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March 15, 2007

Comments

Poornima

Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy your blog thoroughly and am on your side as far as this discussion goes.

But I don't like the vehicle you are using to make your point--isn't there a commonly agreed upon courtesy that emails are somewhat confidential and should therefore not be plastered all over a blog. Or does that not apply anymore?

TEV

Poomina, let me take a stab at your comment and explain my view on this, understanding that reasonable people may disagree.

First, in general, I believe you email bloggers essentially at your own risk. We're public figures with public sites, and if you write in to us, good sense suggests that there's a likelihood it might see the light of day. (I know I personally treat any email I send with the presumption that it will be shared; I'm not paranoid or mistrustful, just realistic.)

That said, you should know I receive confidential email ALL THE TIME. I am privvy to all sorts of things and those who know me well know I am actually quite discreet and can keep confidences. There is always something going on that I know about but don't write here.

Additionally, if someone uses cofidentiality language in their email footer or specifically asks in an email to keep it "off the record" or "between us," I always do so. (The one exception will be a future n+1 letter, for reasons that I think will be clear to all.)

Finally, even when there is no off the record request, as a matter of policy I always write back and ask the writer's permission before posting anything here.

So why is n+1 different?

A few reasons but primarily because they have also set themselves up as public figures - have courted that, in fact. And they have taken a clear stance on blogs that, I think, requires a corrective, which comes most effectively in their own words. They have also accused bloggers of "precarious self-respect," and, again, their own words most effectively show that they are, in fact, talking about themselves.

Believe me, I've sat on these for a long time with little intention of running them here. But this is a case where, given the actions of the editors both in the pages of their magazine and around the blogosphere in comments sections, I feel completely justified running these letters.

But, as I said at the outset, reasonable minds may difer. I hope, if these letters aren't to your taste, that you'll skip over them and continue to read the rest of TEV.

Jimmy Beck

"Spider-Man, Spider-Man
Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man
Wealth and fame
He's ignored
Action is his reward..."

fairest

as funny as the comparison between the doris lessing and kunkel story is this is still unfair and unnecessary and hurtful and cruel. its also pornography. i dont know what kind. player-hating on lit-magazine pornography? but its pornography nevertheless because its unnecessary and contributes nothing to the discussion. why not write it on the back of your hand and then vogue? its not so elegant. as a "public figure" you should be more sensitive to that.

maybe if you get enough negative comments youll stop doing it and we can go back to reading how cool george saunders or paul auster is, or something at least easier to digest like how cool george saunders or paul auster is.

Murray

Mark--I never, ever try to tell people I read how to run their websites, but as a long-time reader of and linker to yours (and as a subscriber to n + 1, if that matters), I'm going to respectfully suggest that Gessen has a point in his comments at The Millions: If you're going to post n + 1's emails to you, perhaps you should also post the relevant emails you've written to them.

TEV

Murray, I do plan to. But my approach to n+1 has been reasonably consistent over time and the point here is to show that they've publicly said one thing while privately saying another. But you'll be seeing my half of the letters, too.

danup

Wow, I think they stole that spider story out of my eighth grade creative writing notebook. I hope they didn't find "I am a Transformer."

ALC

i have to say i've been a fan of this blog for a long time. as a publishing professional, it is the only one i read. but you are really demeaning yourself here, making yourself look petty. it's bad for your credibility, and bad for the blog. clearly gessen has struck a nerve with the litblogging community, whose insecurity was not so clear until now.

TEV

"ALC" I appreciate the comment; I realize this particular feature might not be to everyone's taste but I am determined that Gessen's hypocrisy should be aired. I'll take my lumps. That said, it's a bit of a tautology, isn't it? Someone accuses you of something and you can't step in and defend yourself without somehow confirming that? All I'm looking to do is to show Gessen's inconsistencies. As the lawyers say, it goes to credibility.

Poornima

"But you'll be seeing my half of the letters, too."

