The Dan Schneider Interview 18: Lee Papa (aka The Rude Pundit) (first posted 6/11/09)  
Interview Addendum

DS: This DSI is with a writer best known for his presence online, rather than for any book he has written. I have read and linked to his political blog, The Rude Pundit, for some years now, and think he has a satiric and comic mind second to none online. Perhaps only Howard Stern, the megabucks radio shock jock, to whom he’s often compared to, could lay claim to a dirtier comic persona. Welcome to Lee Papa, aka The Rude Pundit, but, for the purposes of the rest of this interview, I will address you as your real self, although we will discuss the origins and growth of your online persona and website. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Let’s not assume that everyone has any clue as to who you are, so please, for those readers to whom your site and your name are unfamiliar, could you please give a précis for the uninitiated, on who you are: what you do- online and off, what your aims in your career are, major achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.?


LP:  You kind of covered it up there.  All I’ll add is that my role in the whole discourse of bloggery is as the Fool.  I’m here to drag politics back to the bar where we can talk about it while we suck down boilermakers and figure out how we can make the nation well again.  Otherwise, I’m a playwright who has done a couple of one-man shows and is trying to get other stuff produced.  I’m a professor of drama studies who had an edited anthology just come out.


DS: So, we both agree that politics is a base thing. While your blog is popular, you have successfully managed to keep The Rude Pundit a separate entity from Lee Papa. Consequently, there is not much available re: biographical information about you online. Judging by some online photos, and this YouTube clip, I’d guess you are in your mid-late 30s. When and where were you born?


LP:  I’m gonna take a pass on a lot of the personal life questions.  I’ve tried not to be a navel-gazing blogger who wants everyone to be happy for him when he buys a new car or takes a picture of his cat (I don’t have fucking cat. They steal your soul at night).  I’ll just say that I was born in New York City while the Vietnam War was on.


DS: You are a professor at the College Of Staten Island. Is that anywhere near Tottenville High School? You teach English, correct? Are you involved in an MFA programs, because they are one of the betes noir of contemporary art, and something we’ll plumb a bit later.


LP:  Oh, hell, I don’t know the high schools of Staten Island.  I don’t live there.  I teach playwriting and dramatic literature courses in the English Department.  We have an MA program, but not in creative writing.


DS: Are you married What does your wife do? And how did you meet? Is she a critic, writer, etc.?


LP:  I am not married.


DS: What were some of the major, or defining, issues during your youth, insofar as they affected your career path? Were you politically, socially, or artistically active when young? I ask because so much of your blog is devoted to ‘Proudly lowering the level of political discourse’ of political talk. And, given that politics is likely the basest of human professions, essentially the few carving up power over the weak, can talk of it really be lowered that much?


LP:  I’m not sure I get the trajectory of the question.  But let me boil it down to this: In elementary school, I wrote a letter to Gerald Ford, asking him to spend more on recycling programs.  I got a very positive letter back and nothing really happened.  It was my introduction to the cynicism of the political process.  As far as the rude stuff goes, Kellogg’s was running a contest to win a bike.  You had to draw a picture for the motto “Stick up for breakfast.”  I sent them a drawing of a hand with a middle finger raised and the motto underneath.  I was probably ten years old, if that.  I did not win the bike.


DS: I wrote to Nixon a few years before, during the New York City fiscal crisis, worried of my dad’s job being lost. I got a card from Tricky Dick saying he appreciated my concern, blah-blah. What were some of the cultural touchstones in your life, the things, events, or people who graced your existence with those ‘I remember exactly where I was’ moments?


LP:  When the Challenger exploded, I was walking in to a college lounge where my group hung out to tell them that one of our friends had attempted suicide and was confined to a mental hospital.  I walked in and the TV was showing the smoke trail.  That was a bad day.

  On September 11, 2001, I woke up and was flipping through the channels, doing my usual “Well, is anything important going on in the world” check of the news networks.  I saw one of the towers smoking and I actually, half-asleep, clicked by it for a moment until something triggered in my brain and I clicked back in time to see the second plane hit.  I had to go in to the Indiana college where I was teaching to a classroom filled with students who had no idea that anything was going on.  I was the person who informed them and we turned on the television in class to watch while some students got on the computers to look for information.  They were a group of scared kids who didn’t know what the hell was going on.  “Has anything like this happened in your lifetime?” they asked me.  I said that nothing like this had ever happened, even Pearl Harbor, since that was a military target.  They asked me if there was a chance our town could be hit.  I assured them that our podunk place had nothing worth crashing a plane into.  They asked if I thought this was like Oklahoma City, that a Timothy McVeigh-type had done it.  I said that Americans are too egotistical to do the suicide plunge, that it had to be Middle Easterners.  And I told them to watch carefully what happens next because this was gonna be used as an excuse for all kinds of things that conservatives wanted.

  Why do I bring this up, this commonplace event that everyone has a story about?  Because it was a crystallizing moment for me, where history, politics, the power of the image and the word, and pedagogy all came together.

  And it was also a leaping off point for my belief in the power of new media.  I think one of the side stories of the media on that day was how responded.  Fark is mostly for funny and strange stories or snarky takes on news.  On 9/11, they shut down all but a couple of forums, one for expressions of unmitigated outrage and another for news.  I followed Fark all day, as I’m sure thousands of people did.  It was invaluable.

  Oh, and, funny thing – I was supposed to head to the DC suburbs in Virginia on the 12th for a hook-up.  Being a guy, I was still willing to drive across a chunk of the horribly quiet America, but, since she could see the smoke of the Pentagon from her apartment, we decided it was best to cancel.  And thus our relationship was never consummated.  So, believe me, liberal as I am, I would punch Osama bin Laden’s nutsack bloody for totally cock-blocking me.


DS: What did you want to be when you grew up? Who were your childhood heroes and why? Where did you go to high school, and to what college?


LP:  A musician, psychologist, lawyer.  But writer has always been there.  I used to write books in 2nd grade.  My childhood heroes were Charlie Brown, because he never gave up; Aquaman, because, well, shit, he was a man who could breathe underwater – that’s just cool; and Neil Armstrong, which I assume doesn’t need explanation. 


DS: Have you any ideas on what is the cause of the lack of introspection in modern American society? Is American or Western culture simply as shallow as man of its detractors claim? In the arts, PC and Postmodernism have certainly aided in the ‘dumbing down’ of culture. Agree or not? And, why is this ‘dumbing down’ exacerbated in Academia?


LP:  This sounds like the complaint of curmudgeons in every generation as new ideologies and new methods of examining the world are put forth.  I agree that there have been excesses on all sides (but especially the left) when it comes to political correctness, which was just supposed to be a way for us to talk about ourselves in a way that ignores innate differences.  The problem was that it ignores innate differences, which, as we’ve learned (or, perhaps, re-learned), is very much what defines us   Political correctness was wielded as a dull tool, an easy way to try to club people into giving up prejudices. 

  And I’m not sure how it’s exacerbated in academia.  Because every once in a while, out of hundreds of traditional courses taught at a university in a semester, someone does a class in Madonna studies?


DS: Well, it’s exacerbated in Academia with a wholesale tossing out of the baby with the bathtub water. One need not believe dead white males were the end all and be all of the universe, but like it or not, all the big boys of American history, with the exception of a few Indian leaders, Frederick Douglass and a few black Abolitionists, were DWMs. To bring up a minor figure from history and equate them with Thomas Jefferson (slaveholding slavefucker that he was) is poor teaching and scholarship. However, when I first contacted you about a possible interview, I included this in my request: ‘I am interested in interviewing you because I have read your blog the last few years and linked to it from my front page the last 2 or 3. I recently interviewed a popular online film critic and have had a good response to it, so, once or twice a year, I'd like to find Internet writers and artists of note and interest to promote and query. Your blog and person provide the opportunity to discuss the sad state of Academia and MFA programs, Internet assholery (I'm one of the few folk with a website that likely gets more hate email than you), politics, sexuality, the pros and cons of Internet celebrity, both in the fun manner you use in your Rude Pundit alter-ego, and also in a more serious vein. As you are a college professor, it may interest you to note that my website is very popular with college aged kids. As you have a big fanbase, I think you would be a popular read. I think the interview would be something enjoyed by fans of yours and not. I think it would be a valuable resource you could point to.’ So, let me get to some of the points mentioned within. Let me lead off with Academia and MFA programs. If one assumes that the Rude Pundit persona is not a 100% put on, I’d have to feel that you must be very uncomfortable teaching in an MFA program. 1) most of the professors/teachers are going to be talentless hacks who are just hanging in long enough to get on the NEA gravy train, 2) the classes are going to be larded with talentless wannabes of the sort whose generic, visionless writing infests the Internet and college based literary magazines, and 3) the strictures of such ideologies as PC and PoMo must be suffocating to anyone of real vision- be they a didact, as yourself, or a potential Emily Dickinson, whose potential for excellence is always squashed and commodified into the bland soup of writing that has produced a few generations of writers as banal, formulaic, and dull as Joyce Carol Oates, T.C. Boyle, David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Rick Moody, Donald Ray Pollock. So, are you in hell, or is this a just penance for some former misdeeds that you have yet to fully pay for?


LP:  Because I don’t teach in an MFA program and I don’t have an MFA, I’m going to take a pass on questions related to that particular degree.  I’ll just say that I know many professors and writers who teach in MFA programs or are products of MFA programs, and some of them are the most excitingly talented people out there.  Oh, and, while I may despise T.C. Boyle, I like David Foster Wallace’s work.

  And since, as long as I’m not calling my students “broads, niggers, spics, and fags,” I’m free to teach my courses any way I like.  Frankly, that’s always been my experience at the four universities where I’ve taught.  I’ve probably been very fortunate for much of my career for the level of academic freedom I’ve had.


DS: You are one of the rarities then, and a lucky one. MFAs, creative writing, college arts programs- as the saying goes ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other.’ But ‘liking’ DFW is a totally different animal from stating he was a good writer, which he was not. I mentioned my website’s popularity with college aged kids, whose minds have not yet ossified. The site is generally detested by older MFA types who are fossils, as well as politicized Beatnik detritus. Do you find that your fanbase has a similar profile? If so, why do you think this is?


LP:  My fan base is all over the map when it comes to most any definable demographic, whether age, education, location, profession.  I have heard from factory workers in Alabama, actors in Hollywood, and professors at Harvard and Yale.  I’d say my narrowest group is ideological. And I’m fine with that.  Preaching to the converted is what preachers do.


DS: Let me make this claim, and see if you agree: the failure of ‘published’ literature today lies more with the failings of publishers, editors, and critics to do their jobs well, more so than the bad and generic writers who are published. My point is that bad writers have always been with us, but the cronyism, favoritism, and grants giving NEA cash cow has led to a system of writers and editors who dare not say negative things about another writer’s work lest find their own publication chances minimized, if not extirpated. Do you agree, and if so, what observations can you add? And, is not the MFA writing workshop archipelago merely a vast networking tool for the bad writers who are gulled out of their money? Is not the NEA a cronyists’ dream, one that dashes any real hope of funding for the best writers, ones who challenge orthodoxies as those the very concept (much less reality) of the NEA represents? Is it not far too politicized to the Left?


LP:  Wow.  Does this really concern you that much?  Of course it’s politicized.  Welcome to something run by the government.


DS: Well, if you are an artist, it should concern you. After all, the arts are far more important than politics. You know of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Picasso, but name the mayors of their home towns in childhood, the leaders of their nations in adulthood, major policies that affected their existences, etc., and you’ll see how ephemeral and, basically, pointless, most politics is. Great art refines the mind; politics, in all spheres, dulls it. As for writing, I’ve always operated under the dictum that I don’t mind the 95 of a 100 bad books published, as long as the five good ones get out- that’s the reality of any human endeavor. It’s when ‘the system’ starts eating into the five good books that my ire is raised. Let us talk about the creative process: I’ve met two basic types of writers, regardless of prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, etc. There are sculptors, who crank out reams of words, then pare back, the way Auguste Rodin once mentioned that his sculptures were always there, and he just removed whatever material needed to reveal them. I, however, am a builder. I embroider each draft. In your years in the classroom, could you ballpark a figure, percentage-wise, as to a sculptor/builder ratio? And, what do you think that says of human creativity re: writing?


LP:  Your analogy is way too optimistic about writers in the classroom.  If I can get them to understand that tools and raw material exists for 75% of them, I’ve done well.


DS: Well, my analogy was on their processes, not their accomplishments, so how can that be too optimistic? Even hacks like Boyle or your boy, DFW, had processes, so I don’t get the ‘optimistic’ reference, unless you are stating that all your students are retarded monkeys banging away at typewriters.  I think of Donald Hall, an ex-Poet Laureate- one of the most bullshit titles this country’s ever come up with. I don’t know how much, if anything, you know of poetry, but, he’s not a good poet, and an even worse essayist. Yet, he is part of what I call the celebritization of expertise, and Lowest Common Denominator ventures like cable tv shows, as well as online garbage like Wikipedia, depend on it. Yet, someone like me, who is a far superior poet, writer and critic than Hall is, or could ever be, is just ‘an Internet guy.’ Yet, I am infinitely more qualified to speak on poetry or art than Hall is. What happens is that someone deemed an expert in one thing, like a Hall in poetry, is then called upon to pontificate outside his area of expertise. The worst example of this is Noam Chomsky- a linguist, whose ‘fame’ (or infamy) over the years, has less to do with his field of expertise, and more to do with his shooting his mouth off on subjects way out of his league. At least, in old newsreels of folk like Albert Einstein or Niels Bohr, if they were- despite reputations as ‘geniuses’- asked of something outside their field, they usually demurred. So, to what degree do you see men like Hall or Chomsky (even if you personally ‘like’ the man and agree with many of his opinions) as aiding the dumbing down of American discourse when he ventures outside his fields of expertise? And, to what degree is this different (or not) than some celebrity (athlete, model, actor, etc.) shooting off his or her mouth when they are clearly out of their element?


