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Postmodern Village
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Der Voron Phenomenon: Soon to Reappear in an Inbox Near You
by E.W. Wilder

As co-associate editor at EastWesterly Review quite a few interesting and occasionally humorous submissions cross my desk. Quite a few more are simply bad; one in a hundred maybe meets the standards of the journal. Of late, however, I've noticed a trend I've taken to calling Der Voron Phenomenon after its greatest practitioner. This is the submission that's really just an advertisment for the author's (or somebody else's) website or book, or, in the case of Der Voron himself, both.

These aren't merely electronically replicated spammissions, either; these are genuine, personalized appeals addressing editors directly, and generally attached to some species of essay or specious article or editorial. To wit:

Dear [editor]:
Let me submit you [sic] for consideration my new article, about the fall of Baghdad. I am
enclosing it below, in plain text format. I grant you permission to publish it, in full, or part,
at no charge.
Der Voron, writer
WWW: http://starcraft-version1.tripod.com (book Starcraft) [sic]

The fall of Baghdad and Saddam's possible tactics
By Der Voron

And it goes on from there with an actual article, sort of, of maybe 200 or 250 words. Most importantly, though, there is the plug for his book and site that seems to be permanently attached to Der Voron's name, and title ("writer"), the sneakily-added little bit between the cover missive and the "article" itself.

This article in particular contains some pretty good predictions of what has happened in Baghdad since it was written, though Saddam's role remains unproven: "Is it, perhaps, possible that what happened--the surrender of Baghdad--was a manoeuver by Saddam's troops? What if Saddam ordered them to hide themselves and wait for the hour X: when the coalition troops feel they are almost entirely safe in Baghdad (and Iraq), and when they loose [sic] their caution against possible attacks?" But this isn't anything analysts haven't already speculated about, nor is it a particularly compelling analysis of the idea. One wonders what the book (Starcraft) is like. Actually, one needn't wonder. But if the advertisement is this bad, what is its value? One must still admire the pluck of Der Voron; after all, he has at least one admirer, the inimitable "Denise M. Clark," who is nice enough to have submitted a review of Starcraft (by Der Voron, writer) a few months preceding the submission of articles by the man himself:

I would like to submit you [sic] for consideration my review of another book,
"Unidentified Flying Objects: Starcraft", by Der Voron. Please find it below. As in case
with previous review, you can publish this one free of charge, as long as proper credit is
Kind Regards,

The wording sounds familiar. But then this follows:

Advance Review for:
Unidentified Flying Objects: Starcraft
By Der Voron
ISBN: 1591297389
Publisher: Publish America, Inc. http://www.publishamerica.com

Yes, another plug, and so nice of her not to charge for it. I realize, of course, that much of the same information would have been provided in a legitimate review, but there is the issue of the similarity of language, and then there's the review itself, the glowing terms with which this particular cyber-vehicle is illuminated: "In his book . . . Der Voron offers an extremely well-researched and detailed report . . ." and "[t]he author's use of a plethora of written material enhances the author's descriptions of personal civilian accounts . . . ." A good review will warn us of potential problems as well; it will contain some actual criticism (are you listening Alan Cheuse?). An ad, of course, won't, unless it's a pharmacological substance being plugged and the FDA forces it to.

Admittedly, and disturbingly as we'll see, Der Voron is genuine. He's utterly for real, even masquerading as his alter-ego, sending along editorials on the Raelians, the death of the conjoined Bijani twins during their failed separation , the behavior of American troops in Iraq. He is, however, still always keen to include a reference to his book or website. Plugging knows not even the bounds of subject matter, regardless of the sincerity of its expression. That still speaks better for Der Voron than his comrades in the ad/submission mission. Many are more brazen. In an article titled "Forehead Jewelry is Not Anti-American" (I didn't know Ashcroft had ever even paid attention to it. If he had he probably had it covered with a big cloth so as not to offend.), Henrietta Jacobson writes that, "[n]o, the Intuitive Eye (patent pending) [her parenthetical] is not Anti American. It is forehead jewelry and was inspired by Henrietta Jacobson's practice of Kundalini yoga . . . ." Note that this isn't a defense of its American-ness or lack thereof. But it doesn't need to be; it's an advertisement: "So why be afraid to wear your Intuitive Eye by Goldpenny of Orlando." Why indeed - you're certainly doing less to promote it than wearing a Gap t-shirt, and you're not being Anti-American to boot!