I'll be sure to tune out. This whole exercise is getting way too voyeuristic for me.

Lincoln

I'm interested in seeing where this is going and so here is a positive comment on the situation.

However, I really do think you need to post your own emails. Both for ethical reasons and also just to make their emails clear. Why is he writing you about the Intellectual Situation? What did you say to him about it?

Need the context I think.

TEV

Jeez, I thought everyone loved a nice public lit brawl ... Context to follow, but I think everyone has had enough of this one for today. (I know I have!)

ed

I agree with Lincoln. While all this is entertaining, I can't condone posting private email publicly like this. If you're going to go down this shaky road, Mark, you should at least print your side of the conversation.

Levi

I always seem to show up late at these parties.

While I agree in general that posting private emails is questionable, let's recognize that this whole "battle" is a rather leisured and (compared to other battles) good humored one. It's clear that Mark is not releasing any damaging information, and I'm sure he knows what lines not to cross. I say no personal foul here, though it was close.

whitney

Keith Gessen's letter is, above all, informative. He makes an interesting distinction between two models of magazine; just as Gessen astutely calls the second model "curatorial," we might call the second model "assertive" or "declaratory." And he gives a brief history, in the form of examples, of the tradition n+1 is continuing.

What's more, his letter is courteous. He is, after all, responding at length to a question Mark Sarvas evidently asked him about his magazine.

It's even funny.

In short, I learned a lot by reading it. I can't say the same for the Elegant Variation.

TEV

Whitney,

If you'd have bothered to actually pay attention to the point of these posts, as opposed to showing up here with your mind made up, you'd have noted that this is precisely the point. That for someone who disdains blogs in general and this one in particular, Gessen & Co. were quite friendly when there was soemthing to be gained. And if you had some of Gessen's later, vicious emails in front you, you wouldn't think him so courteous. But it's clear given the sudden spike in columbia.edu email addresses around here that the call has gone out and the n+1 faithful are rallying ...

There are more than 4000 posts over three years here. You are welcome to make your decision based on one.

James

Keep posting 'em, Mark. These people are taking that pretentious N+1 way too seriously.

N+1 intrigued me for about five minutes, until it became clear that its editors are just hucksters, salesmen hawking a product that is not at all what they'd like to think it is.

N+1 is, frankly, banal, and its articles are the sort of thing I could write myself. By that, I mean that the tone and critical postures and insights that make up an N+1 are so preditable, so tired, so worn, that I could anticipate and write a whole damned issue myself, and be not far off the mark.

James

Oh yeah, what I meant by "huckster" and "salesman" is perfectly exposed in this bit by Gessen:

We sent you an n+1 about a month ago, and I just wanted to make sure you received it. You're not under any obligation to write about us, of course, except... well, except that you are. Of course. No such thing as a free n+1. I look forward to it.

This guy might as well be peddling carpet cleaner. What a dork. Did you receive the free sample I left by your door last week? Have you had a chance to use it?

whitney

Pardon me: I meant to say we might call the *first* model, the one n+1 is following, "assertive" or "declaratory."

Mark: I did, in fact, read all of the posts in this discussion, and what I found to be missing was any analysis of the letter itself. You are, it seems, hoping that this and other letters will support your claim that Gessen and n+1 once ingratiated you and other lit-bloggers, before adopting their anti-blog stance. But what I see in the above letter is not ingratiation but rather a civil explanation of an editorial approach and process. Sure, it's courteous, but it's not "courting."

As for the rest of your blog--well, I have a lot of other reading to do here at columbia.edu.

All the best,
Whitney

Lincoln

"But it's clear given the sudden spike in columbia.edu email addresses around here that the call has gone out and the n+1 faithful are rallying ..."

Probably most of those are me procastinating by checking up on drama developments here and elsewhere.

