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Fatwah / Featured / June 9, 2009
By John Dolan

To understand just how petty and mean that was, you need to know how ridiculous their project was in the first place. These morons had managed to convince each other that, by writing gibberish that, when you read it now, sounds oddly like a bad standup comic’s notes to himself, gibberish which they called “L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E Poetry,” and god forgive you if you forgot the asterisks between every goddamn letter–by wasting their productive years writing unreadable crap, they would bring about the fall of the patriarchy.

Seriously. Seriously, that stupid. Makes the Mormons’ backstory seem plausible by comparison.

But see, that was Berkeley, that was Elaine’s world: under the virtuous crap, always the hiss of careers being crafted with devious patience. By forming an unbroken phalanx, writing pure gibberish and cornering the market on essays interpreting their production, the Language poets (forgive me for dispensing with the asterisks) slowly forged enviable careers for themselves.

And, Alex being Alex, doomed to star in allegorical slapstick, it was inevitable that he would run into Bob Perelman, most loathsome of the bunch, at the crucial turn in the plot. He told me all about it, the last time I saw him. Alex was in bad shape by then. Elaine had thrown him out, he was living with his mom in her 2D houselet without the money to buy crack or blowjobs. Worst of all, he was writing poetry then. He read me one of his latest, an upbeat thing about people working together, and before I could even puke up some fake praise, he switched gears, free-associating as always: “Oh hey, that reminds me, did I tell you I met Bob Perelman?”

I grunted. I had my own reasons to hate Perelman. I was introduced to him one and somebody mentioned my first book of poems, Slave. “Oh, Slaaaaaaave,” Perelman said, then he added blandly, “I liked the cover.”
Ah, all the people I didn’t maim. Where are they now, the subjunctive maims of yesteryear?

Alex was off on his story, and I could hear from his tone that it was something painful. Those were his best stories, so I shut up and nodded.

“You know when Elaine told me I’d have to leave the house? I actually felt pretty good that day, we’re probably better off this way–in fact I had, ahem, ‘conjugal sex’ just the other night–so I was feeling sort of OK about it but maybe a little down so I went for a walk in the hills, those trails up by Strawberry Creek. I was coming along and ran right into Perelman, Bob Perelman. I thought he was gonna walk past me like the old days but he was actually smiling. Talked to me and everything. He was in a good mood because he’s heading east, apparently this was some kind of farewell walk for him. He just got a job as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.”

Long pause. I wasn’t even going to offer a fake cheer for this one. Alex filed in the silence: “So, good for him, basically….”

“Wait, wait, didn’t you tell me they, those Language people, dumped you for being a TA at Berkeley?”
Alex nods, shrugs.

“And he’s going off to be a professor, so now you’re forgiven?”

Alex didn’t want to dwell on it. I did. I still do. I just looked up Perelman and discovered he’s flourishing as an English Professor, UPenn, giving lectures on the lousy writing he and his friends managed to sell as a magic spell against Patriarchy.

While I was at it I looked up Alex. He doesn’t exist online; he may not exist any longer at all. And like I said, that’s one for him.

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  • 1. phil_collins  |  June 9th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    What an insightful piece about the secret world of idiots

  • 2. Daar  |  June 9th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Your writing makes my brain hurt but goddamnit they paint some really cool pictures about places and lives I’ll never get to see or know.

  • 3. MQ  |  June 9th, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Are you working on the sequel to Pleasant Hell? You need to be. I and I’m sure many others will pay money for it, good money. I gave $50 to this site but I just really want to give money to Dolan so he can write more books.

  • 4. Tyler Bass  |  June 9th, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Okay, for some reason, when I try to put my email address in the newsletter box, I’m referred to a comment box. Go figure.

  • 5. Brody  |  June 9th, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    I am not even sure what to say. You are great at capturing life’s little failures as they pile up, one on top of another. Well, they may as well be useful for something. I wonder, if I read more essays like this, when the inevitable disappointment hits as I get older, will I be more prepared for it? Nah, it will still sting.

  • 6. Homer Erotic  |  June 9th, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks, Mr. Dolan. It does me good to be ocasionally reminded that there are people in this world who have screwed up their lives worse than I have mine. 😉

  • 7. Thuggin  |  June 9th, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Fuck, finally some real shit about Dolan smokin’ crack.

    Disable comments too. These people are retarded.

  • 8. Pedro  |  June 10th, 2009 at 12:28 am

    An interesting read. I like the comment about lifes failures piling up- so true yet not commonly the subject of intelligent writing in a humorous way.