LP:  Interestingly, even though you don’t like Hall’s poetry, he would probably agree with much of what you say.  Have you read his essay “Poetry and Ambition” where he calls for the abolition of MFA programs?  (I know this doesn’t answer the question, but, c’mon, Albert Einstein commented constantly outside of the field of physics.  Some would tell me to fuck off on politics because I’m “trained” as a literature professor, but does not my ability to “read” texts make me able to interpret other things?)


DS: Well, first off, I have Hall’s book of essays, Principal Products Of Portugal, and have read Poetry And Ambition. He’s arguably an even worse prosist than poet. He has not ‘style’- his writing resembles a how to book, he has no ideas of import, does not even follow the advice he gives others on writing, and even his criticism of MFA programs is wan, for he cites some virtues, and spent decades teaching the very swill that he later criticized. Analogously, imagine a retarded Dr. Mengele bemoaning the amateur sadism of a burgeoning pack of serial killers. So, he’s not only dumb, but a hypocrite; hardly a good source to use in the appeal to authority fallacy you make. And, I do not ‘dislike’ Hall’s poetry; it’s bad writing. Subjective likes and dislikes have nothing to do with objective criticism. I actually like some of his poems, like The Man In The Dead Machine, which may be his best technical poem. But, it’s still only a passable poem, thankfully void of his usual clichés, but filled with bad line breaks and other technical miscues. And these are objective things, as I’ve shown here and here, where I dramatically improve Hall’s poem above. Anyway, do you disagree with the premise behind an Oprah’s Book Club, i.e.- that reading ‘anything’ is better than no reading at all. Thus, reading Chick Lit or gangsta novels or ‘bumper sticker’/message books- the latterday equivalents of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is akin to eating candy, bacon, popcorn with butter, and washing it down with soda or beer, then wondering why your body is so out of shape?


LP:  Considering that Oprah’s Book Club has led people to read Faulkner, Tolstoy, Marquez, and others, I’d say that she kind of defies your thesis.  And, yeah, reading popcorn shit is better than not reading at all, just like it’s better to eat popcorn than to starve. 


DS: C’mon Lee, now you’re showing selective memory and changing history the way Newt Gingrich or Dick Cheney would. Oprah’s Book Club led no one to the writers you mentioned. Oprah was LED to them by her outraged public after she promoted such horrid PC writers. The reading public got sick of them and was turning on her. She then axed her club out of embarrassment, then the poobahs of publishing, fearing its loss would only add to the swiftness of the current industry’s mismanaged demise, begged her to restart it. Oprah did not want to be embarrassed again, so, for the first year or so she promoted classic books recommended to her by publishers- and, let’s face it, even the three writers you mentioned are way overrated, and their books needed no promotion. Had she really cared for reading she would have promoted less known good writers like Frank Norris, Loren Eiseley, or Upton Sinclair. Several websites even pointed out that Oprah had not even read the books she picked for she often got important details of the books wrong. It was a business decision, and one she accepted, so let’s not defend the brown cow when she did nothing worth defending. Oprah got rich by exploiting the dumbest people in society (trailer trash of all colors), foisting idiots like Dr. Phil on her zomboid hausfraus, but unlike slimebags like Montel Williams, Jerry Springer, or Maury Povich, she feigned she cared for them and her idiots bought it. If you want to really be controversial, don’t waste time calling Ann Coulter a cunt, go after Oprah, who has done multiples more times damage to America and its dumbing down than Coulter and her idiocy ever has. It’s hardly ballsy for a known Leftist like you to rip an ass like Coulter- show a real nutsack and attack Oprah! Back to history- then, her club took a second hit when she promoted the dickless hack writer James Frey and felt betrayed that he had, heaven forfend, ‘embellished’ his memoir (even though that’s the very difference between memoir and autobiography!) Tellingly, she was not ashamed that he was a horribly bad writer, only that she felt personally deceived- her own emotionalism outweighed any intellectual care for the crap she foisted on the public. So, that doesn’t sort of, but absolutely, defies your claim. Perhaps one can argue eating junk food is better than nothing, but poisoned junk food will kill you regardless, because bad art kills the senses and, in the secular sense, the soul. Speaking of Oprah, what of the movement toward art as therapy? Does this abnegate the art and craft of art? Also, since real artists are naturally more empathetic and sensitive toward the world, this allows those mentally ill or unbalanced, whose problems may include heightened sensitivity, to delude themselves they are artists- and when they cannot match their sensitivity with talent, this claim that ‘everyone is creative,’ or that ‘everyone is an artist,’ does far more damage in the long run than the fallacious claims that the mentally unbalanced are ‘artists’ does to their egos in the short term. No? It’s akin to calling retarded people ‘special,’ as if a mere word will relieve their ills. Then, some of the ill use their sickness as a weapon. At my old Uptown Poetry Group, in the Twin Cities, I once had a guy come, who stated right away he was bipolar, then read a screed against President Bush, claiming it was poetry. Even if one agreed with the sentiment, it had zero literary value, and I told him so. The man raged, and claimed I was abusing him, since he told me he was bipolar. I told him he could be tripolar, but the ‘poem’ was still doggerel.


LP:  As someone who has learned a great deal about drama as therapy from the late Brazilian innovator and teacher Augusto Boal, I’m the wrong person to ask.  Why someone creates art ought not be an issue. The effort to create art, whether a success or failure, ought not be condemned. The only way we get more good art is for more people to attempt to create it.

  On another note, art doesn’t have to be good to be art.  No one need ever have published Minnesota Nuts’s poem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not art.  I work in the New York City theatre scene.  Every goddamn day I deal with snotty fucking elitists who discount anyone’s experience if that experience isn’t from a New York theatre or a select group of other approved theatres around the nation.  But I’d argue that the productions I directed in the South had a greater impact on audiences than 95% of the stuff done up here.  And, for example, the greatest production of a Greek play I’ve ever seen was a Trojan Women done by a theatre company in the middle of fucking nowhere Tennessee. 


DS: I did not claim the genesis of art to have a place in its essence. I agree that the art has to stand alone, and backstory has no place in critical evaluation, so that’s a strawman claim against me. As is impugning that I claimed art must be good to be art. Like all human endeavors, 99+% of art will fail, but by strawmanning, you sidestepped my actual query. Getting back to PoMo. It is just another in a seemingly endless laundry list of silly -isms and schools of art that any real artist must dash, for the greatest art and artists are those most individuated. One does not mistake Whitman’s poetry for Milton’s, nor does one mistake a Hemingway paragraph for Proust’s. Real artists rebel against stricture; only hacks find comfort in their confines. Any thoughts?


LP:  I don’t understand your animosity to postmodernism.  One of the hallmarks of it is its liberatory nature.  The term “postmodernism” was coined to discuss phenomena that were already in existence in art and literature. 


DS: The Rude Pundit is complaining about animosity? Lee, the very fact that it is a school of thought, or an –ism, logically negates your idea that it is liberating. The very reason art is littered with schools and contra-schools is because –ismic thought is by its nature restrictive. And, when you state, ‘The term “postmodernism” was coined to discuss phenomena that were already in existence in art and literature,’ you are correct, but also show why the whole idea and term is superfluous and silly. It’s like calling used cars pre-owned. It does nothing to enhance the product. The problem is that the PoMo crowd acts and writes of PoMo as if it were some revolutionary thing. In fact, since Whitman and the advent of Modernism, there has been no great leap forward in the arts; just petty strainings this way or that. But, back to the thesis you sidestepped; I posit,Only bad artists claim all art is subjective.’ Logically, if all is subjective, then there’s no reason doing a damned thing in this life. Yet, just as a single drop of blood would de-purify, say, the Pacific Ocean- were it wholly purely water, so does one objective fact objectify a subjective universe, for anything then can be related or parallaxed to or against it. In writing, as example, clichés are greatly numerically repeated images or groups of words that are placed together in greatly numerically repeated situations. Thus, there is nothing subjective about a manifest cliché like ‘bleeding heart.’ Only if a writer somehow subverts that, out of the context of emotional sorrow, and perhaps uses that phrase in a poem or story about someone literally stabbed or shot in the heart, might that term be annealed or wholly subverted. Similar claims can be made about poetic rhythm, enjambment, the ability to characterize in a non-stereotypical fashion, etc. Do you agree or not? And, how does this account for the dominant claim in most writing today, that agents and publishers toss off in rejection slips, that it’s a ‘subjective business?’ And, what the fuck is it with agents? They are salesmen, period. They know nothing of the art of writing, lest they would be writers, themselves.


LP:  Everything is subjective.  There is no meaning except in competing subjectivities.  The adherence to or desire for objectivity is elitist, self-defeating, and arrogant.  Sorry.  I’m a good postmodernist.  You’re mixing meaning and method above, and I’m not really sure I understand the rest of the question.

  But, mostly, I’m just sensing you’re a failed writer who has yet to have accepted that failure, and you’re blaming every other fucking thing in the world – academia, the NEA, agents, editors, whatever – for your failure.  If you’re not, you sure ask questions like one.


DS: First off, re: subjectivity, as I showed in my analogy, one objective fact objectifies all. I logically showed that, you declaimed the opposite, and you, too, obviously believe that is not so. Why? Because you are answering these queries. If you did not believe in objectivity you’d have no incentive to answer these queries because nothing would matter. This shows how a little knowledge of something is wrongly used in areas not meant to be used in. The whole ‘all is subjective’ meme was grafted by PoMo from modern physics, where inside the infinitesimal quantum world of presumed spacetime foam there is true anarchy or subjectivity. But in physical macro-reality, real things exist, because as things get larger, complexity adds up to greater and greater realities. Quantum physics has no more relation to literature or art than the mating habits of Indonesian butterflies does to Bulgarian politics of the 1950s. And claiming all is subjective is one of those sweeping idiotic statements that is so easily disproved (and thoroughly so before either you or I gleamed in our daddy’s testicles) that to even claim it makes one question the sanity of its utterer. And, people who state such do so for two reasons: 1) to cover the fact that their ideas or art has failed, and try to make others believe that its failure is only perceived, and that the successes are just another’s bias, or 2) they are delusive (i.e.- psychotic). Objective reality is a fact, and logically and empirically sustainable, so when you deny that, you are practicing the same irrational delusions that the Goddists you revile do, save for one fact- it’s ok that you do it because it makes you feel better, and it’s you- not them- that’s doing it. Aside from being an astoundingly unoriginal and unconventional anti-intellectual stance, it’s just silly (something the Left Wing intelligentsia seems determined to best the Right Wing Christian junta on). You state, ‘There is no meaning except in competing subjectivities.’ This is nonsense, because nothing can be derived from subjectivities- to graft meaning one needs a lever and a firm place to stand, and only objectivity gives you that. I realize that art is a far more complex subject than politics, but, jeez, you can do better than that, Lee. It really does require better and deeper thought. ‘The adherence to or desire for objectivity is elitist, self-defeating, and arrogant.’  It’s realistic, demotic, and the only way anyone can learn. If all is, as you claim, subjective, then nothing you say has any meaning, therefore your role as didact is not only futile, but silly, since you are then a self-aware Sisyphus who can never succeed, by your own definition. Thus, assuming you are not a psychotic, you are then knowingly deceiving yourself and others with your claim of all being subjective. ‘I’m a good postmodernist.’ But, as you yourself have defined it, that’s the equivalent of claiming you’re a good farter. So? ‘I’m not really sure I understand the rest of the question.’ Apparently not.

  Then, to top things off, after railing about elitism, you use the oldest kneejerk elitist argument in the book, that anyone who complains about a system or edifice is naturally a failure. Do you really want to argue that success or failure in the arts is determined by public approbation? Complaint = failure? By what standard? Not being published? Let’s see, that means that Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson, and a host of other writers died as failures. Vincent Van Gogh was a failure in the painting world? Yet, now they are not failures, because they are published. Did publication transmogrify their work? If Walt Whitman’s poetry sat in a footlocker for 150 years and was only published this year, would his great poems only have become great upon publication? Of course not, because like any other human endeavor, there are indeed objective standards, and this claim of yours is nonsense. Greatness, or any level of quality is immanent in the work. A bad critic can damn greatness or praise schlock, and a good critic will damn schlock and praise greatness, but the quality is apart from any other’s recognition, or lack, of it. One can argue the hierarchy of two bad artists- say, filmmakers like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, and there is some subjectivity. But, there are also manifest objective facts- such as Howard and Spielberg are infinitely inferior artists to, say, Akira Kurosawa or Ingmar Bergman. So, you’ve now used the appeal to authority fallacy, and now the fallacy of self limits- because you cannot be objective, no one else can.  To paraphrase you, although you claim not to be a PC MFA Elitist, you sure answer questions about the arts like one, for you seem utterly clueless to the lack of professionalism that abounds in the publishing industry- from not understanding good writing to not even understanding marketing. In cinema, someone with a good script and a camera can shoot a low budget film, market it to film festivals, and be hailed as an ‘indy auteur, a budding genius.’ In music, anyone can cut a few demo tracks, market them around to a radio station, get one hit, and be set on a lifelong career (think Ani DiFranco), and be hailed as ‘an indy artist, an entrepreneur.’ But, self-publish a book, and you are a stigmatic ‘vanity writer’ (regardless of the quality- and most self-published stuff sucks (as do most indy CDs and films)- the few remaining mainstream markets in newspaper or magazines won’t even deign to accept your book for review- which can make or break a career. Stating, ‘I’ve never tried to get published without the benefit of Academia,’ would have been a simpler and more direct statement. But, enjoy your elitist Academic echo chamber, while you can. And, when you can produce great work like this poem, this story, or critical pieces like like this or this, then you can opine on art without presumptions, i.e.- fail as well as that and we’ll talk. Either way, though, the claim was a trite and cowardly dodge to actually avoid answering the real question as to why so much published writing is so bad today, and how the business is run screws good writers and, more importantly, the reading public denied access to such art! It’s also interesting on how in politics, where you can suffer no real world consequences for you opinions against Right Wing idiocy (so safely ensconced in Left Wing Academia), you are fire and brimstone, whereas when it concerns areas where your opinions could potentially get you in trouble on campus, your views are so conventional, trite, and- dare I invoke objectivity?- wrong. And the sad thing is that, as a professor, your work in the classroom CAN really make a difference- if only to two or three kids in each class. That’ll add up over the years to help make a better society that welcomes great art and doesn’t sneer at it, as you have. While, in politics, even though you’ve a popular blog, it’s still a fraction the size of the top 50 or so online, and even all the spew they fill into the blogosphere has little or no effect, and what effect it does have is ephemeral (and this includes your blog, which I think is refreshing). But, then again, most people always choose the path of least resistance, and often don’t know where their best options lie.

