The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Excerpts from DISSIDENT X by G. Tod Slone

(A 150p Unpublished Compilation of Conversations with the Established Order and Other Parodias de Discursos and Diálogos con Sordos)

The dissident does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin—and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for.  His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.  You do not become a "dissident" just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.
   —Vàclav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless"


It was not my goal to befriend established order cogs, be they professors, poets, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians, editors, politicos, or whomever.  On the contrary, it is my goal to sledgehammer the fuckers.  Nor was it my intention to help create a better world.  On the contrary, my purpose was simply to exercise my freedom to speak truth. 

The idea for this book was first inspired by Celine’s Conversations avec Professeur Y.  Then one evening in a neighboring town I stood solo protesting against visiting Beatnik sellout Gary Snyder, chancellor of this, professor of that, established-order laurelled up the cahoots. Well-known poets like him were usually unreachable.  They willingly sheltered themselves from vigorous debate with those not of their elitist club.  They lived in protective cocoons, often in ivory towers, buffered by admirers.  Unfortunately, Snyder was snuck in the back door via cocoon coterie, so I never did get to see him, though apparently my protest made it through the barrier via word of mouth.  The year before, I was actually able to confront John Ashbury, though he a seething coterie of harpies surrounded him and quickly ushered him away from me. 

Snyder was the new recipient of the Creeley Prize in Acton.  While standing with a sign and handing out flyers, the widow Creeley walked by me, knew who I was from the year before, and said, “your flyers are fierce.”  There I thought now that was an odd selection of words.  And from that I eventually created the title, Fierce Contention.  But months and months went by.  I changed it to the present Dissident X.  I kind of liked that.  X as in the unknown, as well as a wink to Professeur Y.  So many unknown poets and writers were buried in total oblivion throughout the centuries, fully excluded from the official literary canon.  I knew damn well I’d become part of them, not the latter.  I also liked the term dissident because it was rarely if ever used coupled with American.  It was as if one could not be a dissident if one were American.  One had to be Chinese or Soviet or Czech.  The two terms together formed an odd oxymoron. 

In any case, established-order cogs and partisans—big or little, active or simple, literati or academic or both—will likely detest the true accounts found in these pages because of their highly critical and revealing nature.  But know thy enemy, as the dictum wisely advised.   In these pages, therefore, established-order cogs and partisans will easily recognize the words of an enemy.  Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the order quite well, poking, jabbing, and jousting, right and left and every which way.  Its behavior was quite predictable.  Present a smiley compliment and usually receive a response.  Hurl a load of visceral critique and usually receive no response. 

Chapter 1—Multiculti-Challenged
The problem with the so-called women’s liberation was that the purported liberators had mostly been coopted by the established order, especially in the realm of politics and academe.  Hillary stood as prime example of that sellout.  After all, what did it matter if a hack were a female or a male?  Hypocritically, far too many feminists remained shamefully silent regarding Islam’s inherent misogyny.  
—Dissident X


She’d mentioned her Portuguese-American radical feminist lesbian stuff had been taught at universities.  But she’d just subscribed to The American Dissident and had said she’d “loved” the magazine, was “so happy to be a part of it,” and how much she liked what was written on the back cover:  “Improving America through free and open criticism of all American institutions and icons.”  So, I stepped on the brakes and kept the ole sledgehammer sheathed, but she kept pushing the wrong buttons as seen through her rose-colored multiculti eyeglasses. 
—You know, your magazine doesn’t seem un-American to me at all. It’s absolutely dripping with an American mentality. But then, I’m comparing it to the Portuguese mentality.
—Not sure why you’d be comparing it to that. 
—Yeah, well, even the pictures are so American.
—You mean the cartoons?  Well, I can’t think of any other cartoonist who hammers the academics like I do.  Can you?
—Maybe—and I hate to tell you this—, but your magazine has something in common with the Reader’s Digest.
At that I laughed out loud.  How not to clobber the bitch?  But subscribers, shit, they were almost impossible to find. 
—You might as well compare it to Elle magazine, Mademoiselle, or better yet Seventeen
—Yeah, well, it’s American, red, white and blue!  That’s all I can say.  It’s the attitude. You know, if you don’t like it, you say so.
—Well, why the hell not say so?  Where are you trying to go with this thing?  Are you a Reader’s Digest subscriber too?
—Of course not!  Are you? 
—Nope.  But now and then I’ll pick up a copy or two in the library give-away box. 