I dont' think Columbia students have any particular attachment to N+1. Most don't even know there is any connection at all...

ella

James: As Gessen pointed out, and Mark conceded (see "the n+1 letters #1A," part of which is reprinted below), n+1 did not send Mark the magazine *unsolicited*--that is, n+1 did not leave a sample by his door, as you suggested. Mark *asked* for one, though he has failed to post the email in which he, Mark, requested a copy of n+1.

"In our comments box, Keith Gessen has chided us for having had the temerity to ask to see a copy of the debut of n+1. He's right, we did and we neglected to run this response to the request. (Our inbox is a bit disorganized.)"

Keith Gessen

It's Keith Gessen.

First of all, thank you to all the people who've gone on here to explain to Mark that this is not cool. I'm happy to let the emails speak for themselves, but Mark keeps alluding darkly to future emails, and his readers have no way of knowing that they don't actually exist.

The last post, about multiple "vicious emails," was simply a lie. Mark has exactly one (1) mean email from me, which I'll reproduce below. He also has an apologetic follow-up, which I'll also copy below. Mark has emails subsequent to those which are, once again, courteous, just as the emails reproduced thus far are courteous. This whole exercise is rather strange. Mark: I have always known your blog for what it is. But you have written me emails, and I have responded politely. You asked for an issue, I sent it. When you did not acknowledge receipt, I checked up. I contacted you first once and only once--after you'd written a dishonest thing on your site. Surely this is not assiduously courting. Anyway, if you ever get around to posting your own side of these emails, people will see that for themselves.

As for the mean email, it's below. What set it off was that Mark had spent a year writing us emails asking about the magazine (I answered), asking us to guest-blog on his site (I said no thanks), asking us to post an essay from issue 3 (I said no), and occasionally posting something to the effect of, There's a new issue out. Then Marco Roth, one of my co-editors, made an invidious comparison between Mark Sarvas and another blogger in a discussion about blogs at www.thevalve.org. It was not nice, but there it was. And suddenly, not long after, there was a post

http://marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/2005/12/why_we_love_tls.html

in which Mark approvingly quoted a TLS column comparing n+1 unfavorably to the mighty Norman Mailer on our engagement with important issues like the war in Iraq (we were supposedly engaged only with New York dating--partly true!); Mark also mocked Marco's great Derrida obituary for the n+1 website (www.nplusonemag.com/derrida.html); in a follow-up to the post, Mark made faces at a review Marco had written of a new Kafka biography in the New York Times (available on the Times site). Mark made no mention of the fact that Marco had criticized him on another blog. It just seemed like Mark Sarvas didn't like Marco Roth's book review in the Times. For some reason.

I found Mark's criticism of n+1 and Marco dishonest--quite aside from the Valve business, he at least knew, as the English writer he was quoting did not, that Issue 1 was very much devoted to the war in Iraq. I wrote:

Keith Gessen hide details 12/27/05
to info@marksarvas.com
date Dec 27, 2005 4:49 AM
subject post
mailed-by gmail.com

Dear Mark---Man, you're really something else. Don't you know how easy it is 1) for people to see how good that Derrida essay is, and 2) for people to look up Marco saying he doesn't like your blog--and then, before that, you variously promoting n+1 without, it now appears, ever having read it? Except I remember sending you a copy of the first issue, because you asked for it, and you claiming to read it--so how is it you didn't notice everything we wrote about the war in that issue (the intro to the entire magazine; the piece on W.; the piece on Abu Ghraib; the piece on the New Republic's war-mongering; the longest essay in the issue, "Mogadishu, Baghdad, Troy"), or in the second issue (Scialabba on Hitchens, Phillips-Fein on Naomi Klein, Mark Greif on Agamben and 9/11, Alexander Kluge on international security), or in the third issue (Marco on torture, Klare on oil and American foreign policy, Deb on Rushdie's Kashmir).... no, that's really--it beggars description, doesn't it, the hypocrisy and inaccuracy of the thing. As for dating, sex, the war of the sexes, men and women---of course that's a major theme in Mailer. But one would have to have read Mailer to know that, wouldn't one, just as one would have to read n+1, or Indecision, to know about those things. So, like I say, happy new year, and keep up the important work you're doing. --Keith

