(Note: Garth Hallberg at the Millions beat me to the punch on some of what follows and some have advised to simply let the whole affair die and move on but I'd already begun this when his post went up and I wanted to see it through. Those who have had their fill of this discussion should avoid the temptation to click through and read today's literary posts instead, as it's otherwise business as usual around here. For those who have had their fill of this discussion, I've hidden the post after the jump. n+1's input was solicited and appears at the end. Haters, beware.)
Sometimes one needs to back away from the keyboard and cool down a bit. Time away from the PC is salutary and I recommend it. I've taken just such a breather from the storm to which I've contributed and I'm returning in a different frame of mind.
You know you've utterly ceded the moral high ground when Gawker comes across as the voice of reason. But when one sets aside anger, irritation and all those other dangerous – and yes, petty – motives, it's hard to argue with their assessment of this donnybrook. n+1 essentially said nyah-nyah to bloggers in their pages, and this blogger – and throughout what follows I speak for myself only - fell all over himself to say nyah-nyah right back. The ensuing name-calling redounds to neither of our credit.
(This post is enormous – apologies in advance – but the n+1 editors have extolled the virtues of length, urging bloggers to compose 5,000 word pieces, so now they've got one. I hope you'll stick through to the end, holding final judgment in abeyance until then. I've tried to avoid anything that smacks of mere defensiveness though I suspect I haven't been entirely successful.)
First things first. The posting of the n+1 letters will stop and this post will attempt to sort through the debris and try to take a look at some worthwhile, deeper questions this affair raises. It will own up to mistakes made. It will be critical, both of n+1 and myself, but it will, I hope, be fair and put this conversation back on track, if it's at all possible at this late stage in the game.
I began this exercise with what seemed to me a clear, simple purpose. To show that the public posture of the n+1 editors toward blogs was inconsistent with their behind the scenes stances. The easiest way to do this seemed to be via primary sources – the editors' own words.
I think, now, that this was a misjudgment but not for the reason most are likely to think. It's not that I believe there was anything morally or ethically wrong with reproducing those emails. (This is likely to be the most contentious point I make here, and it's also probably the part that sounds most defensive, but again, please try to bear through this.)
A little background. During the angry exchange Keith Gessen and I have referred to, I did advise him that I reserved the right to print all letters I received. Since that exchange, Gessen has written to me a number of times – once to thank me for a link to his review of Saturday, and once to thank me for asking people to contribute to n+1 in the wake of the theft of their party proceeds. Given his willingness to continue to correspond with me, I took that – rightly or wrongly – as a shared understanding of my stance on our correspondence.
That said, having taken the above-referenced reflection time, I do understand why people might think it was wrong of me to run these letters. Trying to see this from both sides, instead of fueled by anger, I'm genuinely sympathetic to and don't fully disagree with those who believe I erred in printing these letters and I don't dismiss their stance out of hand. I do not think it was unethical or illegal but I do believe it was unseemly and petty.
Ultimately, though, I don't think printing or not printing these emails matters that much because here's what I think my real misjudgment was:
The underlying point I was trying to make, a point that at the time seemed so important to me, was wrong. Or at least, irrelevant. That somehow, it became critical to prove there was some hypocrisy in n+1's approach to blogs. Now, in the light of day, I find myself thinking, "So what?" How important a point is it really, to establish this inconsistency – whether real or merely perceived by me – and anyway who among us hasn't displayed some inconsistency over time? When I am honest, it's not, ultimately, a matter of grave literary importance - and this is a literary blog, after all - and was surely driven in part by a fair amount of pique. For that, I apologize.
Some months ago in an excellent New Yorker profile, Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush's national security advisor said something that has stayed with me. Discussing his negotiations with the Soviet Bloc, Scowcroft maintained that – and this is a paraphrase – one must always assume his or her foe proceeds from a position of good faith. If you simply assume that everyone is out to screw you, you'll go mad. I've tried to keep that principle in mind since then but I lost it in this scuffle, so I am consciously applying it here: I believe that n+1 believes that what they are doing flows from the most noble motives.