—What your magazine doesn’t have in common with the Reader’s Digest is that at the Reader’s Digest, they like it.
—Like what? 
—They like everything you don’t.  But that’s just a detail, isn’t it?  
—A detail?  I’m lost.    
—What I mean is that the Reader’s Digest sees the emperor’s new clothes, while you see his naked ass. The thing you have in common is that you’re both looking at the same emperor. I think that’s important. 
—Well, which emperor should I be looking at then?   Or should I be looking at one of the emperor’s underlings instead? 
—Okay, I can see you don’t really follow me here.  But the other thing we don’t agree on is complaining.  You’d said any time they don’t like criticism, they call it complaining. You make it sound like that’s a bad thing, that calling criticism a complaint lessens the importance of it.



     —Well, it does to them! 
—But I think it increases the importance of it. Criticism is just criticism. It just sits there and everybody says, “oh, how interesting,” and they have a little discussion or a workshop which never gets anywhere.
—That doesn’t quite happen with my criticism.  
—Yeah, well, why do they have complaint departments? If they accuse you of complaining, that means (somewhere in their minds) they’re worried they’re going to have to actually do something to change things, and I think that’s a step in the right direction.
—Interesting point. 
—I’ve been thinking for a long time about writing another article for you.  I could write something about Italy, but it’s The American Dissident, not the Italian dissident. On the other hand, I’m Italian-American. Or I could write something about my experiences in the Italian-American literary community.  Or how about an article whining about these American literary agents who want cookie-cutter books? What do you think?
—“Whining” is another one of those terms used to dismiss criticism. 
—I shouldn’t have used the word “whining.”  I have this terrible character flaw as a writer—I keep thinking people are going to understand what I say.
—It’s not really a character flaw; it’s more a question of lacking clarity. 
—I wasn’t thinking of whining in the dictionary sense. I was thinking that the people who need to read such an article don’t read your magazine and the people who read your magazine are already past that part of learning about life. So, much like whining, the article wouldn’t help things much.
—Rude truth will always help things. 
—Yeah, well, anyhow your magazine is the AMERICAN dissident. Yet you seem to be open to something about the Italian lit scene, rather than the American lit scene. 
—Well, that’s your expertise, right?  And now and then, I like to publish on other countries too when similarities exist in the corrupt sense. 
—No matter.  I’ve been looking at literary agent sites. It’s amazing. Some people have such tiny ideas of what a novel should be. I’m used to the small press community. These “big boys” come from a different planet.
—The small press is really not that different from the “big boys,” as you call them. Bourgeois in scope and attitude.  Same with lit agents. 
—Well, what do you expect?  Literary agents become literary agents because they thought they’d enjoy earning a living in that field.  I think earning a living doing work that you enjoy is a great idea.
—Tell that to the torturers, dictators, and sleazebag financiers!
—Just the same, I know a good agent could be of great help to me and so I have nothing against them as a group.
—Well I do.  They’re gatekeepers, and I don’t like gatekeepers because the only thing they do is restrict speech to within the confines of bourgeois good taste. 
—Well, that’s pretty obvious. That’s what they get paid for. That’s what they’re there for.
—Sure, and that’s why I don’t like them. 
—Unlike you, I don’t think they’re all bad just because, so far, none of them want to handle my work.
—Well, fine.  That’s your opinion.   
—You know, anyone you call delusional because they see something you don’t see could turn around and call you blind because you don’t see what he sees. And where would that get us?
—What are you talking about?  I’ve never called anyone delusional. 
—Maybe not, but I think you spend too much time with establishment academics.
—What ever gave you that idea?  And why would they wish to spend time with me? 
—That’s all you ever talk about. That’s all your cartoons show you doing. The impression I have from your correspondence and from your magazine is that the academic world is the center of your universe.  
—Academics tend to be the center of my criticism, but hardly of my universe.  Most don’t like truth telling.  Most are nothing but pedagogly apparatchiks. 
—You mean pedagogue.
—Yeah, I know. 
—Do you know that there’s a difference between telling the truth and being offensive?
—Offensive is a bullshit PC term.  That’s all I ever hear now is offensive this and offensive that and he offends me and I’m offensive and blablabla.  Truth hurts!  It pisses people off!  It offends! 
—Yeah, well, I still think offensive has nothing to do with truth.  Noise is not necessarily truth telling.  And why do you mention so many names all the time.
