April 10, 2003
BOT Pt. 4: The Post-Modern, Deconstructed, Gritty-but-Sensitive Bear

In publishing, you live and die by a deadline schedule. The schedule can shorten your holidays, abbreviate your vacations, and mess with your sense of time. Right now I'm editing June, hand-holding authors for July and planning September, and it's not even Arbor Day yet. (Is it? Better check on this.)

BOT, of course, did not live by such deadlines. However, by zine time, we got issue No. 2 out the door pretty speedily--just a few months after the first issue. I don't remember the actual dates, but seems like BOT 1 came out in early 1990, say maybe in January, and BOT2 was published in the spring. The cover says "April Fools Number" but that may or may not be tied to an actual calendar date.

I always liked the cover of BOT 2, although it was never clear to me why Mike drew a bear eating a hamburger and wearing a dunce cap. I also like the contrast in textures between the grainy dots of the bear and Mike's usual bright, clear lines in the lettering. The notation along the right margin reads "Glasnost for all but USA and Panama." Maybe it had something to do with the fall of Communism.

Inscription on the masthead page: "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother Me." The inevitable Pooh quote and doubly ironic because this thing is just filled with long words, not to mention long sentences, fragments, and stanzas.

The obligatory bear story by T. is sort of a bears-in-Indiana-meet-the-Twilight-Zone affair. Demands one character:

"Didja ever notice how bears look more like people in bear suits than animals? That's why they're so damn cute. And do ya know why they look like people in bear suits? BECAUSE THEY ARE PEOPLE IN BEAR SUITS!"
"What about small bears?" asked Charlie.
"Dwarves or trained dogs," came the reply.

For some reason I made a small illustration called "Rabbit on a stick." No animals were harmed in the making of this illustration.

One of the issue's two showpieces is a long article by Ed called "A Bonfire of Vanity: Tom Wolfe's Manifesto for the New Social Novelist." From what I can remember, Ed wrote this simply because he was thrown into a rage by an article by Tom Wolfe ("one of the most irritating attempts at literary criticism I've come across since a certain semiotician told me that Freud was nothing more than a "literary game").*

What really incenses me is his sanctimonious and arrogantly retrograde criticism. Basically, he has three complaints to air: the experimental forms of fiction which have appeared over the last few decades (1) are elitist and amount ot no more than "literary games" (heard that one before?); (2) though often extremely well-written, are literarily inferior to best-sellers and the daily paper; and (3) depend too much on foreign, especially European, models and hence are unsuitable as our proper national literature. Of course, social realism, he contends, embodies the antiheses of these criticisms.

And for the next 6 pages, with block quotes and footnotes and a broad grasp of literature, Ed proceeds to tear Tom Wolfe a new one. (He also couldn't resist the punnery that we remember from his days as Ed the Meat Poet: "His 'criticism' is such trash, it becomes evident that he is less a litterateur than a litter auteur." Ouch!)

I don't know what the reader reaction was, but it was certainly a step forward for BOT: an article that showed its colors and took a stand. For all our good intentions, I don't believe anything in BOT1 showed the same commitment. We typeset it to look just like an article in Harper's, down to specifics about margins and drop caps. What I remember best about this piece is fussing with Ed over footnotes and layout details and nuances in the language. In the last analysis, it is pretty nearly perfectly executed.

A dozen years later it's still a mystery to me how, with all there was to do in New York, he got obsessed enough to write this. For all its brilliance it also has a bit of the smell of the stunt--something you challenge yourself to do to see if you really can do it. And he did.

"Carl Shiffler," too, takes a stand. In this issue he grumps about MADD ("Does MADD have to be so doggone MEAN?!") and takes on the controversy related to the National Endowment for the Arts and obscenity. As protest, he proposes:

...a national obscenity day, when nothing will be presented but obscene art. Obscene opera at the Metropolitan in New York, obscene plays on Broadway and in high school gymnasiums, obscene music on the airwaves, obscene movies and television, obscene poetry on stage and obscene art on the walls. Once the point has been made, we can all settle down and act like human beings again.

