and the separation of the idiocies written of here are, in part, judgment calls. One could as easily put the online idiocies of Lazere, Not Coming, and The Simon in with the dishonesty displayed by the literary agents. Now, however, let me turn outward, and show some examples of dishonesty and stupidity from selected emails I’ve gotten.


Poetic Horror


  I have received countless emails from readers of Cosmoetica, and most of them I do not even reply to any longer. I get submissions of terrible poetry, nasty emails, and even nice emails from people who are clearly clueless as to art. The frustrating thing is that there really is nothing I can do to help them, save for writing my essays and hoping a bit of knowledge or insight penetrates their thick crania.

  The worst people, however, are not the FUCK YOU! Neoliths who dominate blog comments, nor trolls of the same, but those utterly clueless homunculi who inhabit Academia, and whose stolidity and idiocy dominates both the teaching of literature and the publication of it- both in Academic presses and, eventually, when MFA graduates creep into, the retail publishing world. One such Academic is a man named David Rothman. He is a minor poetaster whose name I’ve seen on a handful of poems over the years. They are bad poems, although- to be fair, not the worst poems out here. He’s better than current Poet Laureate Donald Hall or Maya Angelou. But, he’s still bad.

  To give you an idea of the weakness of his writing, let me quote from some poems of his I found online, at this this website. Those familiar with my This Old Poem essays will be familiar with my usage of underlining clichés. The lack of music, poor imagery, prose broken into lines, and lesser offenses I will not even digress on.

  Here is a snippet from a Rothman poem called Breaking The Jug. It was originally published in the Kenyon Review, a ‘name’ literary magazine:

And the gigantic axis of the world
Crossed for the last time, like swords.
Its cheap seam glinted tragically


  Then later:


We lay spattered with wreckage, laughing.
The room was bathed in the continuing light
Of an afternoon.  As shadows slowly traveled
Away from themselves, the brilliant shards
Sparkled like the traffic coursing the streets below,
Each shoe and hubcap searching for that destination
Where all things might join again with light and love
And thereby return to their senses.


  Here’s a poem from Poetry magazine called One Of The Lords Of Life:


….I do not think I missed my chance
With you, but took it where it lay —
As if I had the choice.
You are still prompting my words
Away from deep, high speculation
And into one breath after another
The coincidence of dusk and sage,
The distant glow of Phoenix, and the dying sun.
As I climb slowly up into these thoughts,
Remembering my long, headlong descent,
On which I lost the trail, then found it again
And walked out from the mountains in darkness


  As one can tell, originality is no strong point of Rothman’s, and the reliance on clichés reeks, but these are the sort of tenth rate nature poems that poetasters create, and do so to try to evince their depth and ‘oneness’ with all things, for this Whitmanian ‘oneness’ is all they can grasp of nature, as their simpleminded imitations of Whitmanian, Hopkinsian, or Jeffersian images and lines displays.

  This next Rothman snippet is from an overwritten poem called Going Downhill, published in Mountain Gazette. Here is its start:


Eager to commit metaphor, heartbreak, and other angelic mistakes
And ambitious for far more than grades, I decided to ditch school and go skiing,
So therefore briefly leapt into a number of dead-end jobs to fund my questions.
Julie couldn’t believe I cared so much about mountains,
So when he came to visit she threw herself on and off Cliff, my roommate
Although there were probably a lot of other reasons for it as well,
Including the fact that he was irresistibly charming
And I certainly had my flaws. But at any rate I decided
In the foolish, stubborn, unforgiving way of young people everywhere
That that was the end of that, although I thought it was funny
When Cliff explained what had happened by describing life as an eternally unfolding flower.
And yet how could I not now still love them both in that passion-tangled memory
Where in faith only love can sustain any arc of worthy meanings.


  Note how the self-consciousness is so forced, with the ‘commission of metaphor’, etc. Then, note how this section ends with mushy sentimentality. Also note how wholly prosaic this piece is. Why are some lines ended where they are? If this were put into a prose paragraph, would anything be lost? No. The poem continues off into retread ideas and bad nature poem imagery, then ends by a banal ripoff of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famed ‘invisible eyeball’. This actually reminds me of  apoetaster who once wrote a ripoff of Whitman’s famous end of Song Of Myself, stating, ‘Look for me under your boot,’ rather than Whitman’s ‘boot-soles.’ Rothman is barely above that level here, so I am not going to bother to underline the clichés because they are so obvious:

Or a naked eyeball, universal currents whispering along your edges
About a freedom, a liberation, an unleashing of every quantum wave’s options,
A moment that lasts forever in its purity, its utter touch and song,
Like a sequence of chords that opens a window somewhere, a woman singing…
Until suddenly time falls out of itself, bounces like an apple dropped on a hard wood floor,
You pull up and throw your skis sideways in a long sweet hockey skid and as the danger peels away
The world returns, comes back into the dull roar of becoming, as if you have stepped back down
Out of truth into a cave which is the same world but somehow more confusing
And your coach and friends come up to you and say “Nice run! You’re in 10th,”
And everyone else is standing around smiling and blissful as if they’ve just made love to the moon.
And then for the rest of the day it feels as if every hair on your body is singing, electric,
Every pore is aching to return to that province of transformation,
Every dark bud on your tongue claims to have tasted immortality,
No doubt the way they feel after a big day riding giants at Sunset, Pipeline, Jaws, Waimea Bay or Mavericks,
No doubt the way they feel after repairing bolts on the space station, or free soloing El Cap,
Or kayaking Lava at high water in the Grand or, as we all know it can be, making a new friend
Or falling in love or teaching a child how to add fractions,
When even in your dreams you are flying, flying, changed, alive, utterly in love with the world,
Utterly compelled in the grip of its necessary gravity yet utterly willing,
Every obscure forest in which you find yourself now merely a means to glide downward on extended wings into the wildest grace.


  I bring up Rothman as a great example of the horrid writers/poets that have flooded Cosmoetica over the years because he was selected by an online poetry magazine called Marginalia to be the editor of an issue to which a great poem of mine was sent to. The poem is called Pittsburgh. Here is the text:



“….living only one life, we can

neither compare it with our previous

lives, nor perfect it in our lives

to come.”- Milan Kundera,

             The Unbearable Lightness Of Being




by Elsie Driggs




Ahold of a truth holding nothing, but once,

you move between the smog and smokestacks,

limned by the steel where no heaven girds,


as I marvel the beauty of the third one

right. The belch of your industry

gone silent, for the moment. Arranged


to particular angles, and shifts, the men

within are the less-observed of thing

that the smog derides in its billowy cool


descent to pineal bowels, seen in dreams

or art, a soot-laced otherman, in rhapsody,

with perspective. Precise as a death,


under the noise of turbines, the final love

of life encloses to coruscation, and stars

drimmer on. Having had your flesh of iron,


Pittsburgh, I am drawn to the incomparable

love of rain that makes your face bearable,

as my lover’s, my hand moves her smoke-


filled eyes. Many years removed I remember

the place, the face, the thought, imperfected,

of which makes (an) enormous desire, where I said:


     I will be the first to notice your wrinkles, and not



  One need not even be a poetry expert to see this poem is shorn of clichés and prose masquing as poetry. In other words, this poem is everything great poetry should be and nothing that published contemporary poetry is. Yet, in emailing me about the poem, here is what Rothman had to say, with my interpolated comments in red. Look at the utter stolidity that this man displays, and then reread his own ‘poetry’, and then ask yourself what sort of a Twilight Zone world of Academia do we live in where a talentless writer, hack, and apparatchik like Rothman is in any position to pass judgment on a writer like me, or any other one of real quality? And shudder when you consider that he is teaching young, future writers.


From: Dan Schneider

Thu, Oct 12, 2006 at 8:16 AM

To: "David J. Rothman" rothmandavidj@msn.com



On 10/11/06, David J. Rothman <rothmandavidj@msn.com> wrote:


Dear Dan Schneider:

My name is David J. Rothman and I am writing because I was recently asked to step in and serve as Poetry Co-Editor for Marginalia.  You sent us a submission quite some time ago (on February 8 -- I apologize for the delay in getting back to you), that includes the poem "Pittsburgh."  I like this poem quite a bit and am interested in publishing it, but have a few questions and suggestions.  I think you may have received an erroneous message rejecting the poem -- please ignore it!

Here is the version you sent us:


A few questions and comments:

***Thanks for your email. First off, the poem is done- take it or leave it. I'll explain a bit, here or there, but I'm not going to explain the whole poem- it is its best explanation. One cannot explain a great work of art, which this is, by parsing it wholly logically.
If one does not accept that a person can overnight turn into a bug, then Kafka's Metamorphosis is pointless.
This is a poem based upon a painting. Most such poems are mere recapitulations of what is sees. To use the cliché- a picture's worth a 1000 words, so most such poems fail and are pointless. This poem stands alone, but is enhanced if you know the painting.

It's a painting of a factory with smokestacks- a Precisionist painting.


Note that I am aware of clichés. This may seem a minor point, but not as you read on, and then can understand why his poetry is so unpoetic.


This poem is a compelling evocation and elegy of a gritty city, and of a painting you clearly admire.  It reminds me of some of Sandburg's poems about Chicago, although of course the diction and approach are quite different.  There are a few things that I don't quite follow, however...

Is the epigraph really necessary? It is unclear what it adds to the poem.  Kundera has little to do with Pittsburgh and you say what you need to say in that first line. 

***Epigraphs sum up a theme or give something for a work of art to play off of. Who said it matters not- that's only credit. It's what is said, and that says something quite different and apart from the opening line or the rest of the poem. What is the play between the two? In reading, you seem to want everything spelled out. The very fact that you are thinking says the poem is doing something that 99.99% of published poems do not do for a reader. If the epigraph was something that merely said smog sucks or Pittsburgh is dull, there'd be no point in its placement in the poem.


  My point about Rothman’s needing everything spelled out is borne out when one reads his ‘poetry’, where he has to tell, tell, and tell some more, but very poorly.


On the other hand, something about Elsie Driggs would be helpful, as I doubt most readers will know who she was...


***She painted the painting. That's the only thing you need to know. That she was a nympho, a lesbian, a dwarf, or a Lutheran with thick calluses has nothing to do with the poem, just as who stated the epigraph has nothing to do with it. Kundera and Driggs are merely two resources the poem uses. Their names or lives are incidental to the poem. I'm just giving credit.


  Reread what Rothman says. Again, he has to know things about Driggs. Why? What would any knowledge about her help him with? This is the Academic fallacy that all art is personal, and inextricably so. That the work can stand alone, regardless of its provenance, is something that these sorts of people simply cannot understand. Would Moby-Dick be any the less compelling had it been written by a preacher who never left Oklahoma, and merely imagined all the details and characters?


"...the men / within are the less-observed of thing / that the smog derides..."  The syntax here is unclear to me, particularly "the less-observed of thing."  Why "of"?  Is that word necessary?

***How is an observed of thing different from an observed thing? The of adds a specificity and import. Why might that be important in a poem about visual art? Could seeing be a clue?


  Look at the ungodly amount of wasted thought over things that are not debatable. He’s not asking why something might be used instead of another, but assuming something is not right, and then trying to justify its omission. This is a classic tack bad minds use. They do not deal with the art presented, but their own biased desires, and seek to turn the art into what they like, rather than- pro or con, deal with what is there. By my last sentence I’m starting to tweak Rothman’s God-awful stolidity. But, hey, it’s a poem on a visual art, and he’s utterly clueless.


"a soot-laced otherman..."  The noun agreement here seems odd to me, as we have gone from "men" to "man".  How about "soot-laced othermen"?

***The otherman is not referring to the men referred to earlier, but is a metaphor for the prior clause's nouns. The dreams or art are collectively the thing referenced. The plural form would be grammatically incorrect. This is a poem, not a Dick & Jane primer.


"encloses to coruscation" is obscure to me without the painting to see...?

***So, look up the painting if you need it to be explained. However, in a painting that shows a factory, I doubt you'll see love glowing brightly. This is called metaphor.


  Now, I really destroyed him with that last sentence. But, look at his feeble attempts at metaphor- they are all trite. He cannot think freshly or anew. Literally, this man, who later I found out was a Phd., needs me to treat him like a first grader.


In "Having had your flesh of iron," "had" strikes me as a weak verb at a powerful moment.

***Had indicates the past tense. The present tense would put the speaker in midst of an act that would lessen the act later described in the prsent tense. Also, the present tense could be read as a sexual act, or the speaker literally having iron skin. Had does not add this confusion. The had clearly makes it an active situation, not a metaphor for a physical thing. This is very clear if you actually read the words, understand tenses, and are engaged with the poem as presented, and not trying to make it a bland, condescending exercise as most so-called poetry today is. This is why workshops suck- they breed conformity and kill off gray matter that can be used to understand and challenge minds that long for the trite.


"Pittsburgh, I am drawn to the incomparable / love of rain that makes your face bearable..."  This strikes me as overwritten and abstract.  To be drawn to the love of rain is not to be drawn to the rain.  Consider: "Pittsburgh, I am drawn to the rain / That makes your face bearable."


***"To be drawn to the love of rain is not to be drawn to the rain." Exactly. Why is that different, and why do I say that? Could it be that my version is more musical, and that the emotion makes the face bearable, not the droplets of water? What does water usually symbolize in a love poem? How is that subverted by my phrasing vs. your trite rewrite?


  I didn’t even mention his dashing a superb enjambment after ‘incomparable’. Yet, even in his remark, he can at least note a difference in the phrases. That he cannot see why mine is better is the real problem. The truth is, I could have really devastated him far worse than I do, but I laid off. Need I really humiliate the dumb? Never let anyone say I am not compassionate toward the mentally challenged.


"as my lover's" -- Shouldn't this be "like my lover's"?

***Why? As is not merely a synonym for like. What other meanings could there be?


"my hand moves her smoke- / filled eyes."  Not quite clear what this may mean.

***Pittsburgh, even if never there, is known as an industrial city. What is the poem's title?  Could the city be anthropomorphized in the feminine? Now, think. With this knowledge, revealed in this line, reread many of the other line's you don't get. How does that change your interpretation of the poem?  In great art, there is always the ineffable. To try to render a Rilke poem, or this, or a Dali painting, to mere words is to make the art artless. Why would you want to do that? Why is there this desire to dumb down things? And that is what it is. If you have to wonder why 'as' is used instead of 'like', we are beyond mere questioning, and into a defacement of art, for a dictionary can resolve why one word is different than another, especially when they can have different meanings.
You start this email with the term 'like' for why you are writing of the poem. It's nice that you like it, but your understanding it's greatness is more important, and 30 pages of explaining it will not make you 'get it'. Like is subjective, excellence is far more objective. This is poetry. Maya Angelou is a Hallmark Card. There is an objective difference in the level of the writing. You can like Maya like verse better, but that does not make it better art.


  Now, I’ve gone way over Rothman’s head. Ain’t I a stinker?, as Bugs Bunny used to say? As I’ll show later in this essay, in some online blog encounters, there is nothing that galls the ignorant more than having their ignorance shown up….and then being made fun of in regards to it.


"of which makes (an) enormous desire,"  Again the syntax is confusing to me here.  Why the parentheses?  And why "of"?

***Parentheses generally denote an option- could this mean that the line can be read with or without the word? What does that doe to the line and the rest of the poem? In the last line, the of references the thought. How is the 'thought of which' different from 'the thought which'? Could one be referencing the thing, and the other the cogitation of the thing- the thought? I do not choose words willy-nilly. There is a clear delineation. You may not 'like' it. So?


As you may imagine, there was a bit of a shakeup at the journal, and I came in at the last moment to help out.  As a result -- despite your patience in waiting so many months for a reply -- we are now up against our printing deadline.  If you could let me know what you think about these comments as soon as possible, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks for sending this intriguing poem.



David J. Rothman
Guest Poetry Co-Editor


***Thanks for the email. Publish it as is or not. I do not condescend to my readers. That's why my website, one of ten million or so online, has a readership of 60+ million so far. I am not like the rest of the detritus out there. I actually respect art, thought, and people. I write so they are forced to look up to things in life, not down upon them. This poem is an example of a challenge with a great reward. To bowdlerize it, as you suggest, is to genericize it. This is why workshop poetry sucks. and we have a doggerelist like Donald Hall as Poet Laureate. He could live a 1000 years and never write a poem this good. But, I'm sure you've never paused a second to wonder why a Hall cliché is the way it is. When you can ask yourself why that is, and why that's not a good thing, you'll be in a much better place to read and love poetry. Especially the great. Thanks, DAN


  Note that Rothman concedes the poem is ‘intriguing.’ But, I knew he’d not post it because I made him look like a fool, without even breaking a sweat. But, Cosmoetica has a far larger audience than Marginalia, and it’s not like even if published, as is, there, it would have done anything for me. But, those practicalities aside, a first grade finger painter has no intellectual coinage with a Picasso nor Goya. The only thing I wondered was how would Rothman respond? My bet was on a terse rejection, for what could he really say? And given the abysmal level of his own versifying, and worse- his own fundamental lack of understanding poetry, he would not dare a response, for he knew that if I could destroy him offhandedly, what might he suffer if he riled me with a FUCK YOU attack.

  He responded as I thought, and here was my comment to the e-list:


Dan Schneider wrote:

Thu, Oct 12, 2006 at 6:07 PM

Total cowardice. How could he respond? This'll be great for my essay.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: DAVID ROTHMAN < rothmandavidj@msn.com>
Date: Oct 12, 2006 1:18 PM
Subject: Re: Your submission to Marginalia

Dear Dan Schneider;

Thank you for your response.  I decline to publish the poem.  I wish you the
best of luck in placing it elsewhere.

David J. Rothman


  One can only wonder how his fingers were quivering, and his teeth were clenched, as he typed this, fully knowing I might smite him if he tried any dickwaving. Yet, this is utterly typical of the Academic mindset, and note how in league with the Lowest Common Denominator mindset of the agents it is, as well as the biased rejections of the online editors. Here is Rothman’s online bio, which, if you know the sort of life he’s led, and his utter lack of creativity, well explains his emails and ignorance:


David J. Rothman was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1959.  He did his undergraduate work at Harvard and then received an MA in English from the University of Utah and a PhD in English from New York University.  He has lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, since 1993.  In the 1990s he co-founded and served as the first Executive Director of the Crested Butte Music Festival and then became the third Headmaster of Crested Butte Academy, an independent boarding and day school.  He has also served as Executive Director of the Robinson Jeffers Association and is the founding Publisher and Editor of Conundrum Press, a small press devoted to writers of the west, especially poets.  Rothman is the author of three books of poetry, Dominion of Shadow (1996), The Elephant’s Chiropractor  (1998), which was a finalist for the 1999 Colorado Book Award, and Beauty at Night (2002).  He is also the editor of The Geography of Hope: Poets of Colorado’s Western Slope. His poems have appeared in Agni, Appalachia, The Atlantic, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, The Literary Review, Mountain Gazette, Poetry, and scores of other journals.  His essays on a wide range of subjects have also appeared widely.  He works as a free-lance writer on a wide range of subjects and teaches part-time at Lighthouse Writers in Denver and at Western State College in Gunnison.  He lives in Crested Butte with his wife and two sons.