—What do you mean? 
—In your writing and magazine, you’re always quoting people.  Don’t you have a name of your own? Or do you just want to show off how much you’ve read?  Dario Fo?  Never read him.  Never heard of him. 
—Well, I mentioned Fo because he’s an Italian critic and you’re an Italian-American.  I thought you might be interested. 
—Not interested. I don’t need someone else to see the world for me. I’ve got my own eyes.  
—Since you asked, I quote famous people because most people are mesmerized by them.  But more importantly, they back my own observations… usually on corruption.  Get it? 
—Not really.  Anyhow, I love writing novels. That’s why I’ve been looking into agents.  I love writing anything. I even like typing. 
—Well, I quit writing novels because they’re a pain in the ass to write.  Bukowski said the same thing. 
—But you’re saying if it’s a pain in the ass for you, that means it’s a pain in the ass for everyone. But that’s just how you feel. It’s your personal feeling, and that doesn’t make it a fact.
—True enough. 
—And why do you feel a need to mention that that guy said the same thing as you?
—I wouldn’t call it a need.
—Isn’t it enough for you to say it? You’re talking about your own feeling, for God’s sake!  But if a famous person said it, it must be true! If you say that writing novels is a pain in the ass, that’s enough. Don’t you know how you feel? Why do you need someone else to back up your feelings?  And who cares what he said.  I never heard of him either. 
—No shit.  But I think you’re blowing a mountain out of a mole or whatever the fuck they say. 
—It’s a mountain out of a mole hill, silly. 
—Whatever.  I have less motivation to write novels since I can’t get them published.  Publishing motivates.  It motivates a lot of well-published people to write crap. 
—Publishing doesn’t motivate me to write. Writing motivates me to write. A desire to be heard, a desire to make money, a desire to be famous, these things might motivate to publish.
—So, you want to become a name, so I can quote you, is that it? 
—Not really.  They told me that no one is interested in Italian-Americans. 
—No one?  Come on!  We live in multiculti America. 
—“They told me” means someone else said it, not me!  Go yell NO ONE at them.
—Who’s yelling? 
—Evidently, they’re not correct. I know Italian-American literature is published. I’m one of the founding members.  I’ve written it, I’ve published it, I’ve organized readings, I’ve gotten it into libraries and taught at universities. And I know a hell of a lot more about it than you do.
—Well, I’m sure you do.  And since we’re on the subject, I’m against all this compartmentalization of individuals as Italos, Afros, Asians, gays, trannies, or Latinos, or whatever.  It serves to render truth secondary.    
—First of all, your little habit of making up cute little nicknames is very offensive.  We’re not Italos!  We’re Italian-Americans.  Second, we didn’t fall for that melting pot fairy tale, so what makes you think any of us are going to fall for your compartmentalization fairy tale? I’m not going to deny my soul, my history, my culture so that a wasp can pretend he’s king of the universe.
—Well, that’s a racist statement now, isn’t it?  
—Against wasps isn’t racist! And multiculturalism doesn’t belittle truth. Being against multiculturalism serves racism.   So, you’re racist, not me! 
—That’s another one of those bullshit PC terms, used right and left to kill free speech.   
—Well, it should be.  I was talking about the whole American lit scene, not the part that’s dominated by racist wasps. 
—Well, I’m a racist wasp and I’m not dominating a goddamn thing.  We’re all racists, and so what!   
—Well, I’m not!  Anyhow, if publishing doesn’t work, I’ll try something else to earn a living. In the meantime, I don’t see any reason to stop writing and I see a lot of reasons to continue writing.  I get my energy to live from writing. If I go for a few days without writing, I’m very low and apathetic. And I don’t even know what famous name I could use to make you think my feelings are real.
—Sounds like writing for the sake of writing.  It becomes a vacuous obsession, flooding the market with fluffy crap. 
—Well, we have to write something that appeals to an individual, something that can be enjoyed by somebody who managed to get a university degree in American literature without knowing grammar on a third-grade level and without ever having read a classic.
—You referring to me? 
—No.  But I’ve bumped into people like that! 
—The last thing I do is write to please.  So I don’t agree with you at all. 
—So you think I should write about anything except being Italian-American. 
—Never said that!  Where did you get that from? 