    Keep it up….please

  • 9. Daar  |  June 10th, 2009 at 12:34 am

    #7 Doesn’t that make you retarded as well for posting? And on that case, doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

  • 10. dsol  |  June 10th, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Great writing, please keep it up. And seriously, set up a paypal account or something.

  • 11. 11  |  June 10th, 2009 at 3:12 am

    Unrevealing, futile and trivial cynicism. Always focusing on the worst aspect of everything (say Berkeley) does not make much sense or – as the Exiled team seems to imagine – represent the pinnacle of human wisdom. It’s just obsessively sticking to an intellectually unsatisfying and inferior form of frustration.
    Get over it.
    There’s more to be said about the world. Think positive, maaaan. So much light in the world…

  • 12. Unemployed Irish Academic  |  June 10th, 2009 at 4:31 am

    John, have you considered the possibility that your difficulty in finding teaching is not only because it’s all mafia in this trade (which it is), but also because you come across as obnoxious and creepy? I don’t mean that as a dig, I’m just saying that’s how you come across.

    Though if half of what you say about Berkeley is true, your misanthropy is forgivable. . .

  • 13. doctor k  |  June 10th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    ‘the pinnacle of human wisdom’ lmao. if you think dolan is just being a negative nancy then you either haven’t left your room in ten years and dealt with human beings or you’ve made a tremendous mental effort to reinforce your illusions about them to the point where physical walls are redundant

  • 14. 11  |  June 10th, 2009 at 11:08 am

    hahaha I know people would be upset here.

    “if you think dolan is just being a negative nancy”

    that’s not what I said at all. read it again. My problem is that Dolan just keeps digging up his miserable experiences to impress others, without putting them in any context, trying to explain them (to himself at least) etc.
    This is futile. Sure there are idiots, jerks and ruthless careerists at Berkeley, some of them masquerading as humanists, but that’s not the whole picture and you know it. To stop at this point is not profound at all, it’s just pretentious and equally superficial nihilistic posing. “Oh, behind the surface it’s all about sex and drugs”…vow, how original, am I impressed.
    In reality of course, there are also other people doing interesting and valuable work and so on.

    This is exactly like writing reviews about films you hate, instead of films you (are brave enough to say that you) like.

    An adolescent’s world-view. Booooo-ring. And predictable too.

    I mean, what think would be fascinating is to hear about the people who were decent and wanted to make spaceship earth a better place for future generations. We should be in tune with the creative processes of Gaia. Now that is hard and takes talent.

    Anyway, who cares. Bye.

  • 15. Jasen Comstock  |  June 10th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Seriously June. Best troll ever on eXile.

  • 16. rick  |  June 10th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I don’t know much about L*(etc.)ANGUAGE poetry but this is a real L*A*U*G*H riot:

    Get in tune with the creative processes of Gaia!

  • 17. Osho Honjaku  |  June 10th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    People, people, people, there is no need to get in a twist. Firstly it looks like meditation will be good for everyone here. Secondly, what draws people to Dolan’s writing is a) that he is a very good writer AND

    b) Every writer has a theme and after you have read enough of what they have written you can spot it in whatever they write no matter how new the subject may me. Often this theme can be expressed in a few sentences (think about it, all those words reduced to just a few sentences!).

    Dolan’s theme is to report on the culturally required removal of passion that is part and parcel of modern life including the accepted wisdom that you do not take your ideals seriously. Nobody talks about passion more in places like Berkeley and nobody takes it less seriously than those there.

    (Especially) In California so many people have chosen landscapes over real lives and this is what Dolan writes about. Get that? That was Dolan’s poetry book, “people with real lives don’t need landscapes”. But what happens when people actively choose landscapes over real lives?

    If you are reading this you either
    a) have a life and just like to look back at the old crap. Well be careful, you become what you give energy to.
    b) Don’t have a life but still have some energy left in you and would like to have one

    Only meditation can help you! You must learn how to meditate and by and by you will fill up that empty space inside and enjoy living a full life of service again.

  • 18. Allen  |  June 10th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I enjoy Dolan’s writing quite a bit. His prose seems very well suited to what he writes about. In response to mister “11”, yes cynicism and misanthropy can be cliché and overly convenient escapes … but, to mobilize another cliché , you got to write what you know …

    Perhaps the little failures of life where it is actually lived, a day at a time, is just a subject that is really relatable. And the only escape from mediocrity is to turn the mediocre into a worthy, even romantic, subject. The heroic irony of misspent opportunities.

    “People with real lives don’t need landscapes” … That’s a really interesting thought.

  • 19. totalesturns  |  June 10th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    @MQ — Agreed, as per my comments in the last thread. As great as it is to get this stuff for free, Dolan should be charging money for it.