  On a related score, another noxious claim is that ‘all art is political.’ Aside from its logical absurdity; one can substitute the words ‘about poodles’ for ‘political,’ and the statement is just as true, or absurd. If one does not deal with poodles in one’s story, poem, or painting, then one is actually making a statement about the condition of poodles in the cosmos by ignoring their plight. No? Of course, this is silly, yet it dominates the art that the ‘system’ buoys up today. Anything can be defined in relation to another thing in a simplistic manner. So what? Is shitting a political act? Are you, as a black man or Jew, making a more daring political claim if you piss sitting on a pot, and I- a white man, stand at a urinal? These may seem absurd to young readers of this interview, but LITERALLY, I have heard such nonsense espoused in Marxist, Feminist, PoMo, Christian, and other methodologies on art. Similarly, the ‘all art is truth’ claim is likewise bullshit, for ‘art’ has the same root as ‘artifice.’ It can NEVER be truth. Comments?


LP:  You’re gonna have to put me into the bullshitter category on this.  You are seeing the phrase “All art is political” as reductive, when, in fact, what it does is reveal something about the nature of a work of art that is merely a component of a discussion of art.  All art is political, in that it comes out of a specific set of political circumstances, whether because of the economics involved, the treatment of the artist by the society, or myriad other external factors.  If you want to be glibly deconstructionist, all art is about poodles, too, even if it is about the absences of poodles, but I’m not sure what that reveals about a work and the larger reaction to it.  As far as shitting, how is it not a political act?  How does where and how someone shits not reveal something potently political about the aforementioned shitter?


DS: Lee, you state, ‘You are seeing the phrase “All art is political” as reductive, when, in fact, what it does is reveal something about the nature of a work of art that is merely a component of a discussion of art,’ and then you defend the statement by expounding upon it. The fact that you are expounding upon it (and in ways most of its claimants do not- for they, sure as hell, ABSOLUTELY mean it IS political!) absolutely proves that the statement itself IS reductive; and that’s the point; as well as it’s wrong. And by expounding on it, as you do, you are practicing the fallacy of intent, trying to divine meaning from others’ claims where those claims were not made. ‘If you want to be glibly deconstructionist, all art is about poodles, too, even if it is about the absences of poodles, but I’m not sure what that reveals about a work and the larger reaction to it.  As far as shitting, how is it not a political act?  How does where and how someone shits not reveal something potently political about the aforementioned shitter?’ What does declaiming a work of art that is about father and son lack of communication, the search for buried treasure, the beauty of a rose garden in autumn, a child’s wish to win a spelling bee, a hunter who is pounced upon by its prey, or any of the 99+% of apolitical artworks as political reveal about the work and the reaction to it that parallaxing it to poodles does not? Absolutely nothing. So, the facile claim of all art being political is the glib claim. You are making my points even as you attempt to refute them. Many writers are terrible critics, and just like actors who call bad screenplays brilliant. This is true of big names like a T.S. Eliot to current writers/reviewers for the New York Times. When I read reviews or criticism- on any art, I always cringe when I see the words ‘like’ or ‘dislike.’ They simply have no place in critical thought nor writing. It is a wholly different axis from which to judge art than good/bad. One cannot argue with one’s liking of something, but one can disagree with its excellence. As example, many studies have shown that babies only a week or two old- far too young for cultural brainwashing to have seeped in, react positively when shown photos of people with symmetrical (i.e.- beautiful) features vs. those with asymmetrical (i.e.- ugly) features, regardless of the racial and ethnic makeup of the baby or displayed subject of the photograph. Of course, a particular person may like men with big noses or women who are obese, but by and large there is an objective underpinning to beauty. I would argue such an underpinning exists for excellence, albeit more multivalent since art demands more things be accounted for then mere symmetry. Agree?


LP:  From Aristotle to John Donne to Henry James to Harold Bloom, the attempt to reason out what makes a work of literature is ultimately so subjective that James may as well have said, “Here’s shit what I like” in The Art of the Novel.


DS: Nice anecdote, but it has no relevance to the query. This leads into another pet peeve of mine- the writers and critics who always speak nebulously of other writers, especially when they admit the overwhelming amount of published material is garbage. You see it in phrases like, ‘unlike other writers…..’ yet no names are named. Even when a name is named, as in bad fictionist Dale Peck’s New Republic review of a few years ago, when he wrote, ‘Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation….’ he ended the piece basically stoop-kneed and retracting that provocative claim. Will you name me some living, published writers today who are simply bad writers, and should never have been published? Then you can name some overrated dead white male classics. I’ll start with some of the hacks I mentioned earlier, and say David Foster Wallace. He simply cannot write a compelling paragraph, and has no characterization skills. Dave Eggers may be worse- he lacks any ear for real conversation and bathes in triteness. Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle can at least write competent paragraphs, but their fiction is larded with clichés and stereotypes. Oates’ Blonde was staggeringly bad, and her short fiction only slightly better. Her criticism is a joke. Richard Russo, in a fair and just world, would not even be able to get a job writing for All My Children. Then there was memoirist James Frey- who should have been pummeled for being a sub-Eggers level writer, yet was pummeled because he dared to get ‘creative’ in a genre- memoir, that exists solely because, unlike its kissing cousin biography, it necessarily has to have distortions and lies in it to avoid a lawsuit. Will you name some- and not the obvious genre hacks like Dan Brown, Stephen King, or Danielle Steel? I think it’s important for the future of literature and criticism to do so. BTW- when I asked this of novelist Charles Johnson, he basically decided to stay on the gravy train and play it safe. In short, he pussied out. Will you do a bit better and display some balls?


LP: Let me give you a pet peeve of mine: hugely long novels.  There’s absolutely no fucking reason that a Michael Chabon book needs to be longer than anything William Faulkner ever wrote or, really, that Dickens ever wrote.  I’m a huge Jonathan Lethem fan, but it took everything I could muster to finish Fortress of Solitude.  This emphasis on excess, whether it’s 75-minute rock albums or 3-hour superhero movies or a slice of cheesecake as big as your head, is a marker of the decadence of this age.

  But since you want me to dis something, I’ll give you a couple of bestseller examples: I didn’t give a shit about anybody in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (I gave up about 20 pages from the end), and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was about 60 pages of compelling writing followed by another 150 or so of standard potboiler stuff.  How much better would that book have been if it wasn’t about proving who killed the narrator?


DS: I agree, 3300 pages of Proust is ridiculous, when only 300 of the pages are great, and the same for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  As for Sebold, length is an ancillary issue- the ability to actually craft a paragraph sans clichés is a more cogent criticism, as well as character development, lack of melodrama, and an actual attempt to tackle something greater and deeper than voyeurism. But, since the Sebold book is so PC, what of the art that PC promotes, where writers will take the safest of stands- such as being against rape, nuclear war/winter, genocide, etc.; as if there were large lobbies for those things? Should not writers of talent and greatness spend all of their time doing what they do best- as should all people? I just see such side endeavors as a waste, part of the ‘all art is political’ bullshit mantra; and I grew up with Great Depression Era parents for whom waste was THE cardinal sin.


LP:  I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.  When we read the work of Victor Hugo or Dostoevsky or Toni Morrison, are we really reading because people are taking daring stands?  No – we’re reading people who use those things we commonly understand as a way of exploring the psychology of the characters.  


DS: I mentioned PC writers- Hugo and Dostoevsky preceded PC by a century. Morrison is arguably PC in much of her work, but even though it mostly fails, she at least can craft narratives and characters that work for a while; so you are misunderstanding what I said because you are looking for a strawman, not reading my words. Speaking of words, I coined a neologism- deliterate. It’s a term I came up with in opposition to illiterate. By deliterate I mean the willful choice to not read great nor compelling writing. To avoid the classics in favor of reading blogs. To write in emailese rather than proper grammar. Basically, I claim that deliteracy is far more a problem than illiteracy is. First off, I object strongly to the idea that there is some crisis in public education. More children today- in raw numbers and percentage-wise, can read basic writing, in a primer sense, than ever before in this nation’s history. Many of the claims of ‘crisis’ stem from a misreading of data. As example, before the 1980s, most claims of this nation’s education and literacy levels scrupulously avoided schools and districts in poor neighborhoods of the inner city, black and minority ghettos, white Appalachia and rural areas, so the claims of a greater literacy are based upon comparing the upper 60-70% of the whole nation at that time to the entire 100% that exists now, and that’s wholly distorting and illogical. Most children today have reams more knowledge of the world than their counterparts fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago. There simply is no comparison. Today, as well, there are no longer cream puff classes in citizenship nor penmanship to boost up the bell curve. However, I do agree that while children today have more knowledge, they may have less wisdom- the ability to properly apply knowledge. What comments do you have?


LP:  I’m less concerned about the lack of reading of canonical work than I am about the degradation of language through our reliance on electronic gadgets.  Text messaging, IMing, Twittering, and other things that sound like nonsense have pretty much raped our ability to put together a cogent thought of more than a dozen words.  I don’t think it’s curmudgeonly or old-fashioned or backwards to simply say, “Use a friggin’ comma.”  Or a period.  Or a capital letter.  And, alas, I fear poor apostrophe is dead; the much-maligned semi-colon is not long for this world.  It’s not a linguistic evolution.  It just makes things damned confusing.

  I’m literary relativist.  I don’t believe you are necessarily a better or smarter person because you read “great” books.  Essentially, one is just asking everyone to conform to a narrow, Western notion of education, an idea that’s long been discredited.

  By the way, the lack of “citizenship” or civics, as I took it in high school, has contributed to a decline in civil engagement.  Frankly, it’s important to learn how the government works.  The less informed the citizens are about how they are governed, the more power that gives to those governing.


DS: So, one is not a better person for reading great books, but good grammar is somehow ameliorating? Who cares of good grammar if the tales are trite and the characters stereotypes? And, I’m no Western Canon snob, but elitism, based on quality, HAS to be striven for. I don’t want anything but the best doctors, lawyers, cops, AND artists. If a tale is bad, who cares if it’s written by a white male or a left handed lesbian Eskimo? But, the problem is that the Old Boys Network was merely displaced by a PC-POMO network. As in 1984, all has changed but all has remained the same. Artists are not judged by objective standards but by what a new hierarchy ‘likes’. Yet, as with the Salonista and Impresionists, likes fade- quality perdures. Yes, many things in the Western Canon are not good: most of the Greek writing is in the Canon because it survived, not because it was good. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and only a dozen are great. Another dozen are mediocre and the baker’s dozen at the bottom are horrid. And only a dozen or so of his sonnets come close to greatness. The problem is that juntas always toss out the good with the bad. Instead of actually doing the hard work of objectively discerning which works of Milton or Shelley should be tossed in favor of newer works, the whole lot is tossed and what replaces it is not even the quality stuff of today, but the stuff written by people who are connected. I interviewed a poet named James Emanuel- a far superior poet to Donald Hall. But he has not gotten his due because he was blackballed by American Academia- especially black literati. But, by your estimation, he’d be a failed poet. Why? Because he’s not well known, or as lauded as Hall? I value the work, and try to get people like you to see that alone is what matters, for the artist becomes the work- biographical details become minutia. If you lack the critical and reading level to see Emanuel is superior to Hall, then you are the failure, not the artist. Lee, the purpose of criticism (and Cosmoetica) is to show people how to think better, not what to think. There can be reasonable disagreements, but there also are objectively correct facts- even in the arts. The problem today is that people DO NOT think- in arts, politics, science, life, etc. Hell, we have a society that cannot balance their checkbooks every month, and we expect people to be able to pick mates or understand deeper things?

  But I digress….I have always maintained that the creative arts are higher than the performing or interpretive arts, because you are basically starting with less to work with. In short, an actor interpreting Shakespeare or O’Neill has it much easier than the two playwrights did in conjuring the drama. Similarly, I posit that writing and poetry are the two highest general and specific art forms, for writing is wholly abstract- black squiggles on white that merely represent and must be decoded, whereas the visual arts are inbred, and one can instantly be moved by a great photo or painting, while even the greatest haiku will take five or ten seconds to read and digest. Poetry is the highest form of writing because, unlike fiction, it needs no narrative spine to drape its art over- it can be a moment captured, and wholly abstractly, unlike a photo. Do you agree with these views? If so, why do you think this is so? I would bet that since language (at least written) is only a six or so thousand year old phenomenon, while sight has been around for 600 million years or more, that’s a hell of a head start the visual arts have over writing.


LP:  If all you’re saying its that it’s easier to look at a picture than to read a work, then, sure, I agree.  But I’m not gonna argue the superiority of one form over another.  I’ve been as moved by a Van Gogh painting as I have a great production of Death of a Salesman.