—I don’t know.  I used to know an Italian-American man who was a professor at Brooklyn college, taught my work, and considered me the best radical feminist Italian-American poet ever to walk on water. I don’t remember how it came up, but we were talking about the establishment academic scene, and I said something like, “You’re one of them.”  Well, he got very angry. He said, “No, I’m not!”  I didn’t say anything.  I was too surprised.  Does he seriously think that those people would hand him $70,000 every year if he weren’t one of them?
—But you seem to gloat that an established-order fellow said you’re the best.   
—You’re an intolerant racist.  
—What does that have to do with it?  You’re white and I’m white.  How can I be racist against you? 
—You chose the word ‘gloat’ because you’re envious. You have no idea what my poems are like. You have no idea of the kinds of things I said. You only wish you could say stuff like I’ve said and get it taught at a university. How’s that for the TRUTH?  Did I RISK your ire, neighbor?
—Envious?  No way!  
—The fact that my work has been taught at universities and is held at some very important libraries happened because, when the work is good, they accept it, whatever it’s about.
—That’s a common, established-order presumption, surprising for such a radical feminist like you.  The key is not GOOD, but rather INOFFENSIVE.  You dared not OFFEND the university deciders.  Doing so would have taken GUTS… and I don’t think you have guts.  You operate within a protective multiculti cocoon. 
 —If you want to write what the universities won’t teach why do you keep trying to get your work accepted by the universities? Why don’t you just write what you want to write, and forget about the universities?
—Good question.  But the answer’s simple.  I write what I want to write and when it’s critical of universities, then I send it to universities to prove just how closed they tend to be to criticism regarding them. 
—I’ll say the same thing to you that I’ve said to all the other racists I’ve had to deal with: Fuck you.
—Are you having a breakdown? 




Chapter 4: The Condescendor, the Apparatchik, and the Common Reader
There I was again standing in front of the Concord Free Public Library, sucking in the sun.  A cultural apparatchik I recognized was heading towards me and the entrance.  He recognized me too. 
—So, Henry, what were you doing, urinating in public? 
—Ah, so you heard about the great pond incident!  Actually, I was simply out exercising, swimming at Walden.
—Cops don’t arrest people for exercising.  Were you at least dressed? 
—Well, I wasn’t dressed up, if that’s what you mean.  I wasn’t wearing a tie.  But I was exercising free speech.  Cops have been arresting people since the beginning of the nation for that.  Surely, you’re aware of it.  I’d raised my voice a tad, but that’s not a crime in Massachusetts… or is it? 
—So, you hollered at a cop?
—No!  I hollered at a public-servant, park ranger at the pond Thoreau made famous.  You’ve heard of Thoreau, haven’t you? 
—Yes, I know who Thoreau is!  I live here too, you know. 
—Good.  Then you know the pond is now a Federal State Reservation controlled by mounted coppers, Thoreau Society members, Thoreau Institution academics, and Shop at Walden boutique managers and cashiers.
—What does a boutique have to do with keeping the peace? 
—Keeping the peace?  What you really mean is keeping free speech at bay!  Try walking inside that boutique and saying something critical.  Hold a goddamn placard:  No Free Speech at Walden Pond!  Tell the cashier it’s an insult to Thoreau’s memory to sell trinkets, mugs, and tee shirts with his name scribbled on them.  Thoreau wasn’t a goddamn shopper!  He was against that kind of idiot materialism! 
—Yeah, maybe he was.  But so what?
—So what?  Well, the cashier might just call the mounted coppers, that’s what!
—Well, it’s her right to free speech too.  She can say what she wants to whomever she wants, including to the State Police. 
—At that boutique, she is always a he.  Sure, in a sense you’re right.  But that’s not the point.  This state has a law that renders “confrontational and argumentative” behavior legal.  Socrates himself was arrested for being confrontational and argumentative.  And, as I’m sure you know, he was executed for it.  Democratic states have made progress since his day.  No longer does society execute confrontational citizens.  Instead, it cuffs and incarcerates them for a day or maybe two. 
—You sound like a Socrates wannabe. 
—Thanks for the compliment.  I can think of no better man to be compared with. 
—It was not meant to be a compliment, and I was not comparing you with him. 
—No!  You do nothing to change anything.  You relish playing the martyr all the time.  But you’re not even a real martyr.  You think by comparing yourself with Socrates you too will become famous. 
—I do not compare and have not compared myself to Socrates… or anyone else for that matter. 
—You quote well-known writers to aggrandize yourself.  That’s all you want to do is to become famous.  