Cynics will say that, fueled by ressentiment at the visibility of blogs, addled by Totgeschwiegen, n+1 ran The Blog Reflex for the attention they were sure it would generate. Just as cynics will say I posted this merely because some people criticized me. (Folks, I've been name-called by the best and at length; one develops a thick skin. If you think a little criticism in the comments box worries me, you don't know me.) And the cynics are welcome to those interpretations but I'll say you're wrong on both counts, and I'm not addressing what follows to you.
At this point, it's worth offering a basic recap of the position on both sides. There's no rancor here, just a layout of where things stand:
1) The public comments of the n+1 gang suggest they find most blogs in general – and this one in particular – disappointing and worthy of scorn.
2) My own public comments suggest that I find n+1 similarly disappointing and worthy of scorn.
3) Animus has entered the picture, at least between Marco Roth, Keith Gessen and myself, which has led to all sorts of bad behavior on all fronts.
It seems to me that at this juncture, the options are either to descend deeper into name calling and finger pointing; we can shut up, walk away and ignore one another (as some have advised), periodically lashing out in private and public japes; or to seek out any opportunities that present themselves in this mess.
So, in the name of being able to move ahead and examine said opportunities, and because I think it is the right thing to do, I apologize for my not inconsiderable contributions to this blowup.
I also apologize for the discomfort the printing of the n+1 emails might have caused. In retrospect, I agree with those who find it petty and not in keeping with the spirit I've tried to promote here. I'm not a petty person as a rule but I'm capable of petty responses and I fell into the reflexive trap of feeling that the Blog Reflex required a response; it didn't, for reasons noted later. I should not have run those letters and I certainly won't do anything similar again.
What I'm hoping to do with the remainder of this post is, with apology tendered and a presumption of n+1's good faith before me, take a look at some of the deeper and more interesting questions that are before us – something I ought to have done at the outset. They're not necessarily the deepest or the best questions but they're the questions that interest me and seem like they might be of legitimate interest to my readers; at least, of more interest than squabbles. To wit:
What is good and what is bad about n+1?
What is good and what is bad about The Elegant Variation? (I don't propose to speak for blogs as whole – I am only qualified to talk about my own backyard.)
What purpose can and should blogs serve?
How do both coexist in the literary ecosystem?
There will be more questions, blunt opinions and even a few more apologies ahead, so, if you haven't dropped out yet, stay close.
Keith Gessen is right to state that I asked for a copy of the inaugural n+1. The appearance of a new, apparently serious-minded journal seemed very much the sort of story that I try to keep abreast of. He's also correct that a copy was sent and that I did not review it in depth, that I merely provided a few links to their site. I also never followed through on my plans for an n+1/Believer comparison (about which more presently). I've been accused of having eyes larger than my stomach – the final John Banville interview installment remains untranscribed – and for that, certainly, my readers deserve an apology for promises deferred. OK, let's talk about n+1. This discussion is overdue and they do deserve my best effort at a fair shake.
What's good about n+1? Well, setting aside the personal sniping, quite a few things. Although I find the size of each issue flirts with overkill, there is always something worthwhile to be found; always a contributor of note, a lively essay, an exceptionally well-written piece. Some examples include memorable contributions by Sam Lipsyte, Daniel Alarcon, Gregoire Bouillier and Phillip Connors.
Additionally, the energy of the magazine's editors is an undeniable asset – although it cuts both ways, and can become a liability, as we'll see. But they are curious and diligent and for all the bad-mouthing, I think they are neither dilettantes nor hacks; nor is the publication "a worthless rag."
Above all – in accordance with the Scowcroft Doctrine – I do not question that they believe passionately in their mission. As with their energy, there's good and bad that comes with that but I am convinced that their motives are fundamentally constructive, not mean-spirited (even if their actions can belie that), and I think they deserve genuine props for embarking on as Quixotic a venture as publishing a Journal of Ideas – and keeping it going through five issues.
These are honest thoughts about the virtues of their enterprise and I'm sorry I wasn't vocal about these sooner, and that I didn't temper my criticisms with these points. My prior comment have been, I think, lazy criticism at best, unfair at worst.
So what's bad about n+1, to this reader at least?