DS: ‘I’m not gonna argue the superiority of one form over another.’ Why? The play will, by virtue of its nature, and if done well, naturally touch upon more things than a painting- even a complex one like Picasso’s Guernica. One may be more moved by a great haiku than Hart Crane’s The Bridge, but again, that’s an emotional reaction. Objectively, Crane’s poem is far more complex and its success over, say, 60,000 words, is a far greater achievement than the ten or so words of an average haiku. Here’s a common error PC folk like you make in the arts- you feel that acknowledging that any artwork is superior to another is a de facto diss to the inferior work. That’s simply not tenable. Stating Kobe Bryant or Alex Rodriguez are better athletes than I am acknowledges the obvious, just like stating I’m a better writer than they are does in reverse. This logical screwup is another manifestation of the fallacy of self limits- that because you are engaged in the delimited idea that acknowledging hierarchies is immanently about disrespect you cannot get beyond that and see that most acknowledge this as a completely rational and useful way to deal with reality. Now, to get on to non-reality: many artists seem to deny their own creativity, pawning it off on God, or some other force or demiurge. I call this the Divine Inspiration Fallacy. There is no Muse. For better or worse, it’s all me, or you, or any artist. Comments on its existence, origins, verity?


LP:  Kurt Vonnegut talked about it all being chemicals in the brain.  We are merely manipulated by those chemicals.  You can name the feeling that you get when those chemicals flow into place and make you create art “God” or “the Muse” or some such shit.  But ultimately, it’s you, your brain, and the big empty in front of you.


DS: Finally, we agree. Now, name some of your favorite works of art- novels, poems, films, paintings, etc. And, aside from your like or dislike of them, what books or works of art do you deem as most influential? On my list of most influential books in my life, I would include Alex Haley’s The Autobiography Of Malcolm X; Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass; Loren Eiseley’s autobiography All The Strange Hours; Leonard Shlain’s Art And Physics, and the Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.


LP:  The works that have influenced me most are very American and all 20th century: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Light in August by William Faulkner, the poetry of Anne Sexton, and the plays of David Mamet and Maria Irene Fornes.  And there’s a kind of holy trinity of Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, and Richard Pryor.

  However, when we’re talking favorites, well, then we’re into something different.  That’s a wide and odd assortment.  The films of Preston Sturges.  The music of Richard Thompson.   I just saw an absolutely stunning exhibition of paintings by South African artist Marlene Dumas, and she’s leaped into my consciousness very strongly.


DS: Ok, this next question is one that Steven Pinker dodged:

  Then there is the old example of, ‘What if a building was burning, and you could only save a person or the last extant manuscript of the works of William Shakespeare (or The Mona Lisa, or some other great work of art). Which would you save?’ Most people say, the person, and likely mean it. Yet, to me, I would have to weigh the person and the works. Even a good person is likely to not have a fraction of the cultural impact of a great work of art, especially over the centuries. Yes, saving Darwin or Galileo or Picasso or Rembrandt, over their works, is easy, for they can recapitulate most of that stuff. But saving Larry MacDougall, of MacDougall’s Plumbing? I’m not gonna lie, Larry would probably die, because nothing he could ever do would likely be as valuable to human culture as that great work of art. And it’s not because I devalue a human life, as much as I truly value human creations over human non-creators. Does that belief make one a cold, calculating proto-Fascist, a Stalinist wannabe, an über-sensitive lover of all things, or simply a mature, rational adult?

  Do you agree or not? Is this not merely a continuation of the valuation of any human life over other things that are possibly more precious to society at large? And, is not this a version of the lame argument that anti-abortionists use- that you could be flushing away the person who cures cancer, unaware that no single person will ever do such a thing, for scientific discovery always has its Marconis and Edisons and Teslas waiting to step in if one of them fails? Thus, is not a decision to save the more valuable item, regardless of pro human bias, the truly enlightened view? Is it not even the true ‘liberal’ view?


LP:  I would rescue Larry MacDougall over any work of art.  The world has always continued to function with the art that has survived every war and disaster.  One cannot say that had the library at Alexandria not been looted and burned that a single life would have been saved or a single act of savagery would have been prevented.  Larry’s wife and kids need him.  Someone else will paint a Mona Lisa or scribble some plays.  If you could stop a war by burning the Louvre, would you?  If you could halt Hurricane Katrina by blowing up the Sphinx, would you?


DS: Again, you have dodged the question. MacDougall is pitted against the entire body of Shakespeare’s works. It’s him or the ravages of memory alone with Shakespeare. And, indeed, the world has gotten along fine without the Larry NacDougalls either. Let’s see, from time immemorial through the Huns, Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, the Middle Passage, Native American genocides, King Leopold, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Darfur, etc., people have died uselessly, and the world kept spinning. But, how many lives were enriched by Willy from Avon, or Mozart, Led Zeppelin, Goya, etc.? Larry’s wife and kids could do fine, especially if Larry was a bastard- as statistically likely, and remarry a guy just as good or bad. And the very point of art is that NO ONE else will paint a Mona Lisa- that’s Leonardo da Vinci’s alone. It’s hard to believe you can claim to be an artist and even state that. The artist becomes the art. Leo is The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, Willy is Hamlet and Othello, not the stiff under Avon. Shakespeare WAS a human, but he still IS because of his work. Larry MacDougall’s best elbow curve installation or ejaculation into the Missus can never equal that. And, no I would not destroy the Louvre nor the Sphinx. Look at the assholes who blew up the Buddhas in Afghanistan. It did nothing but hasten a war. The analogy is silly because human nature will start that war regardless of the Louvre’s being there or not, but no Shakespeare, no Mozart, no Goya. Hell, the plumber has yet to be born that is worth that! Without the things that hang in the Louvre, or in libraries, human beings are just watery shit-sacks. Burn the Louvre and you burn something far better and more essential to being human than any 150-200 lbs of human flesh, and many times over. Dammit Lee, you’d better not let your regular readers see this interview lest they lynch you for being so PC! Excelsior! Earlier, I mentioned Internet assholery, and, while in your Rude Pundit persona, I’m sure many would accuse you of being an Internet asshole, there clearly is an intelligence and wit there that reminds me of both a Howard Stern and an Oscar Wilde. I find that the absence of a sense of humor, be it in Rightist Christians or Leftist Multicultis, is their greatest sin, for it leads into all the other bullshit they inflict upon others. Comments?


LP:  Oh, I wholeheartedly agree with you.  I regularly attack the left for not having a sense of humor, especially when it comes to right wingers being funny.  The inability to laugh at the excesses of your movement is a sign that your movement is too stringent and will, inevitably, fail.  It’s the reason why cults fall apart so easily: no good jokes.


DS: For those unfamiliar with your online persona, let me delve into some political matters, and let you write of your opinions. Do you belong to any political party- Democrat, Republican, Third Party, Independent? And, if a member of a party, why? Is not maintaining independence a better approach to take?


LP:   I’ve been a Democrat for virtually all of my adult life.  That would be because I was so viscerally opposed to Ronald Reagan that the only sensible way to attack him was from the Democratic position. “Independent” is overrated.  And the third party fight is one that failed with Ralph Nader in 2000 (and, by the way, I voted for Nader then because I was in a state that was going for Bush no matter what).


DS: I am not a drug user, and never have been, but I support the legalization of all drugs, as long as one is not operating vehicles that can harm others. After Prohibition’s colossal failure, how can any thinking person justify the waste of time and money on the War On Drugs? As someone who grew up in a Goodfellas type environment, and was the only white kid in a Puerto Rican-Colombian teen gang, I know a bit about the selling of drugs, if not their effects on the body, and I can say, if you want to get rid of drug use, legalize it, and spend a fraction of the money saved on education and rehabilitation, and problem 99% solved. Do you think that the criminalization of drugs is tied to the fact that many in law enforcement and politics see this charade of a War On Drugs as an employment/kickback scheme- a way to keep funding levels high?


LP:  There’s so many forces keeping drugs illegal that it’s almost staggering.  From hypocritical politicians and law-enforcement officials to the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries funding the anti-drug movement, the drug policy of this nation is consistently and fantastical.  There is no actual confrontation with reality going on, but I’d attribute that to political cowardice and corporate money in campaigns.


DS: After 9/11, the War On Terror displaced the War On Drugs as task #1 for domestic law enforcement, yet, the two are clearly tied together, as South American drug lords help traffic in narcotics from the Middle East, so that, our drug consumption fuels terrorism. Do you agree, and, if so, and it’s so obvious, does this also signal that there is a darker motive for continuing these two failed ‘Wars’?


LP:  I’m no conspiracy theorist.  I do believe there are people who have sociopathic motives in keeping the wars going, but the idea that anyone could keep such a thing hidden is ludicrous.  Everyone in the fights would have to be in on it.  And, knowing a few people in both wars, that’s not true.


DS: One of the most sickening and ridiculous post 9/11 tropes has been the idea that all cops and soldiers are heroes, and that somehow their lives and jobs are worth more than other tax-paying citizens. Why do you think there is always this notion to try to stratify positions? I recall once having an argument with my brother, wherein he claimed a bad or mediocre doctor was worth more to society than garbagemen, and I countered that 99.9% of people can go for weeks or months without needing a doctor, but go just two or three weeks without garbagemen? And, most cops that I’ve known suffer from the little men with big guns syndrome. Comments?


LP:  For a Western democracy, America is quite infantile, and there’s some intentionality by the powerful to keep us so.  Yeah, the cops and fire fighters who rushed into a collapsing building to try to save people, they deserve a little extra wine from Jesus.  But in the post-Rodney King, post-Vietnam era, there was a need by those in power to get us fetishize the enforcers of power.  They must be our betters because they do work we refuse to. 

  We need a little more “Fuck Tha Police.”  We need to return to our “Question Authority” mode from back in the day.   It’s why I don’t condemn those who are antagonistic to Obama just because they’re antagonistic.  I condemn them because the vast majority of them were silent throughout the Bush years.


DS: Why do you think politics in the last decade has been so polarized? In reality, Conservatives and Liberals- if true to their ideologies, would both be for abortion (it’s the right of the individual over their body) and gay marriage (what two people do in their bedrooms is no one’s business), yet both extremes have gotten very ugly. Many PC Elitists (like the late, unlamented Andrea Dworkin) supported banning books, censorship, and defined almost all heterosexual sexual relations as involving violence against women, while Religious Rightists want to deny the terminally ill the right to end their lives, care more about a ball of fetal cells than a grown woman, or stem cells than someone alive and suffering. Why do you think such people deliberately warp their labels to include viewpoints most true Liberals or Conservatives would consider noxious?


LP:  They want to mainstream their positions.  If James Dobson can situate himself as a mainstream conservative, then he drags the discourse in his direction.  Until very recently, the right had been incredibly successful at this re-alignment of ideologies so that, in the post-Reagan, pre-Obama period, Richard Nixon would be considered a wild and wooly liberal.  Most of what we call “liberal” is moderate.  Dworkin was a radical and never considered herself anything else.  But to call Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, even, “liberal” is to seriously fuck up the definition. 


DS: What are your views on such current politicized matters as euthanasia, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research?


LP:  Yes and/or legalize to all.  Let’s stop pretending that we can stop any of this.  Abortion and euthanasia are going to happen whether we like it or not, so let’s make sure it’s safe and monitored.  Gay marriage is mostly a settled issue for Americans.  Sure, the evangelicals and the closeted conservatives are gonna beat that horse until it falls to pieces, and some of the laws are going to be decided by the Supreme Court.  And stem cell research – either America leads or shuts the fuck up.

  Hey, here’s a conspiracy theory to start: let’s euthanize gay pregnant women to induce abortion so we can steal the stem cells. 


DS: Back in the early 1980s, I escorted a girl to an abortion clinic and we were assailed by assholes who threatened her, and snarled at her, and when we left, several of them ran up the stairs of the building to continue their barrage, and I kicked the first obnoxious bastard down the stairs and on to his fat ass. I still recall the look of the other anti-abortionists. They were stunned that someone actually stood up to them. Yet, in the years since, I have been angered at the cowardice of many people on the Liberal/Progressive side, for not standing up for their values. They use cowardly weasel words like pro-choice rather than pro-abortion. I am pro-abortion. Saying you are pro-choice means what? Pro-choice for free congoleum for all? No. You are pro the right to abortion, therefore pro-abortion. So, say it. By using a weasel word like pro-choice you are de facto ceding the idea that there is something so wrong with abortion that even the use of the word is something to be avoided. In short, one only garners respect for oneself or one’s ideas if one stands behind them and up for them. Any thoughts on liberal cowardice being a greater impediment to freedom than Right Wing oppression?


LP:  I actually think that pro-choice is accurate.  “Pro-abortion” sounds like “abortions for all, births for none.”  A better variation, if more cumbersome, is “pro-abortion rights.”  I was out there in Baton Rouge when Operation Rescue was in full swing, helping to keep a clinic open, getting screamed at and spit on, so I feel you.

  Liberal cowardice, especially when it comes to owning the discourse, has always been a huge impediment to getting our agenda through.  In the 1980s, when we allowed Reagan to demonize the word “liberal,” when powerful liberals didn’t fight back against that, it was one of the biggest setbacks we had.  That said, c’mon – right-wing oppression has always been the enemy.


DS: In no way, shape, nor form, does pro-abortion mean forcing abortions on all. That’s just silly. After all, having twice seen a fetus, and held one in my hand (a formaldehyded fetus in a junior high science class and a bloody one when a girl I knew miscarried), there is simply nothing to call a person who believes that is a human being but psychotic- having a literal break from reality. And stem cells and euthanasia opponents similarly base their beliefs in things that simply are not true. PC and PoMo aside, there are objective facts in the cosmos, so why do so few people, especially those on the Left, seem willing to stand up and fight for them? Had they, the last three decades might have been much better. Thoughts?


LP:  I lived a large chunk of my life in Louisiana.  Since I was a kid, every couple of years, a pro-creationist bill was passed by the legislature, signed by the governor, immediately challenged in court, and then struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Every fucking time.  Then the creationists would go back to the drawing board to come up with some language that would please the court, and we’d go through it all again. 