That’s a load of horseshit.  I quote well-known people to underscore that others thought as I do.  In other words, how easy to denigrate me, an unknown, but how difficult to do the same to a revered man like Socrates!  If I really were motivated to become “known,” I’d be out joining groups and attempting to rise in their hierarchies, as opposed to fighting them, tooth and nail, and always with a sledgehammer.  You’re the joiner and riser, not I.  You’re the apparatchik, not I.  Also, I’d be expressing majority opinions like you, not minority ones.  I share with Socrates his courage to speak out and express unpopular views.  And I do so alone like him, not with a mob of admirers, blurbers, and backslappers to prop my ass up.  Would you have the guts to do that? 
—You’re one of the most cantankerous people I’ve ever come across, Henry.  I don’t even know why I’m bothering to engage in this conversation. 
—Well, I’ll give you that much.  Normally, apparatchiks don’t engage.  You tend to look the same with your military crewcuts, goatees, gold earrings, and business suits.  You can be well spoken and witty, but always anal in attitude like the local librarians, quite knowledgeable, but “mere knowledge,” as Whitman once stated, is “always wearisome, in itself.” 
—There you go again quoting celebrities.  You could do with a set of new trousers, my friend. 
—What’s wrong with my damn pants?  They’re not fashionable?  Is that it?   
—They’re not going to help you get a job, that’s for sure.  It’s your manner that is in need of dire alteration.  Your cantankerousness makes you ineffective as a leader.  The overwhelming majority will turn off somebody with your style. 
—But I’m not a leader, nor do I want to be one.  A leader has to please crowds.  My “style,” as you call it, tends to do, as you’ve noted, the opposite.  Truth is my purpose, not pleasing and leading. Let the politicians, cultural apparatchiks, and Valentine poets Collins and Angelou please and lead.  Ibsen wrote:  “The most insidious enemy of truth and freedom among us is the solid majority. The majority is never right.  That’s one of those social lies that any free man who thinks for himself has to rebel against.” 
—There you go again.  How can you hope to relay a message when people would turn it off so quickly? 
—Truth doesn’t need to be wrapped in stylish garb and pleasantry.  That’s the beauty of truth.  Fraud has to be wrapped, not truth.  I’m not trying to win over anybody.  Leave that to the state poet laureates Pinsky, Gluck, and Ginsberg! 
—Ginsberg was never a poet laureate, and he’s dead. 
—Maybe not, but he sure as hell dressed the part and played the game. 
—Everyone plays the game, but you.  Some of us have to work, you know. 
—Livelihood always trumps truth in these parts.  But not just livelihood, hoarding too.  
—Your statements are outrageous.  How can anybody deal with you?
—They generally don’t deal with me.  But what’s so outrageous about that?  Have things gotten so bad that truth is now outrageous?  “Outrageous” seems to be your favorite word.  Yet it’s nothing but an opinion and meaningless and doesn’t disprove my statements in the least. 
A woman with extra thick glasses arrived on the scene, sat down on the bench next to the apparatchik and me, and opened a book. 
—Meaningless?  Let’s see. 
The apparatchik opened the thick book he was carrying and quickly leafed through it. 
—Here.  Evidently, Webster’s doesn’t agree with you and Webster’s is an authority.  Outrageous.  1. Grossly offensive to decency or morality.  2.  Being well beyond the bounds of good taste.  3. Violent or unrestrained in temperament or behavior.  4.  Being beyond all reason; extravagant or immoderate.  5. Extremely unusual or unconventional; extraordinary. 
—Geez, you actually carry a dictionary with you?  Just the same, the term is suspect in its subjectivity!  And then you define it with another highly suspect term, “good taste”? 
—Not I.  Webster’s!
—Yeah, okay.  But I’ve heard that many times before.  And since “good taste” is never defined, I’ll define it as the very taste upon the fleshy lips of the bourgeois herd.  I could label you outrageous, but I find you flat in face, mind, and argument.  And yet, how could I not fall prey to such a lovely epithet:  “extremely unusual or unconventional; extraordinary.”  Thank you. 
—It’s not meant to be a compliment!  Why do you seem to be hollering at me all the time?  Civil people talk.  They don’t holler.  In fact, your writing hollers! 
—I could say the same thing about you.  Accusing someone of “hollering” is subjective and immaterial for the simple reason that it conveniently avoids the substance of the hollering, the arguments put forth.  And please tell me:  how do words on paper holler? 
—Capital letters!  You use them all the time in your writing, not to mention the exclamation points!