First, some clarity is called for about when my prevailing opinion of the enterprise went negative. Gessen's proposed narrative is that Marco Roth was snotty about me and thus began a vendetta. So let's lay it out for all to see (briefly, I promise). Here's the comment in question. Scroll down, you'll see it but here's the whole offending passage:
"There’s no sense in putting some of the postings I’ve read here and on Ray Davis’ Pseudopodium in the same boat with Mark Sarvas."
Continue down, you'll see plenty of readers came to my defense. When someone alerted me about the post, I sent Marco the following:
Sent: Friday, December 9, 2005 08:37 PM
Just came across your dig at me over at The Valve. Not sure what I've done to deserve it, having been supportive of n+1 (despite its excesses) but it's good to know where one stands.
Marco never replied, and I promptly got on with my life. Now, as Gessen would have it, Roth's aside so incensed me that I lay in wait for an opportunity to get back at him – and did so by posting about ... Benjamin Kunkel (about which more in Part 3). Later that day, when I read Roth's latest in the NYTBR, I came back and updated the post because – as I think the post makes clear – there's are clear thematic links between the two items – the obvious silliness of both pieces, and Kunkel on dating versus Roth on romance. But I concede that links that seem obvious to me might not be to everyone.
(Aside – here's a link to the Roth review so you can determine for yourself if – as Gessen has averred with what appears to be a straight face – Marco Roth is "is one of the two or three best critics now working in America--period. " I find the review both pedantic and silly. Your mileage may vary.)
The n+1 editors, all being well-educated lads, are all too familiar, no doubt with the Post Hoc fallacy, from the Latin post hoc, ergo propter hoc. A summary can be found here but the short version is that it's the fallacy of assuming that since B follows A, A caused B. (The rooster crows when the sun rises, therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.) Of course, n+1 – and you, dear reader – are entirely free to believe that Marco's remark uncorked in me a loathing of n+1 that continues to rage to this day. But, I remind you, I have been called far, far worse, far more prominently and at greater length than in an aside in the comments box of an academic blog.
Equally, the reverse applies. When Gessen and I had our dustup, I predicted to a friend that the next issue of n+1 would contain a broadside against blogs. But it would be immature, grandiose and a bit paranoid of me to assume that simply because events unfolded in that sequence, I was the cause. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.
So when did the bloom really leave the n+1 rose for me? It began with their lengthy essay from James Wood – the one I wrote to ask Gessen about, to see if it was going to be offered online – or, more precisely, with their response to it. Here, I thought, was a golden opportunity to do precisely what they'd be angling to do – stir up a big, smart, angry, interesting conversation. Wood obliged by responding to an item in their first issue with as clear and thoughtful a look at his ideas of the role of the critic as he has ever written anywhere. And the response of the editors?
They promised to respond in the next issue. With a roundtable on "the current situation of American Fiction," in lieu of a reply.
Well, that was a disappointment – these guys were supposed to be world-class brawlers, up for taking on the world, and it's not like there wasn't plenty of time between issues to be able to respond. But they deferred. OK. Perhaps Wood's piece arrived too close to deadline.
That was a mild disappointment compared to the tedious colloquy on American Writing Today which followed and utterly failed to pick up the challenge Wood laid out. Here's how they explained it:
"In Number Three, n+1 published a long reply from the critic James Wood to our earlier commentary on contemporary fiction and criticism. With all the ardor of critics facing an honored adversary, the Editors sat down to reply to Wood's reply and to clarify the position of a progressive and confrontational literature against the defense of the permanent and humane. Editor 1 wrote an elegant manifesto – which Editor 2 crossed out before writing his own. Editor 3 cut the result in favor of his contrary views. Editor 4 mixed in. This went on for weeks. Once everyone had deleted everyone else's unique position, we were left with a magisterial 250-word thank you note.
We concluded that perceptions of contemporary writing and criticism differ so sharply, even among those who think they agree, that the last word should not belong either to Wood or to us. We've asked a number of critics and writers representing different areas of contemporary writing to join the debate.
Contributors were asked about the conditions of production of new work; its character and traits; and the figures and creators who have most influenced each field. In an era of repetition, we need a debate on American writing that begins where academic histories end."