  As a humorous aside, let me quote from some online blurbs that Rothman includes at the above mentioned website. Now, compare this fellatio about his doggerel with the incisiveness and cogency of my comments about his ignorance of my great poem? Here ‘tis:


"The qualities I love in David Rothman’s poetry—vitality, variety and precision—are those I love in all the best poets. Whether he’s writing about China, New York or the Western Slope of Colorado, his poems bring me close to his own wildly learned personality. The Elephant’s Chiropractor is by turns funny, and deeply moving; its art affirms life."  -- David Mason"


What impresses one first about David J. Rothman is his immense imaginative and intellectual range, but the more one reads his striking and exuberant poetry the more deeply one feels its emotional force and quiet but genuine ferocity. He is an Apollonian touched by the divine madness of Dionysus. Diverse, demanding, and delightful, his poems abundantly reward the reader’s attention." -- Dana Gioia


"These wonderful poems are by a man who has wandered around inside of himself a long time, knocking on door after door, discovering in the end that the world is his lover." -- James Tipton


"You can almost hear Rothman’s heart pounding triumphantly as he seizes upon and captures yet another of the small, ephemeral, but ultimately defining moments that can bring a soul to its knees or raise it to the heavens."  -- Lynda La Rocca


  Yes, this is the sort of tripe that criticism has devolved to. When you get praise for the man, not the art, as in blurb one, you know you’re in trouble. That it comes from a hack who believes that any art, specially the bad, ‘affirms life,’ does not even deserve comment. Then we get NEA domo and hack Dana ‘Sugar Daddy’ Gioia, who uses every overwrought modifier his limited imagination can conjure, although not a one is applicable to the poems Rothman displays. Tipton’s comment is so unwittingly self-parodic that I shall not say more. La Rocca’s comments read like they’re from a deleted scene of Dead Poet’s Society.

  To those who think that there is nothing but the negative in this essay, well, that’s the point. The modern state of American deliterature- the willful bastardization of reading skills and the written word, not the lack of same, need not be alleviated. However, I am not one unwilling to praise. You may think that it’s innately unfair of me to compare a great poet, like myself, with a poetaster, like Rothman, and you may have a point; save that it was Rothman who opened himself up to a flaying with his ridiculously, well, plain old dumb email. But, let’s compare Rothman to someone whose work should be literarily less than his. How about a sixteen year old boy? Surely, A PhD. is better than a teenager?

  Well, how about this teenager, Neil Hester, who recently sent me a terrific little poem that I posted on Vers Magnifique? Go ahead, click back up and reread the prose lines broken into verse from Rothman’s work, and read this poem by a sixteen year old:


A Difficulty In Parenting

A wrinkled lump of faithful skin
Lay curled at my daughter's door.
The dog was tired; I took her kin
And tucked him in; he didn't snore.

When she awoke, "Oh, where is Spot?"
I said he pulled a Peter Pan.
For after all, a dirty cot
Cannot compete with Neverland.

A foolish hoax, I must admit,
An act that kindles no applause.
My daughter beamed; and I regret
I've yet another Santa Claus.

  Ahem. So, now we know that a PhD who is called upon to edit a magazine cannot tell great poetry from his own doggerel, and cannot even write anything to compare with a talented sixteen year old. someone who’s been alive likely half as long as Rothman’s been writing his poetastry.

  But, if my talents as an editor, for seeing the good quality of a Hester’s verse over a Rothman’s is not enough proof, then let me show you a poem I rejected for publication anywhere in Cosmoetica but this essay. The truth is I get flooded with thousands of bad poems per year, by people who have obviously never read a single good poem posted on this site- be it mine, my wife’s, those of the Uptown Poetry Group, those in Vers Magnifique, nor those in the Neglected Poets pages. Even more manifestly, they’ve never read a single literary essay of mine. That’s their right, of course, but I’ve no obligation to even respond to such terrible work, for the likelihood is I will only get endless ignorance and bile, and the reality is I’m mortal, and only have so much time; time more well spent giving plaudits and advice to writers with real talent.

  Here was an email I recently received:


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Doris C. Runey < druney5884@wideopenwest.com>
Date: Oct 22, 2006 6:42 PM
Subject: Neglected Poets

Dear Mr. Schneider,

  I am not sure, finally, if I qualify as Neglected Poets, or Vers Magnifique., since I am both "incidentally" published (but a few times on the net and once in print), but otherwise largely unpublished.  What may be of interest, however, is that I am a bilingual writer and poet, so the enclosed poems were written first in Romanian and then self-translated into English.  I am also a translator with three books to my credit, which further obscures my qualifications, I suppose. Presently I am a visiting professor of English at Oakland University, but my current passion is to produce an independent film based on my translation and adaptation of Ionel Teodoreanu's 1935 Romanian novel, Lorelei.

  Thank you for your time and consideration.


Doris Runey

Visiting Assistant Professor of English

526 Wilson Hall

Oakland University

Rochester, MI 48309





  At least, unlike Rothman, she does not claim to be a PhD., for her poetry is even worse than his. Yes, there are many rings in the Inferno. In the interest of fairness and kindness to Ms. Runey, I will not quote the whole of the awful poems, just a few selections. And, no, unlike Rothman’s crap, I won’t even annotate its horror. If you believe I need to, stop reading this essay. Really, go to Web Del Sol or some other piece of shit online networking site, for you do not deserve to read real literature nor its criticism. I mean it- STOP reading, right now! As for the remaining readers, thanks. As for Runey? Again, what is someone like this doing anywhere near the young minds of writers who may have some slim potential?

  Here is a bit from her poem called The Dream-English Version, published online at The Center for Romanian Studies, UK:


I dreamed I was on a strange shore that was

beaten to a blush by sun and wind,

            and in this invention of

loneliness was I barely discernible

on a beach so indifferent to


and to the sun

and to the wind.


It was in a grey hour

            whose moment marked itself

against my profile in opposition to the passing

of time;


I don't know anymore

precisely when I realized that

            my shadow had been missing

but as I felt with my hand

the sand was cold at her last sojourn.


All hope then crumbled into

            grains of quicksand

into which my soul, heavy with

passion slipped away,

            and I understood how small is


and how great is silence when you

            can hear the rattling of your own bones.


            I awoke, finally, swaddled in a

shroud woven as though by a

merciful spider, from the spindle of



            conscious with every blink of my eyes

that burned with sleep

and wind

and sun that any movement would collapse me

            into salt and ash.

I felt my frail breaths through the

            tightening and loosening of the

cloth that began to tear from this profound release;


            I sensed myself so close against the

            breast of neance that the space I began to fill

  with my pathetic, withered form

was not part of the molecular plane of time's movement


I was embraced and yet not integrated

in this place damned by

the sun and

the wind


            my soul sequestered in this forgotten beach.


Where once I was spiteful of tears that

            fell as though for no reason,

where I was once spiteful of all the love

that was contiguous with my body and being when I

            loved you,

            I am now spiteful of this forsaken spot

that mocks me with the contradiction of my




            I fell asleep.

I fell asleep without struggle or remorse,

rocked by my bones that beat like the

            sound of the toacă towards midnight,

and I dreamed I wrote your name in the sand


and the wind slowed,

and the sun left off,

and the swaddling began to melt in

            muscle and meat and nerves upon me like a



The waves approached  this strange shore

resurrected by the sun

and the wind,

like regrets,

            and I understood how small is the pain

            of sorrow, and how great

is need, when you can still cry beyond death.


And it was then I wept a tear—

            a single, hot tear that turned the sand to

a glass bottle where it fell; and into it I poured

the sleep

and the dream

and the death of this


this shore so indifferent to me

the sun

and the wind.


I hurled it toward the horizon, toward you,

toward the west,

            and the further the sea carried it, the smaller this

            cursed space became, until my soul

long buried, rose toward the sun.


After, I awoke on a strange shore,

beaten to a blush by

the sun and

the wind,

            and I found your name written in the sand.

I sat down beside it, and fell asleep

and dreamed that you once loved



  I apologize. As I was rereading this I was rapt by its utter banal horror, and decided I needed to let its sinistry go unabated till the end. What’s worse: the unending stream of clichés, the bad enjambment meant to give added import to words like ‘living’ or ‘cipher’, the utter lack of music, the total genericism of this poem’s whole approach, or the inexplicable line indentations, almost always on the worst phrases in the stanzas?

  This may shock the regular readers of Cosmoetica, but I really do feel bad for writers like this. This is not a gibe, but people who write like this make me feel like most people who are at a supermarket do when they see an 800 pound man coming, or a dwarf, or a Down’s Syndrome child. It’s horrible, but you are stunned at the grotesque ways a human being’s shape can be distorted, so you look and are thankful you’re average looking. Here is my query, and it applies to Rothman, and the hundred of other talentless drones in Academia: how can anyone in the educational field not realize what utter bad writing this is? HOW? I doubt she’s been as critically and Academically fellated as Rothman has. He, at least, admits he’s been a giver and a taker, but Runey claims to be a virtual naïf, an Academic virgin. It’s astounding that such utter vacuity can exist, and deludedly so. Now, again, compare her poem to Neil Hester’s.

  Ok, before I get accused of abusing my audience, here is a poem by Runey that is not as bad, for it’s far shorter, and I will only include its worst part- the middle 70% or so. It’s called, ***groan***, The Mulberry Tree, and was published in Metamorphoses Journal, in the spring of 2005:


Beneath its branches overwhelmed with

buds of longing that seem to ripen

over my mouth

I nibble at the sweet fruit


one by one I break the berries

and the mash settles on my tongue


I taste the longing

at last, catching quickly with my hand

the juice that trickles off my lips

like the sudden harvest of

kisses in their yearning


for a moment the mulberry shares my spirit

and for an instant I forget that I

lived years without kisses,


  Now, one might accuse me of picking on Ms. Runey. I swear, I’m not, but I’ve done a number of essays that show the bad writing of hipsters and the like, so now I must show what awaits young writers like Hester, and others with talent, as they ply ahead into college, and writing courses. It is for them that I write this essay, after all. The Rothmans and Runeys are far beyond my help, even if they sort laving.

  The final poem she sent was another far too long piece of crap called Gideon Moon – (For DVR), and it was claimed to be unpublished. Here is its first stanza:


The sky was too vast for the night to fill and so my heart

climbed in its purpose

to dance at last among the stars this once. The flowers crowded

all around in perfumed envy, when he opened his arms to me.

 So casual he seemed

and yet resigned in his invitation that I demurred, but quickly accepted

while in the corner

fire churned in the belly of a hollowed-brick gourd.

The moment was more than I could afford

  yet too precious to lose;

he would have me, indeed, by moonlight and music, this I knew

and I could no more choose to

deny him than not rejoice at such kind serendipity.


  The fire churning in the gourd is at least an attempt at subverting the cliché, but look at all the clichés about it. My fuckin’ God! And this is not the place to get into the music and enjambment. Literally, I swear, I cannot write as badly as this. My body and mind would not allow me to. Six horrific stanzas later, the poem ends with this:


  And if in silent repose he remembers that dance

would he chance to inquire of God's plan that a plain and sturdy woman

should long for such a man as he?

   Still, if the moon in its Gordian light should

perplex my confessor with anxious phantoms

   may the angels whisper a dream that shows

the manner in which I should propose to

untie the knot that keeps him from me.


  One of the reasons I have gone the Oscar Wilde route as a critic is because reading thousands of these sorts of poems submitted to Cosmoetica, over the years, would bring me to tears and depression, were I not able to laugh them off. I’ve read far too many of them in print, so I refuse them a place on Cosmoetica, save in a piece like this.

  That the Rothmans and Runeys are in positions to pass judgments on me, or, even worse, younger writers like Hester- who may not have the internal strength and critical ability I do, to stand up to their homogenizing idiocy and gaping lack of writing knowledge and talent, is why this essay is proffered online. The truth is, as bad as Rothman and Runey are, there are even worse. There are Beatnik wannabes, deluded poseurs who play typewriter games with images and claim them poems, and people who think profanity alone is still ‘cool’. Worse yet are people who simply ape being poetasters, and dream of absinthe, wine, and sexual orgies as being the norm for the sort of ‘poets’ they merely like and want to emulate.

  People like Rothman, in his utter inanity, are not satisfied unless they’ve removed all the art from poetry and writing. They feel this is a democratizing urge, that all people are creative, and have talent. Unfortunately, most of them are like Rothman or worse. They need to have everything explained to them because, as their own writing proves, they are incapable of real deep thought, or anything original, or- even more importantly, anything of quality- be it original or classical. Instead, they fall back, as Rothman did, on what they like. ‘Like’ has zero to do with an objective evaluation of art. Objective does not mean correct nor infallible, but it is far more likely to be correct than a blatantly subjective one, and especially one where the subjectivity is not even challenged. Rothman is beyond help, for even if he was intrigued by my great poem, he was still unable to really ‘get it’. He wanted me to bend to his will, lower the quality of my great art to his low level of thought, or not be published there. This is part of the conformist mindset that Academia imposes- become a drone or be cast out. And not all writers of talent have my fortitude.

  I can take some relief in the fact that, at least, Rothman was asking questions. Other poets that are ‘names’ would not even do that. He is then, in his own limited and halting way, trying to expand- like a spastic that tries to stand on his own, and he has my poem to thank for that, for his poetry would never compel anyone to even a second reading. His mindset is that of the handholder, someone who needs to have every single nuance of art explained, for he is utterly lost without another’s syllabus- witness his stolidity about Pittsburgh’s epigraph. Whether this is borne out of sheer lack of intellect or simple laziness is beside the point. The fact that he whiffs on great art is the only thing that matters. That I pointed out and doubled his folly must have stung him. But, again, this is the sort of functional zombie that plagues Academia, and awaits writers who are young, like Hester, whether or not they have his level of talent. Perhaps Rothman is qualified to commiserate over the dreck that a Runey produces, but would morphing her form of doggerel into his sort really be much of an improvement?


Blog Dishonesty & Stupidity


  Of course, there is not much to offer online, at other so-called ‘literary blogs’ either. For example, recently I came across this posting:


I did recently come across an extremely negative analysis of a couple of Adrienne Rich’s poems (found here:http://www.cosmoetica.com/D7-DES6.htm)- the whole piece is somewhat unfair and invariably (very) cruel, but compelling reading for literary criticism. It is particularly interesting as it is written by Dan Schneider, himself a poet who has become infamous for his scathing assessments of poets and critics alike- he is also arguably, apart of the ‘counterculture’ of the contemporary poetry world (details about Schneider can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Schneider_(writer), http://www.qlrs.com/acid.asp?id=342 ). Schneider ends the piece by asserting what he considers to be decent poetry and why: “the important point for an artist? DAMN the message- art is in how the message is constructed (conveyed)! Fuck the truth & the desire to boost one’s ego with an import garnered from the easy out of telling the truth! [William Stafford] was untruthful in his poem- but it worked. In other words- the INTENTIONAL FALLACY still dominates contemporary poetry.”

In some ways Schneider’s comment echoes the sentiments of Jonas Mekas and his privleging of the creative process over the end product. Mekas’ displeasure in the version of Shadows circulated today (this weeks second reading makes clear) is derived largely from its loss of spontaneity, even though Cassavetes obviously preferred the smoother less amatuerish version of the film. Although in my last post I waved on a lot about the notion of ‘immediacy’ and its associations with ‘truth’- I also think that Mekas’ love of spontaneity can suggest something slightly different: the production of artifice. Its a fairly straightforward notion, which of course, I’m finding difficult to articulate. First year cinema studies will tell you that the ’shaky camera’ technique makes you aware of the technology in a way traditional film will not, but it does indeed give the impression of documentary truth. Perhaps Mekas’ ’spontaneity’ is Scneider’s ‘intentional fallacy’- with the outcome for both a truthfulness being truthful could not achieve.

Spontaneity continually refers to ‘the moment’, a continual moment of presentness, but which Shadows reveals cannot necessarily be captured through its (re)recording. I wonder to what extent ’spontaneity’ can be produced simply through experimentation- does it conote the spontaneous because it seems for lack of a better word- ‘fresh’, unfamiliar? Does the version of Shadows we saw on Thursday suffer mostly because it is at its crux too conventional?

I wonder though, what did Mekas desire in the notion of spontaneity- answers anyone?

Finally, if someone could help me to stop using the notion/word ‘truth’ repeatedly, that would be nice. I think it’s inherently stupid to act as if ‘truth’ is somehow the element all art attempts to capture/be/own- but its such an effective and functional word that once its said I can’t let it go. Suggestions are welcome.


  Notice the lack of objectivity and wit in her very characterizations. Terms such as ‘somewhat unfair’, and ‘invariably (very) cruel’ are simply tossed about, even though, as in most pieces, I leaven my denuding of the target with humor. Never let it go unmentioned that humor is much harder for people to ‘get’ than simple drama. We also get the requisite ‘infamous’ and ‘scathing’- why I’m not also referred to as ‘bitter’ nor ‘angry’ can only be that Jen is still a newby to the inbred literary world,and its clichés hurled against anyone who dares denude them. That said, she does make the absurd claim that I belong to poetry’s ‘counterculture’.

  I tried to post a response to her piece but the reply may have been past the last accepted posting date. Here was what I stated:


  Thanks for the mention. A couple of things- I am not part of any counterculture, but apart from it. The very term counterculture implies a hippy or bad writer who lives in a fantasy world. See the dregs of the Beatniks or LANGUAGE poets, or any -ism for that.
  As for being cruel? Where? Bad art is cruel on its audience. Rich is a very bad poet, and in the poems I quote I show irrefutably to be bad verse. Can you LIKE it? Of course, people love Maya Angelou's Hallmark verse, but like/dislike are on a different axis than good/bad.
  Even worse than the use of TRUTH is the use of LIKE to imply something is good. I like Godzilla films, soap operas and pro wrestling, but they are not good nor great art.
  There are bad poets I like, like Richard Brautigan, and greats I dislike, like Robert Frost, but I would never claim Frost is the lesser poet.
  Final points. I get hundreds of emails in a month. The most heartening part is that while most are of the FUCK YOU sort by people who hate that I've ripped a bad poet or film or book they loved, many are from HS and college kids who actually get that I'm correct about works of art that their bad professors have fellated w/o cause nor reason. In short, to state I'm infamous is ridiculous.
  Cosmoetica is the most popular non-commercial arts site online, and only, literally, perhaps a handful or two of commercial sites top it. Why? Because I am different, and am not like all the bad poetry blogs nor film sites out there. When you read my reviews you actually learn and are NOT condescended to.
  BTW- my take on Shadows: http://www.theyshootpictures.com/review_shadows.htm
  If you like condescension and idiocy, there are thousands of sites online. If you want intelligence, come to Cosmoetica or Cinemension.  DAN


  I will come back to these points when I speak of some other blog replies I recently posted. One of them was to this blog. The writer is manifestly young; if not chronologically, certainly in terms of poetry. On Friday, October 27, 2006 he posted this piece, Clueless About Kees, in which he wholly misconstrues the meaning of a rather famed poem by Weldon Kees. Note the way this kid gives absolutely no support for his assertions, on the poem nor in mischaracterizing me:


Dan Schneider, of Cosmoetica, wrote a laudatory essay on Weldon Kees a few years ago, which I stumbled on the other day. Nice that someone - there are not so many - knows Kees, and defends him. Curiously clueless about some things though:

The Scene of the Crime

There should have been some witness there, accusing -
Women with angry mouths and burning eyes
To fill the house with unforgiving cries;
But there was only silence for abuse.

There should have been exposure - more than curtains
Drawn, the stairway coiling to the floor
Where no one walked, the sheeted furniture,
And one thin line of light beneath the door.

