Editors' Notes

Maria Damon and Michelle Greenblatt
Jim Leftwich and Michelle Greenblatt
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

A Visual Conversation on Michelle Greenblatt's ASHES AND SEEDS with Stephen Harrison, Monika Mori | MOO, Jonathan Penton and Michelle Greenblatt

Letters for Michelle: with work by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Jeffrey Side, Larry Goodell, mark hartenbach, Charles J. Butler, Alexandria Bryan and Brian Kovich

Visual Poetry by Reed Altemus
Poetry by Glen Armstrong
Poetry by Lana Bella
A Eulogic Poem by John M. Bennett
Elegic Poetry by John M. Bennett
Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
A Eulogy by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Joel Chace
A Spoken Word Poem and Visual Art by K.R. Copeland
A Eulogy by Alan Fyfe
Poetry by Win Harms
Poetry by Carolyn Hembree
Poetry by Cindy Hochman
A Eulogy by Steffen Horstmann
A Eulogic Poem by Dylan Krieger
An Elegic Poem by Dylan Krieger
Visual Art by Donna Kuhn
Poetry by Louise Landes Levi
Poetry by Jim Lineberger
Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Poetry by Peter Marra
A Eulogy by Frankie Metro
A Song by Alexis Moon and Jonathan Penton
Poetry by Jay Passer
A Eulogy by Jonathan Penton
Visual Poetry by Anne Elezabeth Pluto and Bryson Dean-Gauthier
Visual Art by Marthe Reed
A Eulogy by Gabriel Ricard
Poetry by Alison Ross
A Short Movie by Bernd Sauermann
Poetry by Christopher Shipman
A Spoken Word Poem by Larissa Shmailo
A Eulogic Poem by Jay Sizemore
Elegic Poetry by Jay Sizemore
Poetry by Felino A. Soriano
Visual Art by Jamie Stoneman
Poetry by Ray Succre
Poetry by Yuriy Tarnawsky
A Song by Marc Vincenz

Join our Facebook group!

Join our mailing list!

Journalism's Demise and the Devaluation of Literary Art
by Dennis Weiser

It is not the military general, nor the career politician, nor even the corporate entrepreneur, but rather the hardnosed, investigative, career journalist who has become the true enemy of literary art in our time. Journalists have fallen far short of the goal of political action, which sociologist Max Weber envisioned for the Third Estate when he wrote "Politics as a Vocation." Under the degraded influence of modern science, hijacked and exploited by techniques of advertising, electronic marketing, public relations and lobbying, journalists have come to believe that they produce a kind of knowledge equal—if not superior—to that of scholars and scientists, rather than merely purvey topical copy, the notorious "first rough draft of history."

For an age that recognizes the standard of hard knowledge—modeled on that of the natural sciences, fortified by mathematics and confirmed by empirical evidence—as the only legitimate, saleable commodity, all merely human endeavors require the imprimatur of science; in other words, smug scientism's seal of approval, which has little or nothing to do with the actual virtues or substantive achievements of science. For we have been lulled into accepting as scripture the myth that Knowledge is The Answer and solution to all of our problems.

But if Knowledge is the answer, what was the Question?

This is not to say that every practicing journalist is a fawning venal member of the paparazzi, or to suppose that no journalist can legitimately aspire to become a novelist, short story writer or poet—only to point out that this is the exception and a rarity. There are many fine journalists—the late Dan Schorr, Daniel Swerdling, Deborah Amos, Donald Barlett and James Steele, Lowell Bergman, Bill Moyers, Richard Rodriguez, Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales—yet they too are sadly the exception. Why, after all, should journalists be any more privileged and special than, say, insurance salesmen, veterinarians, middle school teachers or philosophy professors? In terms of its intrinsic sum of virtue, journalism is no different than other fields, industries, vocations and guilds.

Yet our age has seen fit to exalt this one profession, contaminated by its proximity to celebrity and political leaders, almost certainly because of its connection to electronic media. The ease with which journalists have been co-opted and elevated by political, economic and ideological forces is matched only by the ease with which the public has come to accept their professional betrayal.

When that latter-day Ahab, Jeffrey Skilling, took the Pequod of Enron along with a crew of 20,000 to its apocalyptic demise, he acted as disciple and high priest of an entrepreneurial religion, hunting a white whale of incalculable profits, aided and abetted by teams of corporate attorneys, banks like J. P. Morgan, Citibank, and Arthur Andersen in an enterprise as collaborative as any Hollywood movie; indeed, the blockbuster that was Enron did not lack sycophants among Wall Street journalists and investors, which had put its stamp on the whole patronizing society and its people (who, for all the hand-wringing over the juggernaut's collapse, continue to give their blessing to the impossible dream it stood for). Witness the exorbitant popularity of American Idol and Deal or No Deal, not to mention stalwarts like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune—all avatars of The Myth of Economy-As-Lottery.

Calculating and cataloguing the collateral damage, future historians will no doubt see in Enron's unraveling a legend of our civilization's ruinous slide toward the precipice. It is not merely the lying (Capitalists need their illusions too, as much as Communists) but the contempt that Enron fostered—contempt for employees, traders, investors, journalists, bankers, regulators and, most of all, for consumers—which deserves our scrutiny and reflection.

Contempt has seeped like toxins into the fabric of American life, poisoning our politics, our culture and our daily lives.