Which is also where my respect for their enterprise skidded to an abrupt halt. That's the moment that sealed what I'd begun to suspect from the tactical retreat at the end of the Wood essay.
Because as interesting as they might find this discussion, it does not begin to remotely address any of Wood's points. The brave fighters blinked. In my opinion, they were outclassed, outthought, out-argued and they knew it, so they retreated for the bland safety of the group. They'd gotten what they wanted – a meaty, fascinating dispute front and center, and they balked. I don't know about you but I would have welcomed seeing Editor 1,2,3 and 4s responses. Why this need to speak with a single voice, especially when they don't agree? How about explaining what the hell a " progressive and confrontational literature against the defense of the permanent and humane" is supposed to mean. Any of these would have sufficed. Instead, we're treated to Benjamin Kunkel's dreary thoughts about the novel, more suited to an undergraduate term paper.
Which brings me to the first part what I think is the real problem with n+1. To be fair, as I've said, each issue contains something that is well worth notice. But it's inevitably written by someone other than n+1's editors. The magazine is at its best when its editors are silent; whereas when they set aside their grease pencils in favor of their typewriters, one feels trapped in an earnest, overheated dorm bull session that's gone on too long. And the preponderance of their bylines in each issue sometimes make the enterprise feel uncomfortably close to vanity press.
What follows is purely an assessment of their work, not a personal assessment. I want to be clear on this. I publicly renounce my name-calling ways and will limit my criticism – blunt as some of it may be – to the actual work. I make every effort to divorce my personal feelings and focus solely on their editorial and authorial chops, and to own up to personal feelings where they're unavoidable.
On Mark Greif, I have the least to say. I have no real impressions of him or his work. He seems the George Harrison of this group, the quiet n+1er. I found his presumed satire against exercise merely silly (sillier still if meant to be taken seriously), whereas his thoughts on redistribution improbably held my interest longer than I expected it to.
Benjamin Kunkel is another matter. I'd like to be clear: I have no feelings of personal dislike for Kunkel – something I can't claim about some of the others. He seems less eager to offend. But I find his writing uniformly dull. Whether written for n+1, The New Yorker or the New York Times Book Review, his work is preternaturally bland, that of an undergrad eager to impress. I challenge any reader to find an actual point of view in this beyond a desire to show how well-versed in The Romantics he is. Indecision was one of the most excruciating reads I've undertaken since launching this blog – and I consciously spiked my initial negative review because I didn't want its first notice in the blogosphere to be so resoundingly negative. (Something I pointed out to Gessen when he accused me of vendetta although, in retrospect, perhaps I should have reviewed it, if only to counter his charge of "boosterism.") His writing doesn't enrage, it merely bores.
Marco Roth's formidable intellect is inarguable albeit on continual and ostentatious display but his writing is marred by a combination of unbridled self-love and anger; a dull combination. (I'll return to this question of anger in some more detail presently.) I don't finally share Roth's fascination with and admiration of himself – but to be fair, he'd likely have the same to say about me. It's also fair to admit that he is also the sole member of this editorial committee against whom I admit real animus – animus which predates his comments about me - so you are invited to consider my judgment in that light. But I welcome seeing more essays by Roth in which Roth is not a prominent subject. (His Derrida essay says more about him than it does about Derrida. Have a read and form your own opinions, if you can make it to the end.)
Keith Gessen is the trickiest for me. He remains the best reason to read n+1. That I say this despite all that has passed between us will, I hope, carry some weight. He is a hothead, quick to anger and insult but so am I. I respect his intellect and his critical chops. He's the only one with a clear point of view and a compelling voice. And yet, even he loses sight when it comes to his own work – his Dave Eggers piece in the debut issue considerably overstays its welcome. Yet, despite the venom that's passed between us, I don't feel about him as I do about Roth. In truth, I'm most disappointed that he and I haven't been able to stay out of the sandbox (I wonder if he's at all alive to the irony of his own contributions to the Decivilzing Process; one might almost chalk his and Roth's comments up as a brilliant bit of postmodern performance art but good faith has its limits) and I'll go on the record here predicting he is the only of the n+1 team we'll still be reading a dozen years from now. It's our enmity I most regret.
