I’ve heard from three people — privately and confidentially — about what a narcissistic monster Lucy Ellmann is. I was crazy about her novel, Ducks, Newburyport — so much so that I even put together a list of all the music cues contained in the massive book. But the stories about her put me off. I was prepared to ignore Lucy Ellmann for the rest of my life, possibly reading future volumes of hers once my animus towards her had died down a bit or, ideally, after she herself had kicked the bucket (one should try to separate the art from the artist and, let’s face it, there’s no better time to untangle such a thorny moral predicament than one year after a repugnant author has died). But on Monday, some of Ellmann’s ugliness bubbled up to the surface in a vile, racist, and anti-intellectual 256 tweet vomit that she posted under the Galley Beggar Press Twitter feed.
The “essay” — if it can be called that — was unaccomplished penny-ante postmodernism, reading almost as if Lydia Davis had a lobotomy but was still somehow allowed to publish just after some opportunistic huckster (in this case, Sam Jordison) had learned that there was enough frontal lobe left in the old bag’s head to bang out a few words. The “essay” is an uninventive laundry list of things that Ellmann deems crap. Very obvious targets like Jeff Bezos, macaroons, terrorists, Boris Johnson, et al. In other words, the kind of hacky standup material that wouldn’t even fly on open mic night. Followed by more subjective objects of hate, such as Jeopardy!, Judy Garland, video games, and Tom Jones. At this point, the “satire” extends to nearly every state of existence (dying young, being a kid, being an adult) until it reaches a desperately racist and anti-intellectual crescendo here:
Hilarious! Genius!TM Good Christ, I’m pissing on every pair of pants I own right now!
Hardly. By cleaving to a racist conspiracy theory like this, even under the old hack’s parlor trick of using “satire” as a defense for vile sentiments, Ellmann is clearly siding against science and against intellectualism. The so-called “Wuhan lab leak” theory neatly aligns with other racist conspiracy theories such as the “great replacement” theory — a detestable strain of racism that has been used to justify Islamophobia. Moreover, the Wuhan lab leak theory has led to a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Shall we talk about the man who stabbed three members of an Asian-American family (including two children younger than 6) because he believed that they were “Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus”? Or how about the creep in Boston who followed a Chinese American doctor from a hospital and screamed, “Why are you Chinese people killing everyone? What is wrong with you? Why the fuck are you killing us?”
This is the virulent racism that Lucy Ellmann commits herself to.
Ellmann knew damn well that her bullshit would grab the attention of an audience. Her casual racism aligned neatly with Quentin Tarantino’s racist falsehoods against Bruce Lee. If this was comedy, well, it’s indistinguishable from the vituperative hate that one can finds in a soulless prop comic like Gallagher. The upshot is that Ellmann’s promotional strategy represents a book publicity problem we’re not talking about. White people can spout off anti-Asian sentiments to get attention and sell books. And Galley Beggar Press, being the true cynical fuckwits that they are, can bask in the glory, claiming that anybody who objects to the dissemination of an unproven racist lie in the name of “art” needs to lighten up.
But even if the tweetstorm had not contained the racism, it says quite a bit about Galley Beggar Press’s lack of editorial standards that they would honestly believe that such cartoonish nihilism was the stuff of “boundary-pushing literature.” This indie press is more of a religious cult where a “genius” author can do no wrong. I suppose Sam Jordison fancies himself a Barney Rosset of our time, but Lucy Ellmann is hardly on the level of Ioenesco, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Genet, or even de Sade. There is nothing artistically redeeming about what Lucy Ellmann published on Twitter. It isn’t doing anything innovative like Naked Lunch or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It is simply the random spew of a 64-year-old loser who has nothing left in her vestibule of tricks other than cheap “provocative” vacuity.
A number of people pushed back against Galley Beggar on Twitter for publishing Ellmann’s racism. But something interesting happened along the way. Gallery Beggar began blocking critics of the Ellmann who were Asian (such as Bloomsbury marketing executive Wei Ming Kam), but refrained from blocking critics who weren’t Asian. In other words, Sam Jordison went well out of his way to target those of Asian descent and showed very much how he was an upholder of systemic racism.
I want to be clear that Ellmann and Galley Beggar Press should be free to publish whatever they want. But let’s stop rewarding any author who believes that anti-Asian hate is the best way to get attention. Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 164% from last year. It seems to me that every writer has a duty to be more sensitive to this.
7/6/2021 1:15 PM UPDATE: Galley Beggar’s Sam Jordison and Lucy Ellmann have blocked me on Twitter, proving that they are both top-tier racists: