This Is All I Do Now Amerika Online

Amerika On-Line: This Is All I Do Now

Mark Amerika

(c) 1993

I have probably smoked about three cigarettes in my life, once when I was a teenager when I tried it out and found that I couldn't stand it, once when I went to a jazz concert with novelist Steve Katz and was trying to look groovy, and just now, before I started writing this rant which I knew was going to be my take on a number of things including the New New Journalism of struggling young writers trying to sell their writing image in a marketing language that's all too familiar to us.

I use the word "struggling" to refer to young writers because it's really what we constantly find ourselves doing. Struggling. Whether you're Mark Leyner on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, Martin Schecter shamelessly plugging his latest novel "whose major characters include a big-time movie director, the voice of Jean Baudrillard, a lesbian computer hacker and Madonna," or Kathy Acker holding up pirate teaching and reading gigs, the fact of the matter is that today, more than ever, writing is surviving, or as Schecter said in a recent article he wrote for the AWP Chronicle called "Deconstructing the Guardians of Nostalgia: A Defense of the 'Young Writer'"

Today, in the instantaneous world of e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, and fax machines, there simply isn't any "real writing" that takes place outside the system. One is either hooked up or one is written off. For a writer, we're not talking "success"-- we're talking survival.
Indeed we are. For someone like Leyner, the idea of surviving as a writer is inextricably linked with the marketplace. A recent exchange in an interview in Bloomsbury Review goes
Have you reached the stage where you can basically survive on the money you make writing?
Oh, yeah. For the past two, two and a half years. This is all I do now, which sometimes strikes me as so remarkable. No matter what else happens to me--say, I even get a television show or do movies, win the Nobel Prize--that will stand as the most profound thing that's happened to me in my life.
When Leyner says "This is all I do now," I immediately see why so many young people today want to be writers. They want to be writers because they want to be movie stars, talk-show hosts, Nobel Prize winners, MTV opinion leaders. When any of us can look into an interviewer's eyes while the tape is rolling and sincerely say THIS IS ALL I DO NOW, we are saying "I've made it." But what have we made? We have made our lives a 24-hour automated telling machine that has as its protagonist an entrepreneurial survivalist who's part artist and part self- advertiser. What Leyner and many of us caught in the grips of a dysfunctional economy find ourselves constantly doing is expanding the activity of writing way beyond its mere literary function.

This is what being "contemporary" is all about. The contemporary writer today is caught up in a zillion molecular desires forming at the edge of some Mojo Marketer's mouth, and if one were to take a random sample of the monster's saliva right now and put it under a microscope, one would find all kinds of viral shit festering there, not the least of which would include dissident comix, wigged out zines, electronic journals, quick-time hypermedia CD-ROMS, a voluminous melange of hardcore industrial grunge post-everything music, the Internet, surfpunk technical journals, interactive cable TV, an unending supply of digital newsgroups and conference groups, hypertext novels, independently produced single-user films, genderfuck performance art spectacles, special discount offers on taped recordings of the Gulf War highlights, teenage mutant ninja gangsters, C-SPAN, Beavis and Butthead, feminist deconstruction, the list goes on.

"Things," David Blair, creator of Wax, Or The Discovery of Television Among The Bees (a warped buzz of independent electronic science fiction cinema), says to me via e-mail. "How are THINGS?" And so the list becomes more concrete, it includes The Review of Contemporary Fiction's Young Writers issue, Fiction Collective Two's alternative trade paperback imprint called Black Ice Books, Re/Search's expanded and annotated edition of Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, the Semiotext(e)-Autonomedia connection, new books by Kathy Acker, Doug Rice, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Lauren Fairbanks, Thom Metzger, Darius James and Philip Lewis (I have the titles if you want to e-mail me), compilation tapes with tunes by Bongwater, Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, Loop, Curve, Smashing Pumpkins, Jello Biafra, Tackhead, Superchunk, Stephen J. Bernstein, Porno For Pyros, Babes In Toyland, Pussy Galore, Flipper, the list goes on.

All of these plugs have a purpose, I'm sure, but I'm not going to try and figure out what it is. Maybe it's to contextualize who it is I am, the so-called author of this text. You see, no matter what I do here in this alien textblock, I'm eventually going to bring it all back to me, the I in I Smell Esther Williams, the my in My Mother: Demonology or My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. In fact, my first book, The Kafka Chronicles, was originally entitled The Mark Amerika Reader. Oh boy did I catch a lot of shit for that one. But guess what? That's where it's at nowadays and for any writer who has even the slightest notion of what's happening, "one is either hooked up or one is written off." What? Write me off? Thank you but I think I'll activate the mechanism myself.

Collective Self-Reliance? The PoMo Thoreau Reaches A New Plateau by Creating The Expanded Concept of Writing

The problem is rather old. How do I take my avant-sensibility and apply it to the pop culture in such a way as to survive in the world as a writer? One way, I've found out recently, is to dramatically expand the concept of writing (I admit that I'm stealing the idea from Joseph Beuys who, you'll recall, developed an Expanded Concept of Art that showed us how our thoughts and actions could create a kind of Social Sculpture). My Expanded Concept of Writing suggests that we use our textual and marketing/design skills (the name Allen Ginsberg comes to mind) to create an alternative form of Social Survival. It's not an easy thing to describe and most of all it's a very individual trip, that is, what works for me may not even come close to working for you, but let me try to give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Unless you're financially independent and have no worries about where next month's rent or mortgage payment is coming from, chances are you're going to have to produce some form of income just to meet the basic requirements of living in Amerika in the last decade of this god-awful century. The trick, it seems to me, is in creating an alternative lifestyle that defies the standardized notion of what normal consumers do. First of all, I try my damndest to practice what I preach. I'm into the purity game, that is, I try to only eat organic fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (avoiding overpriced, multinationally-sponsored junk food). I do cardiovascular exercises regularly. I meditate. I don't own a car. I'm in love with one woman and totally enjoy the outdoors in my Rocky Mountain neighborhood. When I'm watching TV I have my finger permanently set near the mute button so that when someone tries to sell me something I can zap their prerecorded over-rehearsed voices and they're gone. I'm sure you know what I mean. Many of us take pride in being able to anticipate when the useful voices will be back on ready to be un-muted.

If, as a writer, you buy into the idea of material possession, and you're conspicuous in your consumption, then obviously your cost of living is going to be much higher than most of us uninsured working poor folks who pray each day that we don't come down with any serious disease that will wreak havoc on us. Let me give you an example: if, because of your consumption patterns and lack of trust-fund support, you find yourself having to bring in $40,000 a year just to get by and, on top of that, you want to live by the dictum "THIS IS ALL I DO NOW," then you're going to have to spend an incredible amount of time cranking out saleable product to even have a chance to survive. The "success" of your book will be even more important since you'll have to sell that many more copies in order to bring home the necessary royalty payments to help foot the bills.

If, on the other hand, as a writer, you try to find ways to minimize your expenditures and devote your life-project to the nurturing of the creative self (which is neither creative or a self, discuss among yourselves ), you'll find that hacking isn't necessary and that with the democratization of the means of distribution becoming more of an electronic reality each passing day, you can begin to get not only your work out into the public eye but the work of others you admire and feel a kinship with (imagine that! helping other writers! what a concept!). The commercial captains of consciousness will have a shit-coniption over that last one, because competition is stiff in the world of Simon and Shoestore, but that's where it's going and Simple Simon, if he doesn't watch out, is going to be left behind (if the shoe fits, wear it).

Expanding the Expanded Concept of Writing

Now, in developing this Expanded Concept of Writing which is always in flux and open to all forms of creative inter- linking/connecting, I am hoping to turn the practice of writing into a community endeavor. This practice would go beyond the conventional notion of the solitary writer sitting behind a keyboard punching out miraculous verse that will completely enlighten the literary universe. Instead, the art of writing would branch out into all other forms of life-activity and would include publishing, editing, performing, computer networking, community programming, marketing, reviewing, all the things we associate with the Big Publishing Industry as such but that can and should be brought back to individual webs of artist-associates whose collective mission is to create, produce and distribute the kind of radical work that many people out in our communities seem eager to interact with.