Ok, so I've established that I think the editors of n+1 are a mixed bag of writers at best. That's certainly part of what I don't like about the magazine. For me, the other key shortcoming arises from relying on anger as your only fuel. Everywhere you look in the n+1 universe, the editors seem invariably outraged about one thing or another. One the one hand, it can be contagious – I certainly got caught up and, in hindsight, I regret it. It brought out the worst in me and did disservice to both my readers and to n+1.
Here's Roth, tellingly, on Dale Peck:
"An angry man, a sick man, he writes from the depths of resentment, a feeling so long banished from the quid pro quo culture of approval which suffuses the world of novel-writers and reviewers that its very upsurge promises fresh convictions and ideas."
He could, it seems to me, almost be talking about himself. The disturbingly approving tone of this, as much as anything, serves as a window into the anger which seems to animate these editors. No doubt many will find it bracing. I find it tedious and, finally, enervating.
I remember my college days. I worked at the NYU newspaper and my co-editor and I would sit down and think about the most outrageous possible stances we could take, calculated to infuriate. We actually came out against Live-Aid. (Boy, did the hate mail come in after that.) It was amusing enough for a few twenty-year olds, but every time I read the Intellectual Situation or come across one of their more improbable public pronouncements, I feel like I'm back at NYU. Dudgeon for its own sake doesn't carry one very far, not in the long run.
Unlike some of my more pugilistic blogging brethren – and contrary to the evidence on display in this latest go around – I take no real relish in fights. n+1's anger may burn on for years, pushing them from issue to issue but my anger flares up quickly – too quickly sometimes – and then burns out. I'm far too lazy and undisciplined to actually hold a grudge. Instead, I'm usually left – as I am now – with a strange, abiding sadness at having participated in a pointless brawl, and shame at how willingly and easily I succumbed to the trivializing impulse, wasting both my and my readers' time.
So when all is said and done with respect to n+1, I am simply not personally interested in anger as a mission statement. When n+1 merely throws punches for punches sake – as the often seem to – they don't interest this reader. And I'm sure they'd be the first to advise me that I'm invited to go read something else. I am sure I can be forgiven for preferring the calmer – and no less relevant – climes and cooler heads of the New York Review of Books, A Public Space, Granta, Times Literary Supplement, The Paris Review and – yes – The Believer.
After being so blunt looking at the good and the bad in n+1, it seems only fair to turn that same assessing gaze inward, since much of my own bad and too little of my good has been on display here over the last few days. First, though, I'd like to lead in with a brief consideration of The Blog Reflex.
Roth has said that "One purpose of polemic, however, is to drive reform and mine the depths to raise people out of them." The Blog Reflex failed to do that on its own terms – it was far too general and ad hominem to be effective – but, in what is surely a case of the Law of Unintended Consequences, it may yet have a salutary effect. Much has been made about the fact that The Intellectual Situation, at a deeper level, deals less with the pernicious effect of blogs and more with the pernicious effect of immediacy in communication. Fair enough, and this affair certainly has proved them right, albeit probably to their mild discomfort. But one must ask, why call the piece "The Blog Reflex"? At best, one can accuse them of, if not courting a certain level of controversy, then at least of obscuring their own point. They did appear to chose to emphasize blogging with their choice of title, so protestations that the piece isn't really about blogs strike me as disingenuous. Finally, the piece does seem to be chiding blogs for not being something that most of them are not trying to be – a vehicle for the kind of lengthy disquisitions n+1 specializes in.
At this point I would respectfully suggest the editors consider posting the piece on their website, and I urge readers to politely ask them to do so. The piece has been discussed only in snippets and should be read and discussed by people who can't easily lay hands on a copy of n+1. That would be a further contribution to civilizing this process.
The problem with The Blog Reflex is that we really saw no new insights into what's wrong with blogs. There's nothing in the piece that hasn't already been brought up many, many times before – Sam Tanenhaus has publicly made similar complaints – and so I realize that the mad rush to address their claims was both unnecessary and, yes, a not very admirable reflex. I find myself wishing I'd exercised a bit more restraint, and simply let the essay go unremarked upon. I suspect, however, it won't be the last time I fail do restrain myself.