--

There it is, the vicious email. Not nice, but well-deserved. Mark wrote back, indignant; he also hinted darkly on his blog that he had received "hate mail from the n+1 editorial staff" (me); I wrote again, in response to his email:

Keith Gessen hide details 1/11/06
to Mark Sarvas
date Jan 11, 2006 5:43 AM
subject Re: post
mailed-by gmail.com

Dear Mark,

I just reread my initial email to you and boy is it mean. But I was
annoyed, and I'm still annoyed.

There are plenty of things to criticize about n+1--but "foolish,"
"trivial," and "moronic"? Come on. "Flavor of the month"? This isn't
dissent or criticism--and of course it's particularly annoying given
that it's just a reaction to Marco's having said something about you
in a blog discussion.

That's all I have to say about that. Also, just noticed your mention
of an email from the n+1 editorial staff. If you really intend to post
that, just please do it in its entirety, otherwise it's off the
record.

Keith

--

Er, that's it. Those are all the vicious emails in Mark's magic email vault. I'm sorry to have subjected you all to this, and I hope Mark can now go back to posting links to articles from British newspapers.

Best,
Keith

tao

i enjoyed your nice, calm, sincere (in its attempt to 'solve' 'problems,' rather than just wanting to prove someone else is a terrible person) comment made of up factual observations and concrete specifics, keith, thank you

mark, assuming that it's a fact that keith 'hates' blogs now, whereas he didn't before... do you want to prove that keith is a terrible person because he 'changed?'

it seems like you just want to murder keith or something, i really don't understand; maybe you're trying to publically embarrass keith so that people in the future are more afraid of 'changing' their 'views'

is that it?

it seems like you're trying to discourage people from 'changing,' like people who talked shit about john kerry for being a 'flip flop'


alx

James comes off as very whiny ("Why, I could do that myself!") and foolish (the sarcasm of "no such thing as a free n+1" didn't register?). It borders on the flippant to call the editors of n+1 "hucksters" -- I sincerely doubt they have made more than two dimes to rub together. And really, calling someone a dork reflects more poorly on you and your intellect than it does on the supposed dorks...

I'm afraid that Mark, for whom once I had respect, has come off a bit whiny and foolish as well. This has been a rather pathetic and revealing exchange.

TEV

People.

I've already begun a fairly lengthy post on all of this which was to include a retraction of some aspects of this donnybrook and amplification of others. You'll have to take my word that it was begun late yesterday, before Keith's latest, but it was.

I still intend to complete it and post it on Monday. I'd also planned to offer it to Gessen and his team prior to posting to give them the opportunity to comment and correct, and to reply unedited, if wanted. I still intend to do this. Until then, I would ask Gessen to stop throwing the word "liar" around, or at least confront his own catalog of half-truths and omissions noted at the Millions, and to acknowledge that n+1 is not quite as generous in providing its detractors space as I have been here.

All I'll say about the post is that it includes a discussion of the concept of Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, and would have been an attemnpt to return this discussion to a more constructive vein. As I said, that was prior to Keith's latest post and so it's probably too late for that now, I think, but I hate to waste the effort and there's still much in the post worth discussing. So, with that, I will absent myself from more back and forth comments here on this until a revised version of the post is completed.

Please be patient. It might surprise some of you.

TEV

One last point - Keith, your chronology continues to omit. Yes, I did offer you a guest blog opportunity; yes you declined it - with a suggestion that I interview Marco instead! You also wrote to me to thank me for linking to your McEwan review and you wrote to me to thank me for asking people contribute to n+1 after your party funds had been stolen - a post I put after my supposed newfound loathing for you. So, please, if you'd like to play the pre-empt game, that's your right but if honest and full disclosure is your tactic, then really be honest. Otherwise, your calling me a liar counts for little. And I'm quite fond of British newspapers ...

