Famed psychologist Carl Jung opened his book Psychological Types with a quote by Heinrich Heine, in which Heine contrasts “Visionary, mystical natures” whose ideas come from “the fathomless depths of their souls” with “Practical, Aristotlean natures” which build “a fixed system, a dogma–”

This is the eternal conflict within all arts, including literature. The conflict between an institutional status quo, and rebels to that status quo. Jung discusses this conflict through much of his book, and the depths “from which prophets and creative artists call up the redeeming symbol.” The fixed system Heine mentions is, according to Jung, “entirely inadequate when it comes to the really great and decisive questions. It is incapable of creating the symbol.” For Jung, “–the solution comes from the side it was least expected.”


The final section of our Overview of today’s literary scene has to be the literary underground. (See our Op-Ed page for others.) Within any vital art there is always an underground, whether its products be called pamphlets, the gutter press, chapbooks, samizdat, zines, ebooks, or whatever else.


Jung’s analysis is a generalization, as he admits in his book. In some circumstances– the world of bureaucracies– his ideas become strikingly true.

In 1950 David Riesman did a riff on the theory with his book The Lonely Crowd. He contrasted inner-directed and other-directed persons within organizations. His observations remain true in the realm of literature, and the arts in general.

The other-directed person gets his-or-her tastes from the mob, and from established narratives. The case of Bob Dylan and his standing within rock n’ roll culture exemplifies this.


Throughout the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, rock n’ roll was scorned by the intelligentsia. The music of choice on college campuses wasn’t rock, but folk– led by the likes of Peter, Paul, and Mary; Pete Seeger; Joan Baez; and Bob Dylan.

Civil Rights Rally

On April 12, 1965, a Beatles-influenced American band called The Byrds released as a single a cover of a Bob Dylan-penned song, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It was notably more upbeat and energetic than Dylan’s original version. The Byrds recorded the song using a standard rock n’ roll set up of electric guitars and drums. By June the single had risen to #1 on the charts in both the USA and the UK. A monster hit.

When Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival on July 20, 1965, he was jumping on an unexpected bandwagon– as The Byrds version of the song was being purchased by those outside Dylan’s usual audience demographic. The Dylan/Newport moment signaled acceptance by the intellectual herd of rock n’ roll– whose momentum by then in the wake of The Beatles was sweeping everything before it. To aspiring young music journalists who were secret fans of the rock genre, the moment signaled intellectual acceptance of them. Bob Dylan became, instantly, a rock icon– one of the major figures in histories yet to be written– though he’d not been, for all his career up to that point, a rock singer at all.

Rock n’ roll– rock— became overnight an acceptable musical genre.


Jonathan Franzen today is considered a great novelist because everyone who matters in the established literary scene says he’s a great novelist. (This, after million-dollar publicity campaigns backing the release of his books.) At some point, perhaps decades from now, perhaps sooner, herd opinion will change. Franzen will become no longer a great novelist.

(Who today remembers Booth Tarkington?)


I had a dream in which I was searching through the mists of my memories for an underground writer. I had met the person once in an alley. Maybe in Manhattan, maybe in Philly.

The individual– man or woman, I can’t say– had written the best short story I’d ever seen. I’d stumbled upon it by accident, in a zine traded for at a zinefest at which I’d manned a table. A terrific read– a compelling narrative full of insight and energy, and a dynamic ending. The style was unique– concise, flowing and fast-moving.

I’d read the story– then misplaced it. Perhaps on a bus ride or move or the hectic bustle of moving my own and friends publications around. One acquires hundreds of scattered homemade publications, and because of the vicissitudes of life, loses most of them.

All this had happened in my dream. In there, I was on an endless quest to find the perfect story. Perhaps the notion that this was possible was itself a dream.


In the 1990’s zinedom was the literary underground, as documented in various incarnations of Factsheet Five, A Reader’s Guide to the Underground Press, and other review publications. Leading zine writers were cult figures– chief among them Aaron Cometbus, who inspired a series of talented knockoffs like Jen Gogglebox, Urban Hermitt, and others.

Cometbus was a legendary figure, a latter-day Johnny Appleseed, in that he traversed America by bus writing down and printing his adventures in zine form.

Zinesters embraced punk/DIY/underground cred and scorned any attempts to go mainstream– which is why many of them scoffed at the actions during 2000-2009 of the Underground Literary Alliance.

The ULA, first envisioned by writer Steve Kostecke and myself, was an attempt to locate the very best zine writers and bring them to the attention of the greater literary world. Spawned by our belief that zine writing was literature– the most authentic kind– we strove to have this belief recognized.


At New Pop Lit we’ve presented several terrific talents of the zine underground past and present.

Jessie Lynn

The best zine writer alive today is Jessie Lynn McMains, formerly known as Jessica Disobedience. We were privileged to feature a story of hers, “Danny Boy,” in our first test print issue, New Pop Lit #1. As fine a short story as you’ll find anyplace.

Wred Fright

We have a new pop short story upcoming in the month of August by long-time zinester Wred Fright, who was also in NPL #1, and has had other work featured on this site.

The zine publisher known as “fishspit” is one of the few writers today who gives you himself unscreened and unfiltered. Raw and real. Read his latest story here.

Near the end of 2012 I moved back to Detroit from Philadelphia– broke, and with my previous lit project shattered, at loose ends. I worked a shitty job in the evening to pay the rent. During the day I took refuge from an unexpectedly harsh winter in downtown coffeeshops, where I’d sit writing for a few hours on large yellow legal pads purchased at a cubbyhole legal supply shop in one of the nearby towers.

At one of the coffee places, a young African-American man who worked at it asked if I was a writer. When I admitted that I liked to write– more enjoyed promoting writers– we talked about the writing game. The young man was an aspiring artist and writer. I mentioned zines as an entry point. He had no computer, he said– not even a typewriter.

Eventually, after a couple weeks, he handed me a typescript of a story of his. “The Artist.” I took it home and read it. The story was in a unique style, but was quite good. It didn’t look like any kind of standard short story I’d encountered. Unique talent can be discovered anywhere. Often it’s found from someone not told how or what to write or create.

The young writer moved on to another job, while I moved on to making it through the winter, and surviving, always thinking of getting back into the literary game.

When I moved from my downtown room a few months ago, I discovered the copy of the story the young man had given me to read. I was more impressed with it upon re-reading it. My co-editor was even more impressed. Now we have to find the young man, so we can showcase his work.


The ultimate example of an underground writer today might be poet Frank D. Walsh. When we met him in Philadelphia in March, he was living underground, in an unfinished basement, with all that entails. We posted at our Interactive blog a short profile of Frank, worth a look.


I had another dream: of a “hidden arts regime”– an alternative literature put together under establishment radar. Waiting to displace that establishment at any time.

Reinvigorating the literary art in so doing.



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