Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cleveland 2.0 & going regional

Bytes From Lev: An Invitation to Cleveland 2.0: An Open Planning Forum -- Gloria got back from a good community discussion yesterday convened by Lev Gonick at the Cleveland 2.0 Open Planning Forum. One thing that emerged from her debriefing (yes, we do debrief each other, and it has nothing to do with confiscating underwhere or any other liberties married people take with each other) was that there are a small minority who seemed fixated on Cleveland-centricity, the idea that Cleveland is the center of the universe, Cleveland is the leader, Cleveland is the end-all and be-all of Midwestern sophistication and charm, Cleveland alone rocks--and it just ain't so, especially if you happen to talk to somebody from Akron, Youngstown, or Lorain. Mass doesn't matter any more; just being big, or having been big, is just a fact, not an advantage or a disadvantage. It doesn't qualify you for anything or give you any sort of superiority or natural selection.

This CleveCentricity (was this coined by Hunter Morrison III?) is the type of thinking that got us into the position that we are in, behind the eight-ball, woofing about how great we are, whistling in the dark, despised by our regional neighbors. Our own publicity has been shown to be hollow, and shallow--we're all talk, no action. We're not really the lead dog any more. All of which reminds me of the exchange a few years ago between two of my favorite guys, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, as they were contending for the position of king of the contemporary living writers, or novelists, if you will [emphasis mine]:

The feud has evidently drawn blood all round, but it is still only in its early rounds. Wolfe has a score-settling essay in the pipeline, called The Three Stooges (no prizes for guessing who). It will be published later this year in a collection of short pieces, Hooking Up, which will also include a side-swipe at an old enemy: the New Yorker, which Wolfe views as the kingpin of a literary establishment which has tried for so long to keep him out in the cold.

The Wolfe-Mailer feud is by far the oldest and cattiest of the three. As far back as 1989, Mailer remarked: "In my mind, there is something silly about a man who wears a white suit all the time, especially in New York."

Wolfe brushed off the sartorial attack, simply pointing out that "the lead dog is the one they always try to bite in the ass". To which Mailer quickly responded: "It doesn't mean you're the top dog just because your ass is bleeding."

Deep below the multiple layers of bitchiness, it is possible to pick out a substantive battle over the future of American novel. The line followed by Updike, Mailer and Irving is that there is a qualitative leap from journalism to literature which Wolfe has tried but failed to complete.

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