—Well, I’m a poet and have license.  CAPS can also be used to emphasize.  That’s why I use them.  To emphasize in a desperate attempt to get you and others to comprehend, to see yourselves for what you are, for what you’ve become:  gatekeeping APPARATCHIKS, cultural, educationist, and literary! 
—What is that word you keep using? 
—Look it up!  You’ve got a dictionary! 
The apparatchik opens his dictionary again and hunts for the word, but can’t find it. 
—It’s not in here. 
—It’s a Russian word.  And you’ve got an old dictionary.  It means bureaucrat, as in Soviet. 
—Then you should use bureaucrat.  How can common readers understand you if you use words nobody understands? 
—Ah, so you’re a common reader, are you? 
—Not necessarily me, but others. 
—You mean, like maybe that lady? 
—Yes, maybe that lady. 
The woman looks up at us, as if she’d been listening and not reading.  She closes her book, stands up, and positions herself next to us. 
—May I interject, since you mentioned me?  I couldn’t help overhearing your, uh, conversation.
—See, you were shouting, Henry. 
—Conversation?  You mean, dialogue de sourds
—Let the woman have her say… or are you a misogynist too?  
—Always the labels!  No, I’m not a misogynist unless a misogynist is a man who does not like female minions and dares criticize females.  
—I heard you say common reader.  Well, I’m a common reader. 
—No shit!  I didn’t know there was such a thing. 
—Watch your language, Henry.  There’s a woman here now. 
—Well, that sounds sexist to me!  Whatever happened to the feminist movement? 
—Contrary to your assertion, sir, common readers like me do exist!  Evidently, you’re not always right! 
—Oh?  And who might we be?  Educationist crones and poetaster positivists? 
—Why don’t you use words we can all understand?
—Yes!  See, I’m not the only one who thinks you’re outrageous.    
—Well, how am I supposed to know what words you know, what words he knows, and what words you and he don’t know?  Besides, I wouldn’t think common readers would be interested in polemics anyhow, big worded or little worded.   
—What does pol, uh, emics mean, sir? 
—You need a dictionary, lady.  You don’t have to call me, sir.  I don’t like, sir.  It’s a roundabout way of calling some OLD.  Now, I bet the common reader doesn’t read poetry at all. 
—But of course we do, sir!
—Okay, Henry. 
—Again, who is we?  I don’t see anyone else with you.  He’s not with you. 
—Well, you know what I mean.  Common readers.  I’m just speaking for them. 
—Saying or writing “we” implies a certain force absent in “I” alone, though if you’re talking about minions and cronies or even crones, maybe not.
—It seems that you and the other gentlemen have been arguing. 
—I’m Charles. 
—Yes, well, I’m Helen.  Anyhow, you’ve been arguing… sort of rhetorically. 
—Ah, see, you do know some big words! 
—I’m not stupid!  I’m just a common reader.  There’s a world of difference.  If I might say, I find you a bit rude and condescending.  You should have a little consideration for people with less of an education than yours.  
—But you don’t even know what my “education” is.  So, when I make a valid point, it’s to be dismissed as rude and condescending?  Is that how it works?
—Well, it’s not the points, it’s your attitude, your tone.  I don’t really like the sound of your voice.
—Well, maybe I don’t like the sound of yours either.  And so what?  Can you even give me an example of my alleged condescending attitude?      
—Well, I sure can!  You told me I needed a dictionary.  How more condescending can one get? 
—But that makes no sense.  Why is that condescending? 
—Well, I agree with the lady, uh, Helen.  It is very condescending!  And I’d personally take affront if I were her!  People, uh, common readers, want to understand a text, now and then, without having to look every word up in a dictionary.  And that’s why I brought this book along with me… because I know you, I know what you do!  You try to put people down all the time! 
—But how did you know I’d even be here?
—Because you’re always here when I’m here. 
—I don’t really try to put people down.  That’s asinine!  Hell, I’ve had to look tons of words up over the years and still do.  Yet I’ve never complained about authorial condescension!  I wasn’t born with a dictionary in my head.  I don’t see the problem.  Where’s the damn problem? 
—The problem is you’re condescending.  You think we need to be educated!  Well, for your information, I have a B.A.  You think you’re educating the masses by showing them new words now and then, but you’re not.  You’re just trying to be superior. 
—The masses?  I wasn’t aware they even read, Helen, let alone polemics and poetry.  I thought they watched sports and sitcoms on the tube. 