Walking the stairs to reach that room, a pool
Of blood swam in his thoughts, a hideous guide
That led him on and vanished in the hall.
There should have been damnation. But, inside,
Only an old man clawed the bed, and drooled,
Whispering, "Murderer!" before he died.

It's pretty obvious the "murderer" accused here is the Universe, or God - the "crime", the terms upon which life is proferred to mortal man. But Schneider misses all this…perhaps because he has phobias about death, disease and ageing evident elsewhere in his otherwise interesting critiques. (Schneider can't abide the fact that Thom Gunn wrote about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.)


  The writer then goes on to post a few other poems of Kees’, but says little of note about them. Yet, look at the near total imbuement of things into the poem that are not there, and then the wacky claim of my having phobias about death and AIDS. This is a classic tack in blog posting. Toss out something unsupportable, and then hope it takes root. I responded, but, as of this writing, the writer has yet to reply. Here was my volley:


Interesting interpretation of the poem by Kees, but mostly it's filled with imbuement. There is no evidence to support your claim of Immortal culpability.
However, in the piece you wrote of, by me, I do state:

'We then get this absolutely GREAT line: ‘There should have been damnation. But, inside’. Why is it great? 1st off- the enjambment allows 2 different dramatic readings. 1st it can mean that the percipient should have been damned by the cosmos, or Fate, etc. Yet, then he looks in the room. It can also mean that there should have been a much more damnable scene inside the room, OR- most appropriately (given the enjambment) the line can mean that the percipient should have been feeling damnation of himself, from inside himself (probably for his own morbid curiosity & desire for the worst).'

I acknowledge there's the possibility of an outer narrative, but only in that specific line. One of the major problems with criticism- film, poetry, fiction, is that, as you have done, you are not dealing with the poem, but what you feel it should be. There is a world of difference there.
And where do you get the silly notion that 'Schneider can't abide the fact that Thom Gunn wrote about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.'
In the piece on Gunn-


-there is nothing but a denuding of a bad poem. I can abide even bad poetry. But I critically expose it. Anything else is your own bias, misinterpretation, and paranoia.

'TG has often been lauded as ‘courageous’, or ‘brave’- especially in the last decades when AIDS reared its ugly head. But, what. may I ask, is courageous or brave about poems like this- or this in particular? I am reminded of the poetry of teenagers I would run across in cafés- whose every fear was the spur for an opus, whose every insecurity was muse for a classic.'

To try to wrangle an anti-gay sentiment out of criticism like that bespeaks more of the wrangler than the writer.


  Of course, these two examples were rather routine stupidities and misunderstandings by people who were likely tyros in the arts. The real disappointing stuff comes when dealing with older adults who both are simply stupid and dishonest.

  Recently, my wife Jessica posted some replies to a Blog post by Philadelphia Inquirer Books Editor Frank Wilson, someone who has linked to blog posts of Jess’s and Art Durkee’s in the past. The post was reactions to a recent article claiming that there was a dearth of quality female novelists in the last twenty-five years, and speculating on why. The manifest and obvious answer, from anyone with interactions with female artists, is that women take less risks than men- in all aspects of life, and are more emotionally attached to their work than men are. This happened hundreds of times at the old Uptown Poetry Group ran, and to not acknowledge that verity is to engage in the worst and most biased form of Political Correctness. The very reason my wife Jessica succeeds as a writer is because she goes against such tendencies. So have most of the better female writers in history- be they poets like Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Judith Wright, or Marina Tsvetaeva, or prose writers like Willa Cather, Betty Smith, or Carson McCullers.

  Of course, like most blogs, which are havens for cliques of either PC or other political non-thought, the Frank Wilson blog was no exception. I will give selections from quotes from the lengthy exchanges, and comment between them. The first to reply was a woman named Susan Balée, who said nothing of consequence. Then Jess replied:


Oh boy, I'm going to have to do a post on this. I've always noticed this, and it's not just limited to novelists, but to all arts and sciences as well, main reason being that men take risks and women don't. That's the biggest difference. Even someone like Jane Austin isn't in a league with Dickens. The Bronte sisters wrote basically high brow romances, not taking on any 'real' subject matter that could have great impact. And what is with naming bad poets like Rich and Graham along side Dickinson and Plath? Women tend to be safe writers, sticking to safe subjects. Graham and Rich are so SAFE. And even the best female novelists aren't in a league with the best men. For example, they often lump Woolf beside Joyce, but she's not as good as he is. (I don't think she's very good at all, and if she weren't a woman, no one would care about her). Even a painter like O'Keefe isn't in a league with Picasso or Matisse, she was more limited in her styles than they were.
But I would include Betty Smith and Daphne Du Maurier as great women writers. Are they as good as Steinbeck? Hmm. But Joyce Carol Oates? Just because she's written 1000 books no one will read in years to come? I've always thought that was her attempt to make some 'name' for herself, try to throw a thousand darts at the wall and hope that maybe one might stick. My future for Joyce Carol Oates is seeing her old and outdated books, dusty on an old bookshelf, in a forgotten bookstore, just like those old farts from the 18 & 1900's. And Graham and Rich will be there too. Luckily, time is the leveler of all things, thankfully.


  Note, how points are made, and Jess points out the absurdity of lists that lump artists of clearly differing levels together. Jess makes the point about risks and playing it safe by ‘sticking to safe subjects’, i.e.- being PC.

  Balée wrote back and utterly misses the manifest point about the ‘safeness’ issue, instead trying to equate ‘’risk’ with mere form playing. Manifestly, Balée did not really read Jess’s post. She wrote:


I think this is really changing nowadays. What do you think of Sofia Coppola as a filmmaker? Or Jane Campion? Also, women writers have always taken risks -- it used to be a risk to try to write at all in a field dominated by men. Hawthorne was so offended (and jealous) of popular 19th-century women novelists that he called them "lady scribblers."
Virginia Woolf took narrative risks -- she's Joyce's equal in stream-of-consciousness writing, Kate Chopin took social risks with her sexual themes, Harriet Jacobs risked her life and freedom when she penned _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_. There are dozens of examples. The problem with the original article linked to here is not that there are few women novelists mentioned *because* they aren't as good as men, but that there are few women novelists mentioned because whoever made the list didn't think about it long enough ... for whatever the reason.
Off my soapbox, and out into the sunny weather with my kids. Anon, mignons--


  Note how Balée is equating a personal risk with an artistic risk, something Jess was not referring to. The PC always equate things like ‘courage’ to the most banal precepts, such as declaring ‘nuclear war a bad thing’, or assenting that ‘Hitler was an evil man,’ or taking a stand ‘against rape,’ as if there are large pro-Armageddon, Nazism, and rape camps. Jess blew Balée’s arguments out of the proverbial water:


Sofia Coppola: not in a league with dad, or any of the other male filmmakers I listed. I mean, how can anyone really think that? Also, the 'risks' that you mention women having taken are all socially involved or something to do with their sexuality, basically risks seen as women, not as individual artists. I.E. "it used to be a risk to try to write at all in a field dominated by men." Simply taking on this 'risk' does not guarantee the quality of the work will equal that of men.
When you say that "Harriet Jacobs risked her life and freedom when she penned _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_" I'm not speaking about risking one's life, but taking risks in the art. Also, I have to disagree strongly about Woolf matching Joyce.
MRS DALLOWAY is very pretentious and dull, as is TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. Very, very overrated. Woolf wouldn't be known as she is if she was a fat guy named Fred. Nothing of hers matches his short story "The Dead." My point is that you can take say, the 10 best male artists vs. the 10 best female artists in any field, and the 10 men always top the 10 women. Maybe this will change in years to come, but as it is now, such is the case.
Also, those 'lady scribblers' that you mention Hawthorne being jealous of, what were their names? No one remembers them, so they probably weren't that good. His calling them that was more likely out of annoyance with their trite themes (and the audience even then liking the Lowest Common Denominator) than anything else, and as proof, Hawthorne is the one name you remember, while those 'lady scribblers' all have gone way of the dinosaur.


  Jess’s last point on the forgotten ‘lady scribblers’ is a great one, and a devastating dialectic volley. Balée is now reeling, and immediately retaliates with emotion, not intellect. Here is where the whole argument derails. Note the unveiled bitterness at being trounced by Jess, and the personalization of the argument from the second sentence:


Oh, my. I think you need to take a nineteenth-century literature class, kiddo. Names you might, and certainly *should*, know:
Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (the only one you know and like, perhaps because Mary Ann Evans knew she'd better make up a male pen name), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (her novel, _Lady Audley's Secret_, was the best-selling novel of the entire 19th century), Louisa May Alcott, and on and on. This is just off the top of my head; there are lots more.
I fear you don't really know what you're talking about; you know how to argue, but you haven't got the evidence to support your assertions. And your attitude that men are better than women is amazingly retro, unless "Jessica" is just your pen name and your real name is "Harry." You remind me very much of a woman critic of the 1850s & '60s named Margaret Oliphant. She really hated Mary Elizabeth Braddon and took every chance she got to write that M.E.B. was "unsexing" herself and embarrassing all women by trying to do a man's job (popular novel writing).
Anyone else going to join into this discussion? I hope so. I have a Ph.D. in the nineteenth-century British novel, but surely someone else can give J.S. an overview of twentieth-century writers.


  Balée is so insecure in herself and arguments that she has to wave her PhD. about, as if that adds credence to her argument. In this post, we get Jess condescended to as ‘kiddo’, the assumption that Jess does not know and has not read major 19th Century female writers, plus Balée’s equation of a bestselling but forgotten novelist’s sales receipts somehow equaling artistic merit, more condescension with ‘I fear you don't really know what you're talking about,’ then a claim that Jess has not supported her assertions (which is absurd because- barring pasting and cutting major portions of text it’s not possible in such a forum, although Jess has argued far better than Balée thus far, lest Balée would not be getting personal), claiming Jessica is not who she claims to be, the claim of a PhD as a classic dickwaving in dialectic, when there is no real factual argument to offer, and then the request for others to school Jess in 20th Century writers.

  Now, reread this piece, or click back to the original thread, and you will see it is in this post that the thread gets personalized, despite Wilson’s and others’ later wan claims to the contrary. One reply, and eight- yes eight- personalized and condescending attacks when no one else has written anything remotely so hostile. Was it that time of the month?

  Jess wrote back and cleaned Balée’s clock:


Susan- Ahem, 'kiddo'
Please save your condescension. If you read my earlier posts, you saw that I mentioned George Eliot (and yes I know her real name,) also, the Brontes were just high brow romance, not great literature. Lump them beside Dickens and it is laughable. And what have you to say of my mention of Hawthorne outliving those 'lady scribblers'? Just look how you avoid the point I make so well. That proves it! As for me not having any 'evidence' to support my assertions, what about you? You can't even defend my Hawthorne point, and then you bring up a mediocre film maker like Sofia Coppola as though she's in a rank with the others? Why didn't you bring up Coppola's other kid, Roman? Oh, wait, 'cause he's male.


  Here Jess nails Balée as refuting her own point with the Hawthorne quote, as well as the fact that in a forum like this there will be nothing but assertions with marginal support. Excelsior:


How many foreign films have you watched? I bet you haven't even heard of most of those directors. Also, don't tell me I need to 'take a class'. I learn by reading on my own, and I've long retired from 'taking a class' under the light of some dense professor who'd have 'retro' opinions as of yours, as the solution to my problems. You can't even address my points in regards to how your so-called womanly 'risks' are all related to their gender, not the art. You argue like someone who is quoting from some old professor in college, not with what's actually on the page.


  This is an awfully good point. Thus far Balée has not shown a single individuated thought. It’s as if she’s merely reading from a syllabus. She seems to be David Rothman with a bosom.


And actually, in regards to women in music, how many classical female composers are there vs. men? Don't tell me I'm imagining it. And I am right about Woolf. Her short stories are crap, her novels dull, but you can't see that because you're too busy quoting your English prof from college who told you what to think rather than really think it for yourself. The best of Joyce is better than the best of Woolf, period. He wrote poorly too at times, but his best is still better.
I swear, how can you think that I'm being 'retro?' I'm pointing out the obvious. You're being 'retro' in being so PC and unwilling to recognize it. I did not say that men were 'better' than women, but they excel more, they take greater risks. This does not mean they are smarter or more creative. If you actually read you'd see that I said 'maybe this will change.' The same reason wars start and we have evil dictators- all men. There are women exceptions, but you have to look at human nature as a whole.
As for me arguing my points up well but having no evidence, (kind of a contradiction) You have 0 for 2. What do you think about that, kiddo?


  Jess sticks Balee with her own spear in that last paragraph. Then a couple of other more PC types named Maxine and Marydell chimed in, and bolstered Asian soap opera fictionist Amy Tan as a great writer. Balée pounced upon this as a way to bolster her sagging dialectic:


I totally forgot about Amy Tan -- how stupid of me, as she's one of my favorite novelists. Thank you, Marydell, for the reminder.
Jessica, your continued reiterations of how great Charles Dickens is cracks me up. I have read all of Dickens (I had to; I studied with Dickens' scholar Steven Marcus) and he is a wonderful novelist, but guess what? After his heyday in the nineteenth century, his reputation dropped dramatically for over half a century and, if you wanted to find a book by Dickens, you'd do best looking in the children's book section. Why? A book by E.M. Forster (I hope you've heard of him, but probably you haven't) called _The Art of the Novel_ classified Dickens as primarily a writer for children and that's where he wound up for the first several decades of the twentieth century. In the 1920s and '30s, especially, very few people thought he was a great novelist. His novels were relegated, like those of Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells, to Christmas gifts for kids.


  Note how Balée is back to condescension and quoting from others. She again assumes Jess has not heard of E.M. Forster, then goes on about the apocryphal myth that Dickens was somehow classified as a children’s writer. Not so. While he suffered the usual diminution in reputation his books were never next to Babar, the Oz books, nor even Tom Sawyer in major libraries nor bookstores. That Balée is spouting myth rather than literary history is no wonder, given her utter lack of ability to actually think independently. She also goes on to speak of Dickens’ resuscitation:


What resuscitated him was a powerful essay by Edmund Wilson (another person of whom you are likely ignorant, but he was a great American critic and married to a wonderful memoirist, Mary McCarthy), called "The Wound and the Bow." Wilson argued that Dickens was far more psychologically complex than anyone (after Forster's damning critique) had given him credit for being. Mind you, Wilson was writing just at the time Freudian analysis was surfacing as a real force in American literary criticism. Lionel Trilling picked it up at Columbia and passed it on to his students. Steven Marcus, one of those students, embraced it -- one of the best books of his career was a Freudian analysis of Dickens' novels. And, of course, Dickens has therefore been considered a great writer in *your* lifetime, which is why you don't know he ever languished.


  Actually, while Wilson’s essay helped Dickens in Academia, it was an essay titled simply ‘Charles Dickens’ by none other than George Orwell, that revivified his slumping sales to the masses, for Orwell was far more widely known and read than Wilson ever was. That Balée, so enamored of sales and mass appeal, does not mention this, is curious- unless, as likely, she simply was clueless. Also, Jess was not championing Dickens, only his work in comparison to the lightweight writers that Balée and her ilk were naming. But, just look at the fear, loathing, and bile in the above selection, and look how it continues. How Wilson can later deny this only points out the extent of cronyism, or apparatchikism, in the arts, and his blog:


I do think you should take a class. The professor might love your lively, argumentative disposition (or hate it, depending on the prof.), but you would certainly enable her to make a number of good points and you might even -- gasp -- learn something. Even autodidacts such as yourself could benefit from intelligent input from specialists (e.g., professors of literature in this case).
Good luck. I do think you have chutzpah in spades -- wed it to some real expertise and you'll be a debater to reckon with.


  Look at the hilarious suggestion that a) Jess is an autodidact, and b) that a hack like Balée, who’s been thoroughly outclassed intellectually and literarily, can offer Jess anything.

  Finally, Wilson wades in, but plays the cowardly card of thinking the argument is all fun and games, to try to leaven the hate, contempt, and bile that Balée is spewing. When bloggers see one of their charges going off course they inevitably try to paint the damage being done as less than it is, or not even being. Here is where Wilson could have shown some testicles and integrity, and chided Balée for her ignorance, arrogance, and spite. He does not, and opts to be a coward:


This guy has been around long enough to know to stay out of something like this.


  Great, but note how he will soon ‘take over’ responsibility for the blog once Balée gets thrashed by Jess, and later by me. Jess replied:


Susan, You are doing a lot of bigwordthrowingarounding. Your didactic approach to lit is obvious- you argue like a professor, not someone who is really creative. Also, my comparison of Dickens was to Jane Austin. I don't think he's in a league with the great 20th Cent novelists. He has great characters. Actually, kind of funny you mention 'taking a class' because it's profs with your condescension who can't argue points well that made me drop English as my major and learn it on my own. (Herzog never went to college nor did Kubrick, and were self-taught, but you wouldn't know anything about that). Academics such as yourself always adhere to the stale 'ghosts' as Ibsen called them- i.e. stale opinions (which is all the more funny you accuse me of having them and being 'retro' outside your PC academic condescension). Your opinions are a reflection of the profs you learned from, and the ones they learned from, etc.


  This is a great point, and a devastating counter, for Balée has not once uttered a single independent idea, and Jess points up her ignorance in film, real or not, so that Balée will see how silly her claims of Jess’s ignorance are, as well as irrelevant to the original point.


Yes, I have heard and read E.M. Forster. Thanks for your little tidbit. Again, you make personal snippy comments because you can't argue against what I'm saying. How 'bout those filmmakers I mentioned, how many of them do you know, or is that too tough for you to understand? What you don't realize is how cookie-cutter your thinking is, you're unable to even make a point without throwing names around. And I'm not one of your little sycophantic students that hangs on some prof’s every word. I don't care if you have some degree, your argument for women and their 'risks' had nothing to do with the art, just going against social convention, standards, and being a woman. And still, there were hundreds upon hundreds of 'lady scribblers' (and 'male scribblers') in Hawthorne's day, but they've been forgotten because they weren't good. They were a product of the times and nothing more. The same thing will happen to the majority of writers today, men and women, the good last, the bad don't.
But thanks for all the big names you throw around. It sure is helpful for us ignorant folk who don't know nuthin' about literature like them profs do! God, I wish I was as smart!
Boy, I sure would trade all the great poems and mss I've written in exchange for your meager didactics! YAWN.


  Now, comes Balée, after being totally whipped, claiming she does not really care about this thread, and feigns laughter. How many times have you seen someone, when humiliated, snicker? It’s not convincing, yet the trite Balée can manage nothing new, even in this regard. Look how she claims she has better things to do, even though she personalized the thread to this degree, and- if you Google her name, you will see dozens upon dozens of blog postings. This woman lives to spread her ignorance. In the blog world, a person like this is known as a ‘blog whore.’ She writes:


Hee, hee. You've really got me laughing here, Jessica. Rock on, girl. You're like a force of nature (what kind of force I'm not sure).
I've got lots of other stuff to do -- deadlines for mss. & such like -- so I'll not pick up the cudgels again, but it sure would be nice to see some other folks weigh in.


Jess replied:


Likewise on the laughter. (Mss as well I must attend).
...The Tornado, perhaps?