    I really want to read a no-holds-barred account of Dolan’s experiences in the punk scene. Too much Gen X yuppie rock journalism about the heroic years of West Coast punk seduces Dolanesque Gen Y nerds into thinking that the “underground” is something other than one more form of sleazy careerism for slumming trust fund kids, and the world needs an antidote.

    @11 — Pretending for a moment that you’re not a troll:

    This is exactly like writing reviews about films you hate, instead of films you (are brave enough to say that you) like.

    I don’t give a shit about “films,” but Dolan writes amazing appreciative pieces of the writers he actually likes — check the Ted Hughes one from a couple months ago. I owe him for introducing me to Naipaul and Charles Portis, and I’d love to see him do article-length tributes to other brainy-outsider heroes like Gene Wolfe or Mark E. Smith.

  • 20. v21  |  June 10th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Quite right, totalesturns. I owe him for introducing me to Celine. And I guess he owes Alex for introducing him…

    (But on the other hand: I’d like to hear Ames’ plan for fixing the world. The real one, not the obscenity he’d give (though the obscenity is a decent reaction to the world). But I suspect he’s smart enough not to have one. For that matter, I guess I should be strong enough not to be need to be told…)

  • 21. mmmm  |  June 10th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    …”Dolanesque Gen Y nerds ”

    Wait, do you mean Gen Y nerds that happen to be Dolanesque or that Dolanesque writing has some gen-Y-ish character? ‘Cause he’s always struck me as having a more X-ish tone, albeit one often fixated more on Boomer/Joneser attitudes and obsessions.

    ouch my brain

  • 22. Tam  |  June 11th, 2009 at 12:06 am


    Would you recommend reading Celine then?

    I’m sort of tempted because he was one of Vonnegut’s favorite authors but on the other hand, all his champions seem to be smart but miserable misanthropes I wouldn’t really want to hang out with despite enjoying reading short bursts of what they have to say.

    Is this the transforming power of ‘great literature’ in action or are his fans self-selecting?

  • 23. Chris Williams  |  June 11th, 2009 at 12:43 am


    “It was as cunningly and falsely domestic as those fake subdivisions SAC used to build over missile silos in Kansas.”

    is the best sentence that I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a few. Ta, mate: tell Ames and Levine that although they are good, you are better, and my sub is for you, not them.

  • 24. Thuggin  |  June 11th, 2009 at 1:18 am

    Vonnegut was a chump compared to Celine. Don’t even try.

    @#9 Daar: Yes OF COURSE that includes my comment. In fact, my comment was edited by the modz, but that’s fine. It was meant strictly for the author. Everyone here, with the exception of ONE OR TWO people who come to mind, is either a total moron, or a naive pseudo-intellectual …

    The idea of people gathering cash via the internet to pay Dolan to write another novel? WOW. What the fuck? Seriously. Dolan is an ADULT. Like all real people, he’d like to see some REAL compensation for his work … not a pathetic E-drive resulting in a few hundred dollars thrown at him.

    You sick fuckers. Luckily there’s no way I’d ever meet any of you in person … cause I’d definitely fuck you up.

  • 25. aleke  |  June 11th, 2009 at 3:13 am

    hahaha, if Berkley was full of good people, then we wouldn’t have the perfect Manchurian corporate Obama in office. This is what “working within the system” means. Not only selling out, but descending all of us even further into a hellish spectacle.

  • 26. Celine  |  June 11th, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Does’t look like a simple short story, sets mag’s record in length and ofcourse purest crack fume invalation bitter truthness and emotional charge. Looks like Dolan has a sequel, a bit politically incorrect collection of short stories each featuring a Jew as the main character. All Jew are junkies or criminal so John has to do drugs or be a litttle involve insome petty crime in fact not to seem rude or unpolished. Each Jew despite being smart,talented is useless for the society and has derived himself of any perspective mainly because of his genetic defect.

    or fuck i have to go
    freaking carservice…

    to be continued

  • 27. Homer Erotic  |  June 11th, 2009 at 6:22 am

    What aleke just said.

  • 28. Daar  |  June 11th, 2009 at 7:51 am


  • 29. CapnMarvel  |  June 11th, 2009 at 9:00 am

    ‘subjunctive maims of yesteryear’ is the phrase of the year per me.

    Dolan, please publish another book. We will buy it. And yes, I contributed to the eXile primarily to fund your writing and the War Nerd’s. The rest is just icing.

  • 30. MQ  |  June 11th, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Dolan is clearly the best writer here.