—That’s rude and maybe even racist! 
—Racist?  Are you nuts?  How the hell does racism enter into this? 
—There you go again.  Condescending!
—Stating reality is not necessarily condescending.  Look the term up! 
—The factory worker, after spending eight long hours on the production line, do you think he’s got the energy and desire to look up every word? 
—Uh, I don’t think he’ll have the energy or desire to read, period! 
—Well, some do! 
—When I worked at a factory, all I felt like doing was drink beer and watch the tube.  Are you a factory worker?
—That was you.  You’re not everyone.  I’m a librarian.  To hold ones own against you, one would have to be educated.  Most people have their own logic and have difficulty articulating. 
— “Articulating”?  Isn’t that one of those words common readers wouldn’t understand? 
—You’re sarcastic… and condescending!  
—And since when is sarcastic so terrible?  What about Swift, Pope, and Byron?  Weren’t they sarcastic?  Sarcasm is a form of satire.  And the Satyrs were horses without bridles, so why should I have to wear one?   
—You’re a megalomaniac!  All you do is compare yourself to great writers. 
—Not at all!  I’m simply using the Satyrs to back my points.  There’s a world of difference.  What the “great writers” do, to use your term, is confirm my observations and cast shadow upon yours. 
—We were talking about working-class people.  And there are people like that who are, or might be, interested in poetry.  I’m one of those people. 
—But you’re a librarian with a college degree.  Factory workers generally don’t have college degrees.  Well, I did know a machinist with a B.A. in English.  He was a poet, an interesting guy.  Goude.  You know him? 
—Never heard of him.  But poetry can do many things.
—You mean like piss people off? 
—That’s not what she meant.  And you, Henry, don’t write poetry.  You’re not a poet!  You’re just angry!  You rage! 
—“Do not go gentle into that good night rage, rage, rage against the dying light.”  Know who wrote that?
—No comment! 
—“Anger cannot be dishonest”!  Know who said that?  Marcus Aurelius.  And Jeffers was called a “moralist of anger and outrage” by a biographer.  And Henry Miller called Patchen, a man of “anger and light”!  Want me to continue? 
—Don’t bother!  You seem to admire rage and anger. You’re standing here now because you’re full of anger.  That’s why you can’t think properly. 
—Sometimes I’m angry, sure, but not always.  Besides, labeling me angry is immaterial.  I could say you’re angry too. And so what?  It proves nothing at all.  Name-calling is a sign of intellectual laziness.  Apparatchiks favor it for evident reasons.  Look at you!  Tie and jacketed and not even a businessman. 
—How did you get so angry? 
—Fine, okay, I’m angry.  But weren’t the American revolutionaries pissed off too?  Weren’t the slaves pissed off?  Weren’t the poets of the Soviet gulags pissed off?  Why aren’t the poets today pissed off too?  Why aren’t you pissed off?  You’re a poet.  Anger augments the message!  It doesn’t detract from it.  In a sense, you too are angry, though in that watered-down sense Benedetti decried:  “la rabia tan sumisa/ tan débil tan humilde/ el furor tan prudente/ no me sirve.”  Want me to translate? 
—No!  Besides, I never heard of the guy.  Is he a friend of yours? 
—I thought I didn’t have any friends.  Benedetti’s a known poet. 
—I thought you didn’t like known poets.
—Known poets are all the established order gives us.  Sure, most knowns are safe and sterile, but even then some cannot help but reveal truths. 
—You need to get rid of all that old baggage you carry around with you.  You’re stewing in bitterness! 
—Denigrating epithets, shooting the messenger in order to avoid the message, that’s your forte!   Labeling me "bitter" proves nothing.  And why should injustice be forgotten rather than remembered, my baggage chucked, rather than kept?  It should be fought, not excused and forgotten.  “The injury cannot be healed: it extends through time," had said Primo Levi.  And he, more than most of us, should know.
—More quotes! 
—I simply quoted Levy to show you that not everyone thinks as you do.  Some actually think, or thought, as I do. 
—Successful people do not carry around old baggage. 
—“Successful” like “bitter” is a subjective term.  Success for you is not necessarily success for me.  In fact, it’s more likely failure and vice versa. 
—You’re the failure!  Your job history proves it.  You can’t keep a job for more than a year or two.  That’s what you write on your website. 