  Then Balée, beaten, retreated. What happens next is classic on blogs. Little apparatchiks pop up to defend the beaten ‘big dog,’ and then the blogger eventually comes to the aid, after the beaten dog whimpers to the master. The first to reply was an Anonymous poster who claimed Jess was high on herself for namedropping filmmakers. Of course, he says nothing of Balée’s starting off down that path. Then Art Durkee and others chimed in, and Jess showed me the thread, and I wrote in. Note the humor that I use to castrate Balée and her kind:


The three novels and short tales of Woolf's I've read are bad. Not a worthwhile passage.
No one save Jess has addressed the like-dislike axis. When Jess has stated views she's talked about excellence. The others have talked about 'like', or Susan has quoted others' for she has not an original idea of her own.
Of course men take more risks- the very reason men dominate the arts is the flip side of why there are few female equivs of Al Capone, Billy The Kid, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Jack The Ripper. Yes, Aileen Wuornos is the dark side of Plath, but think back to the UPG, and all the female writers who came vs. the male.
Women generally write to express emotions, men ideas. Emotions, by their nature, are going to be less tangible and hold up not as long. To not acknowledge this is PC bullshit. In 50 years Charles Johnson will tower over a Toni Morrison. Boy, think the Nobelists were slavering over the fact they could give a black American woman a Nobel? Just like they gave Harold Pinter- Sam Beckett lite, a Nobel. As for published writers, there are none in the last 30 years that will last, save for Johnson and William Kennedy. LeGuin is very hit and miss- her short stories are not good, and Alice Munro is very overrated, not in a league with Lessing, unless you think angst in Ontario hayfields makes for great drama.
Anyone who would mention Amy Tan as a great writer simply cannot be taken seriously as an intellect. How about Liz Wutzel, too? And the Brontes were high brow romance. There are no great ideas in their books- they're solid tales, but little more. While Dickens needed to learn concision, and he did not grapple with the great ideas the Russian masters did, there is far more satire and social import in his work, not to mention characterization.
However, the best female novel of the 19th C. was Liz Browning's Aurora Leigh- and it was written in verse.
'Mary Elizabeth Braddon (her novel, _Lady Audley's Secret_, was the best-selling novel of the entire 19th century)'
Geez, Suzy-Q, why don't you just admit that you're a Lowest Common Denominator drone and get on with your robotic career? And Louisa May Alcott? Although Canadian, even Lucy Maud Montgomery was better, by a mile.
'I have a Ph.D. in the nineteenth-century British novel, but surely someone else can give J.S. an overview of twentieth-century writers.'
That about explains it all. If one needs further evidence of the rot that Academia brings, Suzy-Q explains it all.
As for Joyce vs. Woolf, Joyce's best stuff was in Dubliners, and each proceeding book got worse because of his syphilis. BUT, he had two things Woolf did not: a) a felicity with words and b) humor. Woolf is morose. Great writers almost always have a great sense of humor. Wilde, Twain, even Dostoevsky in the scenes in C&P where Raskolnikov tries to turn himself in.
Margaret Mitchell? She's dumbed down Brontes? Please. Susan, please READ what you speak of before you taste your own toe jam.
Finally, for now, Ayn Rand? Putting aside her intellectual lack, her writing is what was referred to as 'typing' by Truman Capote, when he dismissed Mickey Spillane. No depth, no style, no individuation.
And, it should be noted that old Harper Lee has never done another book since the old gay flame died. Hmmmm???? Could the rumors be true?


  I then twisted the knife into Balée’s twitching near-corpse, which seemed to be the thing to revive her mummified form:


BTW- Suzy-Q, please reply so that I will know that there will be a few younger writers in your classes who may be spared a bit of the dumbing down you foist upon them. One can only imagine what Emily Dickinson or Cather would have become with a prof like you.


  Jess then responded to Anonymous:

Hey Anonymous Dumbass,
Too chickenshit to use your real name, I see. You seem ignorant of a lot of things, if you think my listing them was merely to 'impress you.' Wow, and here I was thinking I could pull one over on you. With your astute insights you should really go into film criticism. Or Academia.


  Then a Steven came in and dissed all of English language writing, including Balée’s assessment of female writers. Then Rus Bowden, a jovial wannabe poet Jess and I encountered on the Atlantic Unbound web forums a few years back, wrote in. Nothing of merit was mentioned. Then, Wilson again shows up and admonishes ‘unnamed’ persons, even though, manifestly, his pal Balée started it all. Yet, she’s never mentioned:


I would also suggest that some of us be a bit more civil. An argument is weakened, not strengthened, by rancor. Literature, after all, is supposed to have a civilizing effect. I say this as someone who once went crashing through a second floor bannister onto the floor below in the company of someone I was having a disagreement with - just like in the Westerns.

  Anonymous then reveals that he has been Googling Jess’s name, although he bizarrely claims Jess is sniping on Amazon:


"Hey Anonymous Dumbass, too chickenshit to use your real name, I see."
I can't take this seriously coming from someone with a history of anonymous sniping on amazon.com.
"You seem ignorant of a lot of things, if you think my listing them was merely to 'impress you.'"
One of the things you talk about on cosmoetica is writers not condescending to their audience. Assuming that someone hasn't heard of a world-famous director like Fellini is doing just that.


  Of course, he overlooks the fact that Jess was merely replying in kind to Balée’s assumption that she did not know of many famous 19th Century writers. This is another classic blog tactic. It could very well be Balée, in a different guise, but the point is that Anonymous has missed the point of Jess’s reply to Balée, as well as its provenance.

You are very bitter. The 'rancor' in this discussion comes from your resentment at not being published despite your writing talent...especially when there are many women writers being published who aren't good. I've never found Dan's writing on Cosmoetica to come out of bitterness, even though he is in the same situation as you. Excellence in art is more important than merely being published--this is something that Cosmoetica persuasively argues. So why is it that Dan can be secure in his accomplishments but you can't?


  Despite his kudos for me, his/her assessment of Jess as ‘bitter’ is another classic and flawed dialectic tack- to try to question the motives of a complainer, rather than the intellectual validity of the complaint. Even were Jess ‘bitter’- which she’s not, merely frustrated by the dolts in the literary world, to avoid the thrust of the complaint is to de facto defend the terrible status quo that is deliterizing literature.

  It is important to note that blog threads that arouse debate always follow certain patterns- there is a leader, a few acolytes that are untouchable, and the rancor they cause whenever someone new joins the fray with an opinion- right or wrong, that differs. Then, if you point out the manifest reasons for the dissonance, you are attacked for being ‘petty,’ as if all that are in the thread are equally culpable, when clearly it is usually the defeated bully that resorts to ad hominem attacks. Also, the humor used is often taken as an example of vulgarity and attack by the willfully stolid. I tried to keep things calm with humor and by pointing out the obvious:


Pardon me if I do not get all the attributed writers' comments correct, but a few points:
1) It was Susan Balée who started in with the condescension, and is manifestly insecure. Waving your credentials around is like having a foot long penis and bragging about it all the time, except that most Academics are flaccid.
2) It's silly to say all women, Brits, English lingo, etc. writers are bad.
Jess merely stated that on the whole male writers still dominate, and it's true. In the sweep of history, most of the no-name women writers mentioned by Susan and the rest are unknown for a reason- they did not stand the test of time. One or two may be 'recovered', but most won't.
Frank's correct about some works. Any language (English) that could produce Oscar Wilde simply cannot be brushed aside. He is nonpareil as a humorist. Twain is not far behind, and even more wise. Melville has Moby-Dick and three or four other prose works that are sterling. His poetry sux big time.
As for Austen being better than Dickens? C'mon. The writer of that is free to like Austen. I like Godzilla films, but give me Kurosawa as art. Now, I could go into detail, technically, why Seven Samurai is a better film that Gojira- the original Japanese film of Godzilla, but do I really need to?
Do I need to explain why a trite Hallmark card writer like Maya Angelou is not as good a poet as Whitman, Rilke, or Mandelstam? This is manifest. One can reasonably disagree over Rilke vs. Whitman, but to deny objective realities is silly.
Amy Tan as a great writer? How about Jon Franzen, too? Or Richard Russo.
The very fact that names like this are tossed out shows how dumbed down literature in this country has become.
As for Tu Fu, he was the best of the pre-Modern Chinese poets I've read, a thousand years ahead of the West, in terms of modernity.
A few other points, Jess is not 'bitter', just frustrated. I'm doing a long essay [THIS ONE, DEAR READERS!] on some of the doltish replies I've gotten from agents as well as people who write my website, and when you are swamped with a bunch of retarded children from a Diane Arbus photo it's easy to forget their are adults, some who are healthy.


  Note how I now try to steer the discussion that Balée derailed back to its central tenet:

But, to the original thrust, when speaking of literary fiction, the English lingo is in the pits for the last thirty years- at least as far as published writers. The MFA programs are to blame. Most people cannot be Michael Jordan, so why this feeling that if they want to express emotions they can pick up a pen and be taught to be Emily Dickinson? She'd've been destroyed by the ignorants in Academia.
Imagine how someone like Susan wd be utterly lost without her handy workbooks to cherrypick opinions from others from.
And, I have to disagree with Art about genre works. Genre works are such because their writers choose to make smaller their purview. A friend of ours (me, Jess, Art), named Jason Sanford, who runs storySouth website, has started writing genre fiction because he feels it's easier to do and get published in.
That says it all. Even great sci fi classics, like Asimov's Foundation trilogy or LeGuin's Lathe Of Heaven simply are not in a league with Huck Finn, Moby-Dick, nor A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The characters are not as complex, the situations do not move nor touch as deeply, and they do not last as long. Genre fiction is like light verse- there can be great light verse, but it almost never is great 'poetry'.
And this is from someone who likes the light verse of a Richard Brautigan. However, he's not the poet Robert Frost was, and I dislike Frost. The point is I can recognize my bias and admit Frost is the better poet.
Were all people able to recognize their limitations, and stride over their biases, the arts, in general, would be better off.
And, as a bonus, scam artist MFA types like Suzy-Q would have to get real jobs in the real world.
Sort of like Donny Rumsfeld has to.


  In the whole of the thread you will notice that only I’m capable of tossing off a sly line such as the last sentence. This is what separates great debaters like me, or William F. Buckley, from the merely mortal.

  Now compare this with the predictable and stolid reply from the renascent Balée. Note how she does not realize that it is she who is ‘singing to the choir’, since hers is the accepted point of view on the thread, as well as insecurely waving her degrees about, and revealing that she has, in the interim since posts, feverishly been Googling Jess and my names. Yet, despite her hours online, she still cannot come up with the fact that I am widely published on and offline, nor can she distinguish between websites and blogs.


Wow -- this discussion has exploded since last I was here. Dan Schneider, I suppose you are related in some way to Jessica Schneider (in name if not otherwise).


  Of course, she knows otherwise, and would within a few minutes of Googling our names, but this is stated so that she can keep up the pretense that she’s not a blog whore and has a life outside of the blogs she lurks on. Just Google her name and you’ll se all her BS about having ‘no time’ is just that.


As far as condescension goes, you and she are big on name-calling (I am, what, "untalented, robotic, uncreative, didactic, lowest-common denominator drone, etc.?). It is typical of people who can't argue a point on its merits to resort to name-calling. I am not a bit surprised that neither you nor J.S. has ever published anything outside your blogs -- not that I have seen, anyway.


  And believe me she’s looked, and only s displayed her incompetence in coming up empty. Now, look above, and see the eight snide comments that Balée began her attacks on Jess with, and the utter lack of humor they entailed.

Doubtless I shouldn't have mentioned that I have a Ph.D., since it seems to have so utterly freaked you out (talk about insecure!); I did it to emphasize that when it comes to 19th-century British lit, *I* know what I'm talking about. I've studied it for years, I've read it, and I've published numerous essays about it (in Scribner's British Lit. series, Victorian Literature and Culture, The Hudson Review, The Weekly Standard, The Women's Review of Books, and so on) -- *real* venues, where they pay me, not blogs where you can bloviate and insult to your heart's content, but only those who already agree with your views (the main one seems to be that only reason you're not really published -- other than by yourself, in cyberspace -- is because you're not "in the establishment") are going to read on.


  Note how none of that claimed knowledge reveals itself in her posts. Also look at the masturbatory glee she is having in tossing her résumé about. Talk about insecure. No one was freaked out, it just painted a sad Academic caricature that Balée lived down to.

And, by the way, I'm not an academic, so you've got that wrong, too. I left it years ago because it was just too PC for me (and I love that you think I'm PC; my old friends from Columbia -- oops, another name dropped, call out the insecurity police -- for *you*! -- would crack up at that one).
I'm trying to write fiction these days and struggling just as much as everyone else. Fifty rejections for every acceptance. But you can bet *your* flaccid pen, Dan (and Jessica), that I'm not self-publishing the stories I sell.


  No, she’s merely a blog whore, who cannot even type well written blog comments, nor argue reasonably and impassively.

So, keep on singing to the choir, kids. I'm outta here -- I really do have to work; haven't got the hours to spend on blog threads that you guys apparently do -- and I wish you luck convincing the rest of the world of your brilliance. Because, in the end, as far as I can see, you still don't know what you're talking about.....


  And Balée shows just how far she can see- her nose’s end. Then Jess posted a response, and I posted a response that was censored. Jess’s nailed Balée to the point that she went whining to Wilson, and I posted a humorous piece that had links to some of the writing that I have, that dwarfs the generic résumé Balée tossed out. They were links to my Miscellaneous Poems, my double star sonnet Siamese Reflection, my essay on Crime And Punishment, and my treatise on Plagiarism, Clichés, Influence, And Google. I then humorously suggested that after all her masturbation over her degrees she should merely toll them up and use some warming jelly, since they did her little good in her written ripostes. I didn’t get vulgar, and was only responding to the bile and excess Balée unleashed.

  Yet, despite the brilliant Wildean thrust (oolala), this was when Wilson decided to censor Jess and me, and protect Balée from a continued thrashing. It did not surprise me, because, from his blog links, Wilson showed he was a typical apparatchik unable to distinguish from good writers like Jess and hacks like Balée, nor that he was any different from dozens of other bloggers- political nor literary. But, Jess was shocked, and wrote in:


Wow, congrats on being a censor. Removal of posts, quite hypocritical since Susan was the one who began with the condescension and insults towards me.
This is a woman who thinks excellence equals publication, and who has not a single original idea or thought. I merely pointed that out...again.
I think then you should take down her condescending and belittling posts towards me. But you won't because here's another example where the stupid is always sided with.

  That Wilson was protecting a crony was obvious, although there are always defenders of bigots and censors. Rus chimed in, but missed the point, and did not acknowledge Balée’s starting the acrimony with her stolidity and humorlessness:


Hi Jessica,
My interpretation is that Frank needed to stop where the thread was going. We know he likes your work, because he has linked to it often.
But now you have put him in an awkward position, a position of being challenged to possibly lose what or who he has valued--no matter what he does. He'll now have to be a modern day Solomon.
I have no side to take in the novel thing. I would be happy to attend yours, Frank's, Dan's, or Susan's class, to learn something about novels and novel writers.
Maybe some of this is better done via e-mail. The attack part of this thread is leading to people being hurt. I think that's what you are, and what Susan must be at this point.

  Another poster named Susan then tried another old blog tactic, trying to impute the motives of the person, Balée, who committed the wrong, on the person who pointed it all out:


Everybody's right and everybody's wrong - may I suggest a truce. You've all got valid points. I see that Susan Balee got under Jessica's skin. It wasn't the worst slight imaginable, but it must have hurt Jessica. Jessica is probably one generation removed from the rest of us fogeys and so she argues a little differently. The fogey generation took offense. You're all intelligent people, stop being so *angry*!

  Of course, it was Jess who got under Balée’s skin- again look at Balée’s first childish personalized attack and post in reply to Jess. It was Balée who was angered, and boiled over, due her impotence to intellectually counter Jess.

  Anonymous then tried to change the tome and direction, but still missed some points:


Glad to see that some resolution has come into this angry thread. Everyone has good points.
One of many admirable qualities of Dan's literary criticism is to point out times when good writers go bad. However, why does the Schneider camp so often like to label this or that writer as "great"? He says that this is different than "liking" something, but is there a "great" writer who is not liked at least by someone?? There has to be a human factor in here somewhere.
As for the assertion that "The Bronte sisters wrote basically high brow romances," why can't there be great literature that happens to be romance?
What is "'real' subject matter that could have great impact"?
As for Dickens, I'm sure we could group him in among the so-called "great," but try reading "The Old Curiosity Shop." As Oscar Wilde observed,"one would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."
As for Woolf, there is "pretention" in Woolf - because of her background. But she was not pretentious on purpose. It was natural to her. Sure she had some bad sentences. But you have to see the forest for the trees.
What about Edith Wharton? More popular than Henry James? "Greater than" Henry James? It sounds like we're doing math here, graphing inequalities.
Bring on the flames.


  Then Wilson tried to cover his ass, but offered no apologies, falsely claimed he did not censor, and generally admitted he’s a hack with no artistic ethics. Note he does not admit that Balée was the source of the thread’s divergence, and that her remarks were far more objectionable and hostile than anything Jess and I said:


Dear Jessica,
I took down only the posts written after my post indicating that I would delete any further insulting posts. I am not taking down this latest post of yours, though, because I am addressing it.


  Actually, a look at the thread shows that Wilson said no such thing- NEVER, but was merely trying to cover his ass after trying to bail out Balée. And even had he said so, nothing in our posts warranted censorship, and it wholly ignores the fact that Balée started the insults. By trying to conflate Balée’s abuse with Jess’s response, Wilson shows a total inability to discern writing.


As Rus says, I obviously like your poetry - and your blog - because I have linked to both. And I will continue to do so.
I think if you felt Susan had condescended to you, it might have been a good idea to ask her about that before assuming it to be so. Certainly, it would have been better to inquire before losing your temper.


  Look how he’s blaming Jess. Again, go back up to Balée’s first reply to Jess and there is the exact spot Balée lost her temper, and what little mind she may possess. Go ahead, reread it, and Wilson’s total disingenuousness is manifest. This is very important, because if Wilson is simply too dumb to recognize what is going on under his nose, then what the hell is he doing in a business that involves words? He’s just the critical equivalent of David Rothman. And if he knows what Balée was up to but is willfully denying it, then he is an archetypal example of everything that is wrong with the publishing world.


