Monday, April 4, 2011

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Yes, I’m supposed to start discussing the #1 seeds for the All-Time American Writer Tournament. But as I was thinking about Ernest Hemingway—a likely #1 seed—I pondered whether he would be a good guy or a bad guy, if, say, the tournament were similar to Wrestlemania. I believe Hem would relish being a villain.

Who are other “bad guys”? Everyone hates Joyce Carol Oates, so I have her penciled in to the bad guy role also. Then there are some obvious “Boo! Hiss!” characters such as Ezra Pound and his tag-team partner, T.S. “The Fop” Eliot. As Ayn Rand seems to be heavily disliked, and carries the egomania of an effective bad guy, we’ll have her play that part as well. She used to stampede around in real life wearing a cape and using a cigarette holder, so she’d gladly play the part in the tournament.

“Good guys” by definition are a bland lot. In literature we have Emily D, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck, Harriet Beecher Stowe of course, and possibly social conscience guys like Arthur Miller and Carl Sandburg. Miller, anyway, will have a female manager who was a bit of a celebrity herself. That will add some melodrama.

Anti-heroes? Jack Kerouac for sure, and likely Stephen Crane and Walt Whitman.

Then we have the Divas, which is where I put Allen Ginsberg, “Glamor Boy” Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, and J.D. Salinger. The hard part will be getting Salinger into the ring. One can see a sneering Hemingway waiting for him, accusing him of cowardice and such—though if Salinger avoids disqualification and enters the ring he might do fairly well.

Other ideas?
(Please check previous posts for more on what the tournament’s about.)


  1. I would argue (as one might suspect) that Salinger's not a Diva, at all. He survived some of the bloodiest battles of WWII, including the D-Day invasion and the battle of Huertgen Forest. He was also part of the teams that discovered and liberated the Nazi concentration camps, and then he stayed on for a year after the war ended to assist with the de-Nazification of Germany.

    Just because he wanted to live his life in peace and quiet after such experiences shouldn't qualify him as a "Diva." Quite the opposite -- we should consider him and all the men and women of WWII American Heroes who through their courage and valor enabled this country to thrive in the decades following that "war to end all wars."

    To me, it's a shame that his reluctance to dance in the spotlight of fame has been viewed mainly as a negative quality.

  2. A definite villain, and possible long-shot to win the whole deal: William S. Burroughs.

  3. -Burroughs has to first get into the tournament. His resume is mighty flimsy. If we include Burroughs, we might have to exclude a Philip Roth or such. (Not a bad idea, in fact.) By the way, anyone who murders his wife is definitely a villain.
    --Which brings us to poor Norman Mailer, who's not a good guy, or a bad guy, or a Diva, merely a wannabe.
    -Re Salinger: Uh, Frank, I'm trying to hype the guy. Which means, if he didn't like the modest ballyhoo he was hit with by old fashioned publishers and media, how will he respond to the planned noise of this tournament? I'm willing to make him the Good Guy you convincingly argue he was-- but will he be then willing to appear in uniform? Can you guarantee to us that he'll make it into the ring at all-- or should we give his slot to another? "The Mummy" John Updike, always a whore for anything the lit-world offered, has signalled that he'll show.
    -Meanwhile, I've been in touch with Emily D via Ouija board. She tells me she's in training for the event, and plans to arrive with a brand new hip-hoppin persona. Don't underestimate the poets.

  4. (Lest anyone panic, don't worry, Salinger will be in the brackets-- Catcher in the Rye just too influential to leave him out, and Nine Stories one of the best story collections ever. The question will be his seeding, as with all the writers. That's where I expect there to be some strong arguments, which is partly what this is about.)

    I've been in touch with the camps of some of the writers. Emily Dickinson and Ayn Rand aren't the only ones looking forward to this event. Hemingway, as to be expected, has been training furiously, body-slamming lower-level authors against whom he carries a big edge while complaining that Tolstoy isn't in the tournament. Jack London is in Alaska with Sarah Palin and a dog sled team. She tried to get him to use a snowmobile, but, alas, he crashed it.
    J.C. Oates has heard about Salinger's stacks at Princeton, and has qucikened the pace of her writing, churning out a new novel every three days. She's always mistakenly believed that more is more-- when, like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, the greater her output, the more her rep declines.
    The hotel where most of the writers who've arrived in camp are staying resembles the Grand Hotel in Mackinac City, Michigan, with a long sweeping porch upon which sits Herman Melville. In the near distance Hemingway continues body-slamming writers. Inside the hotel lobby, Oates craks out another novel and a few dozen short stories. Next to her, Fitzgerald considers which of the colorful silk ties he'll wear to the event. Emily D tries out her new hip-hop persona in front of Sylvia Plath, who fiercely glowers. Edgar Poe and Ayn Rand compare the capes and opera hats they'll wear. Poe has a raven parked on his shoulder. Mark Twain in an arm chair regales passer-by with various yarns. Various lesser lights like Saul Bellow scurry to and fro.
    Meanwhile, Melville sits on the porch in a wicker chair not doing anything. This commentator wonders if that's not the most impressive approach of all.

  6. I knew you were messing with us about Salinger. Would he show up for a chance in the ring with one of his heroes? Henry James? I defer to Frank. Or maybe to beat up a Nazi like Ezra Pound?
    I think Diva is almost a default group for all these writers--nothing against the qualities they had before they became famous. Writers are temperamentally unsuited for fame and go over the top just to cope. Unfair that they also appear Divalike when they try to avoid it. Those who rise to Evil or sink to Goodness in addition--glad to see them lining up.

  7. Yes, Salinger should be in uniform, knocking out stories on a typewriter whenever he can find an empty foxhole between shellings.

  8. @Barr, I think he'd love a chance to go up against Hemingway of all people, whose style he did not respect. After all, the New Yorker magazine Style Baton was passed from Hemingway to Salinger to Updike to ... Alice Munro(?)

  9. That is the funniest relay team I ever saw!

  10. Burroughs has to be in there. He scores in the very top in so many categories.

    Influence? Extends way beyond the lit world, which can't be said of most of these folks. He was in a Nike ad and made an album with Kurt Cobain. Inspired Patti Smith, and figures in the visual arts. 90% of all the kids who stuck a needle in their arms over the past several decades probably did it from reading Burroughs.

    Popularity? Don't have the stats in front of me, but in my experience, he's one of the few writers read by people who otherwise don't read (and there are more people who don't read than do). He's gotta chart way above most of these folks, at least the ones from the latter half of the 20th Century.

    Persona? Give me a break. I'm not even going to argue this one. His persona's more influential than even his books.

    Critical Standing. Postmodernistas love "Naked Lunch." Everybody else loves (or ought to love) "Junky" and "Queer" -- sentence by sentence two of the toughest, most precise, most compelling pieces of realist writing America has ever produced.

    American? Granted, he hated the place. But then he hated the world. Which of these other high-faluters retired to Lawrence, Kansas to make "shotgun art" like a freakin' redneck? This isn't his strongest category, but he does okay here too.

  11. You've made a strong case for Burroughs. let no one complain when a big name is bounced to fit him in.
    What, for instance, do we do with the darlings of the educational system?
    Willa Cather?
    What about Harper Lee, who as far as I know wrote one book-- which isn't as good as the movie version?
    Maya Angelou?
    Or what aboput popular novelists like Stephen King? Do we have to include him? Michael Crichton?
    Or, what about Tom Wolfe and Thomas Wolfe?
    What about lit crirics like Edmund Wilson?
    I'll need input as to who we keep out, as well as who belongs.
    (We'll need to have metal detectors at the site with Burroughs in the event.)