There's some poetry (which we're skipping, because some of it's by me and I don't like it much), some stream-of-consciousness, obscenity-laden narrative by my friend who has since become a rabbi, and a somewhat inconclusive of Semiotext(e) SF and ArtPapers' Noise Culture Issue. Still on the literary tip, B. reviews Thomas Pynchon's Vineland. In the end, he concludes:

There is a tendency to read books as part of a body of work, a tendency that Pynchon's work seems to encourage. Basically, criticism will pull from Vineland what Pynchon wants pulled (cult of personality inverse in action--does Pynchon have the same press agent as The Residents?); his next work will be blueprint for his last one, a la Beckett, among others.

There's also a reprint from the then-local zine Pretentious Shit, whose creator is apparently still out there in Web-land somewhere.

We see Mike's art again in this episode of Octogon. And we wind up the issue with 12 pages of poetry by Eric Rensberger, who still writes and performs poetry. B. notes, "Someday he will be recognized as the poet laureate of Southern Indiana," and I guess we are still waiting for that day.

Back cover was cobbled together from pieces of an envelope Ed sent me with, as noted, "the FINAL draft of my essay on Wolfe." It is not just "authorative" but "authoritative." Too bad about "exited," though.

Next: BOT 3: The Return of the King**

* You knew Tom Wolfe would have a Web site, didn't you? And you knew it would look like that.

**Whoa doggies, that was a joke. The real title should be "Attack of the Clones." Whoops, wrong again: It should be "Bears on Toast."

Editor's note: This was written to the sound of Pere Ubu's "One Man Drives While Another Man Screams," which was the soundtrack to all of my paper-writing in grad school. I guess that's my way of saying this series is starting to feel like homework. We'll wind it up next week, though, after a restful jaunt out of town this weekend.

Posted at April 10, 2003 08:46 PM

"He also couldn't resist the punnery that we remember from his days as Ed the Meat Poet: 'His "criticism" is such trash, it becomes evident that he is less a litterateur than a litter auteur.' Ouch!"

I appreciated that! (That was indeed one of my favorite sentences from the whole thing.)

Posted by: ed on April 11, 2003 12:04 AM

Octogon, of course, is a creation of Gus.

You negelct to mention that the reason Ed wanted it deiged to look like Harpers is that this is where Wolfe had published the essay in question.

(Was it really Harper's? I thought it was maybe the Atlantic. What do I know.)

I'm one of the admirer's of Ed's takedown - I recall that I had read the Wolfe piece and thought to myself, "Why, this is a twenty-page advertisement for 'Bonfire of the Schmucks," which, if you'll recall, was Final Proof Positive that Rolling Stone had abdicated any claim to pop-cultural critical validity and had finally rid itself of the pesky pretence that pop music as an art form mattered.

Wolfe's social satire pretends to be a jaundiced look at the foibles of the day, but it ain't, it's oral pleasuring of the rulig class, and ditto for "A Man in Full."

The sad thing is he's still hermetically sealed in that damn suit, mocking the memory of Fitzgerald. Well, OK, it's not sad, really.

But I sure wisj he'd write something as acerbic as "Mau-Maus" about, oh, Shrub and the Empire. But Wolfe's on that team, I think, and I can only expect what he's given.

Even MORE aggratving: I took up his challenge ad tackled Zola et all, with distatse initially, but evetually with admiration... And let me tell you, Wolfe's no Zola.

Posted by: mike on April 11, 2003 01:23 AM

deiged = designed

rulig = ruling

wisj = wish

ad = and

evetually = eventually

distatse = distaste


Posted by: mike on April 11, 2003 01:25 AM

God, the eighties sucked, huh? Except for that whole being young part.

Posted by: mike on April 11, 2003 02:06 AM

Yes, Wolfe's essay was originally published in Harper's. Shoulda mentioned that, it would have been clearer.

Posted by: Anne on April 11, 2003 09:00 AM

Yes, mike, I totally agree that the 80s sucked.

Posted by: brian on April 11, 2003 03:14 PM

Hi Anne, I would like to include you in my Sunday bounce-a-thon, if that would be okay with you. I think people who have ever been involved with editing or contributing to a magazine, or who have ever thought about getting a mag. off the ground would find this blog very interesting.

My favorite post, though, and what brought me here originally, was "Baking Time." The atmosphere of expectancy you created within that day, still comes to my memories, when I am experiencing a lull in the action. It was brilliant writing.

Posted by: Kate S. on April 13, 2003 02:19 PM
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