Just look at how much space has been wasted in angry back-and-forths rather than focusing on the subject under discussion.
By the way, I have not engaged in censorship. This is my blog and I do it under the aegis of the newspaper I work for. I am the editor here. I am not obligated to publish every comment posted. I certainly think we all know how you feel and what you think regarding what has been under discussion. What I honestly don't understand is why you are so angry. We're just talking about books, books written mostly by long-dead authors who couldn't care less what we think.
My best,


  Look how disingenuous Wilson is. He claims we’re just talking about ‘dead authors,’ when it was his crony, Balée, who kyboshed the thread. I then responded:


You have engaged in censorship, and censorship with bias.
Susan started the attacks with her condescension: 'Oh, my. I think you need to take a nineteenth-century literature class, kiddo. Names you might, and certainly *should*, know:
Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (the only one you know and like, perhaps because Mary Ann Evans knew she'd better make up a male pen name), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (her novel, _Lady Audley's Secret_, was the best-selling novel of the entire 19th century), Louisa May Alcott, and on and on. This is just off the top of my head; there are lots more.
I fear you don't really know what you're talking about'

Jessica and I merely beat her at her own game. You removed links to posts I had that were merely posted to show that Susan, in a million years, could never achieve such a thing.
Censors often hide behind the 'My superiors made me do it.' Nuremburg's lessons lost again, especially since we were no more insulting than Susan, merely better at it, and w more evidence. It's clear that she's a crony of yours, and you have a right to be cronies, but you show that you're part of the problem when you censor, not part of the solution.
When you side with the ignorant and malicious you demean not only your intellect but your integrity.
The quote from the above post by Susan shows that Jess got under her skin, and subsequent posts show only an increasingly hostile demeanor. Jess defended herself. Frank, if you cannot see that in the words, then you've no place as a books editor, or anything else to do with the written word.
Also, the blithe attitude of other posters in not being upset over the censorship shows how far the narcotization of the lit-loving culture has come.
The only plus side is you've given me another great example for the upcoming essay I'm doing on the state of Am deliterature.
Art: Huck Finn, Tree Grows In Brooklyn, the best of Steinbeck, and other lit fiction is as good as Moby-Dick. There is no single towering work of art. I recall a poetaster telling me once that no one else ought to write poems because Yeats cd never be surpassed.
The point is a genre is a de facto blinder, so the vision can never be as broad and deep as plain fiction.
Rus- if Frank was gonna stop the thread, he should have stopped it when Susan started scrambling her hormones. To do so where he did, when nothing we said was worse than what she said shows that he is biased and hypocritical. It also implies that our posts were a) libelous- NOT, or b) profane- NOT.
Put them back and let others decide.
Censors always fear real discussion for it can often show up the folly of their arguments. To be consistent, Frank, I ask you to remove Susan's rude comments, as I showed above, plus all her other snide references. I realize if you do, you'll only further damage your credibility as a censor, and if you don't you'll only enhance your status as a biased hack- but it's your bed, choose the sheets.
Art- as for syphilis, it's the ONLY thing unexplored by Joyce scholars, and only thing that parallels his slide from Dubliners to Finnegans Wake.
Anonymous: 'He says that this is different than "liking" something, but is there a "great" writer who is not liked at least by someone??'
Is there not a bad writer at least liked by someone, lest they'd not be known? Thus, like is irrelevant to excellence. You answered your own question.
'As for Woolf, there is "pretention" in Woolf - because of her background. But she was not pretentious on purpose. It was natural to her. Sure she had some bad sentences. But you have to see the forest for the trees.' This quote is so humorously unaware of its own irony it's precious.
Frank: 'This is my blog and I do it under the aegis of the newspaper I work for. I am the editor here. I am not obligated to publish every comment posted. I certainly think we all know how you feel and what you think regarding what has been under discussion. What I honestly don't understand is why you are so angry. We're just talking about books, books written mostly by long-dead authors who couldn't care less what we think.' Exactly, so why did Susan get so condescending when Jess simply beat her at her own game? And why are you defending her arrogant snipes and taking down what Jess and I wrote in response? The irony is, Oscar Wilde was mentioned several times in this thread, and you took down the only reply, mine, with a Wildean wit, which again shows that, back then, you'd've been on the side of the prudes that sent him to Reading Gaol.
And, logically, as the editor, you are defined by the choices you make, and you have chosen to be a censor as well as biased toward deliterate Academia. All I say is, be proud of demeaning yourself. At least be consistent in that aspect.
Given that a real discussion of the merits and demerits of women writers seems impossible here, is that too much to ask?


  Rus then chimed in, again missing cogent points, and I responded:


Rus, You're a nice guy. I recall how, years back, on the Atlantic Monthly forum you similarly tried to play peacemaker with types like Susan- there was a gal named Evelyn Aker who was similarly uninformed, rude, and condescending.
So, when you state 'the king of acid cleansing in lit' in regards to me, it shows that you are again being oblivious to what started the negative trend here. Her name is Susan Balee. Note, it took several posts before Frank took down our posts. Again, nothing said was libelous, defamatory, nor even profane.


  This is a very important point.

This is always the simpering sort of reply whenever someone starts something and cannot finish it. Yes, Frank has a right to control his blog, but he should be fair. He also should be called out on his actions. In the literary world a censor is a murderer, rapist, or pedophile, in terms of destroying intellectual exchange.
Clearly, Jess got under Susan's skin because years of classroom antics and worship from students did not prepare her for a challenge to her wan beliefs. But, bitchiness, especially when carrying a popgun, can often get a cannon volley.
If you don't wanna be smote, don't start the smiting. If Frank wants to steer, then he should have warned Susan with her first 'Kiddo' to Jess, and her, 'You really need to take a class/ read' or 'I'm a PhD, you're nothing' jive. Since he did not, it shows that he has a bias toward certain people.
I've argued many times on political blogs, and this is always how it goes. The top blogger shows bias, deletes or bans those he does not like or disagrees with, then pompously says it's not censorship, and that the person banned was uncivil. Anyone reading the thread will se that Susan started going off topic.
Rus, read the thread, if you cannot see it was Susan who started this, them there's nothing more to say.
Your last bit on 'hurt' only confirms what I thought, that Susan likely whined to Frank that she was hurt, and that big bad Jess and Dan should be 'dealt with', because she was out of bullets.
Now, Frank can deny that, but since he's already compromised his integrity, any reply has to be taken with a grain of salt. Whoops, cliché- gotta love it!


  After her last bilious post Balée went into hiding, letting Wilson and others fight her battle. This is, again, classic blog tactic when a bully has been vanquished. Jess wrote:


I think your bias here is obvious. How anyone can think that is quote said to me FIRST by Susan is not snippy and condescending, is really dumb.
'Oh, my. I think you need to take a nineteenth-century literature class, kiddo. Names you might, and certainly *should*, know:
Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot (the only one you know and like, perhaps because Mary Ann Evans knew she'd better make up a male pen name), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (her novel, _Lady Audley's Secret_, was the best-selling novel of the entire 19th century), Louisa May Alcott, and on and on. This is just off the top of my head; there are lots more.
I fear you don't really know what you're talking about'
You're telling me that if someone wrote this to you, you would not defend yourself and react back? Then to go and say that I have the temper, when my reaction is a mere response to her childishness?
Her arguments are pulp, and I pointed that out, and likewise, what happened was that she got 'hurt' by what I said in the post you censored, and thereby you took it down because she's a pal of yours. But by doing that, you make it seem like I cursed her out or said something libelous, when all I did was defend myself, saying that she couldn't come close to writing what I've written in poetry or prose. No degrees from any university, no awards, can buy insight, and she needs to learn this. I was merely pointing that out.
If you were going to censor, then you should have gotten her on the start, from the very first time she called me 'kiddo' and telling me to 'take a class' you should have instructed her that such behavior was not appropriate, if you didn't want the arguments to lead elsewhere. Because I don't buy your excuse. For if that were the real reason, you would have taken 'action' upon the first time she muttered 'kiddo'.
I'm saving these posts to put on my blog in the chance that you choose to censor them. A lot of young people from universities read my blog and I think they need to be aware of such cronyism, and the signs to look for when their prof is a hack. (But sort of an oxy-moron there, or just moron).
I think Dan's 2 posts said it best, so there's really not much else to say, since it's clear that you'd rather do selective censorship, than be fair minded.


  Anonymous then posted that he understood the irony in the posts of his I previously quoted, and a poster named Steven actually posted something of note:


I don't see why it's necessary to delete posts even if they are condescending...if people can read the posts they can make up their own mind I think, although I understand the feeling that it is to try to preserve people's feelings from being hurt...I think if people read a post that is insulting or condescending they will realize that that condescension hurts the argument rather than strengthening it...so it is not necessary to actually delete it, by the time someone gets to just insulting they are usually losing their credibility anyway so it is self-defeating I think.
Earlier Susan said this:

Doubtless I shouldn't have mentioned that I have a Ph.D., since it seems to have so utterly freaked you out (talk about insecure!); I did it to emphasize that when it comes to 19th-century British lit, *I* know what I'm talking about. I've studied it for years, I've read it, and I've published numerous essays about it
My posts were an attempt to challenge Susan by discounting the quality of 19th-century British literature and challenging the English language as well which is almost never done...even though she says she knows what she's talking about I was trying to offer a different view, maybe to help expand her mind or perspective...am I 'qualified' to do this; probably not, I'm twenty-two years old and work in a hotel, I read literature and do translations myself in my spare time, I'm not an academic I just read the books myself and base my own opinion off looking at them that way without being influenced by critics...
I like Dan's posts because they are so funny, he said something about academics being a flaccid penis or something; that's hilarious okay, if you are being seriously published you can't say stuff like that, I wish Dan had his own magazine or something where people wrote like that all the time...Dan I wish you would get interviewd by The New Yorker or something and call people flaccid penises, I bet like sales would go up 500% and everyone would call you an asshole...it'd be awesome like the Sex Pistols or something
Does anyone read n+1 or the Believer, it is so serious 100% of the time, especially if they call someone a 'comic' novelist it is even like 100% serious and not funny


  Utterly missing the point, Wilson replied to Jess:


Hi Jessica,
Thanks for the response. I explained somewhere in one of these threads that I read right over the "kiddo" because I've heard Susan use it so often with me - I just took it for granted. I will concede that you, not knowing that, might take it amiss.
As for how I would have reacted to it, had I been you, well, my wife has noted that I have an almost sociopathic lack of affect when it comes to criticism from readers. I just don't have any emotional reaction usually to even the most vitriolic communications - and thanks to Richard Dawkins I have lately received some of the most viriolic ever.


  The point Wilson is missing, willfully or not is beside the point, is that it was not Jess who reacted emotionally, but Balée who instigated it.


But that's me, not you. I suppose what I would like to get across is that anger is not the only way to respond to a perceived insult, nor is it necessarily the best way to respond (though in all honesty, as I have also suggested here. I have in the past found it satisfying - though those were things that happened in person, not in writing). I would hope you would take me at my word when I say that I am sure Susan did not mean to insult you - though I do understand how you could construe her remarks that way.


  Thus, he admits they are cronies yet, unsurprisingly, does not admit it was Balée who started in with the flaming.


But wouldn't it be possible for us all to arrive at some sort of truce in which we acknowledge (all of us, me too) some slip-ups in tone and attention to tone, let bygones be bygones, and resume the discussion with the aim of coming to a greater understanding of the subject? If we can't arrive at a civilized solution to a literary quarrel - well, we can certainly see why the rest of the world never gets around to giving peace a chance.


  Typical PC bullshit. He won’t acknowledge Balée’s bile nor his own wrongful censorship. Then a dolt going by A chimed in:


I would like to weigh in (at some length, sorry) on the fight between Susan and Jessica/Dan. This has gone from the absurd to the bizarre, and beyond. It has been decried in this blog that there has been a coarsening of educational standards, but why has no one noted that there has also been an unfortunate coarsening of decency? Here I am not talking about “civility,” a civilized word; I’m talking about immaturity, crudeness, and lack of self-control. First, I think it’s obvious that “She started it,” is a cry we try to train out of children, but more to the point, an adult needs to know when to stop. Sure, Susan’s comments can objectively be called condescending and snippy, as Jessica charges, but the rage and scatology that greeted this was simply out of control.


  Note, the only rage exhibited was Balée’s, and there was no scatology, by Jess, me, nor anyone else. But since the posts are removed, A felt free to try to dishonestly portray them in the worst way.  The cry of ‘he or she started it’ is only decried by the starters of things when trying to revise history and cover their asses; the first hint that this might actually be Balée in a new guise. It’s akin to the Germans wailing about the ruin World War Two brought them because it was the World War One’s victors’ excesses in demanding reparations that led to the rise of the Nazis.


Jess and Dan are contemptuous of formal education, but one of the several things that an education conveys is discipline, which they have unfortunately missed out on. When reading to oneself, it’s easy to find confirmation of any prejudice in any written material; when one has spent years defending one’s ideas to a smart (even if biased) professor and smart fellow students, one generally concludes that one’s own ideas may be the best, but they are not inarguable. A blog such as this can serve a similar function, but in either a classroom or a blog, the presumption that anyone who disagrees with you is doing so because he’s part of the old-boy, crony network, functions as a wall to protect one’s own inflated (and generally mistaken) ideas.


  Actually, one of the hallmarks of intellectual and dialectic discipline is humor, which can be parried like a sword. I have it, Balée does not. And nowhere have I demonstrated a contempt for education- formal nor otherwise, only its misapplication and abuse, as displayed by A and Balée. This backhanded attempt at bolstering Balée is another sign that A may be Balée under a new guise. Never did I say that points were inarguable; to mischaracterize my point of view like this is another classic blogger tack- obfuscation. I merely dismiss the myth of subjectivity that weak-minded Academics embrace in their lurch to PC. The last point A makes is something that is never even addressed in the thread. I claimed Wilson was an online crony of Balée; never did I impute they were colleagues elsewhere. Again, a willful misreading or a poor reading (which is worse- dishonesty or stupidity?) which leads to the same result.

Also, a formal education simply makes one more observant and, and also, less obviously, willing to call things by their proper names. I recall my brother describing an incident: he was on a ferry and noticed a guy mumbling to himself at the railing. A man standing near my brother remarked, “That guy’s crazy.” My brother responded in the standard, PC, form to the effect that, well different strokes, etc. “No,” responded the man, I’m a psychiatrist and I know. That guy’s nuts.”


  The first claim has absolutely no merit, and is a classic case of classism and bias. That A does not see this amply demonstrates how off the mark he is.


When debating the quality of literature, there may well be some merit to the flaccid, academic assumption that in a heated argument, the truth is probably in the middle, with extra credit given to the person who argues most heatedly and at greatest length. However, in arguments attacking people personally, there is not only a right side and a wrong side (and both can be on the wrong side), there are gradations that can be much more important than “who started it,” “who won,” and even, “who is right.”


  Yes, and that is who is lying and who is not. Wilson and Balée, as shown in these exchanges, are clearly and maliciously fabricating. But, if this is Balée- or another crony, obfuscation is the best tactic left. Thus this obfuscation and thinly veiled attack within:


This is another element of a disciplined education that Dan and Jess seem to have missed out on: a sense of proportion, reasonableness, and balance. Dan and Jess have explicitly compared their remarks in the deleted posts to Susan’s condescension, and Frank to a Nazi censor. I am concerned that those who missed the posts may not be aware that they were not presenting cutting, triumphant arguments that had to be suppressed to hide their brilliance. They centered on explicit references to Susan regarding shit, flaccid genitalia, and masturbation. I mentioned earlier that this argument had gone beyond the absurd and the bizarre. What it has gone to deep immaturity, disturbance, and pathology. And yes, I do know what I’m talking about, Jess and Dan. I have the doctorate in psychology to prove it.


  Actually, the very nature of my humorous retorts shows that I was the one with reasonableness. Humor is the great leavener, and, compared with the screechy hysterics of Balée, my replies stand all the more intelligent, witty, and mature. Here is another tactic when one is losing, make false claims about Nazism. Never did I compare Wilson nor Balée to Nazis, yet, since this involves a censored post and thread, there’s no way to disprove it save to read the whole thing, which shows that A is flat out lying. Then we get the claim that there were explicit references to ‘shit, flaccid genitalia, and masturbation,’ which are simply false. As I said, my lone reference to Balée’s masturbating over her degrees was to suggest they’d best be used rolled up and with warming jelly. If that’s explicit, A must be a virgin. And the ‘deep immaturity, disturbance, and pathology’ that A references perfectly describes his deceits, Balée’s rages, and Wilson’s censorship, not anything I nor Jess wrote. To top it off, and in another giveaway that suggests that A may be a beard for Balée, A claims, again, in a dickwaving gesture, that he has a ‘doctorate in psychology.’ Now, given the poor quality of the post- both verbally and psychologically, is claiming this was written by a shrink with a doctorate going to do anything but wholly undermine the prior points made about the claimed maturity and reasonableness formal education brings? It actually bolsters my long held points that only facts can be taught, not wisdom, and that the ‘educated’ classes are no wiser than the ‘working’ class, and in fact quite a bit more insecure.

  Then, after previously claiming to want a ‘truce’, Wilson digs his hole even deeper:


I hadn't noticed that Dan thinks I've compromised my integrity by doing what I said I would do after I said I would do it. As I pointed out to Jessica, I let stand intact the comments that arrived prior to my announcement in a later post that any further insulting posts would be deleted by yours truly. Susan didn't whine to me about it at all. She did say she thought it was getting out of hand. She didn't ask me to do anything. I looked at the thread and - perhaps this will come as a surprise - made up my own mind as to how to proceed. As I explained to Jessica, on this blog, the buck stops here. Neither Jessica nor Dan can reasonably claim not to have had their say.
I also feel I should add that I pretty much agree with A.


  Again, there is no post about deleting comments, and after censoring our replies, that Wilson can claim that we ‘had our say’, is logically absurd. That he agrees with A, really Balée?, is manifest, and shows how divorced from reality he and apparatchiks like him are. Then a poster named Rudyard Kipling wrote:


Anyway, all women writers are crap, and as for the women readers…..


  Then someone named Kenn chimed in:


Steven said...
I don't see why it's necessary to delete posts even if they are condescending...

You either missed the point, or else you're a loyal friend of Jessica and Dan's. Frank did not delete condescending posts. Susan's snippy kiddos are are still there, as far as I know. What he did delete, and properly so, were the weirdly violent and strangely lock-step posts about flaccid penises and masturbation and shit.
How anybody could have read those posts and thought them brilliant and funny, much less the product of a civilized mind, is beyond me. Jessica, at least, showed a willingness to engage in civilized discussion. Then, unfortunately, her medication apparently wore off.


  Actually, Wilson did not delete the flaccid penis remark, yet he repeats the very lies that there were shit and masturbation references that were somehow over the line. Once a lie is told, liars know that sheer repetition is the best way to keep the lie going. Then, Kenn shows that, unlike Steven, he is dense and humorless, and resorts to yet another personalized attack on Jess. Of course, this attack the hypocritical Wilson has no problem with. The tone and construction of both A’s and Kenn’s posts suggests that both may merely be Balée in another guise- or sockpuppets, as the blogging term is defined.

  I then responded again:


Rus, the very reason I do not allow posts on Cosmoetica is because when I did, early on, it quickly descended into death threats and worse- and not even towards me, but people I barely knew, toward each other.
Online, people let their ids roam. However, any read of my posts clearly shows humor. Wilde was famous for this- as were Twain and Mencken. By the standards you advocate, they would all be hatemongers, or worse.
As for dialectic or crit, I always seek to enlighten. However, when Susan started off down the road to, to borrow the Clintonian phrase, 'the semantics of personal destruction' she has to be mature enough to know there will be people smarter and better with words than her.
She is a bully. Period. Bullies need to be dressed own. If Frank chooses not to reign in a colleague or pal, that's his choice, but again, the removal of the posts suggests things not within them.
Anonymous: 'Bad writers are liked by people with bad taste.'
Thanks, at least you recognize that. However, my love of Godzilla films is not for bad taste, but for their relevance to a time when I was young. It's not the liking that is bad taste, but the liking without awareness of why.
Again, I like Richard Brautigan's crap poems, because they are spoofs of the serious poetry of a Donald Hall and other Dead White Males. But, they are BAD.
Steven: 'I like Dan's posts because they are so funny, he said something about academics being a flaccid penis or something; that's hilarious okay'
You get it too. On Cosmoetica I do small reviews of poems called This Old Poem, a play off the PBS house fixing series. Small minds rail that I rip a Bukowski or Wanda Coleman or Donald Hall, but they are intendedly funny because were one to take the bad poems seriously one would cry. The very diff between my and Susan Balee's posts is that she is 'serious', stolid, and utterly arid where humor is concerned. I not only beat her at her 'serious' game, but tweaked her.
There is nothing that the ignorant in any field get more indignant than knowing a foe is right; unless that foe makes fun of their wrongness. I'll do that, because education should be fun, not dry.
Frank: 'I would hope you would take me at my word when I say that I am sure Susan did not mean to insult you - though I do understand how you could construe her remarks that way.
But wouldn't it be possible for us all to arrive at some sort of truce'

Sure- restore the two deleted posts and admit you were wrong. As much as I think Susan is a sciolist and insecure, her silliness is magnitudes less serious an offense against dialectic and freedom than your censorship.
Frank, it is you- not Jess, me, nor even Balee, who went FAR over the line. W/o simple recognition of this fact all the rest is piffle.
But, to say that Susan did not mean to be condescending. How cd you know that if not cronies? And, cd you not see the humor in my replies?