  The point is that you’re question presupposes that there’s a desire to believe objective facts when, in fact, for most of the population, there is a deeply held desire to ignore fact and embrace myth, superstition, and emotionally-reductive positions.  If someone believes in a soul, despite there being absolutely no objective proof of one, you are not going to convince that person that a clump of cells is not a human being.


DS: My point is that such manifestly psychotic beliefs should be labeled and ridiculed for what they are. The lack of ridicule helps prolong the delusions. Shaming needs to come back in vogue- not for petty shit, but when people really go off the wagon of reality. Why do you think so many Right Wingers claim to long for one income family households, yet do everything possible to kybosh that outcome?


LP:  I think this was a valid question in the 1980s and 1990s.  Now, there’s so few people who view this as realistic that we can call them “cultists” or “Mormons.”


DS: Another issue that has arisen in recent decades is the idea of ‘hate speech,’ and its even more noxious cousin, ‘hate crimes.’ Last year, I interviewed law professor Richard Thompson Ford, author of a book called The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, and asked him this question: ‘Whether one is murdered by a serial killer, a hitman, a spree killer, a pedophile, a mugger, a drug addict looking for cash, or a Klansman wanting to string up a Jew or black man, the dead are still dead, right? So, aren’t ‘hate crimes’ silly? After all, the deed is what is to be punished, not the motive. Your take?Here was his reply:I’m not a proponent of hate crimes legislation.  I think conventional criminal law is usually sufficient to deal with violent crime and anti racketeering laws can deal with organized hate groups that commit crime.  “Hate crimes” are another example of our obsession with state of mind—it’s extremely hard to prove or disprove the relevant state of mind and we get many of the same problems of ambiguous or mixed motivation.  And it turns out that most hate crimes prosecutions involve minority defendants—so ironically this anti racist legislation has had the effect of exacerbating one of the most severe racial inequities in our society: the disproportionate representation of minorities in the prison population.’ Since you too have written of race and racism on your blog, are your views consonant with mine, and those of Ford? If not, why not?, and please explain.


LP:  Mostly, I think that “hate crimes” is just a bullshit way of overcompensation for overlooking crimes against people of different races and sexual orientation.  Still, I do believe we can punish motive.  Do you think “genocide” is different from “mass murder”?  Do we treat soldiers and leaders differently if they ordered the destruction of a whole city versus an entire ethnic group?


DS: I agree the military is held to a different and false standard, but that’s the wrong thing. They should be accountable for deeds, not motives, as should all of us. What are your views on religion? Do you believe in gods or not? Are you an atheist or agnostic? What links do you see between philosophy and religion? Is myth merely expired religion, and religion myth alive? Do you see religion spawning from the same human wellspring as art?


LP:  I’m a stone cold atheist. 


DS: Does not the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God mandate predestination and the illusion of free will? After all, that God, if all knowing, would know all things at all times forever. So, free will obviates the concept of God, right?


LP:  I’m guessing that, for believers, God’s just like the people who tabulate the Academy Awards ballots.  Sure, he knows what’s in the envelopes, but he ain’t telling.


DS: Back to 9/11 bullshit. Do you agree that 9/11 was preventable, had we paid attention to intelligence reports? And, did you see Condoleezza Rice as a token black in the Bush Administration because she so utterly failed as National Security Advisor, yet got promoted to Secretary Of State?


LP:  Calling Condoleezza Rice a “token” would be worth arguing if she were the one incompetent in the Bush administration.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the black sheep if the whole herd is suffering from footrot.

  As for 9/11, I’ve thought a great deal about whether or not it was preventable.  And I do think it was.  Had we had the legitimate Gore administration, with the continuation of the Clinton administration’s pursuit of al-Qaeda, there’s a good chance that a few dots would have been connected.  Or, in other words, Bush didn’t give a fuck.

  This is not to mention the very real distraction of the Clinton impeachment, which probably did as much in ensuring 9/11 happened as did the hijackers taking flying lessons.


DS: What is your view on the idea the 9/11 changed everythingapproach to geopolitics? Do you think this led directly to the downfall of Bush and the American Right? And what of the Patriot Act?


LP:  The amount of energy it took to keep the curtain of fear draped over the nation eventually just ate away at the administration.  But the Patriot Act remains because now the hegemonic belief is that the aftertaste of that fear still exists.


DS: Do you believe in the Jeffersonian ideal that sometimes democracy needs to be renewed in blood, etc.?


LP:  I’d agree if that wasn’t the excuse that so many yahoos use to justify their calls to violence.  But, yeah, if we look at the civil rights movement, then sure.  The question is really whose blood gets spilled.


DS: What are your thoughts on school vouchers? I oppose them. There’s no evidence they work, and the few schools that report ‘success’ do so only because they have the right to pick and choose students, therefore to measure their ‘success’ means comparing the results of an elite and chosen class vs. the masses. Ideas?


LP:  So many conservative solutions are merely ways to divert funds to their supporters.  School vouchers are a panacea, an underhanded way to give a tax break to the wealthy, a fake out to the masses, and a worthless solution to the problems of our education system.  We know what works: good teachers (allowed to teach their subjects), small class sizes, and schools that are up to date.   How about we try that for a little while?


DS: What are your ideas on taxes? Do you support progressive taxes, a flat tax, consumption taxes, abolishing the IRS? Why? And, what the fuck is wrong with flat tax guru Steve Forbes? This man has to be one of the dumbest men in the country.


LP:  Steve Forbes is just a creepy motherfucker, like his dad.  I support progressive taxes and VAT taxes, but we gotta be willing to use them for shit we need, like, you know, national health care plans.


DS: Do you believe in the concept of a public commons- those goods and services that all of us benefit by? Why?


LP:  I can’t even understand how someone could not believe in a public commons.  If not, then why bother acknowledging that a social contract exists.


DS: After all, not even Microsoft nor Walmart could finance the building of railroads and roads to move their goods about. They are as ‘dependent’ upon the ‘system’- financed by the taxpayers through the government, as any ‘welfare mom is. No? So, why do so many people have this ridiculous notion that paying taxes is somehow the government ‘stealing’ from them, rather than the reality of them giving back to the system that allowed them to make the money in the first place, so that others can achieve what they have? Are they just ignorant? And, if they are, do they really believe that, in a feudal or totalitarian society, they could achieve such wealth as allowed by our current system?


LP:  Um, yes, they are that ignorant.  You plunk any one of them down in Sweden, and they’ll wonder why the hell we’re not doing that.  But there’s something else at work here: this bullshit notion of American individualism, which really just means, “Fuck you.” 


DS: Re: taxation, I’ve always felt that the rate of taxation is far less important than the rate of return per dollar paid. I.e.- if I pay only 5% in taxes, I’d better not want for much, but if I pay 50%, I have a right to cradle to grave coverage for a host of social benefits. Do you agree?


LP:  Yes.  To go back to that Sweden ideal, places where people have the fuck taxed out of them ultimately get a clean nation with health care and social services to raise the standard of living.   But in places like that, because the actual monetary investment in the government is so much larger, people are more engaged in the actions of the government.  They feel that ownership stake that we don’t.  In order for anything like it to work, Americans would have to be willing to live in smaller places with less shit around them.  And, if I know Americans, we suck at that.


DS: In last year’s Presidential campaign, John McCain, late in the race, tried to paint Barack Obama as a socialist (after the terrorist gambit failed), and played upon the old wealth redistribution meme. Yet, in reality, in the public commons, every time a corporation is granted tax relief, wealth is funneled and redistributed upward. Early Twentieth Century policies, such as the Wagner-Steagall Act, and men like Robert Moses, who actively engineered the breaking up of integrated urban neighborhoods for the express purpose of ghettoizing blacks and other minorities, redistributed wealth from the working class to the rich, but no one ever calls it ‘class warfare’ when the rich prey on the poor. This is so obvious, with any even cursory glance at history, so why has the Right been so successful in bamboozling the poor and working class into voting against their interests? Do ‘values’ on abortion, guns, and homosexuality really trump that?


LP:  The Right has been able to convince the most dirt poor shit farmer that he’s middle class because he can have cable TV and a cell phone for cheap, as well as a credit card that soothes the agony of living as a shit farmer by letting him own more material goods.  The values stuff, that’s just pandering to religious prejudice, also the salve for the economically dispossessed.  The Right hooks ‘em with that bullshit and then makes them think that their leaders are on the working class’s side.  Joe the Plumber, for instance, is exhibit A of that kind of approach.


DS: Let’s turn from yourself to your alter-ego. How did you start The Rude Pundit blog, why, and what sort of success has it brought? Does it make any money? You also have taken the persona on the road, doing performances. Is it stand up comedy, or a one man monologue, or something more like a masculine version of The Vagina Monolgues?


LP:  I see myself as primarily a writer, so I don’t do a lot with the shows.  I’m working on that’s distant from the blog.  But the blog’s brought recognition beyond the blog world, which is always nice, and gotten me invited to speak a few places.  I make a little bit of scratch from Blogads each month, but I think Google ads and other stuff are just ugly and I’m lucky enough to have another job where this doesn’t have to make money.


DS: How much hate email do you get? Have you ever gotten serious threats- either death threats or legal threats?


LP:  Oh, I used to get more hate email than I do now.  I never engaged with it.  I would send them an email hug and kiss and ask if they felt better.  I’ve gotten probably half a dozen death threats, none of them seemingly serious enough to contact anyone.  Most of them were, ironically enough, during the Terri Schiavo nightmare.  It’s amazing how angry people will get when you wish death upon a brain-dead person.


DS: Interestingly, over the years, as Cosmoetica has become more ‘legitimate,’ simply due to longevity, in idiots’ eyes, I too get far less hate email, and far less threatening. Also, a year or so ago I started using Google filters and ignoring the small percentage of shit that got through. Ignoring idiots defeats them because the stupid always crave attention, especially of those they hate. So, I do not give them the attention from me they so crave. As for you, clearly you are a left of center person, politically, but I am more of a moderate. In 1996, 200, and 2004, I voted for Ralph Nader, before going for Obama in 2008. I’ve voted for some Republicans for local offices, like judgeships, sheriff, or county administrators, etc., but never voted fro a Republican candidate for mayor, governor, or President, and barring a return of Teddy Roosevelt, I think the Republicans are a lost cause. Yet, to me, Obama is my last chance taken on the Democrats. I have found them to be gutless cowards over the last few decades. The Republicans, while they may be evil, at least stand for something. Democrats have been a cipher, a black hole. Left with an option of a bad something or a nothing, is it any wonder people have generally gone Republican?


LP:  I would have answered this question totally differently a few months ago.  But the Republicans have destroyed themselves.  They created the Frankenstein monster of the conservative and/or religious right, and now it’s out of the lab and killing their friends.  The Democrats just have to be smart enough not to trip over their own gains.


DS: In this post you basically lionize Harold Pinter, who died late last year. Yet, to me, his Nobel selection was a farce. His Leftist politics were what got him the award, because his own writing is so meager and so derivative of the far superior Samuel Beckett, not to mention Eugene Ionesco, that it’s laughable. Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, as tv writers, have left a far greater impact on Western culture than Pinter. The Dumb Waiter, The Birthday Party, The Homecoming, etc. are meager works, and the best of any of the writers just mentioned, is far above Pinter. So, was this a joke post, or a sign of Leftist leaning solidarity?


LP:  Harold Pinter was a great writer.  Period.  The Birthday Party, No Man’s Land, and Betrayal are great works of art. And pretty much all drama now is derivative in some way of either Beckett or Brecht.  Pinter had a huge impact on the theatre, and his work on the excesses of power is some of the most prescient in the last half-century.  Your perspective on him is American-centric because Pinter also wrote radio plays and teleplays for the BBC.  Sure, his work at PEN and for leftist causes didn’t hurt, but ultimately he had a large, influential body of written work.  I don’t knee-jerk admire anyone.


DS: But, Lee, if you believe, as you earlier claimed, that all is subjective- or, to use your own words against you: ‘Everything is subjective.  There is no meaning except in competing subjectivities,’ them your claim on Pinter is valueless, or you have invalidated the claim I just quoted. Which is it? And, using your own logic, if everything is subjective, then why don’t we get the plays that fucked up Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, wrote, produce them, and give him Tonys, Obies, and Nobels? After all, by your standard, there’s NO difference! Damn, Lee, dialectic is a bitch when you argue against yourself! As for my view of Pinter- it is artistocentric, and without Beckett there is no Pinter. Period. Given that a forum like this interview allows (even encourages) its interviewees to take advantage of the format and expound on claims, it’s telling that you do far more declaiming than explaining- such as why Pinter is great, in your mind. Here’s a concise reason he’s not great, and not even particularly good: make Beckett less daring, characterizations less sharp and witty, and politicize points of human nature that are universal, and you have Pinter: a PC, dumbed down Beckett. And I won’t even get into the overrated catatonic edifice that is Brecht. Anyway, how long do you envision The Rude Pundit blog running? What is your ultimate goal- to be a novelist, playwright, cultural critic with a column for some major media outlet? Or are you so entwined to politics that you’ll never give up the role?


LP:  I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this.  It gets harder and harder every year because you reach a point where you think, “How many frigging ways am I going to say, ‘Conservatives bad’?”  I figure I’ve got until the Republican Party is dead and gone.  Then 25 years of my work will be done. 

  My major goals are as a playwright first.  I want to make sure that theatre stays relevant.  I don’t think I can do that single-handedly, but I wanna get asses in the seats.


DS: Finally, let me turn my attention to your online success story. Do you make money via your website ad revenue? If so, what separates you from many political websites that have higher traffic than you do? What is your traffic these days?


LP:  I have a constant 5000-6000 daily unique visits during the weekdays.  Sometimes that’ll go up to ten grand.  The most was 200,000 one day during the whole Ann Coulter/plagiarism thing.  I make beer money from ad sales, and once a year, on my anniversary, I do a fundraiser to buy new equipment.  I don’t know if I’m “successful,” per se, but I’m lucky in that I don’t have to rely on the blog for income.  And I only do Blogads.  I don’t wanna clutter the space up with shitty-looking Google ads.


