Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chapter Nine

(Continuation of "The Meeting.")

The glowing holographic image of George Plimpton, in a darkened room inside a towering black skyscraper, explains the literary galaxy to the Man in the Black Hat.

"Look!" the Plimpton-image cries out in a sudden thundering voice. "There! The home planet; center of our galaxy."

His long, tanned finger is pointing at New York City.

"The largest planet. The center of literary Empire; home of the giant book companies, and scores of glossy magazines produced here to be sent out daily to other parts of the realm. Every day starships depart on missions to far-flung corners of the near-Universe, to reinforce, spread, and strengthen Imperial ideas."

His finger wanders to a much smaller light on the map, marked "Iowa."

"This is one of our colonies. A model base. Our goal has been to establish a network of outposts completely loyal to Imperial literary rule. They're manned by MFA-trained literary soldiers. The MFA programs, modeled on the successful one at Iowa, recruit-- if not the best-- at least the most cooperative and pliable of local writing talent. A typical example was Ray Carver. Beaten-down working-class man! His writing expressed the poverty and futility of his life-- yet never once did he show anger at, or knowledge about, the civilization itself. His writing said, 'This is the natural course of events. The caste system is immutable. Accept it!'"

Plimpton smiles wryly, proudly, for the small part he played in the writer's development.

"No Dreisers. No Jack Londons. No John Steinbecks. No! Ray Carver! That became the model. We multiply our lobotomized Ray Carvers and our patrician John Updikes throughout the galaxy. Wherever they go, they inhabit the available literary space. They monopolize media coverage and arts funding. Local writers have the option to join the system or vanish into obscurity. Many underground poets desiring to 'just write' are only too happy to comply, with scarcely a quibble of protest, but with instead: apathy.

"The MFAers are our missionaries-- our Starbucks employees, if you will-- opening the way for succeeding layers of conglomerate book companies and big-money foundations; ultimately, for us. For literary Empire."

The Plimpton holograph leisurely paces about.

"But you know this. That you're here; that you've questioned this oracle that I've become, from the past, speaking to you in the future, means that all is not completely well with the literary Machine which has controlled the art form for over five decades. What could be the problem?

"The radicals of the ULA? Those upstarts? I rather assume that measures were taken to destroy them. They are the Empire's most dangerous enemies. If they have not been destroyed, you've already failed. The longer they exist, in any condition, the greater their threat. Not a single voice of authentic rebellion to the Machine can remain. For them, survival is victory.

"Who else? 'Boss Eggers'? At the time I'm recording this, he's in the process of making a fundamental mistake, by moving his base of operations from the home planet. He prefers to stay here," (the finger lands on the San Francisco Bay area) "at the other end of the galaxy where he can rule as omnipotent warlord. The representatives of his he's left behind are weak. Meanwhile, a new organization arises on the home planet as I speak, with the rather cryptic and even silly title of N+1. Or something like that. Not a compelling name. Flawed from the beginning, I'd rather think. BUT, they've been trained in the Empire's best academies. They understand the prime importance of this location. They have a network of support drawn from intellectual movements of previous generations. Their leader, born in another galaxy, represents fresh blood which could be dangerous. They seem in themselves highly intelligent, perhaps more so than any potentials rivals.

"Where are their loyalties? Do you know? Do they understand the importance of our Legacy? Will they maintain the essential foundation? What do they believe? That's for you to discover. Absorbed or destroyed: the only choices.

"In the meantime, I presume The Paris Review is alive and well for use as our Flagship. A little dusty, perhaps, but with still-powerful engines. I know you'll maintain a ready crew. I've spoken long enough. I believe it's time for a nap! I bid you. . . ."

The image begins flickering, then quickly fades out. The soundless room resumes its blanket of darkness. The Man in the Black Hat hears only the flow of air-conditioning. He glances at his luminous watch. An hour has passed. It's time for the meeting.