  Of course, the posts were likely irrecoverable, and Wilson had no way to restore them, even if he wanted to. His offer for a truce was thus sheer deceit.

A: 'Jess and Dan are contemptuous of formal education, but one of the several things that an education conveys is discipline, which they have unfortunately missed out on.'
Where do you get this? Humor requires far more discipline than mere straight on dialectic. I think education is great, if you use it to advance your mind, not puff up your ego. People like Susan can quote their resume all they want, but when they list Amy Tan as a writer of worth, well, All My Children has better writers, and such a resume is revealed as worthless.
'Also, a formal education simply makes one more observant and, and also, less obviously, willing to call things by their proper names....This is another element of a disciplined education that Dan and Jess seem to have missed out on: a sense of proportion, reasonableness, and balance.'
And this is from a doctorate? It is often the tactic of those who have a prejudice and do not want to have it explicitly bared, that they masque objectivity behind faux reasonableness.


  Another terrific point. Balée, A, Kenn, and even Wilson, pretend to be reasonable, then hide little personal digs in their posts, and when Jess or I call them on it, and bare the daggers, them sting their bearers in reverse, we are called hostile- yet another classic blog tactic.

'am concerned that those who missed the posts may not be aware that they were not presenting cutting, triumphant arguments that had to be suppressed to hide their brilliance. They centered on explicit references to Susan regarding shit, flaccid genitalia, and masturbation.'
Au contraire, there was no 'explicit' reference, no more than Wilde used. But, knowing that Frank deleted the posts you know that your characterization cannot be disproved. That you would reference a tweak over the verbal masturbatory references by Susan into my resorting to scatology is what the term 'pathology' is all about. And no doctorate is needed to defeat such deceits.
Frank: 'Neither Jessica nor Dan can reasonably claim not to have had their say.
I also feel I should add that I pretty much agree with A.'

Which sort of nullifies your earlier, 'But wouldn't it be possible for us all to arrive at some sort of truce'. Nice, but sad. And, if you agree with A, then technically, are we verging on mass delusion, and not mere pathology?
Rudyard: Have you ever been to Bermuda?


  Note, that after this demolition, only Wilson would remain, for Balée and her two sockpuppets had no retort. Also, look at my brilliantly humorous end to Rudyard. This is writing that Balée, et al. cannot even hope to reach. I then saw that Ken’s post was added as I put mine up, and obliterated him, as well.


Kenn: 'How anybody could have read those posts and thought them brilliant and funny, much less the product of a civilized mind, is beyond me. Jessica, at least, showed a willingness to engage in civilized discussion. Then, unfortunately, her medication apparently wore off.'
So, Frank, you see where your pal's snippiness has led? Another brilliant mind distorting things that cannot be disproved. Put back the original posts and let people see'em. Unless Kenn's meds have been shared.


  Jess then wrote her final entry:


Frank & Everyone-
This is my last post. But I want to say:
I don't hate you. (Frank) I was angry, but whatever. I said my points in my last post so I won't say them again.
You're the one of the few editors who actually consider online writers' stuff, and I'm thankful for all the times you've linked to my blog in the past. So that hasn't changed. But these references to shit/masturbation/ whatever... I don't have a clue where that's coming from. I think I said the word 'jack shit' and 'give a shit' or something in that post, but nothing in reference to bizarre fetishes. More than anything, to Susan I was just tweaking her. I think far worse has been said about me in these last few exchanges.
Now people are throwing in references to me being on meds, which is getting too personal here. I never told Susan to get 'on meds' or off meds, or whatever.
I mean, really, you all can say what you want about me. I think the comments speak for themselves. And I've heard far worse. I've had death threats and harassment in the past, (Art Durkee knows all about it) so I'm kind of hardened to it. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stick around and listen to it anymore. It's boring.
So with that, I'm outta here. If Dan wants to stay in the game then that's his choice. I thought there was some interesting discourse in the beginning about writers but it's gotten to be much, and anything I say is fruitless and will be twisted around.
But I can only speak for myself, here. Anyhow, had I known this crap would have blown up into what it's become, I never would have even posted anything to begin with. It just gets nowhere. So with that, some of you- Rus, Steven, a few of the women here, I've enjoyed some of your exchanges. Funny too, amid all this, some were still actually trying to discuss literature.
So Good Night, Good Luck, Best Wishes & Such.

  Would that Balée would have shown such class. Rudyard Kipling then posted a retort to me, and Wilson showed, yet again, that he is as immature as Balée. Look at the stick out the tongue pouty child attitude of his post:


I realize perfectly well, Dan, that you're always right and you never lie. I realize, too, that the big mistake all of us are making is not to agree with everything you say.
However, I'll follow Jessica's lead and sign off on this for good - and I intend to continue posting links to Jesica's poems. So there.


  Again, it was left to me to break through the bullshit and put things in proper context:

Sigh**** Frank, it's not about me being right or wrong, intellectually. It's about you being wrong ethically, as well as the few others, who have tried to slant things, and, yes, outright lie- as in the case of those who claim scatology or blatant sexual references. But the worst is to remove things that you simply disagree with, and claim manifestly false reasons for doing so. I simply called you on it. So there, deux.
By trying to offhandedly slough off your responsibility with a snarky quote like 'you're always right and you never lie,' you are again trying to evade your actions by implying childishness on our part.
Yet, the very remark, and the very lack of admission of the harm that such bias and curtailing of speech brings is itself childish.
It was Susan, then Kenn, and others, that always started in with the personalized gibes, waving about of degrees, and psychobabble. Yet, even with such claimed imprimaturs, they still were not capable of simple straightforward honesty and logic. Is ethics not covered in most college curricula these days?
And left untouched, this exchange will stand, and people with smarts and humor will see how positively smallminded and petty you and the others have been. There are even a few now, apparently. That's a good sign.
The very reason my site is popular is because I get all the folks who crave real discussion of arts and literature. Save the hacks and apparatchiks, the Roger Eberts and Donald Halls, the Amy Tans and Dave Eggerses for the bad sites, which number in the millions. That fact alone is why with, perhaps an online literary audience of a third or a half of a percent of all online readers, I dwarf many other sites. Being part of the problem, even if tacitly and softly, may make you, or Susan, or Ken, or whomever, feel good, but it only lessens the reading experiences for all of us.


  Then, again, I am the only one who tries to stay on the original subject:

To the original point- consider how it was Susan's emotionalism that sidetracked everything, and the answer as to why the dearth of quality fictionists who are female is obvious.
As for humor- Rudyard, Finland is the Black Hole for me, or maybe Pakistan. The people I've known from those two countries have generally been nuts. The Finns because of the lack of winter sunlight, and the Pakistanis because of an inferiority complex next to Indians. They are Asia's Irish.
Ohmygod, now I'm rippin' on the Micks!
Rus: I had no choice with the emails I used to post, for when lawyers get involved all speech is patently not free. In this nation the rich are the only free ones for only they can afford to buy the truth. Or, if you own a blog and an eraser.


  Having vanquished the rest of the dolts and sockpuppets, then one of the earlier posters, Maxine, decided that she would display her foolishness:


Like Frank, I am a professional editor. I reject many contributions and receive a lot of insults for my pains.
An editor has to decide when to draw the line.
I think many of Dan's later comments are completely out of order -- essentially he is insulting Frank for making editorial decisions about his own publication.
He is then contradicting himself by saying he does not allow comments on his own blog (Blogging 101 rule broken), and that he's removed comments in the past on his own blog.
Be that as it may, I would like to log here that as far as I am concerned Frank is the editor and it is up to him to decide what gets posted or not, whether or not one happens to agree, and it is discourteous to insult him for so doing.


  I had to point out the obvious:


Maxine: 'Like Frank, I am a professional editor. I reject many contributions and receive a lot of insults for my pains.
An editor has to decide when to draw the line.
I think many of Dan's later comments are completely out of order -- essentially he is insulting Frank for making editorial decisions about his own publication.

***Bias and censorship are not valid editorial decisions. There was nothing libelous, defamatory, nor profane that Jess nor I posted. If one cannot be fair and objective, one has no place editing. Editing is based upon the value of the words, and monitoring blog posts is not the equivalent of taking a red pen to ill-wrought verse. This is a classic blog tactic. Someone does something out of bounds- first Balee with her insults and condescension, and when she's called on it the caller is called out of bounds by cronies. Then, when Frank does even worse, censor replies and deny that Balee was out of bounds, if you call him ***shudder*** a censor, then the caller is, again, out of bounds. Solipsism is fascinating, if you're Rush Limbaugh or a PC Elitist.
He is then contradicting himself by saying he does not allow comments on his own blog (Blogging 101 rule broken), and that he's removed comments in the past on his own blog.
***Maxine. I am not a blogger. Bloggers write poorly worded 'posts'. I write essays and reviews. I do not allow comments because people get nuts and lose the ability to even read basic sentences, as Susan, Kenn, and you, apparently, have. Taking down a death threat or a claim of libel, when threatened with a lawsuit by someone is far different than Frank's censoring our posts simply because he's defending a crony, then lying about the reasons why. Could I be any clearer? I do, however, allow essays to be posted that have commented negatively on me and my website. You are free to submit a review on this topic or any other here:
***Is there anything else that needs clarification?
Be that as it may, I would like to log here that as far as I am concerned Frank is the editor and it is up to him to decide what gets posted or not, whether or not one happens to agree, and it is discourteous to insult him for so doing.
***If you scroll up, you will see that no one has challenged Frank's right to post or remove things, merely his wisdom and ethics. To call a censor a censor and maintain that such an act and appellation deserves opprobrium is no insult, nor defamation, merely a definition, one instigated by the censor. Could I be clearer?


  Notice, how time and again, these people are nor arguing with what I have stated, but with their own biases. This is classic insular blog dialectic at its worst. Here’s the best Maxine could respond with:


Dan, sadly for your argument, if someone is the editor of a publication, it is up to them to define what is a valid editorial criterion for that publication, not a potential contributor.


  I easily disposed of her argument:


Maxine, given your density, my query- 'Could I be clearer?', preceded by my defining the difference between legitimate editorial discretion and biased censorship, seems to have gone over your pate.
Sadly for your argument, if someone is the editor of a publication, it is up to them to act without bias, not clear favoritism. Add to that deceit about what the censored item is/was, and any reader/contributor should be moved to call the actions for what they were.
But keep on tap dancing. With Ben Vereen dead, someone has to make white noise.


  Meanwhile, the blogger Marydell, who posted a few times on the Wilson thread, took the argument to her own blog. Here’s part of it:


On Not Minding My Own Business

I don't know what's gotten into me recently. Although normally a blog lurker, I actually left comments in a few places and tried to participate in discussions. Rather than add to intellectual discourse, I managed to get myself insulted and sucked into trading barbs. I also made the mistake of reviewing another site based on a solicitation via e-mail, and the site owner promptly told me what he thought of me and my post.

Books, Inq.

It started regarding a New York Inquirer piece: "A Dearth of American Women Novelists?" Frank Wilson of Books, Inq., offered the question to his readers, so I suggested Margaret Mitchell, Amy Tan (with a qualifier: "I could be biased since I also have a difficult relationship with my Asian mother"), and a few others. Although I don't think the slam was directed at me personally, Dan Schneider of Cosmoetica later remarked, "Anyone who would mention Amy Tan as a great writer simply cannot be taken seriously as an intellect," and, "Margaret Mitchell? She's dumbed doen Brontes? [sic]" (I think the first typo is meant to be "down.") Initially, I felt compelled to defend my picks but let it go since the discussion had completely derailed by that time anyway.

Despite turning into a polemic, the evolution of the discussion thread itself is an interesting study in gender. It began with female commenters, turned into a male vs. female writers argument, male commenters joined in, and eventually the men drowned out most of the women. It even spilled onto other blogs, with Jessica Schneider, who believes that there are more great male writers, justifiably feeling slighted by condescending remarks. Maxine of Petrona tried being the voice of reason by reminding everyone of the original question and eventually brought the topic to her site for a more civil discourse. I left a comment there and was chided, in jest, for suggesting Carol Shields was more Canadian than American….


  I replied:



The point is no one is denying anyone's right to like nor dislike anything. I like pro wrestling, soap operas, Godzilla films, Ed Wood films, bad B sci fi films from the 50s, etc.

But I do not equate pro wrestling with ballet nor Noh, soaps with Shakespeare, or the schlocky films with Kurosawa, Kubrick, nor Bergman.

For good or ill there are objective standards to quality. These sometimes overlap with likability, but not always. Can one reasonably disagree who was the greater scientist- Galileo or Copernicus? Yes, but Immanuel Velikovsky is not in the discussion.

Who was greater- Einstein or Newton? Arguable, but Deepak Chopra is not in the discussion.

Who was greater- Whitman or Rilke? Arguable, but Maya Angelou and Donald Hall are not in a league.

But, as I like Plan 9 From Outer Space, anyone is free to think Chopra a genius, or Angelou an intellect and real artist. But, just as you would justifiably ridiule one who said Ed Wood was the greater director than Fellini, so too do statements that equate Amy Tan with being great deserve ridicule.

She is not even as good as All My Children writers. But, I do not hold it against you if you enjoy her. How could I if I like seeing musclebound brutes slam each other across a ring?

It comes down to recognizing one's biases and transcending them. Tan's books will be out of print in 30 years, and the only place they'll be available is when eventually scanned online, as curios of a deliterate age.

Similarly, B sci fi films are curios- they tell us a bit of the lowest common denominator fears of an era, but little else, and to try to propound greater from them, or Tan, is plain silly. But, I love'em anyway. I just know they're bad art....and don't give a damn!


  Then, the stolid Maxine reared her head, and showed that her stolidity and immaturity was not abating. Look at the childish nature and phrasing of her second sentence:


Hello Marydell. I think your post is very honest and very good.
I started blogging almost a year ago, and took a long time reading other people's blogs before daring to comment. It also took a long time before anyone commented on my blog ;-)

All I can say is, don't give up. Some people in blog comments just write reflex and stupid things, which is very annoying.

I am sorry that you felt "chided", even in jest, on Petrona and I hope it wasn't me doing that. I am always delighted when anyone comes to comment on my blog, and I hope you'll do so again if you find anything there interesting enough to comment on.

I will take a raincheck on Dan Schneider, as I was singularly unimpressed by his comments on Books, Inq. Illogical, irrational and unfair. I don;t think you should take his views as in any sense representative of bloggers -- certainly he is right off the scale compared with any bloggers with whom I have interacted.

All my best


  Marydell then replied:


Dan, thanks for your comment. I completely understand your point and realize that there is a difference between what someone likes and what is truly great. Objectifying greatness runs into difficulty since, as you mention, we all look at things through our own lenses of bias and taste.

Amy Tan is a great writer to me because she is like me. I can relate to what she writes because I have had many of the same experiences. When I mentioned her, I added the statement about my bias because I knew throwing her name into the mix would be controversial. I expected differences of opinion, but I don't think I "deserve ridicule."

There are ways to disagree without turning to insults. Your comment here explains your position in a reasonable manner, and I'm glad to know that you don't hold my enjoyment of Amy Tan against me even if we disagree on her merits as an author. Let's revisit this conversation in 30 years, after we know whether or not her books are still in print. ;)


  Showing some reasonableness, here was my reply to her:


Of course you shd not take my views as representative as bloggers. I'm not one. Nor do I represent any other group- black males, lesbians, or Jews with bursitis. One of the problems with blog commenters is that they rarely read what others say. Maxine is a prime example of this.
They tote their biases around and answer with canned replies to anything that pops in their head- regardless of its relation to what another said.

Marydell, you said, 'but I don't think I "deserve ridicule."' in regards to liking Amy Tan.

Here's what I said: 'so too do statements that equate Amy Tan with being great deserve ridicule.'

Is there a difference? Yes, I said the statement deserves ridicule. I never attack ad hominem, unless, with a Susan or people like Maxine, who do so first, or willfully distort. Again, reread the two quotes, and if you're being honest, you will see that you claimed something I did not write.

Bad ideas must be attacked and destroyed. If one does not stand up to the little idiocies and evils of the world that explains why the Hitlers, Stalins, Capones, bin Ladens, etc. get a hold of people.

Too many people talk the talk, but few actually stand behind their words. If you Google around, you'll see I've argued with wimpy pro-abortionists, who won't even stand up to defend themselves. They are as bad as the anti-abs.

Cowardice, not incest, is the one human trait reviled in all cultures.

A mature person can distance themselves from their beliefs and opinions. I'm an agnostic, and do not go around denouncing religion. But, if asked, I will point out all its silliness. If you're a devout Jew, Catholic, etc, and get offended, that's YOUR choice. Taking offense is always a choice. It also make a great weapon to hurl against another as a 'bigot' or 'bully'. The Left Wing PC crowd does this well, as do Right Wing Christians.

If you look at the Wilson convo, you will see it devolved the moment Susan got on her high horse, and was knocked off by Jess. All blogs work this way. there are a few people in a clique who feel their word is golden. When someone newer and more informed comes along, the anointed cry foul, resort to desperate tactics, and if they get their head handed to them (if they do not 'piss away' the competition) they set out to destroy all dialectic and claim it the interloper's fault.

This is blogging 101. From a non-blogger.




PS- publication does not equate quality. There is still plenty of schlock from 50+ years ago in print.


  Then someone named Sara posted:


Agh. No surprise that a discussion on, basically, what makes a book great would turn into a heated battle. Personally, I support your defense of the underdogs and your resistance against an elitist, invariable definition of "great." The Inquirer's definition of greatness is "a combination of beauty, relevance, a touch of the sublime, hindsight, and a matter of reputation, acclaim and critical acceptance." Who can define relevance? Is Amy Tan relevant to everyone? No, but to many readers her works might be more relevant than 99% of the canon.

Of course, one could argue that "great" works have universal relevance. Those same critics would argue against mass appeal as being a worthwhile criterion, however, even if the appeal stems from relevance. If a million people read an Amy Tan book and love it and are impacted by it, why is your defense of her so laughable?

So props to fighting the good fight. :) The blogosphere needs a good argument now and then as a break from the incessant navel-gazing.


  I then responded:


Sara: "a combination of beauty, relevance, a touch of the sublime, hindsight, and a matter of reputation, acclaim and critical acceptance."

Interesting to note how skill and craft are not in this definition. Also that the definition comes from A Lowest Common Denominator source.

Actually universality and greatness are different things. There can be great works that are universally acclaimed and others ignored.

If Whitman's Leaves Of Grass were tucked away in an attic, wd they not be 'great' simply because no one had yet published them? Of course not. One can argue about what defines greatness, and what is or is not great, but only the PC Elitists and Postmodernists defend the myth of subjectivity. And only bad artists ever seem to be parts of such noxious groups. Why?

