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Friday, 16 March 2007


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Actually, the litblogging community is not apoplectic about n+1. A very, very small minority are the ones doing the most squawking and of them, I strongly suspect, only one has read the entire article in question. It's much ado about nothing.


Good post.

Ray Davis

"As with email, so too with cellphones and blogs.... It is tempting to write book-chat. It is tempting to turn a blog into group therapy. It is tempting to post the same sort of fluff found in Slate."

As my my own positively apoplectic response attempted to point out: And so too with new intellectual print journals. It is tempting to simply repeat the past-arm's-length put-downs we read two years ago in the NYTBR and environs.

Whether your vanity publishing's serialized online and cheap or offline and expensive, you'll find it easier (and more rewarding, for many ideas of "reward") to give commonplaces a snappy gloss than to take the risk of research, engagement, and original thought. I can't deny the comfort "the same sort of fluff" brings to most writers, most readers, and most prospective employers. But when fluff-wallowing appears in "places where the editors had things they wanted to say that they believed no one else was saying," I suspect the editors have gone wrong, either in meeting their goal or in stating it.

(Now, if n+1 had asked Turbulent Velvet or John Latta to insult literary blogs, they might really have had something worth reading.)

Ray Davis

I almost never read The Elegant Variation, and so if you're like me, you might appreciate pointers to an excellent comment from one "w" at Scott's link. The post and thread hold little interest for me, but w's description of The n+1 Situation (blessedly mentioning Hermenaut and the Baffler) rings true.

The Constructivist

I hear you on the temptations of the genre. That's why there are only two days in my Citizen of Somewhere Else programming schedule where I can give in, and why I have Mostly Harmless for the other days. So far the experiment remains fun and productive (4 talks in 4 months is a fast pace for me--and they were easier to write and hopefully better b/c of blogging), even though it's somewhat annoying that the blog I take more seriously gets 1/3 the visits of the fun one. (You would have thought more people would be googling Hawthorne, eh? Actually, I get a much more international visitorship via google for CitizenSE than for MH.) My question to you is, who do you think I should be linking to among the non-academic lit-bloggers at CitizenSE?

Scott Eric Kaufman

Ray, in one draft of that post, I wrote:

Ray already addressed the unflattering gamesmanship in the first paragraph, so I will focus my attention on the...

But I couldn't finish the sentence elegantly, so out it went. I think you're being a little too hard on the editors here, however. What they're saying in "The Intellectual Situation" isn't new -- Milan Kundera wrote a book about it a few years back -- but that doesn't mean it isn't worth saying (or repeating, whatever the case may be). Hell, I can't count the number of times I've been in the library reading some "revolutionary" account of something or other and had to stifle the urge to cough "Kenneth Burke" into my hands (for my own amusement, of course).

The mention of the Baffler brings back fond memories of my undergraduate years, when I'd sit in the bookstore reading back numbers for hours and hours. (True story: I didn't realize that my advisor was an editor for it until well after I'd hitched my wagon to his star. Sometimes, I like to pretend that I somehow knew all along.)

If n+1 had asked Turbulent Velvet to write anything, I'd probably unsubscribe. His is the kind of intellectual posturing we could all do without.

Marydell, you're certainly correct, but there is a representational logic at work here. As my own intellectual insecurity deepens, I'm more and more interested by the confluence of the literary and political notions of representation: does Jack London "represent" a political or an artistic movement; how do his representations play into our conception of the politics and art of the time, and do we consider them somehow representational? Alright, that sounds awfully pretentious, but I promise there's more to it than that. Grist for a future post, I suppose.

Constructivist, I'm not sure which of the lit-bloggers you ought to link to, because, well, I don't link to them. I read Maud Newton, Scott Esposito and Edward Champion via RSS, but they're mainly for background, like The New York Review of Books. As for the number of hits the Hawthorne site gets, I should probably click over when I read it, but I only do that when I comment. It may look like far fewer people are reading it than you think. I can't contribute much to a Hawthorne/Morrison conversation, but I've learned a hell of lot by lurking ... which is good, since now I'm a C19th guy and need to know it.

Ray Davis

Just to clarify, Scott, I think a lot of the n+1 editors. (In case even that's too ambiguous, I don't mean I obsess over how to damage their lives; I mean I respect them a great deal. I greatly respect most of the people I publicly disagree with or append to. Tut-tutting at someone like Ann Coulter would be too much of a fulltime job.)

That's why when I suspect them of going wrong, my first impulse is to Blame the System. In this case, sure, they (like me, like you) got disappointed by most "lit-blogs". But I think their response said more about the old medium they work in than the new medium they're supposedly responding to.

Turbulent Velvet came to mind as one of the earliest anti-utopian voices on my usual rounds, and those pieces didn't sound like "posturing" to me. Unless you mean like Jack Nicholson in The Departed: "Ha ha. She fell funny."

Rich Puchalsky

As I wrote back at the start, I think that the problems with "The Intellectual Situation" are representative of the problems with n+1 in general. I don't think that it has anything to do with the medium that they work in. I think that it has to do with their ideas about what they're doing.

Look at, say the discussion of "whither literature" (in issue #4)? Sure, there were some individually interesting essays. But they had all been editorially chosen as if their writers were pronouncing judgement on entire genres or forms. The effect is one of, at best, myopia, at worst, provincialism.

The Constructivist

Scott, thanks for the encouragement on CitizenSE as well as for the lit bloggers' names. (Someday I'll have to look into that RSS thing. I am so Web 1.969.) My entry into the lit bloggers' world was The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, which just closed shop (he even pulled his archives--wonder what's up?). BTW, have you read Colleen Lye on Jack London in America's Asia? I was much impressed. OK, back to golf not-quite-live-blogging.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Ray, I suppose I see it a little differently: in this case, the medium's important because print's the slower, less disposable of the two. They argue there for, I don't know, "critical lethargy," a performed slowness which affords a body time to be genuinely critical. So while it looks like the pish-poshing of the new by the old, it's actually central to their point, no? (Not to say there isn't a reason they value slowness, and that their unfamiliarity with certain online nooks isn't responsible for that.)

As for Turbulent Velvet, I'm not following (in no small part because I haven't seen The Departed). My encounters with him have been wholly unpleasant: rank condescension coupled with an enviable lack of self-awareness about the context and implications of his own statements.

Rich, what I said to Ray applies here too inasmuch as what they're doing has quite a bit to do with the medium they're doing it in. And while that discussion of literature in #4 drew some, shall we say, highly dubious distinctions, there's something to be said in favor of open declarations of aesthetic criteria. Too often those conversations trade in pithy misdirections about "the literary." I prefer someone say "this is what it is," as I can actually argue with that. (As opposed to the subtle non-distinctions which pass for aesthetic theory in this day and age.)

Rich Puchalsky

Open declarations of aesthetic criteria are fine, but overgeneralization? That's fine within a particular context: the blog comment box. It's good to have a medium in which you can write strongly for two paragraphs and fulminate about how writing is being destroyed by the writing workshop, or something. But it's not something that I associate with critical lethargy, a performed slowness which would seem to imply careful thought. The n+1 people are in the amusing position (to me, anyway) of disparaging lit-blogging while editing a body of work that would make a great lit-blog, and in my opinion makes a not so great literary magazine.

That body of work does have individual essays that are quite good, of course. But I get the impression that the more highly edited they are, the worse they are. WBM, for example, already is writing his essays about the current situation, so getting him to do one for n+1 doesn't change what he writes. But their editorial vision for the magazine is strong, and I don't think that it produces good writing in people who do write specifically for them.


Echo: great post. Indeed, very thoughtful.

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