    The idea of people gathering cash via the internet to pay Dolan to write another novel? WOW. What the fuck? Seriously. Dolan is an ADULT. Like all real people, he’d like to see some REAL compensation for his work … not a pathetic E-drive resulting in a few hundred dollars thrown at him.

    Are you volunteering to write him a $100,000 check or something? Anyway, 400 people * $25 each = $10,000, which is some actual compensation. Better than nothing, anyway.

    Luckily there’s no way I’d ever meet any of you in person … cause I’d definitely fuck you up.

    these kind of threats on internet comment boards are well known evidence that you are not a moron. They demonstrate that you are a real man who needs to be taken seriously.

  • 31. Publius  |  June 11th, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Yes, please publish another book. I bought Pleasant Hell and read it nearly five times… on the fifth read I lost it in a laundromat. I will buy it again. You are the best living writer I know, and I’m waiting impatiently for your next work – so I can study every word and be better than you.

  • 32. Bruce Andrews  |  June 11th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    In reading Dolan, this makes for, instead, a drastic unnerving constructivism all the way down to the level of the sign. And then beyond, backstage. I’M so TOTALLY WEEDED OUT RIGHT NOW. It looks behind the sign for the particulars, for an extremism of raw material, of what comes before signification, of preposterous dispersal & modularity, of energizing strangeness, of interferences, interruptions, & noise without a beat.
    (This puts the reading experience closer to sacrifice and surrender, to anti-productive expenditures and excess, to a surplus or hyper-trophy of enjoyments.) I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON.

  • 33. davai  |  June 11th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    This is brilliant, thank you John. Now waiting for yasha’s next piece…

  • 34. Baked Dr. Luny  |  June 11th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    It’s called LSD, it will be over in a few hours. Or schizophrenia, in which case it will be over when you take your pills.

    Anyway, well written little piece Mr. Dolan. I wonder if that crack-whore would have just been sent to rehab if she had been caught. I suppose she would have if she were a wealthy and connected Jew. The truly dangerous sadists out there, the ones with money and power, are always given the benefit of the doubt.

  • 35. Cap'n Kapo  |  June 11th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    John Dolan gives us a spot on blueprint on how to fail up…

  • 36. 1of6billionsheeple  |  June 11th, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    speaking of people who wasted away opportunities, this guy was a former ancient history doctorate major at U.C. Berkeley turned…hobo bum living in the streets of Oakland!

  • 37. Mark  |  June 12th, 2009 at 4:00 am

    @ #11 (that is yr name): “Unrevealing, futile and trivial cynicism” is surely missing the point – ‘unrevealing’ is pure nonsense but regarding ‘futile’, Dolan knows it’s futile, that’s what the piece, and so many of his others, is about. About throwing stones at giants because it’s what the author believes in, while acknowledging that it will probably make no difference.

    The same thing goes for ‘trivial’: Dolan shows up the Language guys as trivial in here, and at the same time (ambivalently) celebrates someone who “may not exist”. He reveals and laments that disparity. So what’s ‘trivial’? Just depends where you’re sitting.

  • 38. Tam  |  June 12th, 2009 at 4:48 am

    @30 MQ

    Shh! Don’t tell dorks they’re dorks or they might get some vestiges of self awareness and become less entertaining for the rest of us.

  • 39. totalesturns  |  June 12th, 2009 at 5:27 am

    @mmmm – I meant “Gen Y nerds that happen to be Dolanesque.” Anxious, cheeseburger-scarfing types.

    @Thuggin – Yes, it would be very nice if Dolan were getting a real advance from a real publisher that paid him in real money. I’ll talk to my agent at HarperCollins — if we get front-shelf placement at Barnes & Noble, we could really sell _Pleasant Hell II_ to the Christian Inspiration demographic.

    Seriously, nobody deserves to make a living off his writing more than Dolan does, but if real publishers were taking an interest in it, he wouldn’t be giving it away for free on the Internet.

    Web-based print-on-demand publishing is easy and cheap now. An Xlibris or iUniverse book isn’t going to pay Dolan’s rent every month, but I think it would sell enough copies on Amazon to make a small profit. Compared to the alternative, that’s not such a bad deal.

    (On the other hand, “Gary Brecher” could probably get a decent advance to write a book that’s not just an anthology of reprints.)

  • 40. readthru  |  June 12th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I found Pleasant Hell in a laundromat and liked it better than a week-from-fresh Boston Globe. Needless to say, I feel in love with it from the moment I read once through. I want to help you make a Pleasant Hell movie. Oh, yes, publish another book!