'If a million people read an Amy Tan book and love it and are impacted by it, why is your defense of her so laughable?'

Jackie Susann, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, Richard Bach....All have far outsold Tan. Are they even greater? Different criteria have different sources. And, would Tan be 'Amy Tan- anointed PC Elitist Asian Female voice of the culture' were she Amy Rabinowitz, Amy Schmidt, or Amy Falcone? Just as being a white male, years ago, gave you a leg up, being part of an oppressed group- physically, sexually, racially, religiously, ethnically, gives you a leg up now.

I want a bit more than a mawkish Terms of Endearment with Lo Mein when I read, don't you?


  Maxine then missed the point, and mischaracterized again:


Gee, thanks for this comment, Dan:

"Maxine is a prime example of this.
They tote their biases around and answer with canned replies to anything that pops in their head- regardless of its relation to what another said."

And also for this one: "people like Maxine, who do so first, or willfully distort."

As I mentioned, I have luckily encountered very few bloggers like Dan. From what I have seen of his comments on Books, Inq. and here, I remain unimpressed. I guess I will just have to accept that he's going to call me rude things as a result. Too bad.

Incidentally, on the Kimbofo debate, I like Kim's blog a lot and am a regular there. I don't happen to agree with her views on this occasion and have written so (I hope, in restrained tones as it isn't something I have "emotions" about, just an opinion.) Even so, if Ed Champion and Miss Snark (both of whose blogs I follow) have been insulting to Kim, boo to them too. What is it with people that feel the need to be so darn rude and personal, like this Dan guy?
(That is a rhetorical question.)


  And, her query was certainly not rhetorical, it was another thinly veiled gibe. Note how her idea of a ‘diss’ is to label me a ‘blogger.’ I dispatched her like this:



How you can call the two quotes you quote rude says far more of your insecurities and desire to distort, than my pointing them out says of any claimed rudeness.
Note, despite my website not having blogging software, and my never having had a blog, you still bizarrely call me a blogger- which is a 'canned reply', as I stated, and not one that deals with the facts. My wife blogs, not me. At least my claims of your bias and distortion are in cyber black and white. Yours are merely in your cranium.
Wanna two step back over to Frank's?


  Of course, there were no replies to be given. Yet, what compels such people- total strangers, to willfully lie about others? What compels them to lash out with bile merely because they are proven wrong, or even merely told that they are wrong? When I have a chance to learn, from someone more learned in a field, I welcome the opportunity for growth, and do not view it as an upbraiding, yet the majority of people will merely whine over not the fact that they’ve gained knowledge, but lost the argument. This is why Balée, and Wilson take to such expansion of their minds with such disdain, to the point of even censoring things. Yet, to censor is a de facto admission that one cannot win an argument fairly, logically, nor dialectically. To censor posts also leaves a wrong impression that there was some solecism of decorum or argumentation that we committed. This was not so. And why couldn’t Wilson merely come out and admit he was shilling for his pal? To think that I so devastated Balée, when I was merely toying with her, or that she and her shills would resort to such Pavolovianly predictable tactics as the ‘Let’s not point fingers,’ gambit that is only used by those who know the fingers would all point their way, bespeaks the puerility of her mindset. Then, again, what more can be expected of someone who so wanly argues with her own assumptions and not with what her opposition states, simply because she does not even bother to read the responses?

  But, Wilson is no better. His unapologetic censorship is only the latest example of his apparatchik status. It’s interesting that he censored the only post of mine with links to my writings, for when Jess had sent him some of my great essay links before he never linked to them, content to be just another mediocre literary blogger who merely links to what others link to of what others link to of what others have said. The majority of his links are to female writers whom he pats on the head with condescending paternalism, whereas links to real essays that analyze and critique real writing are of no interest to him. On the other hand, I always assume the honesty and integrity of others until proven wrong- such as with Balée and Wilson. The difference is vast. Yet, sadly, the Wilsons of the world outnumber the Schneiders by thousands to one.




  In the end, there can be many answers to why people behave stupidly and dishonestly in the arts. They are insecure, they want to promote themselves via cronyism, they actively disdain those better or more knowledgeable than they are. But, whatever the reasons, the end result is what counts, and this leads to an impoverished culture, one where hacks, flaks, and apparatchiks like the many agents, Frank Wilson, and David Rothman are in positions to help or deny real and potentially great young writers. And I won’t even delve into the inanities represented by the other Dan Schneider, Peter Ward, or the many other pitiable people I’ve documented in this essay.

  Artists are, in essence, interpreters of life, for they decode things that others cannot. Certainly stolid Academics like Rothman or Susan Balée have shown that this task is well beyond their meager intellects, for look how wont they are to succor lowest common denominator condescension, or bigotry and ignorance. They believe in things like the intentional fallacy- that what a writer intends is more important than what is written, but this is folly, for an abundance of clichés, as example, will always kill whatever noble intent may be at the start of the creative process. The point of view that an artist takes on some issue becomes irrelevant when the artist simply cannot express the point well. They also resent having their meager limitations descried.

  People like a Rothman, whose stolidity abounds in Academia- despite having a PhD., may not actively seek to dumb down the Neil Hesters of the world, but because the Hesters are already beyond them, this is what happens, day after day. Writers with potential are muted, homogenized, castrated, so that they all sound alike, and many become the interns at literary agencies who write such silly rejections as detailed above. Yet, the worst thing about Rothman’s lousy verse isn’t its sheer ‘badness’ technically, nor even its utter banality, but the fact that there is not a line there that says anything individuated about Rothman. Read a stanza from Whitman or Rilke or Stevens or Plath or Tu Fu and there is no mistaking one of those poets for another. Read Rothman and you’ve read what ten thousand other poetasters in workshops are laboring hard to express. Is there even a David Rothman to David Rothman? Do the Rothmans of the world deliberately dumb things down, so that they can feel better about themselves? Certainly, that would seem the case with the insecure strap-on artist Balée.

  Then, how to explain the Arthur Lazeres, or the folks at Not Coming or The Simon? Why couldn’t Lazere simply admit he was a Barzun fan, rather than show his utter lack of intellect and honesty by dissing a terrific piece of writing and criticism? And even if he’s granted an exemption for his terminal illness, what of the other two? And what of the nonsense at Frank Wilson’s blog? Are the people there so PC that any tripe that’s passed off as ‘cliterature’ need be deemed good or daring, merely because of its author’s sex? Is it so outrageous, given what all of us experience in day to day human interactions, to suggest that men more easily emotionally detach from things than women? That this is a big part of why men are more willing to look objectively at things, and change them, thereby taking more risks in art, politics, war, business, and life in general? I saw this for years, on a monthly basis, at the old Uptown Poetry Group I ran. Is not denying the manifest a sign of psychosis?

  Is the other Dan Schneider bizarrely envious of my online popularity? It would not shock me, for as I’ve shown, small minds are prone to pettiness, as well as the clichés of art and thought which so dominate the art by committee groupthink sites like The Simon or Not Coming, who, like the literary agencies, have no ability to transcend their likes and biases and simply appreciate great and accomplished writing, for they do not care of craft nor skill, or they are wholly ignorant of what it is- just like that silly definition of greatness in the above above blog thread.

  Reading well first requires the ability to actually read. People constantly bemoan the fact that there are many illiterates out in the world, but in America, actual literacy- the ability to comprehend letters, words, sentences, has never been higher. The real problem is deliteracy- the desire to not put actual literacy to the good use of enriching one’s mind with art. Instead, people would rather just crib opinions from Cliffs Notes or Lowest Common Denominator critics like Roger Ebert.

  As I end this essay I want to apologize for its length, but I had to go far longer than I wanted to, especially with the selected quotes and posts, lest I be accused of being unfair. Granted, the deliterates out there will resort to such, no matter, but one can only control what one does- not what others wrongly perceive. Yet, as long as this piece goes, these rejections and online disses are but a miniscule example of what my wife and I have endured in just a few months, as well as many other writers of substance, in submissions- in print and online, in blogs and chat rooms, and, worst of all, in centers of learning. In short, be forewarned and prepared, ye younger writers, for there are far more many of them than there are of you!

  Whatever it is that compels such people to expose their unremitting ignorance, stupidity, utter personal genericism, and slavery to Lowest Common Denominator biases, is not as important as the will to combat it. Great artists often waste far too much time trying to ‘save the world’, or in political causes where their voices are lost in a din, whereas they do nothing in the very field where their voices can be heard clarion, and have an effect. While I am not a ‘name’ writer yet, I am a great writer, and if I do not stand up and expose the manifest biases, dishonesty, and stupidity in my craft, who will? And who will the younger generation (and those yet born) look to for guidance in how to battle the same sort of ignorance that will unfortunately perdure in their age? Hopefully, a baedeker like this will ease their war, and also begin the process that will make their battles a little less tough.

  To the intelligent and talented writers of today and tomorrow- you are not alone. Great art eases loneliness, and great criticism does, too. Yet the latter function calls for the striving towards objectivity even more than great art does. One may never fully achieve it, but the striving is worth it, lest one fall into the logical and ethical- as well as lonely, morass of The Myth Of Subjectivity cultists who have made this essay necessary. Lo!




The stupidity and dishonesty never stops. This agent de facto admits to bias, and cannot even write a readable email:




Querying: If that's how you feel, then that's how you feel. I won't query a place where my or Dan's work isn't wanted. But, I do recall you requesting to see Dan's first 50 (or 30, I can't remember) pages of his memoir, True Life, and it's a work that is different from anything else, so we both expect people not to get it or appreciate it on first read.
But this book is very different from that one, and plus, agents I've queried say, 3 or 4 times by now who have rejected all of my and Dan's queries, suddenly have asked to see this particular query, so you never know who is interested in what.
I know all about how editors toss things aside based on 1st paragraph, if it doesn't appeal to the lowest common denominator on first read, they throw it out. (Most great works of literature wouldn't stand a chance). But my guess is this isn't about Dan's writing, but about his 'personality' and his 'controversy' blah, blah, blah, which is actually an asset more than anything else. One doesn't get 64 million hits on a website from being ordinary.

But just a FYI: agents who I've not queried a 2nd time have sent rejections that say they are not taking on new clients. When that has been the case, I don't bother.
And were you to tell me you just didn't want anything to do with either of us, I can take the honesty. And I can appreciate it. Doesn't mean I agree with it, but at least I know where you stand.
Best of luck, (although I need it more)
Jessica Schneider

On 12/13/06, AGENT wrote:

i was trying to be helpful by telling you what no other agent will usually, writers appreciate this
do you really expect any agent to say, "please don't ever send us another query because your writing isn't for us"
agents and editors (especially editors) judge an author's writing on page one of their ms -- actually, by the first paragraph



If you say the book is not for you then I read that as that book is not for you. After all, it was a memoir with poetry in it, and this is quite different. And how can you dismiss the scope of one's writing based only on one single work? Yes with bad writers you can do that. It is highly unlikely that Dan Brown is a budding Steinbeck. But this is real writing. However, if you're not interested in working with a particular author for whatever bias, then I think you need to clarify that up front, because it can save me, as well as your other potential clients, postage and time.
Jessica Schneider


On 12/13/06, AGENT wrote:

well, you need to understand that when we explain a book is not for us, we are really saying the writing is not for us ---- unless we actually state we don't buy memoirs or whatever genre the book is and say we like the writing and would be interested in another work, we're just the wrong agent for the author


On Dec 13, 2006, at 12:45 PM, J S wrote:

Yes I did contact you before about his work, but this is a different project. I contacted you before about his memoir, but this is a 66K word novel.

On 12/13/06, AGENT wrote:
dear jessica,

i believe you contacted me before about your husband's work and I was sorry to say it didn't seem right for my list
best, agent

Addendum 2


  In yet another display of intellectual stolidity, my wife recently came across this website called Textetc. The writer has a few dozen rather poorly written and generic essays on poetry and art, as well as philosophy; sort of a Cliffs Notes approach to art- note the superfluous referent to another's work, and on the above quoted page, he ends his banal discussion with this quote:

Sometimes themes involve not the outside world but literature. Dan Schneider underlines what he considers clichés in Ted Hughes's Song, which I reproduce in red: just the first two stanzas. {13}


Song O lady, when the tipped cup of the moon blessed you
You became soft fire with a cloud's grace;
The difficult stars swam for eyes in your face;
You stood, and your shadow was my place:
You turned, your shadow turned to ice
O my lady.

O lady, when the sea caressed you
You were a marble of foam, but dumb.
When will the stone open its tomb?
When will the waves give over their foam?
You will not die, nor come home,
O my lady.

From Song by Ted Hughes

Are the phrases original? No, they're derivative: we think of other poems or sorts of poems in which such phrases occur. But that does not necessarily make them clichés, and I don't think that soft fire, eyes in your face, your shadow was my place, You will not die, nor come home are heinous 'poeticisms'. We could write an unexceptional prose with them: "You will not die," said her father, taking her hands and looking at her carefully. "And the eyes in your face, which have a soft fire, tell me that you will not come home. That you have found someone else." When she didn't answer, he went over to the writing table and pulled out an old drawing of the family. "Yes," he said, as she thrust it angrily back at him, "I will think of you, just as you did when I was away. When I was in prison, your shadow was my place. . ." A little novelettish, perhaps, but not offensively so.
Never to use phrases have been employed elsewhere seems an impossible goal, and one Dan Schneider himself does not follow. {14} Poems have always referred to each other, and Bakhktin's work only systematizes an inherent feature of language.

  The referent to me is as follows:


13. This Old Poem #43: Ted Hughes’ Song. Dan Schneider. Dec. 2002. http://www.cosmoetica.com/TOP43-DES40.htm.
14. In Jenny, at Five, at Her Telescope. Dan Schneider. Nov. 1999. http://www.citypages.com/databank/20/990/article8241.asp?page=5 In Schneider's own poem, both A grace that no poet has ever limned and defeat the fates are more period phrases than Hughes's 'transgressions', though intended (Dan Schneider's email to me, 19 Dec 2006) to undermine Romantic notions with contemporary reality.


  That Holcombe conflates a great poem with a piece of doggerel is typical, for he has no clue as to what makes writing good, as evidenced in his own forgettable prose and criticism. I emailed him thus:


From: Dan Schneider

To: txt_editor@litlangs.com

Dec 19, 2006 6:19 PM

Subject: John Holcombe: http://www.textetc.com/aspects/a-amateur-poetry.html


John, My wife found your piece, and while I'm glad to see that there are some serious attempts at criticism, when you compare Ted Hughes' doggerel to my great sonnet, you are making a common error, that of taking a familiar phrase that is decontextualized and assuming it's a cliche.
All of the Hughes cliches are trite because, a) they've been used before, b) they've been used in similarly sentimented poems, and c) worst of all, they are run one after another.
In my sonnet, you quote three phrases: A grace that no poet has ever limned, scans the skies, and defeat the fates.
The first phrase opens the poem, which sets it up as a typical Romantic poem, but qwhatr follows? 'blacks out before her, as she scans the skies,/with the amative notion that that is/me! That's quite a philosophuic undoing of a Romantic notion, especially when we find out it is a child that uttered it. The second phrase is simply not a cliche. It's like stating, 'walked ahead.' PLus, since she's looking in a telescope, it is 'literally' what she is doing. It is not a poeticism at all. Context matters. A close reader understands that a cliche isn't merely the mathematical frequency of a phrase, but that phrase repeated in a similar context. Then, the third phrase, is the father's belief for his dying daughter- a ten year old. Usually, phrases like that are used in epopee. To use it for a cancer ridden girl is to wholly undermine it. IF one used a phrase like 'broken heart', and it literally described someone shot in the chest, it inverts the cliche. Hughes' poem fails on all counts, my three phrases do not. And scans the skies is certainly not a period phrase.
If one is going to intelligently examine things, one must not fall into the errors that others incur. With this 'comparison', you have conflated a very bad poem- Hughes', with a great one- mine, which is sort of like mistaking a panda for a tiger, because both are mammals from Asia. A little less aping of the dread poetry textbooks, and a bit more thought will serve your criticism well. DAN


  I expected a rather rote and banal reply, and got it:


txt_editor@litlangs.com <txt_editor@litlangs.com>

Sat, Dec 23, 2006 at 8:05 AM

To: Dan Schneider 


Dear Dan,
Thanks for the contribution. I'm not actually much persuaded by it, or the poem, but I have tried to represent your view more fairly by a small change to the page in question.
Good of you to write.

Colin John Holcombe


  The quoted text above- #14 reflects a minor change of his. Note how he cannot address a single point, so demurs it all. This is typical in this blog-inflicted world, that one simply ignores ideas or points which undermine one's view. I replied:


From:Dan Schneider

Sat, Dec 23, 2006 at 3:05 PM

To: "txt_editor@litlangs.com" <txt_editor@litlangs.com>


One need not be persuaded that a brick wall is solid to be repelled by it when running in to it. It simply is. Art, like any craft, has objective standards, and cliches are amongst the most objective, due to numerical frequency- the same with those phrases that surround it, whether you recognize it or not, or respond to the reasons.
Excellence is an objective thing- just as beauty has been proven to be. Leaves Of Grass wd still be a great book of poems even if never published and mouldering in an attic. That does not stop one from 'liking' bad poets like Ted Hughes or Maya Angelou, but no amount of mamby-pambying will make their verse good.
This PC/PoMo notion that all is subjective, other than being logically wrong, is plain silly. When critics grow up and get beyond that, then they'll move past the idea that criticism shd read like Cliffs Notes, or refried Helen Vendler.


  I've yet to receive a reply, and likely will not. It is sad that this fellow, who at least makes a meager attempt at criticism, lacks even the basics to evaluate the art he manifestly is drawn to.

  In lament, I forwarded it around to my e-list, with this comment:


  Ain't he a real probing intellectual?  DAN


  Thus, the whole point of this essay, that even those who claim to love intellect and thought reject it at all opportunity. <Sigh!>


Addendum 3


  Until recently, the website They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? was one of several outlets for my film reviews. After my 21st review was posted, usually bi-weekly, I received this email from the site's webmaster, Bill Georgaris, who previously had praised my writing, and admitted my reviews were the most popular on his site:


Bill Georgaris <mymansyd@hotmail.com>

Fri, Jan 26, 2007 at 7:24 PM

Hi Dan,
This is very difficult for me...
I hope you won't be too furious, but I have decided, in conjunction with my partner, to withdraw your reviews from TSPDT. First and foremost, I can't thank you enough for graciously offering up your work to me. I am extremely grateful.
However, in the end, it is clear in our minds that you write very much from a literary standpoint, rather than a cinephile one, and we've decided, in the end, that your reviews don't 'fit' in with TSPDT's audience or whatever you want to call it.
I wish you all the best for the future, and good luck with your writings and website (which I admire).


