Anonymous asked: hi james! this question is about alt lit. what do you know about alt lit? do you enjoy it? there was a recent article in vice that caused quite the stir. i would love to hear your take on it.
it seems like this article is about a scene, not necessarily a medium or style of writing - he goes out of his way to point out that there are good writers writing in this style, even going as far as to post a complete poem by tao lin as an example of that
something that i think about sometimes is this impression i get sometimes that in the last 10-15 years people have started to see artists and their work as increasingly separate things. at one point i think people would have called bullshit on the 200 witch house projects that showed up on the internet after salem started building a buzz, but nobody really did. they had created or at least pioneered a really distinct and compelling sound, but nobody was really rushing to give them credit for it. even the really fascinating and revealing interview that john holland did for butt magazine early on about his personal life didn’t contribute significantly to the conversation around salem’s sound - people were content to interface with it as an aesthetic, on a purely superficial level. the audience kind of separated the music from the people who made it and coverage of that sound depicted it as a genre, a larger movement
a scene, basically
in an earlier post i talked about how it weirds me out that people are more comfortable having conversations about “producers” than they are about “singer/songwriters”, and i am similarly kind of irritated by the fact that people are more comfortable having conversations about “scenes” than about artists. like, w/r/t witch house, where was the scene? what bands operating in that space were worth hearing besides salem? what great songs and unprecedented sonic innovations were produced by all of the producers ripping them off that made it so necessary to make the conversation about a scene and not about salem? how are we better off for having separated that sound from the people who made it interesting in the first place? who really benefits when the achievements of individuals are glossed over so that opportunistic lesser acts can be lumped in with innovators? i grew up reading countless cautionary tales in music magazines about the untold fortunes lost by record labels signing every seattle band they could find in hopes of finding the “next nirvana”. i know because i lived through the late 90s and the 2000s that no “next nirvana” was ever found. why then, is every singular, individual artistic achievement always met with the assumption that there simply must be more where that came from? why do we insist on making people seem less exceptional by casting them as representatives of a larger movement instead of just as people who are really really good at what they do? how many “scenes” are just one legitimately good artist and a bunch of garbage pinned to their coattails by people trying to capitalize on someone else’s success? what would salem’s career have looked like if we were willing to give them credit for what they’d accomplished rather than just dismissing them as peddlers of a generic aesthetic we could get just as easily from someone else?
the thrust of the vice article seems to be that there are people on the internet who write a certain way, and some of them are good, but most of them are bad. that part, i agree with. i have no doubt that there are some people who write in that style who do it well, and that there are people who do it badly, and that the people who do it badly probably vastly outnumber the people who are good. i guess where i’d differ with the article a little bit is that i don’t think the phrase “alt-lit” should be used to describe a style of writing. like i don’t think you can critique bad “alt-lit” writers by talking about the style of writing itself. bad “alt-lit” writers are just bad writers in general, and “alt-lit” is just the word they invented to try to draw attention to themselves by attaching themselves to the coattails of the few good writers who write in that style. of course they’re all terrible. all scenes are full of lazy, narcissistic opportunists trying to cash in on the achievements of exceptional people. that is what scenes are. i don’t know why anyone ever approaches them expecting anything else, and i don’t know why writers in general find writing about them so fascinating that they’re willing to conjure them out of the ether in order to give themselves stuff to write about.
it’s like that movie the incredibles, where people who had exceptional ability were forced to disguise themselves as ordinary people because their exceptional-ness made everyone else uncomfortable. that is music right now. maybe because in the 90’s we got burned by all of the overachieving individuals we allowed ourselves to get attached to, we now require everyone to wear masks or hide behind gimmicks or conform to a small set of pre-established, easily digestible personal or aesthetic archetypes, and we never ask questions when coverage of an exceptional and/or innovative new act is followed by coverage of several lesser, similar ones, because we believe that individual exceptionalness does not exist, and that exceptional individuals are actually just representatives of a collective exceptionalness that does not threaten us because we believe it is something we all share in to some degree
i hate it