Some appear to be interested in improving lives, as is Michael Levy, "Author, Poet, Philosopher," who writes, right after - and right before - he mentions his website, http://www.pointoflife.com, in an adverticle titled "Going Ballistic...... " the following:

Saddam Hussein is an example of a Dumb, Angry, Destructive Ego. He is prepared to
allow Baghdad to be destroyed rather than surrender to the awesome, massively
overwhelming military might of the USA & the coalition forces.
No naturalistic [sic] person would attempt to go against such forces.
The question is... How many natural, powerful forces do we attempt to go against every
day of our lives?

Levy then proceeds to inform us all about why we should "surrender to the forces of nature and become a wholesome, natural life essence of the universe," presumably by going to his website and shelling out $12.95 for his book Invest with a Genius. Now, first of all, I'm not sure what a "naturalistic person" is, though it appears not be afflicted with an overabundance of humility. I'm also not sure that his metaphor is quite apt despite its timeliness: I don't associate myself with Saddam Hussein, making his question, "The question," inapplicable, and furthermore don't see how the US armed forces are in any way "natural," as powerful as they may be. So much for the critical insights of Michael Levy as evinced by his "submission" to EastWesterly Review.

In criticising Der Voron and describing his phenomenon, I'm stricken with a bit of guilt. How do we draw the line between wanton self-promotion and the tried-and-true practice of listing one's publications in a cover message accompanying a submission to a journal? Is there really any difference between Der Voron ending each of his introductions with "author of Starcraft" and my own mention of my work with EastWesterly Review when I submit my work to a print journal? If you think that the difference is one of intent, I must bring up the intentional fallacy: not only can we not know the intent of the author of a cover letter, review or submission, it's virtually irrelevant to the experience of receiving it. We're in an epistemological quandry from the get-go and are forced back into the role of pure criticism; we can't know and therefore must work only with what we have, the text itself, and itself is, on the face of it, intended or not, self-promotional.

There is no difference anyway: Der Voron probably hopes to sell books in the same way that I hope mentioning EWR in my cover letter will promote that and my work simultaneously. If I promote one, after all, I'm implicitly promoting the other and myself. The only argument in favor of intentionality is the quality of the work: if I really wished to promote the submitted article and not the book I would produce a more substantial article. However, we're still left with the initial concern: a bad article, in this case, is a bad advertisement, and so it fails to promote the book at all. If I were not being sneaky, I'd have to write a good article too. There's simply no indication Der Voron is interested in doing that: this may very well be his best work.

So it is genuine, which is considerably more disturbing than if we could dismiss it as not. Der Voron is really trying to sell us something using these masquerades of essays. There's a Panoptic quality to all of it, a Foucaultian dystopic nightmare sheen: the submission is masquerading as art (or criticism), using a venue (EWR) that is also criticism to sell the thing it points to - its objectified subject - the book, which is itself criticism.

Ostensibly, the least impacted, most pure role of any role currently related to literature is that of the editor. Our passively judgemental eye has yet to be sutured into the dysfunctional relationship between art and criticism that is the postmodern literary theater. We merely decide what gets seen on what stage (with the Internet, after all, everything eventually gets seen unless great pains are taken to make sure something isn't: the writing of Bean Newton is an example, and it too is seen). We merely make up this week's or this day's or this month's or this quarter's marqueé: our judgement only enters into the cue of theory as it intersects that narrow beam from the light of the venue: journal, 'zine, site, blog, book. We're mere gaffers to an unlighted stage; a vast cast remains on stage. But in making our selection we make art: we create a militancy or capitulation depending on the color of the lenses we use. And here is where who is watching becomes the most critical question. Der Voron is watching--and waiting. He watches to see what kind of venue we are and rushess the stage. The rusher may be escorted out by security or be ignored as Der Voron appears to be (indeed, I've had to go to great lengths to keep this flier up), but he may be more sinister and stronger and take over the stage entirely: Bill O'Reilly plugs his book on his show on Fox "News"; the book plugs his slipshod theories and idle rants, creating more mullet-headed fans of his show. Or take the case of MTV, whose "music videos" are ads for the albums which are ads for the stars who are ads for the videos. Or consider Walt Whitman mailing his book off to Emerson - except he managed to create some good art along the way, perhaps despite himself.

I could do the Modernist cop-out here and lament the Death of Art, but I don't know that it has ever been any other way. The past distorts like a funhouse mirror: was Machiavelli being ironic or just trying to get a job when he cribbed The Prince? Was Sophocles, like Shakespeare, just an über-talented hack trying to make a few bucks? Was Dickinson's reclusiveness reverse-psychology? Was Kafka's desire that his work be destroyed really just a dare? Art won't tell you, and criticism can't, and self-promotion just smiles like a slowly fading cat.