That said, despite the familiarity of these complaints, many remain valid. I will publicly 'fess up to bouts of carelessness and pique. And I agree that the temptation of the Publish or Send button is sometimes impossible to resist. But I've also tried, in my way, to take thoughtful criticism seriously. Certainly, when Tanenhaus talked about sloppiness at blogs, I took it seriously, and it gave me cause to do a bit of self-appraisal. Whatever meager improvements resulted will surely still fail to satisfy the n+1 editors but I'll continue that process – including looking to see what, if anything, I can take away from The Blog Reflex.
So what's good about The Elegant Variation?
Plenty, I think, though I'm scarcely objective. I'd like to think that, despite Gessen's accusations of "boosterism," I've served as a place for people to learn about both new and forgotten works of literature. I know that if nothing else, I'm personally responsible for adding a bunch of new John Banville fans to the world. So I suppose I'm a Banville booster. Well, I've been called worse.
I've also tried to present interviews with authors from all walks. I've looked to review books that might not get attention elsewhere. I've promoted readings in Los Angeles and around the world. I've been a friend to the fledgling literary enterprise. I've tried to keep critics and editors honest – even if Gessen and I disagree about the Los Angeles Times Book Review (although we do agree that it's a shell of its former self). I've provided the literary news of the day, a fair amount of gossip and no shortage of laughs (I hope), some of them weaker (and cheaper) than others.
But above all, the most important thing I've sought to do is to create a congenial, friendly place where people can come have discussions about literature. Much has been bandied around about what value, if any, blogs have. This is where I locate the value of what TEV strives to do. Go through The Conversation archives. You will see plenty of contentious conversations. But with two notable exceptions – the current go-round being one – they've remained polite and constructive and thoughtful. This blog is a generally friendly place, n+1's anonymous name-calling defenders notwithstanding. Many passionate conversations have taken place here over the years, almost all conducted with a certain amount of decorum. The sort of flaming we've seen here this week is rare and I generally go to lengths to tamp down passions when they veer into the ad hominem. I don't see n+1 offering a similarly generous space for the conversations that they hope to spark but that's falling into the same trap of expecting them to be something they are not.
None of this seems to appeal to Gessen or Roth but that is their right. The subjectivity of taste can't be argued. (Well it can, but it gets you nowhere.) Here's Gessen in the New York Inquirer on the kind of blogs he likes:
"I think blog diaries—those are fantastic. For a while a couple of us were reading a blog by a guy who was trying to date strippers (unsuccessfully, but there was a lot of texting involved). It was fascinating! Some of the blogs by soldiers in Iraq were pretty incredible, though I've lost track of those. I wish someone would do a blog about the new season of Laguna Beach. Or maybe someone is."
OK. That's what Gessen likes. It's a bit cheap and voyeuristic for my own taste but if that's what he looks for in a blog, it shouldn't surprise me that he has little use for The Elegant Variation. I genuinely enjoy – and prefer – the conversation, the give and take. That interactivity is, I suspect, one of the features of blogging that make members of the print media most uncomfortable.
So what's wrong with The Elegant Variation?
I'm sure n+1 will have plenty to say here. But if I were as blunt with myself as I was with n+1, I'd say I can be sloppy and careless. I can be lazy and have been inaccurate. I can overdramatize – as Gessen correctly chides me for doing with respect to our correspondence. I have a lamentable weakness for the cheap laugh, which can cause me to miss making a deeper point. (The link to the Kunkel piece is a case in point; I linked to the TLS piece not because Roth had persecuted me; I linked to it because I thought it was funny. It made me laugh out loud, and I suspected it would make many readers laugh out loud. But I concede that going for the laugh doesn't do much to further the discussion. Incidentally, I do confess some confusion at Gessen's apparent disdain for "British magazines," since the British magazine in question is the afore-mentioned TLS, to which I believe both he and Roth have contributed. But it's true, I am partial to these British magazines.)
I also think I was wrong to introduce the notion of a n+1/Believer rivalry. I agree with Roth, there's no story there. The better approach would have been to evaluate how well, after time, each magazine had fulfilled its stated mission, since each began with a manifesto of sorts, one of anger, one of kindness. That seems to be the fair judgment Roth is asking for and, if I were going to take up the question at all, I ought to have done it that way.