DS: Let’s speak of traffic and ratings for online stuff. With Cosmoetica, I use an old fashioned hits counter. Every week or so, I take a few minutes, tally up all the hits for pages and sections, then add it to the ongoing numbers. I had tried a number of fancier counters- such as stuff with page views, and still occasionally look at my web host’s page for such, but find it rather meaningless. Also, with so many web blockers systems, like Tor, many of the web hosting stats pages might only pick up 5-15% of the actual traffic one receives. On my wife’s blog, she once compared the detailed info she got from a counter she installed, and from her blog host’s counter, and neither took into account what the other recorded, and both only recorded a small percentage of her actual traffic. Yes, if someone in Nepal has Googled an odd phrase and found my site, it’s interesting, but so? I also find the page view notion a silly stat- much like the newfangled stats in baseball that claim to be better than batting averages. After all, is it really better to have 50 individual IP numbers that each look at 2 pages each, then leave, giving you 100 hits, or 25 IP numbers that look at 40 pages and give you a 1000 hits? The former may mean more actual individuals on a given hour, day, week or month, but the latter has more interested and engaged individuals. Give me the latter. What sort of traffic system do you use? And, what are some of the more interesting trivial factoids that you’ve found in your time looking over stats? And what are your most popular pieces? For me, it’s the popularity of an iconic Alaskan hero, Dick Proenneke.


LP:  My most consistently popular post is one where I use the phrase “Britney Spears’s Pussy.”  You can pretty much figure out why that is.  Also, there’s a midget porn one that gets a load of hits.  I agree that one engaged reader is infinitely better than ten guys looking to blow a load on fucking midgets, but maybe one of those dudes will linger for a post or two.

  And I’ve used Statcounter for the past five years or so.  Because I’m not trying to make money, I don’t obsess on the numbers. 


DS: Let’s face it, there is no accurate system for measuring online popularity. There’s not even a semi-reliable flawed system like TV’s Nielsen ratings. There are all sorts of shady companies, like Quantcast. I looked at their info on my website, and it was wholly made up. Then there are sites like and Alexa. I tried both in the past, and wrote of their problems. is a joke. My site only registered if I put their seal on my site, and even then it was only listed with other sites whose names started with the prefix -cosmo. Alexa was even worse. I mentioned the malware and spyware that come with popup ads, but Alexa is the worst. I had to install their toolbar, and in less than 6 months, I needed a new PC. The tech who saw my then PC was amazed at all the junk it implanted. And, it only ranks you if you are registered with its toolbar, and even then only ranks sites via their popularity with Alexa users. When I had Alexa’s toolbar, my website skimmed the top 100,000. Within a month of getting a new PC, sans the toolbar, I dropped out of the top million. As I type I’m barely back in the top 500,000, even though my website, since I removed the Alexa toolbar, has about 12 times as many hits as it did a few years back, and much more monthly traffic. What are your thoughts on such systems, such companies, and have any of them ever tried to hook you?


LP: Like I said, I don’t obsess.  I had a fellow blogger I dated briefly, and she loved that her Alexa number was better than mine.  It was a date ender not because she was ranked higher, but because she gave a shit about that nonsense.


DS: Earlier, I mentioned Google’s effect on Internet popularity, and I see that you are not big on linking to other sites. Do you get much linkage in return? I ask because, as I am outspoken on topics I write about, I am put in a Catch 22 situation. That outspokenness gets me readers, hits, and fans, but also means other websites- part of artistic and literary cliques, refuse to link to me. As you likely know, Google’s ‘secret formula’ is based a third on actual hits/traffic (by however they measure that- see above), and Cosmoetica does well with that. The second third is linkage, at which Cosmoetica does poorly (and it peeves me that websites, sometimes with 1/100th or less my actual readership will be ranked ahead of Cosmoetica, simply because they are linked to a site that is linked to a site that is linked to by Time magazine, a big name writer, or CNN, etc.). The final third of the formula is the mystery; although some suggest it’s based on payola. Where does The Rude Pundit fall in these categories, according to Google?


LP:  I have a decent amount of linkage.  I like to keep my links page to blogs and sites I actually read.  To me, the links list is a kind of endorsement, not just a clearing house of all things lefty.  Again, though, mostly the whole popularity formula is one I don’t pay attention to because I have too much other shit to worry about.


DS: The Internet allows for anonymity, which increases hostilities- the old idea of the mask as liberating force. I feel that the anonymity of being online leads to what I would term the puerilization of the self that the Internet brings- the desire to be popular above all else. Yet truly creative people will always be, by definition, unpopular, or loners. Do you think this causes a de facto feedback loop for why so many online addicts are miserable? They are truly lonely, despite their cyberconnectedness, and this dissonance between their real isolation and online popularity causes a sort of psychic motion sickness within them, which may push them to be even more outrageous or vicious online, be it in online campaigning, or the sorts of libel and slander that have long been tossed your way? And what do you think propels the Internet trolls that obsess over blogs or chatrooms, or the idiots that seem determined to dumb down collective human knowledge in pursuits like Wikipedia?


LP:  The internet is the triumphantly sad end of one kind of public space and it’s morphing into a another kind.  Yes, much of the internet is still devoted to time-wasting and masturbation (which are not one and the same).  But think about how increases in technology have led to constant isolation, going back to radio, on to TV, on to cable, to home video.  What draws people to chatrooms and other pursuits is that, despite the best efforts of technology to isolate us, we are still inexorably drawn to community. 

  We’re still in the toddler phase of this.  We don’t know how things are going to go with how the damn thing is changing the very way in which we act as human beings.  Right now, the right hasn’t figured out how to use the internet because the left is using it to successfully destroy all the myths of the right and of the lies of the propagated by the mainstream media.   But they will get a handle on it.  And so will we all.  The access to so much information, so many material goods, so many different people, so much midget porn is breathtaking.  As we get more and more generations who know nothing but that access, human behavior will change.

  The candy store has been opened and it’s free to all the kids.  We haven’t gotten the stomach ache yet to tell us to stop gorging.

  Mostly, though, I’ll just miss libraries and newspapers.


DS: To what do you attribute the general lack of introspection in modern society? Is American or Western culture simply as shallow as man of its detractors claim? In the arts, PC and Postmodernism have certainly aided in the ‘dumbing down’ of culture. Thoughts?


LP:  The noise of the stupid has gotten louder.  And we were never as deep as we think we were.


DS: Another query I lash all my interviewees with: I believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different. Let me quote from an essay I did on Harold Bloom, the reactionary critic who champions the Western Canon against Multiculturalism: ….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3.What are your thoughts on this? Have you discerned any differences between non-artists and artists, or average artists and the greats? And, if you are copacetic with such a system, where on the scale would you place yourself? And do you think disciplines like teaching or criticism are 180° from creativity?


LP:  Let me do this in reverse: Successful teaching and criticism are necessarily creative efforts.  I’ll take a book of Pauline Kael’s reviews over many a novel.  And, in order for teaching to be a successful synthesis of knowledge and presentation, there has to be a concerted creative effort.  A well-crafted class is, to my mind, like attending a participatory artistic event.

  As for your scale, I wouldn’t want to place myself.  It means that what I do is then measured against my own definition of what your expectations should be.  It cuts off many paths of the conversation.

  The difference between non-artists and artists is that the non-artists can’t think of art in any way but reaction and artists think of it in terms of creation.   Great artists don’t try to break patterns – the work they do simply does.


DS: Dear God! Where to start? Ok, what about Pauline Kael's reviews gives you a boner? Her utter obliviousness to what the films she reviews are about, her disdain for rewatching films to correct the many errors she makes in judgment and even plain storyline, her automatonic writing style, or her general disdain for the medium? As for teaching and criticism being creative? No. They are antipodes. One can use some creativity to make a point, but this is like claiming an octopus is creative because it can open a mason jar. My wife ridicules this sort of logic as like when people claim all are creative. She says they are creative the way one could say your average person is athletic just because they exercise their lungs in respiration. A good analogue would be that art uses discovery in service to creativity while science uses creativity in service to discovery. Just substitute didacticism for science- but the point is that using some minor elements of something as a tool is NOT the thing itself. Teaching can use creativity like a hammer, but it is not forging the hammer! Since we’ve touché don problems in education, perhaps addressing why the professorate cannot even get simple realities like the antipodal nature of creativity and didacticism correct is a clue as to why colleges far more often produce zombies than free thinkers! As for your claim of great artists, that is a backdoor way of advocating  the Divine Inspiration Fallacy. Speaking of Bloom, though, what is your opinion of him? What of Jacques Barzun? To me, they are two of the worst sorts of blowhards- men with limited minds and barely passable writing skills.


LP:  I’ve honestly given very little thought to either of them, even when I was in grad school. Bloom isn’t really part of the conversation anymore.  It’d be like saying we’re still teaching Lionel Trilling or Northrop Frye for any reason other than historical context.


DS: A few years back I co-hosted an Internet radio show called Omniversica. On one show we spoke with a poet named Fred Glaysher, who- in arguing with my co-host Art Durkee, claimed that, in art, change does not come until some giant- or great artist, comes along, and buries the rest of the wannabes. It’s akin to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Agree or not?


LP:  Change doesn’t occur until a movement reaches a critical mass and starts to pour out into the wider public view.  Then the wannabes appear.  And “Glaysher” is an awesome name.


DS: People will forgive you if you are wrong, but not if you are right. Agree or not with that statement. And, if agree, what do you think that says about the state of our culture today.


LP:  There’s no way I’m going to argue for or against a fortune cookie.


DS: At this point in your life, have you accomplished the things you wanted to do? If not, what failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can accomplish yet?


LP:  Beyond the usual middle class angsty things (I’d like more money, for instance), I’d like to get a book deal for something that’s not scholarship.  And I’d like to get a good theatre to produce a play that isn’t me performing.  Otherwise, I’m pretty damn content.


DS: Let me wind things up and ask, what is in store, in the next year or two, in terms of books and your work/website?


LP:  Mainly, I’ll be doing talks and presenting readings from Staged Action, an anthology of plays from the workers’ theatre of the 1920s and 1930s I edited that’s out now from Cornell University Press.  That’s the scholar side.  Then I’m working on a more contemporary political book (but who isn’t working on a book?).  And I’ll be trying to get my plays produced.

DS: Thanks for doing this interview, Lee Papa, and let me allow you a closing statement, on whatever you like.


LP:  Are you kidding?  I’m fucking exhausted.  



Addendum 6/17/09:

Lee Papa changes his Moniker from The Rude Pundit to The Rude Pussy


  In the past I have done numbers of exposes on Internet frauds from Wikipedia to individual bloggers like Right Wing paranoiac Dean Esmay. But, this is the first (and hopefully last) time I’ve had to expose a fraud that I interviewed. I dislike having to do this, but I do it so that there is a record of my interactions online. In the same vein I also often forward on emails of idiotic emails and my replies to Cosmoetica’s email list. The fact is that people lie, but, in this age, the lies that are told electronically leave a trail. As you will see as this email exchange goes on, Lee Papa (aka The Rude Pundit) started out seeming like an ok guy, but, in looking over the emails (unedited), there was evidence that the abusive and insecure nature that he displays in the interview (above) was there all along.

  About the only good thing to emerge from this exchange was that fans of the site grumbled and I implemented a ratings system for the quality of the interviews. I also will no longer post interviews on the front page that do not meet certain quality standards. Of course, Papa’s was not the first interview where idiocy reigned. Philosopher Daniel Dennett’s interview had some major down spots, writer Philip Lopate sent only answers to a third of the questions sent him, then wanted to be paid for the rest, his buddy Edward Hoagland- the essayist, then had a psychic meltdown, and directly before the Papa interview, Patricia Schroeder- a former Congresswoman, sent a rote interview that was virtually worthless in getting to her inner core. Because of the earlier messes, I started developing a standard query letter to prospective interviewees, where I laid out, in depth, what the interview was and wasn’t. This included using bolding and other tricks to emphasize what was expected. I even told prospective interviewees to say NO if they were not up to it, for, aside from the folk mentioned above, I had a number of interview dropouts after I had already worked hours finishing their interview documents, and my time is valuable.

  Here is the email I initially sent to Papa (only a few paragraphs germane to the individual, and the number of hits the site gets, change per email):

Date: Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 5:51 PM
Subject: Interview Request for Lee Papa

Please forward this on to Mr. Papa and/or his representative(s).  DAN
Mr. Papa:

My name is Dan Schneider and I am the founder and owner of the popular arts website Cosmoetica. Here is a link:
I am hoping to interest you in an email written interview for my interview series at Cosmoetica, The Dan Schneider Interviews. I have interviewed writers such as novelist Charles Johnson, philosopher Daniel Dennett, journalist Pete Hamill, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Charlie LeDuff, psi writer Brad Steiger, and philosopher Mark Rowlands, among others. Others on tap to be interviewed are psychologist Philip Zimbardo, New York Times columnist and Nobelist Paul Krugman, political scientist Norman Finkelstein, SEIU President Andy Stern, film critic Ray Carney, former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, former ACLU head Nadine Strossen, and tv critic Tom Shales, among others.
I am querying for interview slots for next year- there is an early year slot, and an autumn one. As you can see from past, future, and hoped for interviewees, I am shooting for interviewees of substance and depth- a trait sorely missing in modern American discourse. The interviews are in depth and take a good deal of prep. With a written interview, unlike a tv interview, you have more control and time for depth, and there is less room for misconstrual via flippancy, etc.


  Note this point. Now, reread the interview, and look at the length and laziness of the answers Papa gives- no better than Schroeder’s. Plus, I ask for depth- wait till you read Papa’s replies.