  • 41. vkusi  |  June 12th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    My friend 33#davai is disheartened that you changed his incisive post to the drek you’ve posted in his name. My Yellow Headed Parrot, Myana, whom I rescued from feral destitude, comes up with better wit than this imbicile, Dolan. Perhaps you are trying to start some kind of competition here to deliver the most boring sh*t possible ? The moderators here are a bunch of republican bastards.

  • 42. Thuggin  |  June 12th, 2009 at 6:38 pm


    Come on man … you’re oversimplifying with that Harper-Collins bullshit. The reason Dolan ain’t published large isn’t because of his subject or writing, it’s the fact he won’t play the game … go ahead, laugh, but books don’t sell themselves … you gotta hustle that shit. He spent the majority of his life writing poetry, but didn’t kiss asses: no big break going there. He spent that same chunk of his life trying to sneak his way into academic posts, but had a thesis on SADE, and, again, didn’t kiss the right asses: ho big break going there, either. EVERY great writer has to weasel his way into the right positions, even if it’s just for a while. Look at Hemingway: he took what he needed … then he stabbed all those fuckers in the back. Everyone’s gotta thrash around, the right way, to make waves … then ride em.

  • 43. 9redponies  |  June 12th, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Hey readthru @40, I think you got @31Publius’s book!

  • 44. Jerome  |  June 13th, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I keep reading about this legendary thesis on Sade. I’d love to read an article about your opinion of him.

  • 45. Osho Honjaku  |  June 15th, 2009 at 9:10 am

    “People with real lives don’t need landscapes”

    It becomes clear that Dolan is writing from experience and his words are lessons for younger folk.

    Apparently this man did his thesis on De Sade. Only an idealistic fool would do a thesis on De Sade – a fool who had bought all the lies about ‘doing what you love’. There are a gazillion other topics that could be sufficiently interesting and also allow for a reasonable career. (These are *not* mutually exclusive).

    Don’t take your ideals too seriously, this is actually very good advice. Even the antidote – a ruthless professionalism as demonstrated by the Elaine character – can become a perverse idealism of its own and leave a person miserable.

    So the point is that in this life don’t take anything too seriously. Your ideology is not real, nothing can match the overwhelming indifference of mother nature. Everything is impermanent and we would be wise to absorb a couple of good lessons that can easily be gleaned from the good doctor’s (and many others who have come and gone) writing

    – Sex is good for you. Sex, love and all that jazz is had best when you are young. Or you can look at it this way, you’re not going to be having much of it at fifty. And at fifty if you wish you were twenty, well as idealistic as you could be thats not going to happen is it?
    – Everybody has to have a job, some kind of work that at least some of the time engages and occupies you. So what? Everyone has to wake in the morning and do the morning things. You don’t complain about that do you?

  • 46. amar  |  June 18th, 2009 at 10:56 am

    i liked this.

  • 47. Osho Honjaku  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    With regards to hustling books:

    See the good doctor’s previous essay. This is his (and the Exile’s ) critique, that today everyone has to hustle everything and everyone is in competition with everyone else, including within families, within relationships. The ‘softer, moister’ world is long gone. One of the big lies of popular culture is that this kind of 24/7 competition on each and every level is actually good for you, you come to some glorious place because of it. The hustling, constant selling of yourself takes its toll, you may ‘arrive’ somewhere but in the process may well lose your original intention that set you on the road in the first place. You may have a hard time recognizing yourself when you have arrived. Paradoxically, the people you suffer the most from this cheer the hardest.

    It’s easy to glamorize the past, but they (the Exile) do seem to have a point.

  • 48. Thuggin  |  June 29th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Osho –

    Way to fit your hollow analysis into what I said.

    I’m not talking values here. So stop with that “good for you” bullshit. You seem to get that there’s a fine line to walk in order to make it big. Do you understand that it’s necessary?

    If ya really wanna get real with it, you need to talk about whether or not any of it matters. What’s it all anyway?

    One huge sick joke.

    And if you don’t know that by now, you’re lost.

  • 49. chubbz molinoire  |  July 14th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Osho honjaku you make a lotta fuckin sense – more than most of these dicknozzles anyway

  • 50. w  |  October 19th, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I agree with the comment that this article is cynical and unrevealing — it perhaps tells us a great deal about Dolan, but nothing about the world outside of his head.

    If Dolan ever bothered to come down out of the moribund Berkeley Hills he’d find a city teeming with life, youth, and energy. I appreciate his desire to criticize that which he sees as hypocritical or evil in the world, but seriously, choose your targets with a little more care next time. Only the rich and the boring/bored can afford to be so negative.

  • 51. Corry  |  July 21st, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Knowing Berkeley from that time, I can testify that some bits and pieces I recognize are an accurate portrayal indeed.

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