  Note the claim of difficulty, and then the odd signoff of 'Ta'. Here is the rest of our exchange:



Well, if you don't want future reviews, that's fine, but why take down what's up? And what is the diff betwen the cine and lit POV that you object to?
Also, you've mentioned on more than one occasion that the pieces were very popular, so how can they not 'fit in'?  DAN


  I forwarded the email to my e-list:


Yet another example of the utter bizarreness of the online world. I wonder what's really behind this?  DAN


  By the 28th I emailed again, after no reply:


Can I get a reply that answers my queries. I get the sense that there is a hidden agenda at work, and I deserve an honest reply.  DAN


  The next day, Bill replied:


Hi Dan,
My apologies for not replying sooner. There is no hidden agenda at work, whatsoever.
 1) We took down the reviews, because like I said, we don't feel they suit TSPDT. Popularity or lack of popularity has nothing to do with it. I would be happy to email you all the html files of your reviews, if you don't have copies stored away.
 2) With respects to your question regarding cine vs. lit, one of our readers recently wrote about your writing-:

He concentrates simply on the particulars of story, plot, theme, and character development, but he casts aside perhaps the most distinguishing characteristics of movies: image, sound, mise en scene, camera, editing, basically all the formal elements that differentiate cinema from the other arts. Does Dan Schneider even know this? Going through his personal website, he seems to have a rudimentary grasp of literature, but unfortunately the same can't be said for his film knowledge.  

Dan, I concur with these sentiments to a certain degree, otherwise I wouldn't have included them in this email. However, I can assure you that I've read some of your writings on your website and you definitely have more than a 'rudimentary grasp' of literature. I wouldn't take any notice of that.

I hope that we can part on good terms, and once again I apologise for our decision.

Bill Georgaris


  Note that the quoted email basically is very in league with many of the dimwitted examples in the above essay. I replied:


Thanks for the reply. Of course I disagree, for having read many of the reviews of Ebert, Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby, Bosley Crowther, etc.- i.e.- the big name film critics of the last few decades, I can state uneqivocally that far more of my reviews, and %'s of words in them deal with things such as framing and the visuals than any of theirs do, or that 98% of online film reviews do. As well as praising the scores in Herzog films, or Nino Rota's collaborations with Fellini.
But, that aside, why did it take 21 reviews for you to see that I was not going to write what I would call the masturbatory film school sort of piece that focuses on minutia of the specific art while ignoring the far more obvious flaws? Comments like those below are almost always written by people who dislike an opinion and have no real recourse to the arguments presented. Many Charles Bukowski fans follow this tack. I believe, when I first contacted you I said I was gonna split the diff between the pop criticism of Ebert & co., and that film school minutia. Again, 2 or 3 reviews shd have been enough to decide whether or not you liked the style or focus. Anyway, I have all my files, and thanks for posting them.  DAN


  Again I forwarded the exchange to my e-list:


The bizarreness continues. I swear, I just don't get why people do such sill things, and waste my time. In effect, the reply is that we don't want to get out of our own little box re: this or that. Films, religion, politics- this is what is wrong w most of society.  DAN


  I got this reply from one of my readers:


Seems like PC at work.  A critic may not actually "criticize" or at least cast bad quality in a bright light lest everybody else gets offended at the perceived negativity.  Sorry to hear about this development.


  I replied: 


Perhaps. But it's not as if I ever claimed to know the diff between a shot shot on Super 8 or 35 or 16mm film. I laid out specifically what I wd focus on. It's almost laughable that whatever cretin wrote: 'He concentrates simply on the particulars of story, plot, theme, and character development, but he casts aside perhaps the most distinguishing characteristics of movies: image, sound, mise en scene, camera, editing, basically all the formal elements that differentiate cinema from the other arts.' does not seem to realize that what I focus on is why anyone wd ever want to watch a film or not. And again, I do detail instances of the 'filmic' side, I just don't go all gaga over it. They are obviously not really reading many of the reviews to write such a thing.
It's like when I've asserted something, given a for instance, and then am complained of that I did ot back up my claim. I did, you just disagree. But to claim I'm not backing up the claim is to ignore the diff of opinion and simply be wrong.
This is why I do not blog, for there are far too many people out there who simply do not, and cannot read. they could tell you there are words in front of them, but not have a clue as to the gist.  DAN


  My own take is that they simply got offended at my 'dissing' of one or more of their favorite films or directors- Bill once claimed Vertigo was one of his favorite films, but lacked the balls to say so. regardless, this minor dishonesty does not outweigh the manifest stupidity of axing essays that are greatly written, incisive AND popular! The examples are unending, it seems.


BTW- in emailing about my e-list, one of my readers suggests that the critique is silly, since a screnplay is always the first thing a film producer requires and Anthony Zanetti writes: 'The essays on literature present a new way of looking at the poetry and fiction of the 20th century, and I think there is potential to re-assess films in a similar way. And this is why removing the essays, and for such lame reasons, is so terrible. Dan comments on story, plot, character development, and theme because those things are undeniably part of the works in question. What did you think editing, lighting, sound, and mise en scene were serving?'


Addendum 4


  Yet more pap from an editor of an online mag who has absolutely no clue as to good writing. His advice is along the lines of what Emily Dickinson was told, and then he publishes utter garbage. Raymond Carver would be ashamed of such a mag:


Example 1


Dan Schneider

Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 7:58 AM


Jerome Stern? He's written so much great fiction. Even if a Steinbeck had said this it would be silly. Then he recommends workshops, and the underlined is what he considers good writing. A joke, sad but true. Hey, I'm a workshop writer now.  DAN

---------- Forwarded message ---------- 

From: J S Date: Feb 26, 2007 8:34 PM
Subject: Another Dumb Editor
To: Dan Schneider

Another dummy that wants everything cookie-cutter and generic. Just to give you an example of what he publishes, here is the end to one of the stories: Just look at the cliches and the last line. And this is just one story.


  Nina's eyes grow large as the priest and I pass the front desk to exit the Serendipity, and we are silent as he steers his Town Car up Monroe toward Nathan, takes Nathan to Farley, Farley to the warehouse district. I've told him nothing, just asked him to take me for a drive. If John's car isn't there I'll give the priest his wedding ring, tell him John said he loved his wife but wasn't good enough for her, that he's sorry for everything. Is it a sin, though, to pray that the rusted Monte Carlo is still parked sideways in the lot, its bumper kissing the chain-link fence, John's body resting peacefully on the line he once controlled? Is it a sin to envision that this would be the priest's inadvertent gift of dark salvation, a parallel deliverance for two people whose lives were plummeting, a cold and hard and violent plunge into eternally healing waters?

Dear Matthew-

Thanks for your comments, but the narrator is 1st person, and it captures the way a young person would speak. Part of the story deals with memory and the speaker looking back, thus the switch. If a child is looking back on her memory, the reflections are going to be irregular- that's just how memory works.
As a rule of thumb, I avoid 'how to' books on writing because the advice is very banal and often instructing on how one needs to 'show not tell' when there is nothing wrong with telling if it is told well. So in other words, the advice is totally arbitrary. In this case that is what the speaker is doing. And while I appreciate your comments and your reading of it, with the exception of minor edits (spelling blips, etc) the work is finished because I believe the elements you don't agree with are what give the piece its distinction.
This is one of the many reasons I am very against workshops and MFA's because art does not spawn from 'how to' rules, and also the writing that spawns from such leans more towards the generic and cliche filled, two things that you'll never find in my writing. Again, thanks for your offer, but I have to pass.

Jessica Schneider

On 2/26/07, Editor, Carve Magazine < submissions@carvezine.com> wrote:

Hi Jessica,

Thank you for your submission to Carve.  I had a reader bring your attention to my piece, but while I really liked it, I don't think it's ready to be published yet.  I'm going to offer a few suggestions, for you to take or reject. 
The biggest issue I had with the story was the narrator.  Even if a story is told in the 3rd person, there's still "someone" telling the story that isn't the author.  Usually the author knows who this narrator is, and how that narrator speaks, feels, or even thinks can be injected into the story to varying degrees.  (Read Jerome Stern's section on "Narrators" in his book "Making Shapely Fiction.")
But in the case of "The Fish" the narrator tended to be very inconsistent and stuck out to me in some places (like when s/he said, "for" or "after all" after almost every hyphen) and then disappeared in others.  I felt like the narrator also switched between omniscient and limited.  Sometimes that works, but in this piece it felt jerky.  But I think through some edits, and a "tightening" of the language and story, if you will, this story is bound to be published.
The story itself is excellent.  My reader is a friend of mine that is female she really related to the piece.  I think you capture the awkward adolescence girls experience in a touching but realistic manner.  I love that you don't resort to any sort of melodrama, and that Sonja's change is truly internal as much as it is external.  The relationship between her and Mercedez is another strong point of the piece as well.  We all had a friend like Mercedez in middle school, and we were all left wondering why we didn't stay friends.
My suggestion to you at this point is to have someone really trained in the craft of lit fiction (creative writing teacher, mentor, workshop environment)  to take a look at your piece and offer a thorough line-by-line critique.  I'd really like to publish this piece, but I need it to be tightened and crafted better, so it really shines.
Also, I read through your blog a little bit and I liked what you had to say about writers and (a lack of) jealously over talent vs. just being published.  I hope you continue to work on this piece and send me it again in the future, or maybe another you have worked on extensively.
If you have any questions, feel free to reply.

Thank you,

Matthew Limpede
Editor, Carve Magazine

Example 2


  This editor has no ability to really read. He reads as if he is using a 3rd Grade primer, and that punctuation, if daring, is wrong. Meanwhile cliches slip by obliviously:


Dan Schneider

Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 7:59 AM


Someone assassinate this editor, please!  DAN


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: J S
Date: Feb 26, 2007 8:48 PM
Subject: Here is another piece of crap
To: Dan Schneider 

Just another piece of crap from his mag. I just want the young writers on this list to see what editors want, and likewise the crap that MFA's spawn. Every line is a banality or a cliche! Oh, and the title is called 'Awash In Love'

I think my mother would have liked to see us old and blind and contented with our lot. I think she always felt the dimming was a gift, one we might not appreciate until we'd faced our challenges and shed our tears of grief and loss. And I think my father, struck down in his prime and spared my mother's blindness, would have liked to see us at peace with our condition, too. Our tribe has faced the realities of life and death, of sightedness and blindness, with an uncommon acceptance. I value all my line for this, and feel my granddaughter carrying it on as she moves about the farm like the sun itself, rising and shining and setting each day, to honor an inevitable night. She'll grieve for me. We have that bond that inspires tears. She'll miss me and she'll take the time to feel my loss. And when the darkness comes for her, whenever that might be, she'll make her choices about how to end it all. And I, in my final days of dark solitude and meaning, have this wild beating in my heart and the wonder of what will come next and the joy that perhaps it will all come to nothing except…except, for this feeding thing, this making room, this letting go so others might take hold.

Addendum 5


  Today, I found out that some comments of mine were censored at a website where I had posted some film reviews recently. It is http://newcritics.com/blog1/. It was obvious, from first reading the site, that it had a definite Left Wing bias, but once it started engaging in censorship, I had no recourse but to not participate there any longer. There was recently this blog thread http://newcritics.com/blog1/2007/03/02/what-price-info/#comments on a Conservative reaction to the ridiculous online Wikipedia. Note that several posters take cheap shots at people they disagree with; mostly conservatives. I answer one charge and explain that political ideals are predispositions, not well cogitated philosophies.

  The blog owner, Tom Watson, has himself, along with other posters, taken numerous swipes at things generally non-Left Wing. Then, he had allowed this post- http://newcritics.com/blog1/2007/02/28/pete-townshend-who-he-and-us/#comments- on rock star Pete Townshend and his writing online memoirs. I commented humorously that the last time Townshend got caught up in the Internet it became a pedophilia scandal. A day or two later I noticed Tom had removed my comment, ironically, the same time I posted on the prior thread of Left Wingers being as actively engaged in censorship as the Right. Several more posts of mine were removed in which I argued for free speech. They were removed, and then this exchange of emails occurred:


Tom Watson <twwatson@earthlink.net>

Tue, Mar 6, 2007 at 8:20 AM

I've invited Pete to blog here - I consider him an online friend, and can't countenance attacks on him on a site that I happen to run. Further, there's a lot of back-story to the child porn charges that can't be nuanced in a simple link or charge.
I only have one basic rule on the site - that we all treat our fellw bloggers (and I consider Townshend one) the way we want to be treated.
If we have to part ways over it, I'd feel badly about that, but there it is.



Note, that Townshend is an 'online friend'; which really means that months ago Watson got an email from him, and is so enamored that he offered Townshend a chance to write, it has not been taken up, but Watson so longs for what he feels will be a 'hits' bonanza to have a celebrity write a small, ill worded piece for his site, that he's willing to abandon all scruples, in terms of art (censorship) and society (defending a consumer of child pornography). I replied:

To: Tom Watson <twwatson@earthlink.net>

Tom, This is not an attack, but public information. Period. What he did was order the porno. He admitted to that.
I've seen, in posts and replies, many a shot at people that are not in your political sphere- from Pres Bush on down, w far less substantiation.
It's your site, and you are entitled to do what you wish, but you shd put a BIG disclaimer on the front page, to the effect that opinions unwanted may be removed for reasons of personal bias, etc.
We are talking about Child Pornography- one of the few things far left and right agree about.
If you had a pal who was a priest, accused of sodomy, wd you ban articles on The Catholic Church's coverup?
To be taken seriously, as a writer, one's personal biases have too be killed. As Eliot said, 'Kill the self,' in art. A bit extreme, but far more useful in journalism.
There are few people online who have been more attacked, on a personal level, than me. Merely mentioning someone's past is not an attack.
If Ted Kennedy's your pal, is Chappaquiddick out of bounds?
Hell, in the Beatles post, I mention Pete has more musical talent than any of the Beatles.
I wd submit that bloggers and posters want to be treated w respect for their opinions, which includes non-censorship.
If you do not want to post my reviews because you'd prefer to censor, that is your choice, but you are only damaging your blog and dignity in the process.
BTW- I am BCCing this to several hundred people on my e-list, including Joe Gandelman of TMV. Perhaps I will do a piece for him on Left Wing censorship. I do so because I get sick and tired of people distorting things subtly and not, which is what censorship does. Reality may not be pretty, but not talking of it does not change it.  DAN

He replied:

Tom Watson <twwatson@earthlink.net>

What you wrote was this:
"Didn’t his memoirs go unfinished because the last time he was online he was looking for little boys?"
This is an attack - for you suggest that in a period from 1996 to 2007, his memoirs were not complete because he spent his time "looking for little boys." In point of fact, Townshend has been involved in many online projects in those years and is something of a pioneer in online collaboration.
There is no nuance to this attack, no background, nothing about Pete's explanation.
(You'll find it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki /Pete_Townshend)
Newcritics is a group blog about culture; I'm trying to keep the higher ground and actually discuss media and art - which most of the time, you do. If you want to call that "left wing censorship," be my guest.
I may well take you up on the disclaimer- not a bad idea.


  Ironically, Wikipedia's entry goes into far more detail, and  makes Townshend look far more shady than my comment does- and many other sites which are not as Left-leaning as Wikipedia, delve far deeper into the Townshend scandal- and it should be noted that none of them have been sued by Townshend for libel. Also, the manifest humor in my comment is totally missed. It's a truism that the Far Left is even more humorless than the Far Right, despite their constant claims to 'know better' than to censor- something they believe only the Right does. I replied:

To: Tom Watson <twwatson@earthlink.net>

That is humor, about a VERY serious offense. To call that an attack is silly. Go thru your archives and I'm sure you'll find far more unkind and cutting remarks against people and ideas you do not approve of.
I know of Townshend's claims. Ted Kennedy did not mean to kill the girl either. Woody Allen did not mean to have sex with his de facto stepchild. I'd not let someone I cared of go driving w Ted, nor wd I leave a young girl alone w Woody- whose films I love, nor a young boy w Pete.
C'mon, if Townshend were Ted Nugent- a noted Right Wing rock star, wd you and I be emailing like this? Be real. His explanation is a variant that many celebs use when busted over drugs, sex, or what have you.
You are entitled to your blog and to run it as you see fit, to selectively choose what you claim are attacks and leave real attacks on Christians, Right Wingers, etc. I agree w many of them, but you cannot be so biased and claim to not be.
This is BS, hypocrisy, and censorship. That's not my definition, but Webster's.
And thanks for sending the posts. When I do my piece I will use it. If you have the others taken down, please fwd, for they only strengthen my claims.
Humor is not an attack, and I'd bet a Ted Haggard or Jimmy Swaggart, or any Catholic priest, wd love to have defenders like you. Their explanations are in the same vein- I didn't mean to, BUT..... DAN

A few hours later I tried to post a reply to Watson's final comment, comment 21 on http://newcritics.com/blog1/2007/03/02/what-price-info/#comments

I strongly disagree with your statement as it applies to this blog: “To act as censor is shameful.”
This is my blog. I’ve paid for it. Not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but enough for my modest budget.
I’ve invited writers in, and kept comments open. But I do reserve the right to choose what appears here, even if I don’t exercise that right very often.
Not to belabor the point on Pete Townshend, who is a wealthy rock star and can defend himself - but I’ve invited him to blog here. He may or may not choose to do so, but in making that invite, he has become part of this little community (in my mind at least). So I feel it necessary to extend the same courtesies I’d extend to you. It’s my call. Hope you’re okay with it.

  Here is an important point that people who are engaging in dishonesty often do. Note how he tries to downplay his censorship, as if nothing, and utterly brushes off the respect due to people who blog or comment there, and does it with a 'smile'. Having been in this situation at other blogs- usually Right Wingers, I figured that a final post wd either be taken down or not allowed. It was blocked, but I saved it. That he ends his reply with faux geniality, all the while pre-empting my reply, is as dishonest as one can get. Here is my reply:

As stated in our emails, you can do what you wish w yr site- that's not at issue.

But, we're talking about public information, and the fact that it exists, not whether or not there was guilt. This is not an arbitrary distinction. To not mention the child porno w/Townshend is akin to omitting Soon-Yi from Woody Allen's life, or Chappaquiddick from Ted Kennedy's.

You can do so, but it undermines your credibility. You can undermine yours, that's your right- but not mine. You can also disseminate whatever info you want to your readers, but it is ironic that in a post ripping Conservative bias you have demonstrated, unequivocally, that extremes mirror each other.

Part of courtesy, Tom, is a free and open exchange. If Townshend, or Woody Allen, or Ted Kennedy, wanna post for you, and you want to remove any refs from others to their sordid pasts, you can do so, but are not their music, films, and legislative records enough to counter their darker sides? That you believe not says how little you ultimately esteem your friendship.

It also shows how the extremes mimic each other. Censor, if you will, but I'll find some other place to visit.

Final irony: the original New Critics were uniformly Right Wingers, while this blog is the other extreme. Look it up, Viscount.


  I could have used many other examples- from Elia Kazan to Roman Polanski, but the point re: celebrity pasts, is made. From stupidity to dishonesty, it never ends- be it the Left or the Right. The only times I have ever removed things from Cosmoetica was under threats of legal action and/or death threats that were posted where I could be legally held responsible. This is why Cosmoetica is not a blog. Yet, I have published articles by others critical of many things, including myself and this site. Cosmoetica will remain a free speech zone, even if many other blogs and websites are not. I will also continue to expose the deceits and dishonesties of people, of whatever persuasion, belief, or background, who engage in such behaviors as detailed in this addendum, or anything else contained on this page.

  It's gonna be a long, long page....sigh.

Update: 3/10/07: It seems that Tom Watson is not only a censor, but a radical censor. The handful of reviews that I already posted were removed from his site, along with all the comments, and over twenty of my comments have been removed. Since I was, by far, the top commenter, before Watson's censorship, one wonders if my domination of his blog was also at work. It never ends, though, and the proverbial and real fights go on. The death of ethos, and all over his defense of pedophilia.

Update: 3/23/07: Watson has removed all of my comments as well.

Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share