If we can agree that we're different, that we're not doing or trying to do the same thing, and we shouldn't be held to the same measurements, then, as someone out there asked, can't we all just get along? Doesn't the literary ecosystem allow for both what n+1 offers and what The Elegant Variation offers?
I think it does – the world's a capacious place, right? But I haven't seen a tolerance of criticism coming from n+1. At times, they seem alarmingly Bushian – you're either with us or against us. Go back to Roth's and Gessen's comments at The Millions. The underlying thread seems to be that the only possible way you could fail to see our brilliance is you either didn't read us, you didn't understand us, or we were mean to you. Well, ok. That strikes me as a conversation stopper. Conversely, with the exception of this current affair, blogs seem to have by and large either been kind or indifferent to n+1. There's an easygoing tolerance that seems to accept all different flavors, whereas the n+1 Anger Mission sometimes seems to preclude similar generosity or, at least, peaceful coexistence. (I'm reminded of a joke from Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia, which may not have survived the US transition. One of the characters complains about the maddening difficulty of arguing anything with Karl Marx, who invariably replies, "Well, of course you'd think that – you're a brainwashed tool of the bourgeoisie." Gessen's reply at the end of this post amounts to the same kind of response.)
But really, as some commentators have noted, as the steam has begin to run out of this affair, why can't there be room for both? I am pretty sure I get more readers in a month than n+1 has had in its entire life span, but I'm equally sure that n+1's readers spend more time with them than they do here. Can only one of these be "the right way?" I don't think so.
So what next? Although I've made some cracks about everyone loving a good literary feud, I soberly admit that a feud is not interesting merely for its own sake. It's worthwhile when there's an idea being fought for. Personalities are trivial and should not be attacked. Again, to be utterly clear, I do regret responding to n+1 out of anger and apologize for that. It served neither of us well.
For my part, I'll continue to follow n+1 with interest. I'll certainly challenge them when they make ridiculous statements like Gessen's howler about Roth. (Which critic would Gessen have step aside so Roth can claim his rightful place in the top two or three? James Wood? Daniel Mendelsohn? Louis Menand? John Updike? I'd be curious to know.) But when I consider their work at all, I'll consider it fairly and I'll note the good not just the bad. I'll also refrain from personal attacks on them because I agree – they have no place in this discussion.
In Pankaj Mishra's recent NYTBR review of Susan Sontag's essays, he quoted her as saying: "There is no culture ... without a standard of altruism, a regard for others." If I'm to have a TEV mission statement, I'd think I'd like to claim this one. It's worthy to strive for – more worthy, I think, that endless anger, even if I fumbled the ball this time around.
As recently as January 30 of this year, I received an n+1 email addressed to their list of "media friends," advising me of the release of issue number 5. I have no illusions that we're likely to kick back over beers one day but the old-fashioned part of me vaguely longs for the day when a dispute like this would have been handled privately with a gloved challenge, pistols at down, a winged shoulder, honor restored and a restorative brandy at the Inn. My role in the public proliferation of all this has been unseemly and, I believe, at odds with my better angels.
I sent this post to Keith Gessen inviting his comments and any request for corrections of factual inaccuracies on behalf of n+1 prior to posting – something I have never done before. I also invited him to append a closing reply following the New York Review of Books "Keith Gessen replies" model, which I would let stand unedited as the last word. His reply, in its entirety, appears below:
http://www.nplusonemag.com/w.html http://www.nplusonemag.com/realitytv.html http://www.nplusonemag.com/theory.html http://www.nplusonemag.com/agamben.html http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=388 http://lrb.co.uk/v29/n06/grei01_.html
http://www.nplusonemag.com/swing.html http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/19/051219crbo_books http://www.thenation.com/doc/20020401/kunkel http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040301/kunkel
http://www.nplusonemag.com/torture.html http://www.nplusonemag.com/stupid.html http://www.powells.com/review/2006_10_01.html http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=571 http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=464 http://www.nplusonemag.com/frenchnovel.html
Yup, we're angry. There's a lot to be angry about. Now piss off. Keith"