Sol Yurick

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Nov 17 10:25:27 MST 1999

At 11:58 AM 11/17/99 -0500, Michael Yates wrote:
>The issue of ironic writing and discussion has come up on various
>lists.  We had an interesting discussion of this and related topics last
>night in my prison class.  The subject was the drug trade, a subject
>about which my students knew a great deal.  The assigned article for
>discussion was "The Political Economy of Junk," written by novelist Sol
>Yurick and published many years ago (1970, Dec. issue) in Monthly

I haven't seen hide nor hair of Sol since the early '80s when I took a
class on "Great Literature" with him at the Brecht Forum. This was one of
the most outstanding classes I've ever taken on or off campus, including my
days in the SWP when I had a chance to study labor history with the guy who
trained Jimmy Hoffa how to organize over-the-road truckers.

Sol's survey basically looked at the canon from the point of view of how
ruling class attitudes are projected, from the Old Testament to
Shakespeare. While much of the specifics are dimmed by the passage of time,
I remember the general sense of glee I felt at seeing all the "great books"
exposed as propaganda. I  suspect that Sol was being deliberately
overstated and provocative, but he certainly had a way of making you look
at things critically.

He wrote the classic 60s novel "Bag", which dealt with his experiences as a
welfare worker. I too had put in some time with the Welfare Department,
which led to my radicalization in 1967. In more recent years, he had turned
his attention to the sort of cyber-espionage thrillers that people like
William Gibson turned out, but with a lot more intelligence. I particularly
recommend "Richard", which deals with a plot to take over the world using
artificial intelligence.

Here is an item from a conference sponsored by Brown University's
"Unspeakable Practices":


The death of avant-garde? Vanguard writers debate

"New styles, new content, but also the ability to make straight society
tremble is gone," Sol Yurick tells "Unspeakable Practices" session

By Richard P. Morin

Novelist Sol Yurick leaned into the microphone and made a simple, yet
powerful, statement: The avant-garde is dead. It was a peculiar judgment
given the fact that it was spoken during a vanguard narrative festival.

Yurick made his seemingly prophetic remark at last week's "Unspeakable
Practices III," a literary conference constructed by Robert Coover, adjunct
professor of English, which called together more than 40 writers from
around the world for five days of readings, performances and symposia.

Events included hypertext, cyberfiction and transoceanic readings, and
conversations among American and British writers via a teleconference with
London. There were readings from major American, Spanish, Philippine,
British and Latin American authors whose prose often pushed the bounds of
style and imagination. There was even an all-night finale filled with
readings, performances and music.

It seemed as if the avant-garde was alive and well.

"What we used to call the avant-garde is dead," said Yurick at the
symposium titled "Dumping the Century," a fin de siècle judgment of this
century's literary achievements and prospects for the next. "New styles,
new content, but also the ability to make straight society tremble is gone."

At the Oct. 3 session, Yurick asserted that there isn't the possibility for
anything truly new in modern literature. "Everything is theme and
variation," he said. "Are we in some way limited by biology?"

The conference was co-sponsored by the Program in Creative Writing, the
Department of Hispanic Studies and the John Hawkes Fund.

Louis Proyect
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