Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pushing paper typing pouring coffee counts: Solidarity on the literary frontier.

Literary Cubs

A few weeks ago the New York Times published this article in the Fashion & Style section. It's a newspaper article focused chiefly on the salon-scene that the young men and women associated with the new critical journal the New Inquiry are kindling, to which a few people with whom I'm friends posted bemused reactions.

The New Inquiry is not referred to as a literary journal but the word "literary" is SEO-woven into the article. It is also compared to the Paris Review, which "look[s]...like a beach read" beside the New Inquiry, which is itself (the New Inq, that is) a journal of cultural criticism. Be-headlining a group of critics the new literary elite is a distressing move when one considers all the very brilliant literary journals that begin the same way, of the same dynamism, borne of the same unfortunate circumstances. What is admirable here is how much of a collective effort this is, how many people are working together very hard to make this a very good magazine. This is fandom, and

A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
(paraphrased, Fran Lebowitz, emphasis ripped off Linda Kunhardt

I am disappointed to see anyone - the NY Times style section is the least of the problem - not as alert to current goings-on in actual literary writing, as opposed to the bigger little publishing modes (the efforts of New Directions to continue being excellent, eReaders, etc) and the trappings of the fantasy external glamor haze of Literature. The New Inquiry addresses some excellent things: the Consultant Procedural and its demonstration of the "ladder-to-nowhere," demystifying mastery, and the necessity of scenes, to say nothing of the groundedness and determinedness they demonstrate in their reaction to the NY Times article and the reactionary articles that have sprung up around it, which makes me so happy.

But what troubles me is: this is establishment versus the Dream, the Dream as embodied by the "young and unmoored." If an establishment can't accommodate you, this is what you should do, you should start a journal, although the average sensitive, impressionable young reader who is also encumbered by student loan debt, who could use the inspiration that the very act of the New Inquiry should impart, may still be pummeled by the glitz: the Ivy league degrees, the smart circle of smartly-dressed friends, New York City, Brazenhead Books (although any mention of that makes me beam).

Additionally, it is sad to see only one feature so far, on the brilliant the Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich, has anything to do with contemporary literary writers. Hopefully there will be more on writers who are more the peers of the New Inq staff, and hopefully it will be of the same caliber as this piece on the New Girl.

Never Let Anyone Profile You in the Style Section

Gawker's reaction to the NYT article is framed within their ecstatically articulated repulsion with the Style Section but fails to comment upon the actual phenomenon. The tone and focus of the article is another spot of decay on the corpse. The journalistic irresponsibility of the romanticized trappings is made explicit, but in the end, the New Inquiry itself is dismissed along with it. Max Read is not wrong: "For hundreds of years, unbearable young people have tried to hang out with other unbearable young people." However unbearable young people may be, it is whatever they are creating that is of concern, and what they are doing is something very positive. But leaving it up to the NYT to decide that is part of the problem, ultimately, and he is right to assert that people will believe it is right-hand-up-to-god legit because of its place in the Style Section.

Name Dropping

This though I do love. I have a lot of notes in my off-brand spiral-bound inspired by the Marriage Plot about the camped-out drag-vibe I get from balls-out pretentiousness that I really love. This, I am aware, comes entirely from an incubated little lifetime of having extremely smart friends in a remote, rural village where there is nobody to impress and our only concern as teenagers was having fun with what we liked. So the anxiety and competition, though I'm aware of it, I wish it could just melt away and these parties could be like karaoke discotheques.

VIDA-Diss

After reading the NYT article and the Gawker reaction, I found this post on the Lavin Agency's tumblr about (New Inquiry founder, Lavin Agency employee) Rachel Rosenfelt's address to Book Expo America. When asked to present on the VIDA count, she responded "forget the pie charts" and opted to focus on the New Inquiry. While her assertion that women founding magazines is central to upending the reality revealed by the count, she could have established that within the context of the given topic and demonstrated solidarity. While it is good to see the New Inquiry's staff's dedication to espousing cooperation, as Managing Editor Malcolm Harris cites in his book Share or Die: Youth in Recession, this was a bummer to see. VIDA is made up of incredible, hard-working writers. VIDA Press Officer Ana Božičević's "Working Poet's Manifesto" is one of my favorite things I read all year, and her point needs to be perpetuated as badly: to make art, you have to work hard, you have to sacrifice, you have to do what it takes. When you are working that dismal office job, you can go home and hand-bind your friends' books for cheap or start a website.

I am glad this is the time I'm in.

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