I am interested in interviewing you because I have read your blog the last few years and linked to it from my front page the last 2 or 3. I recently interviewed a popular online film critic and have had a good response to it, so, once or twice a year, I'd like to find Internet writers and artists of note and interest to promote and query. Your blog and person provide the opportunity to discuss the sad state of Academia and MFA programs, Internet assholery (I'm one of the few folk with a website that likely gets more hate email than you), politics, sexuality, the pros and cons of Internet celebrity, both in the fun manner you use in your Rude Pundit alter-ego, and also in a more serious vein. As you are a college professor, it may interest you to note that my website is very popular with college aged kids. As you have a big fanbase, I think you would be a popular read. I think the interview would be something enjoyed by fans of yours and not. I think it would be a valuable resource you could point to.


  Note, in this first email, if he read it, I am totally up front about my take on Academia, etc.

If interested, I think an interview in the first 3-4 mos. of the new year would be a target to shoot for.
In short, I want a unique document of who you are, and in your own words, unfiltered. I believe mainstream media, such as the major magazines, the major papers, the networks, etc., have given up on deeper discussions of issues, and I feel it is incumbent upon a newer technology, as the Internet, to fill in the void. After all, blog wars and pornography are not the only thing it is good for.


  I ask for a unique document. Contrast that with the half-assed, generic replies that Papa gives. Did he even read this email?

Some of my interviewees are little known but quality writers and thinkers. I like to cross-pollinate readerships, and thus am looking to add some folk from politics, entertainment, etc., but people who are a bit more substantive than the latest pseudocelebrity. Thus, why I am trying to expand beyond just writers. As for the interview series, it originally started at a website called Monsters & Critics, but after my second interview, they pulled the plug, preferring to report on celebrity nipple slips or the latest semi-artistic vagary that did not need more than three sentences to define. In short, quality was killed by media whoring. I am not into Lowest Common Denominator pursuits.
If you look at my website's front page you can see that I've continued the series on my own site, which is the most popular non-commercial arts site online. My interviews with Steven Pinker, Desmond Morris, and Brad Steiger have been VERY popular pieces. If you agree, I could run the interview sometime early in 2009. A long interview that ranges is a good way to keep your profile up, as well as provide a biographical and opinion-based resource for future interviewers and biographers to quote from. We do it by WORD doc; and if more comfortable than typing, you could speak the answers, and send it via standard cassette tapes or a website like We can download the files and my wife has transcription equipment.


  Notice the bolded, and this is because many of the older folk I’ve tried to get are not Internet savvy. Now, look at the bolded coming up- I specifically am telling Papa- DO NOT WASTE MY TIME IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO PROVIDE QUALITY! Again, likely unread.

There is quite a bit of prep time- just look at some older interviews and you will see the range, length, and depth of the interviews. I think that it could benefit both of us- people want to know about you, in things outside your area of expertise as well as inside it. Also, as these interviews do take some time and preparation, please look over the depth and range of prior interviews before agreeing. I would prefer not having to do an interview, than doing one, and then having a dropout. And the months of leeway allow for more in depth answers than something off the cuff. In short, the interview could be done by you in drips and drabs over many months, w/o interfering with personal, nor professional duties.


  Papa eventually had 5 months to answer the questions, typed about 2 hours worth of words- assuming he’s a two fingered typist like me, left a quarter of the questions blank, and acts as if I was imposing, rather than giving him an opportunity with a bigger and better read audience than his. All in all, Papa’s output comes to less than 2 minutes a night per question- meaning an added extra email to read and discard- hardly an imposition.

Since the online world is so Lowest Common Denominator, my interviews have tried to add depth to the process, and make themselves less about just pimping a product. It is along the lines of the classic Playboy interviews, or what William F Buckley did on Firing Line. He, David Susskind, Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose, or Phil Donahue, are more along the lines the interviews I run, rather than the puffery of today. While I don't mind focusing on a latest work, an interview needs to illuminate more than it pimps. While all of these interviewers have been criticized for their aggressive styles, all of them elicited memorable moments, debates, and questions that left their audiences better for the process than lesser interviewers who practice puffery. I want folks, when they Google your name, to read your interview and say- this is someone I gotta read more of and from. I cannot pay for interviews, but your interview will be a valuable research tool that biographers and fans will likely quote and requote for years, and be an asset for marketing.
In the nearly 8 years since I started it, Cosmoetica has garnered 123 million+ hits. A pittance compared to Yahoo, Google, or other sites that may get that a day, but for a non-commercial website that focuses on quality in life and the arts, and is not supported by the corrupt arts grant system, that's amazing. For diversity, just look at my all-time most popular pages:
Cosmoetica will go down as one of the most influential websites from the early Internet years, and easily the most influential in the arts. In decades hence, no one will care whether something first appeared on a hip site or Time magazine; all that will remain will be the quality, or its lack. Being online, there is no length limit, and if there are links to places to quote from, that's another advantage online has. The shortest interview, so far, is 6k words, and the Mark Rowlands interview is the longest, at 37k. Your interview would be on the front page for a while. Then it'd be archived. I hope you will agree because interviews with folk such as you, Pinker, and Morris will make it more likely that other high profile and quality writers will consent. This will then help the series get a higher profile and keep your interview up on Google's lists longer.
I hope you agree. If you do and want to send me something to promote, please let me know, and I'll let you know where to mail it. Again, I want a great interview, and will take the Bill Buckley approach, as on Firing Line. Even if I disagree- be fair but firm.
Let me know if interested, and I can get things ready.
Thanks, DAN


  It is important to note that I end stating that I may disagree, and if Papa read any of the interviews, he’d see that I have, and have rebutted points made by others. This is important when looking at his reply:

From: Rude Pundit <>
Date: Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 12:34 PM
Subject: Re: Interview Request for Lee Papa
Not to be overly brief, but sure, it sounds like fun.  I've read your stuff a number of times - love the depth of the interviews - you don't see that much on the internet.
Lemme know what's next,

(And this e-mail is the best to reach me for Rude Pundit-related stuff.)


Note: Papa claims to have read prior interviews AND to want depth. So, unless this is just BS politesse, he knows what is expected and what he is in for. And, if BS politesse, is it my fault he did not take the interview seriously and research the series, the site, and me? Plus, he claims to love the interviews. So, logically, reading this, it is safe to assume that Papa has assumed the mantle of being informed on what the interviews are, what is expected, and that I am not keen on BS. This will become important when reading later emails with lies and hypocrisy.

  I replied:

Date: Sun, Dec 28, 2008 at 4:51 PM
Subject: Re: Interview Request for Lee Papa

Great. Would an interview to run by March/April work? I could get the doc out to you before mid-January"
The reason is that a number of my early year interviewees are unreliable. Philip Zimbardo, whom I'm sure you know of, was originally scheduled to run last September, but as he has arthritis, so I've kept pushing him back (he's also in his 70s, and my older interviewees have been notoriously cyber-unsavvy). Robert Bakker (the paleontologist) agreed to the interview in summer, and I sent off a doc, but repeated emails have proved fruitless, so he may be off in the Gobi Desert and incommunicado until I get the interview out of the blue. My next (seemingly) reliable interviewee would be Norm Finkelstein, come April.
Unless you've an objection to a spring interview run, then, I'll contact you in a few weeks with the doc.
BTW- my wife quotes some of your stuff in her emails.



  Not only did my initial email detail prior problems with the series and dropouts, but even here I am telling him of problems with potential interviewees. Less than a week later- on January 3rd, I sent the Word doc and asked for him to acknowledge receipt of it. This is something I also do in all emails with interviews sent because many interviewees have brain farts. As I type this I still have yet to get receipt confirmation from Norman Finkelstein, whom I sent out a Word doc before Papa. 3 days later I followed up because I’d gotten no answer, and Papa replied:

From: Rude Pundit <>
Date: Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 1:27 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Lee Papa Interview doc
Whoops - yep, got it.  It's an epic.  What's the deadline?



  I then replied:

Date: Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 1:40 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Lee Papa Interview doc

No deadline, but whenever you can get back it I'll likely post it. I have the sinking feeling that my next two scheduled interviews are going to be late running, if at all.  DAN


  Note the date- it is 5 months before the interview is returned and posted. About 2 ½ months later I follow up as I sometimes do. I also attached the email release of the Schroeder interview I sent around, with comments that, had he read it, Papa would have gotten a clue on how NOT to answer the DSI queries:

Date: Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 1:15 PM
Subject: Followup for Lee Papa Interview

Lee: just wanted to see how it was progressing. I just posted my latest interview. Not a good one. I'm hoping yours will be better. Pat Schroeder is nice, but I think she's sipped too much Kool-Aid.
BTW- re your recent post on Bernard Madoff. I have to disagree. Perhaps the ONLY good thing Madoff did was bankrupt that bastard Wiesel. Christopher Hitchens nailed that con artist years ago:
One con cons another con. As John Gotti wd say, we only eat our own. If only Madoff had stayed w the cons.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 12:09 PM
Subject: New Interview

Ok, here it is. I find it almost cringe-inducing. A nice woman, but I think she was smoking things. The answers are either mind-numbingly banal or she recaps what I just asked, or she's on Venus. I simply do not get why someone would want to be interviewed, then portray themselves like this.


DS: This DSI is with Patricia Schroeder, a former Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado (1973-1997) and, the CEO of the Association of American Publishers, although soon to be stepping down. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Since we live in a new century where information that’s even a few weeks old can seem hopelessly outdated, let me not presume that younger readers out there will know who you are. While you were a ubiquitous presence on the Sunday Morning political talk shows of the 1980s and 1990s (part of the then-Usual Suspects), you’ve kept a relatively low profile in recent years. Could you please give a brief summary of who you are, what you have done, what your goals and accomplishments are, and why what you know still has relevance to readers of this interview, now and in the future?


PS: I represented Denver, Colorado for 24 years in Congress, taught at Princeton, and headed the book publishers trade association for 12 years. My goal is to make the world a better place....


  I did not get a reply. This happens often- sometimes it augurs the ill, other times not. So, a couple of weeks later I followed up.

Date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM
Subject: Lee Papa Interview Followup

Just checking in to see what the status is, and so forth.  DAN


  I finally got a reply:


From: Rude Pundit <>
Date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 8:49 AM
Subject: Re: Lee Papa Interview Followup
I'm about two-thirds of the way through the interview.  It is, as you know, huge.  If you want, I can send you what I've done and you can edit accordingly.



  OK, a bad sign. The interview’s actually on the smaller side. Also, was he stating here, subliminally, that he was only gonna do 2/3s of the interview? Was he bailing out? Also, recall the earlier email where he claimed, ‘love the depth of the interviews - you don't see that much on the internet.’ The use of huge (considering its relative brevity) suggests that he was not really expecting to do much, but coast through the interview.

  I replied:

Date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 8:51 AM
Subject: Re: Lee Papa Interview Followup
To: Rude Pundit  <>

No, that's fine. Just checking in. Thanks, DAN


  Then my mother’s final month and death on 5/25/09 had me put stuff on hold, so Papa actually got an extra month’s time to work on the interview AND not have me ask about it. I finally was able to get back on track:

Date: Thu, May 28, 2009 at 8:42 AM
Subject: Rude Pundit/Lee Papa Interview Followup
To: Rude Pundit <>

Sorry for not following up earlier, but my mom went into hospice a month ago and died on Memorial Day so most all else fell by the wayside.
How's the interview going? Is there an ETA of when you'll have it done?

Thanks, DAN


  No reply, so I followed up 6 days later, and 2 days after that got this reply:

From: Rude Pundit <>
Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 10:53 AM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Rude Pundit/Lee Papa Interview Followup

I've answered a good chunk of it - I think it's fun, confrontational, even a bit asshole-ish.  Let me send what I have to you so we can get the ball rolling.  Sounds good?
Sorry about your Mom.  I'm waiting to hear right now about how severe my mother's just discovered lymphoma is.



  So, I’m now resigned to the interview not being top notch if, after 5+ months, it’s not even completed. I’m hoping he’ll be outspoken, but, as seen in the interview, the only outspoken moment comes when he attacks me after I set up attacks on Academia. This would be fine if he had actually written in depth attacks on Academia, or even a strong defense (however wrong). But all we get is a string of clichés and anger or resentment at me for even broaching the subject. In short, you get the safe PC of Patricia Schroeder and the derangement of Edward Hoagland, admixed with the bad boy persona of the Rude Pundit, and biting the hand that fed it. But, worst of all, biting in a pallid, limp, and totally safe and conventional half-assed way that shows no respect for the readers of the site. As with the Lopate interview, and because I’ve been screwed this year on dropouts and uncompleted interviews, and not wanting to wait till Christmas for it, I replied:

Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 11:12 AM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Rude Pundit/Lee Papa Interview Followup
To: Rude Pundit>

Ok, send what you've done. If you are short for time and cannot complete it, just answer the final question or two and I'll edit the rest.

Thanks, DAN


  Now, note that I state, as I did initially, that I will edit the interviews. I make no bones about it. The interview sent was jagged, filled with Swiss cheese-like holes, and read poorly. I had to reply to queries Papa asked, hold him accountable for not answering certain questions, etc. I’ve done this with all interviews. The difference is with most interviews, this consists of a comment or two, because they did the whole interview, didn’t just toss a mess in my lap. Papa claimed he had read other interviews, so he seriously could not believe that I would not edit the interview, and run it as returned to me. I’d’ve looked like a bad editor and he like he was high. Also, the other interviews clearly contain interpolated replies by me. What Papa eventually objects to is that he gave me no choice but to reply.

  Here was my second email reply to him

Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 1:44 PM
Subject: Re: Fwd: Rude Pundit/Lee Papa Interview Followup
To: Rude Pundit <>

Sorry to hear of that. My dad died of lymphoma in '83.
My mother had to starve herself to death for 17 days because there's no such thing as euthanasia in this country. We had this one cunt nurse at the hospice that tried to guilt trip her into eating until I complained of it.
Sex and death are the two things this puerile society refuses to deal with in an adult fashion.



