Article Thumbnail

Inside the Nasty World of Alt-Right Literature

For the reactionary writers of Terror House, all that matters is being ‘edgy’

It’s like there was a deal struck a long time ago: Conservatives get business, the military and religion, and the left gets the arts. This deal has held throughout the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. It means that Marxist authors like Sally Rooney can become literary superstars, but the number of conservatives in print is vanishingly small. 

Lionel Shriver is probably the highest-profile right-winger still getting published, and her grandpa-politics are tame next to even mainstream figures like Tucker Carlson. Bret Easton Ellis seems to be at least anti-PC, but it’s been a long time since he published anything of note. Extreme-right literature exists in The Turner Diaries, The Iron Gate and The Camp of the Saints, but you won’t find those outside of gun shows and dodgy black metal tape distros.

Annie Kelly, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia who is researching the impact of anti-feminism and the far right on digital subcultures, has found that the right’s engagement with literature isn’t exactly deep. She says that “familiar classics that it can be assumed most people have some acquaintance with come up quite regularly, for example, 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter before it was decreed an exclusively liberal touchstone — and thus, ‘cringe.’ These are picked for the easy access to shared symbolism, which is important in digital discourse.” There are also, she adds, a disproportionate amount of sci-fi and fantasy fans.

Counter-extremism researcher Emily Gorcenski agrees, telling me, “What is observable in some right-wing spaces is that they gravitate toward media that promotes their vision of a patriarchal society, where white men exhibit strength, dominance and leadership.”

All that said, there is a small insurgent campaign to create fiction for conservatives, which is best embodied by Terror House Press, an online literary journal and small press “based in Sheridan, Wyoming and Tirana, Albania,” and edited by Matt Forney.

You might remember Forney from this video, where he insists on walking backwards to escape the two least threatening people on the planet at the 2016 Republican National Convention (the video labels them “antifa,” but they just look like… guys).

Forney had tried to become a pick-up artist back when that was a thing, before trying his hand at being an alt-right guy. But he never attracted the audiences of Mike Cernovich, Stefan Molyneux, Milo Yiannopoulos or Gavin McInnes, and after disappearing for several years, he took to self-publishing books. They seem to be written for holdouts of the alt-right who fancy themselves men of letters rather than shitposters, who aren’t trad “Odinists” (with the exception of whoever farted this into a bukkehorn) or Nazis per se, but alienated, cigar-chomping, whiskey-sipping urban Lovecraft in Brooklyn types. They also have a podcast and a Twitter account covering important subjects like which Nazis are “fed snitches.” 

The breathless About page decries the “Beigeism” of New York publishers and the “hysterical cliquishness of the ‘alt-lit’ community.” (The former is a given that any serious writer can work around, the latter hasn’t existed in any appreciable sense for a while now.) Then, of course, there’s the “endless stream of hack immigrant coming-of-age stories” and “sterilized Iowa Writers’ Workshop pieces from pampered white trust-funders.” It’s the most basic, trite criticism of the literary world possible. There’s definitely conversations to be had about who gets to pursue art, but I would have expected better from the author of Big Lovin’: The Guide to Picking Up Fat Chicks. (Other Terror House subjects include a sex-tourism guide to the Philippines, a guide to hitchhiking, several collected volumes of Forney’s blog posts and whatever this is.)

Postmodern conservatives posting cringe is definitely a dog-bites-man story, but why exactly are they incapable of writing well?

Kelly’s theory: “One thing I’ve observed frequently on the alt-right is this sense of art as something that’s chief value is in its comparison to others. So they love classical architecture and sculpture, but only as a tool they can use to point to Western superiority.” 

“I remember seeing on an alt-right forum, which has since been banned, a young alt-right poet showing off some of his work, all of which was basically a list of all the famous Western philosophers and artists he could quote,” she continues. “It wasn’t particularly good poetry, and most users told him to kill himself. It made me think both about this mercenary understanding of art, and also about how a key component to creating art is making yourself vulnerable in some sense. But being vulnerable is possibly one of the worst crimes you can commit to fascists or fascist-adjacent types.”

One cliche but semi-true idea about good writing is that it requires an incredible capacity for empathy. The term “empathy” is so often mistaken for sympathy that it can lead readers to condemn writers who display empathy toward terrible characters, like Vladimir Nabokov or Bret Easton Ellis, for endorsing pedophilia or maybe-imaginary serial killing. 

But empathy isn’t sympathy or endorsement, it’s observation, listening and noticing patterns, and it’s why the Latino gangsters in Terror House’s charmingly titled Fuck My Wife with Your Nazi Dick! say things like, “No fucks given, Jimmy. Two homies try jumping civvies because a hoodie goodie felt dissed. You sucker them. No bueno, but not cause for war.” It’s why a genderless “antifa-person” in prolific Terror House author T.J Martinelli’s Lord CHAZ says, “It’s like I’m still feeling systematically oppressed, even though we’re in charge. White supremacy is that powerful, I guess.” It’s why not one short story in all of Terror House is as good a piece of literature as this throwaway bit about Hot Couch Guys in an episode of Chapo Trap House:

In it, a type of guy is identified, understood down to his forensic detail and recognized by the listener as someone they also know. That’s literary storytelling — the accumulation of telling details. Terror House writers can’t even do that correctly when they have numerous chances to say something interesting about Nazi-adjacent dorks, presumably the one thing they can talk about with some authority.

Being able to evoke credible characters through empathy is just one of the dozens of things a writer of vaguely realist fiction has to be able to do. Or as Gorcenski puts it, “Good writing requires character development, nuance, the ability to portray meaningful interpersonal relationships, and importantly, a genuine understanding of conflict. [The far right] don’t experience this in a meaningful way in their lives, so they can only project insecurities and fantasies.”

Which sums up Terror House and the nascent right-wing lit scene nicely. No one among them will be able to write well because postmodern conservatives don’t need to write well — they’ve won in all the ways that matter. Being somebody watching the world slowly become as shitty as they want it to be doesn’t make a person want to listen to the way real people speak or develop thoughts about much of anything that would be interesting enough to write down.