I'm reminded of a few interesting experiences I had this past year as I was helping promote the new alternative trade paperback imprint of Fiction Collective Two, Black Ice Books. First, whenever the books got any positive word-of-mouth mention in the internetworking environments of cyberspace, e-mail interest in the books soared. Getting attention in lots of zines also produced many positive responses and the number of inquiries we're getting seems to be growing daily. Also, whenever the books got the kind of bookstore display that in essence cried out "these books are important! check them out!" then people usually checked them out and they moved off the table rather briskly. It should also be noted that many of the readings to help publicize the books drew impressive crowds (undoubtedly due to the right kind of word-of-mouth since there was absolutely no money for advertising).

There is something young writers can learn from this and that is that today's Expanding Writer needs to develop a personal relationship with the many social fields at our disposal. This includes the zine scene (start one of your own), the Internet scene (get on-line ASAP) and expands into bookstores, those chained to the Parent Company as well as those independent ones that are just as chained to the almighty dollar as any other retail business. Writers should be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the bookstore scene. Many people who work in bookstores are there because they like books and writers, not retail selling.

There seems to be an obvious difference between the emerging generation of alternative writers and their predecessors. The difference is that this current crop of writers, of which I'm part, has a higher level of comfort when it comes to activating their creative personas within the mediascape's hypermarket of endless products. We new kids on the block have years of experience watching TV, checking out films, playing with computers, going to concerts, being bombarded by advertisements of all kinds, etc., and have immunized ourselves from the wads of uninspiring bullshit that constantly comes our way. We aren't Vietnam Vets. Rather, we're Media Vets. Our ability to angle, spin, surf, rap, digress and flow into uncharted territory is much more intuitive than the Silent and early-Boomer generations because we were born the live, on-line citizens of McLuhan's global village and don't have to be convinced that this is where we as a race are going. We're already there.

(Nonetheless, it's of utmost importance that the emerging generation of interactive artist-participants see through the CNN "news" facade, realizing that news is code for fashion and fashion is just more marketing. CNN markets the dominant culture's policy-making apparatus. Reagan was in, now he's out and Clinton is kind of in. Bush was never really in so why did we buy him in the first place? Because we didn't think Dukakis would fit? Perot was in then out then back in and is now somewhere between in and out. No telling what this Fall will bring as far as the new line of mediagenic politicians goes.)

We, the 13th Generation (that unlucky number has never seemed so unlucky as now), seem to have a Third Mind (as Burroughs and Gysin called it) predisposed toward the cyberworld's instantaneous delivery of mega-options and are capable not only of making decisions of what it is we want to support in the marketplace of ideas, but are also willing to develop our own cooperative adventures, all the while knowing that if we want to share these cooperative adventures with an audience, we'll have to be creative in the way we bring them out into the public.

What we need to concern ourselves with is how we can explore all these new paths in a more socially-cohesive way instead of being the one lone captain at sea circling the globe looking for all the gold one ship can hold. One person cannot save a sinking ship, and the enterprise, ideally made up of many like- minded individuals, must repair itself immediately so as to move on, even at the expense of comfortable self-exile.

Cooperative Adventures: Nomadic Voyagers Surf the Virtual Sea

The expansion of voices is already happening like crazy in print form. The creative-writing zine scene is alive and well and one need only check out the recent issues of a recharged Factsheet Five to see it. Off hand, I can think of a dozen zines that are doing wonderful stuff: Further State(s) of The Art, Puck, Sensitive Skin, Red Tape, Taproot Reviews, Slack, Boing Boing, Your Flesh, Central Park, Nobodaddies, Science Fiction Eye, MAXIMUMROCKNROLL, just to name the first twelve that come to my mind. When one reads these magazines, one gets a sense that the editors and volunteers (what MAXIMUMROCKNROLL calls "the shitworkers") are not in it to MAXIMIZE profits for some invisible hand that feeds, nor are they trying to set the stage for a huge increase in popularity so as to turn all participants into well-to-do careersma-scented superstars. Rather, they're mostly into it so that they can keep a certain scene alive, to nurture it through change and growth, to help a collective group of nomadic artists find an audience. And, if in the process of keeping the zine itself alive, they are able to have lots of fun and somehow survive themselves, well, then that's great.

And they're not afraid of the competition. In fact, Science Fiction Eye's publisher and editor, Steve Brown, refuses to accept paid advertising for his magazine although he does run free ads for projects and authors he admires. This includes other magazines. He doesn't even ask for an exchange ad. One would have to admire him for this open-minded business practice although he brushes it off by saying "we're all in this together."

So now, as I unravel these clearly unfocused digressions on the struggle of the "contemporary" young writer, I've come up with two seemingly conflicting statements that best describe where it is I presently find myself pivoting. I'm stuck between the THIS IS ALL I DO NOW and the WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. I'm not so sure what this means but I am sure that writers today need to focus their energies on creating a body of work that challenges the system that desperately wants to absorb them. Also, we need to develop an internetworked tribe of artist-nomads to help spread the work around, to build an audience that will be effected by our projects in such a way that it incites this audience to create their own (internetworked) bodies of work that, together with ours, will challenge the all-absorbant multi-national/military/media marketplace.

"And May I Have the Envelope Please The Winner Of This Year's Contemporary Fiction Award For A Writer Most Likely To Outrage An Audience While Simultaneously Acquiescing To Their Minimal Cultural Needs Is "

In the recent Young Writers Issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, David Foster Wallace contributes a long essay called "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" where he talks about the E-gregious Uniform Pablum that informs the "contemporary" writer's experience. Wallace tells us that
The plain fact is that certain key things having to do with fiction production are different for young U.S. writers now. And television is at the vortex of much of the flux. Because younger writers are not only Artists probing for the nobler interstices in what Stanley Cavell calls the reader's "willingness to be pleased"; we are also, now, self-defined parts of the great U.S. Audience, and have our own aesthetic pleasure-centers; and television has formed and trained us.
Juxtapose that sentiment with Schecter's article in the AWP Chronicle where he tries to figure out why many older writers just don't get it
older writers continue to displace their guilt and paranoia by characterizing younger writers as obsessed with TV, Pop-Tarts, and money. If you ask me, they are the ones with the delusional fantasies. These former drop-outs have had twenty years in the catbird seat, being the dominant culture, paying off overinflated mortgages while recreating a nostalgic Big Bad Military-Industrial Complex they're still trying to find a way to rail against while they have its checks automatically-deposited to their IRA accounts[ ] Meanwhile, the latest "avant-garde movement" gets written up in Business Week two weeks after it's invented.
Now juxtapose all that with Leyner, again in the Bloomsbury Review
I'm certainly aware that there's a fortuitous match between my work at the moment and the sensibility of people who also have grown up on television.
On television. As in "what are you on now?". There seems to be a growing number of younger voices rising to the scene and stating the obvious: We grew up on everything. Yes, Virginia, there is such thing as Individual Talent, no doubt. But there's something else happening too, and it has to do with the way we absorb and process information. It's no longer a matter of sitting back and letting the magical mystical prophetic muse take you over while the rest of the world slowly creeps to its inevitable end. Now you must be a navigator, an investigator, an appropriator, an intuitive promulgator and innovator of interactive things.

This is Somewhere in the Middle with No End in Sight

In a recent issue of ANQ on "The Future of Fiction," edited by Lance Olsen, the critic Brooks Landon writes about a new kind of text, the hypertext
Information assumes huge importance in hypertextual novels not as a commodity, but as the core of new processes, new ways of making connections, new ways of navigating and narrativizing the technosphere.
Exactly. Are you having trouble reading this article? What's your take on the emerging generation of Avant-Pop writers? From where do you come when? Linear development with interpretation-rights claused all along the way is absolutely OUT. What's in, what works, what matters, is selection, focus, feedback, interaction, unfocus, breaking down the language in a way that suggests you're grooving in an altogether different syntactical score.

Generations generate. I call on this Generation to continually generate. Don't stop now. Generate generations of generation until there is no more gap just generation. Is this possible?

Mark Amerika is the author the recently released The Kafka Chronicles. His e-mail address is
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