  Then I got the interview:

From: Lee Papa <>
Date: Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 9:30 AM
Subject: The interview

I've sent this from my gmail account because Yahoo is being a bag of dicks about sending attachments.
If you have any follow-ups or questions that I didn't answer that you'd like me to, lemme know and I'll get it out ASAP.


  I responded:

Date: Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: The interview
To: Lee Papa <>

Cool, I'm off to work now. I'll look it over the next 2 days (I'm off) and get it posted then or b4 the weekend. Appreciate it.
Odd about Yahoo- a few weeks ago Gmail was being assy over me sending multiple BCCs to my e-list (a few hundred people)- I had to fill out some form claiming they requested to be on it, etc. Then, a few days later it stopped.



  Then I followed up:

Date: Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 10:17 AM
Subject: Re: The interview
To: Lee Papa <>

Oh, BTW- it's not a requisite, but most of the drooling idiots online like to gaze at a photo of the person speaking- pictures and 1000 words. It doesn't have to be your professorial photo- it can be silly- see Charlie LeDuff's:



  Naturally, I never got a photo. I had alot to do over the next few days, but, that morning, did my best to salvage the interview into something readable. I explained all to Papa in an email:

Date: Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 12:49 PM
Subject: Re: The interview
To: Lee Papa <>,

It's online:

Feel free to link to it.
A few things:
1) I took an online photo from Google that was floating around. I figured the Speaker's Bureau one was likely copyrighted.
2) Since about 20-25% of the q's were unanswered, I smoothed out the interview by replying to some of the questions, rhetorical and not, that you answered with questions. I recently lent a woman I work with DVDs of La Dolce Vita and Tokyo Story, and 4 mos. later she returned them claiming no time to watch them. Obviously, were she as interested as she claimed she would have; thus if you were really moved to answer a query you would have already. Interviews work best as conversations and removing unanswered queries and switching to the seventh next query, makes for a bad reading experience- people just don't like choppiness. It would come off as if you were on weed, or had answered the questions by jumping around and losing a train of thought. In some interviews, like with Edward Hoagland or Patricia Schroeder, there was little I could do to salvage the interview into a good read. Hoagland was just an insane nut who had no idea what the fuck planet he was on and Schroeder came off as a yes and no drone. Your interview I could make readable because
3) While I was hoping you'd be a less conventional Academic, and have more Rudeness in your real life person (rather than persona), I wasn't expecting it. I'd've preferred being wrong on that score. I replied to alot of the PC stuff you spouted, as well as many of the unsupported sweeping statements, strawmanning, logical fallacies, and just plain wrong ideas you fell back on.
4) Don't worry about sounding like an asshole: I've had longer to practice, better teachers, and am better with dialectic, so it's likely the first time fans of your will feel sympathy for you. Soak it in.
5) If you get a chance, read the interview I did with Mark Rowlands:, a philosopher. Despite your persona, much of your thinking on the arts, especially, is so conventional and based upon the approbation of others, rather than the objective and immanent qualities the art has. Rowlands has a good book on fame that my wife reviewed:  Being good is much better than being known because quality is an ever opening cone into the future. Mere celebrity is an ever closing cone. Rowlands really takes to task many parts of the culture. Politics is easy to rant this way or that on; it is ephemeral. Art takes real thought, and thinking is difficult for most, and not just falling back on easy clichés is difficult, too. A good or great artist has far more to do than a blogger. And his shit is around alot longer.



  Notice, despite being screwed again, I put the best face on things, explained all, thanked Papa, and even added some self-deprecation. All in all, a classy way to go after getting shortshrifted, having my audience sneered down upon, and getting rotely attacked after doing Papa a favor. Papa, unfortunately- but likely expectedly, showed no such class in his reply.

From: Lee Papa>
Date: Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 10:55 AM
Subject: Re: The interview

You abusive cocksucker -
You send me a list of 500 fucking questions where what you want is for me to agree with you and when I don't, you attack me without giving me a chance to respond.  And then you present it as if it's an interview where  I just let you do that.  If you gave a fuck about engaging, you'd suck it up and let me respond.
Fuck you.  No link.  No mention.  Nothing.  When people Google me, they might come across it.  And when they do and ask me about it, I'll say that the interview is your raving fantasy based on a few words I sent you.
Thanks for wasting my time.  Enjoy defining yourself as great.



  The hilarity of being called abusive by a guy whose blog is based on such, and who started in by attacking me, is priceless. Ad hominem is always a cession of the argument. Then he claims he had, de facto, too many questions, where, as I show, he initially seemed to love the idea of deep questions and answers. Then he claims he had no chance to respond. Yet, he had 5 months! He also left a quarter of the queries blank- those on his bio and in depth political questions requiring more than a four letter word answer. He then claims he wants to respond, so I tell him to do so, in my response. Then, he outright states he will lie about the interview. To his credit, and unlike losers like Dean Esmay, Papa admits he’s a liar, so that’s something, I guess. But note, he’s only concerned with himself- ‘when people Google me’- not the interview, the questions, the reading audience of Cosmoetica, not me. Typical, selfish, child of the me generation.

  Now, after biting my tongue, you just know I had to reply, and this obviously threw Papa for a major loop, because he’s used to abusing others who don’t fight back. I’m not like that, and unleashed this email, which devastated him into silence.

Date: Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 6:20 PM
Subject: Re: The interview
To: Lee Papa <>

You had mos. to reply to queries, you chose to not reply to many of them, leaving me with an interview like Swiss cheese (the personal info and political queries that (heaven forfend!) actually involve more than abusing people with your persona's silliness, and actually showing a depth and breadth of knowledge about American history). Then you give replies that are little more than the standard inane Left Wing drivel, ask queries of me, and I reply and denude your silliness. I don't want you to agree. I want you to show a little bit more intelligence than the average hack. But if you claim such silliness as there's no objective facts in the world as real, whose fault for your stupidity is it? Then, you take cogent attacks on Academia and the publishing industry as somehow a chance to Freudianly analyze my motives and work, which you've not read- yet again doing the standard thing that Academics do when they feel their world is under attack?
In the real world, that'd get you an ass whipping, and let me tell you, no amount of posturing would save you. But, I'm a nice guy. You can respond to any and all queries and/or responses- and, like the interview, I won't edit a word. I told you when I first contacted you to look at the depth and breadth of the queries because this was not going to be a brain dead fellatio session passing as an interview. I realize your persona is more for entertainment, but I told you what the series was about and what to expect, and I have the emails to prove it. I work hard researching topics and people's bios, and that's why I tell you to not say yes unless you want to engage.


  Note my reiteration of points from the very first email- how I work hard on the interviews so don’t say yes and waste MY time. I also tell him he’s free to reply, and that I have the emails to prove he’s a liar- these, which I’ve posted. I then nail him with Cosmo’s submission page, which reads very much like Papa’s site’s own disclaimer on sending emails.

Perhaps you'd better learn to live in the real world and act a bit more mature. Now, I'll give you another chance to act like an adult. Reply and I'll interpolate- and of course, I'll respond to your claims. Or, if not, I quote:
'Emails, by their nature, carry no expectation of privacy, and Cosmoetica will not allow people to hide their stupidity, nastiness, nor bigotry behind such. In short, if you are not willing to stand behind a statement that may be forever online, don't email it here. Cosmoetica reserves the right to use any email sent as an example of the asininity of most people.'
In short, if I do not get any reply re: responses to my points made, I'll assume you are just another limp dicked wannabe. I'll also post this exchange, unedited, below the email. I don't take kindly to people who try to ram me without even the courtesy of a reacharound. So, man up or shut up. But the BS act won't work with me. Lee, grow up!
As the noted philosopher The Undertaker said, 'Ya don't go pissin' in the Big Dog's own yard.' Especially when the dog gave you a nice corner to claim.



  This ending is especially galling, because I’m better at his schtick than he is, and with me, it’s not even a schtick! The reason for no reply? Because, as in my initial email, I state I will reply, and he’s seen he cannot handle replies.

  But, whose fault for the Papa mess is it? His or mine? Clearly it’s Papa’s. He knew what was expected, did a half-hearted, incomplete interview with condescension and nastiness, then railed when I replied and made him look foolish in doing so- and not by attacking HIM (interesting how, by his own definition, he’s a failure- the spur for his persona?), but attacking HIS IDEAS (a very important distinction). I gave him a grand smorgasbord of deep, provocative questions, and he farted out junk food answers (likely not even starting them till a week or so before he sent them to me). He has a book of plays he edited. Did he send me a copy to review and interpolate? No. Did he reply, as he claimed he wanted to? No. Has the thought of an apology even crossed his mind? Likely not. Instead of seeing the interview as an opportunity, he saw it as an imposition. He wanted to be fellated rather than tested. I always assume decency and intelligence in an interviewee until proved wrong, as here. A decade ago I was interviewed by City Pages and told how my honest and no bullshit attitude made insecure people dislike me because I gave them no quarter from the good or bad in themselves, and the bad always reacted negatively. Well, ten years after, the same holds true, for Lee Papa’s insecurity, puerility, intellectual shallowness, and personal dishonesty shine through the interview and these emails.

  Lee Papa proves he’s not only the rudest asshole online, but so vile he deserves a new moniker. The Rude Pundit is dead, long live The Rude Pussy!


After posting the above, I emailed Papa:

Date: Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 9:10 AM
Subject: Response
To:, Lee Papa <>

Tough Guy:

I realize it's tiring to keep up your persona as a cock-knockin', rim-rockin' badass, but since you did not respond to my offer to rebut the interview's edits, I followed through on my statement by posting our complete email exchanges- just in case, as you claimed, you were gonna lie about the interview.
Here's the link:
Feel free to link to it. I'll also include this email, in case you try to claim I denied you a chance to reply.
So, as they say on the concrete, here's da dope: Drop da rock or pass!



  Herein Papa's response, and my response interpolated:

Date: Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 1:57 PM
Subject: Re: Response
To: Lee Papa <>

On Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM, Lee Papa <> wrote:

You might want to add this:

I was out of town.  I was at a music festival, camping.  I was online for a limited time each day.  Sorry that I decided that, except for once, I would not to use that time to reply. 
I was going to write to apologize for the length of time it took to get the interview to you.  That was shitty of me.  I was going to say that you were right, that I should have said "no" from the start, but that I made a huge mistake in thinking that the raging narcissism of your initial email was an ironic put-on, or at least humorously self-aware hubris.  I mean, c'mon, you wrote, "Cosmoetica will go down as one of the most influential websites from the early Internet years, and easily the most influential in the arts."  How is that not funny?  It's like, "Wook at duh widdle man, all gwowed up."  Not even Daily Kos advertises itself like that.


***That's because Daily Kos is one of dozens of rather generic poli-blogs. Cosmoetica is alone in the arts world. A few years ago this ridiculous arts site called Web Del Sol started ragging on my site. In the few years since, my traffic has grown into the millions while all the MFA linked little pederastic zines they sponsor have folded.
As Reginald Martinez Jackson- Mr. October- once said, 'It ain't braggin' if you can back it up.'
And the initial emails are so long and specific BECAUSE of all the times people (or their 'people') have emailed me back claiming they could do the interview next Friday. Like you, they apparently do not even bother to read the emails.

You should probably highlight at the beginning of any email exchange you initiate that any and all communications with you will not be private.  Yeah, your email policy is on your website, but it's buried inside a tiny link halfway down the left column on the front page.  I should think that most people who agree to an interview believe, as I did, that our communications would be private.  It'd probably kill any interest people have in doing interviews with you to know that one cannot deal with you with some expectation of off-the-record exchanges.  In other words, whatever you and I have to say to each other, putting in my brief sympathy with the death in your family and the mention of my recent personal crisis is a filthy dog's way to act tough.

***In fact, Lee, I have kept all emails private till now. In the ratings system I started, due to fans' grousing over your interview, I even mention one incident where- had I published what the interviewee wrote (accidentally) it could have caused a James Watson-like scientific furor. If one treats others with respect one usually gets it in return.
But, just as with your disclaimer on your website, no, it's not front page, but then it does not have to be because common legal opinion is that emails carry no expectation of privacy. And, it was you that backpedaled and claimed you'd deny the interview. After 8+ years of harassment from asses, you learn how to cover your own ass legally. In short, YOU gave me no choice but to make the emails public due to YOUR reactions.
In the real world, Lee, schtick like the Rude Pundit doesn't work. Even Howard Stern is a happily married man, not engaging in orgies, in real life.

But whatever, Dan.  Obviously, you've found in me a convenient receptacle for your frustration that people don't take you as seriously as you want to be taken.  Fine.  Let it out, fella, if it makes you feel better.  A real editor sucks it up and lets the interviewee fall without comment.  If you thought my answers were so bad, you should have just let me hang myself without additional, unanswerable commentary.

***You are neither a receptacle, nor am I frustrated; you just picked on the wrong person. My long dead dad used to say sooner or later there's always someone who's gonna beat you, no matter how long your winning streak is.
And, I have let other interviews fail- look at Hoagland's. The point is you went out of the way to a) insult the intelligence of my readers (one could argue Schroeder unwittingly did so, but as a career pol one might overlook her out of touchedness as a career hazard), and b) you attacked in an amateurish psychological way, and one that is the party line of out of touch Academics.
And, actually, I've gotten prior reader feedback to other interviews where people groused that I let others' off too easily. Besides, any additions to the interview were recaps of the prior questions (which you often treated as invisible), and, again, because you left huge gaps between queries.
I actually care for the readers' pleasure. And, still, not a hint that any of the burden falls on you.

Oh, sure, you'll take this and mock it in that wannabe Harlan Ellison way of yours.  Do what you will, Dan.  I am done with you.  This selfish "me generation" motherfucker has to go and do the job that he loves.  And you just harsh my buzz.

Good luck with future interviews,
Lee Papa
The Rude Pundit

***I'm not mocking, just calling out. And, Harlan Ellison? You could have at least gone a bit cooler and more obscure with Samuel Delany.



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