—Well, you can’t lose your job because you’ve probably got tenure.  And what is tenure anyhow, if not society’s seal of safety, an affirmation that most likely you will not question and challenge your bosses or the system.  Sure, now and then, a critic slips through the cracks.  But only now and then!
—I’m not in teaching. 
—Oh?  I’ve always thought you were a poet professor.  You’re wearing the uniform!  What do you do then?
—I’m Program Director for the Massachusetts Cultural Council. 
—No shit!  So, you’re Charles what’s his name! 
—That’s me!
—Well, I’ve been trying to squeeze a little grant money out of you characters for nearly a decade!  What gives, man? 
—I’m not getting into your little problems.  In fact, I’m leaving now.  I’ve already wasted too much time. 
—Yeah, too much time paid for by the taxpayer.  Too much time engaging in vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy, not exactly the favored pastime of cultural-council apparatchiks.  The logic is there and on my side.  The so-called great writers saw it, sniffed it, and didn’t try to deny it.  The logic is invariably simple and reasonable and thus easy to follow.  Logic is commonsense and vice versa.  But it does become quite difficult when one is over-insulated by indoctrination and herd conformity. 
—I’m off.  Nice meeting you Helen. 
—You too, Charles. 
Charles took off, and I continued the discussion with the common reader.
—Well, not always, Henry!  Logic isn’t always an easy thing.  But certainly, common readers are more susceptible to governmental propaganda. 
—You mean like from the Cultural Council?  And also educationist and literary propaganda? 
—Yes, certainly that too!  But you can’t assume therefore common readers are idiots!  Your best strategy should be to speak their language and get them to rally around you instead of disassociating yourself from them as if they were imbeciles. 
—But I’ve never called them imbeciles.  In fact, I don’t know who they are.  Who are the common readers?  Please tell me!  How does one recognize them?  Do they wear common-reader badges?  Do they belong to common-reader clubs?  Do they have degrees in common reading? 
—Like it or not, we do exist, Henry!  And we’re far more numerous than educated readers like you. 
—The term is nebulous.  You haven’t defined it.  You don’t seem to want to define it. 
—Yours is an egocentric intellectual’s attitude!  You seek to proclaim yourself above the masses!
—That’s absurd!  Whatever gave you that idea?  I’ve never sought anything of the kind. 
—I’ve worked as a housekeeper and also on an assembly line. 
—Ah, so, you’ve done other things besides the library.  Good!  I’ve worked as a welder, carpenter, housepainter, factory worker, cabbie, radiation monitor, and grape picker!  But so what?  Does that make me a prole?  And if so, so what? 
—Yes, well, I don’t neglect the common reader’s attitude like you.  Sure, they must be educated but at their level.
—Oh?  And what might their level be? 
—I know their background, and value what they do.  I’m aware of their concerns.  You have to adjust yourself to their level!  You can’t just proclaim they’re stupid.  By proclaiming they’re stupid and don’t have the sense of logic that you have, you’ll never rally them to your cause.
—But I’m not trying to rally anyone to my cause!  Not the common reader, nor the uncommon reader.  I’m simply trying to make sense out of nonsense, both common and uncommon nonsense.  My cause is freedom of expression, common and uncommon.  I express myself openly and, in so doing  maintain a certain degree of human dignity in this ever-closing vice called society. 
—So then, you’re a theorist!  You like to play around with words and ideas, but don’t care about the common reader who just never had the opportunity like you to have the kind of education you have.  And then you have the nerve to give morality lessons! 
—Morality lessons?  When have I given morality lessons?
—I too have had problems understanding some of your articles.  I’ve had problems trying to follow your reasoning and I certainly don’t consider myself completely illiterate.
—Well, I didn’t know you’ve read my writing or even knew who the hell I was.  But I’m at a loss.  You’re telling me that illiterates, those who can’t read, are now into reading polemics and poetry? 
—Maybe I should excuse myself for being so blunt, but I won’t! 
—Good!  I like bluntness.  I feed on bluntness, digest it, and spit out swords and sledgehammers from bluntness. 
—Just the same I do like people who communicate in a clear precise manner and without ambiguity and grandiose vocabulary. 
—Well, I guess you don’t like me then. 
—That’s not what I meant.  But you cannot reeducate academics.  They don’t give a damn about your logic and discourse.  You should be speaking to the common reader, not to them.  You could end up establishing a certain link with the discontented common reader.  Think about it! 
—My purpose is not to gain readers, but to speak and write truth.  Period. 
—Well, I guess it’s time for lunch.