We have seen the demise of hundreds of newspapers, a slashing of newsroom budgets and dismantled overseas bureaus. Self-appointed seers prophesy the likely future for print news on the World Wide Web. Who knows? Perhaps there is a way to replace lost revenue with online advertising—though not, I suspect, without first embracing porn, drugs and multiplayer video games. Google's stock is way up—though whether its profits measure anything more substantial than advertising investment dollars is an open question. A marvelous search engine, yes. But a multibillion-dollar growth industry?

Which brings me to the fundamental point: Sheer hucksterism has never been so plentiful as it is today; never have victims had so many varied scams to choose from. Is it any surprise that polls of Gen Next cite as their top two goals: #1: Make a million dollars; #2: Become famous. With goals like these, why bother about science and math? Never mind the mother tongue or literature.

Against the backdrop of cultural pressures unique to our collective marketing monomania, we see the impact of intensified competition, shrinking market-share and hegemonic profit maximizing across all industrial sectors. In the sciences, instances of falsifying research and fraud multiply like cultured bacteria. Everywhere we look—from business to academe, grade schools to nursing homes—the story is the same. In spite of knowing better, we seem to grow worse.

If scientists are fudging their data simply to get ahead, instances of plagiarism and "creative nonfiction" at The New York Times and a too-eager acceptance of administration "intelligence" about WMDs are hardly surprising. If Journalism can't clean its own house, how can it possibly "speak truth to power"?

Among the unreckoned consequences of exalting journalists to a virtual peerage has been the propagation of insider fiction, a certain fact-driven form of graphic realism emphasizing a particular profession, expertise and domain of knowledge, as opposed to fiction that is primarily character-driven and explores an imaginative vraisembance or appearance of conventional reality. Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, people have understood that you can learn things from books. You can learn things by reading about them. This is what Bertrand Russell called knowledge by description as contrasted with direct experience, or knowledge by acquaintance. At least since Defoe, people have read novels to learn about some feature or aspect of the world with which they were previously unacquainted. From the 18th century on, the novel opened a voyeuristic window on the world of people's private lives, just as television, movies and the internet have much more invasively done for the 20th and 21st centuries. Classic novels by writers like Defoe, Austen, Fielding, and Dickens all fed, and were meant to assuage, an immense appetite for gossip, scandal and glimpses into subjective lives, a virtual explosion of this new, often controversial art form of the novel, which has lasted down to the present day.

Unquestionably, novelists have always done research and background reading in preparation for their task of evoking a credible sub-created world. Therefore, I am not denying the claim that knowledge is somehow implicated in novels and novel writing. However, that said, a vast proliferation of insider fiction in recent decades, typified by works like those of John Grisham and Tom Clancy, has overshadowed more imaginative, character-driven fiction by writers as varied as Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Stanley Elkin, Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon. This proliferation and subsequent spawning of specialized sub-genres in the mystery, romance, detective, science fiction, spy-thriller, police procedural and action-adventure—to mention only a handful of categories—surely reflects the fact that America has become the greatest marketing civilization in history. Or does it?

I once watched a PBS program in which a particle accelerator smashed two sub-atomic particles together at something approximating the speed of light, with the result that the original items vanished, giving way to a never-before-seen particle, an elemental chimera none of the physicists could identify. Now, this is no doubt an awesome capacity, yet the question remains: what is it that we have found?

When cats, culinary arts, or a forest ranger's expertise provides the premises for specialized sub-genres of detective mysteries, are we advancing our knowledge of the world? Or are we, as Owen Barfield once nicely put it, only discovering "more and more about less and less"? Why not a vampire-plumber detective? a transvestite-cartoonist? or hospital orderly whose psychic gift allows her to communicate directly with unborn fetuses? The possibilities for mutation, for crossover genres and combination seem endless...The difficulty with all this is rather like the problem Plato poses in the Parmenides: "Are there also eternal forms for inconsequential things," like dust and nail-parings, dung, spittle, things which never were but might have been, all the possible-world and alternative-universe excesses of which the human mind is capable, what Plato called "a bottomless pit of nonsense"?

Our marketing culture has invaded every sphere of human endeavor, from bedroom to outer space, education, family and politics to science and religion, while our traditional language of moral and political discourse has been hijacked by a counterfeit jargon of entrepreneurial economics. The chief rodomontade of our marketing civilization—profit-maximizing—trumps while elbowing out every other humane and social goal. Such developments are, in one way, simply a corollary to mounting globalization, and reflect the reduction of all marketing to niche marketing. Yet this entire process of our entrepreneurial obsession obscures as it promotes a far more disturbing trend: namely, the derailment of literature as traditionally conceived and the displacement of literature's authentic goals by a shallow glittering regime of unwholesome, distracting and ultimately unfulfilling itches, cravings and addictions.

By exalting non-fiction prose and retailing insider fiction as a gold standard for the written word, American journalism contributes to an overall devaluation of literature, properly speaking. So that there may be no confusion, by literature I mean: poetry, short stories and novels. Traditional theater (drama and comedy) has long been depreciated, partly because of theater's intimate connection with political action in the wake of the latter's abrupt loss of status following the protracted malaise of Vietnam and Watergate; but also because it had already been eclipsed by motion pictures and television.

So, if I may be permitted a cautionary word to the young: pursue a journalistic career at your peril! Better to be a teacher, a minister, even—God forbid!—a politician. Better yet, become a meteorologist. Not many careers allow you to be consistently wrong and still keep your job.

Best of all, devote yourself to Literature and serve Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Song. Her discipline is stark, her regimen sometimes cruel; but her joys are unsurpassed. I will cite two examples from personal experience.

Click to Continue