Jim

Mark, do yourself a favor. Don't post on Monday. Don't comment again. Let the thing die. It doesn't look good and I don't have faith that you can help yourself. In the future, run your ideas by someone with common sense. It'll keep your foot out of your mouth, where it frequently seems to be found.

TEV

You should have a little faith, Jim. It's good for the soul. And perhaps you'll make yourself available to me in the future for a common sense check as needed?

Jim

If only you were serious. Other than a few mean-spirited posts (which is when your trouble usually starts), you seem like an okay guy.

TEV

I'm serious about having faith. And, for what it's worth, you'll find a concerted absence of mean-spiritedness in my post. (You're quite right, I can shoot my mouth off.) So, in a way, I have taken your advice.

Faith, Jim. It's a wonderful thing.

Jim

Till Monday, I'll take your word for it. Good luck with the "nice" approach.

TEV

Well now, I never said "nice" ... Just not mean ... I'm aiming for honest and constructive. You'll have to let me know by how far I miss the mark.

Steven Augustine

Most of the sanctimony on display here isn't even being generated by the principal combatants.

stephan

sanctimonious and obsequious, perhaps. but then the desire to crack n+1's pages may be too strong for some.

James

Good lord, these N+1 minions are thin-skinned. The "huckster" thing I said in my last post seems to have really struck a nerve.

You people need to, uh, get a life.

Oh, and by the way, all you N+1 groupies, part of the "huckster" thing is that N+1 really defiles itself with its stupid Myspace page and its attempt to McSweenify itself by going on tour, etc. Lame. You're just a fucking magazine, but like every other huckster out there, you can't be content to be just a magazine, you have to try to be a lifestyle.

You're laughable and lame and, yes, dorks.

James

Oh, and when all you N+1 folks thought you had just arrived, in truth you had already become a joke.

I mean, seriously, me suggesting to a literary friend that they read N+1 would not be taken seriously.

Next time, try not to get so "hot" so fast. Just try to do a good job, not "brand" yourself, etc. You've made jokes of yourself by posing for photo spreads, having these stupid parties that you brag about having "overflow" into the Paris Review offices, putzing with your Myspace page, etc. You're trying to be hot and successful on Internet time, and chic and happening on Vanity Fair time, while at the same time issuing lordly pronouncements about the state of literature and such, and the disparity between your appetite for attention and your moralistic posturing has exposed you as the bunch of silly fools that you are.

Isn't this what the kids today call "pwned"?

zander

James: "me suggesting"? Go back to grammar school, pls.

James

I was just looking at the N+1 website out of a malicious desire to find more stuff to make fun of, and damn, was the effort rewarded. I didn't expect to find something this good:

Those silly fools are selling totebags emblazoned with the N+1 logo.

What kind of wretch would actually buy an N+1 totebag? What kind of pathetic, hipster herd mentality would that betoken? Damn, that's sad.

Whatever you may say about The Elegant Variation or other litblogs, at least you cannot say this of them: "They are selling totebags with their logo on them." Unfortunately, N+1, this can be said about you.

nms

Maybe I'm being too cynical, but this whole spat smells of some kind of mutual promotion pact to me. If so, it's worked-- my interest's been piqued enough to check TEV regularly instead of occasionally, and I've been reminded of n+1's existence, which I'd forgotten after I read the second issue. (That's not meant as a slam; the issue didn't do much for me, but it seemed likely to me that I just wasn't intelligent and/or educated enough to appreciate it.) But in the interest of honesty: are you guys in cahoots, or is the attention generated from this just a lucky accident?

w

James, you're getting caught up in the stuff that surrounds n+1. That's not the attitude of someone that cares about writing. That's the attitude of jaded passivity that every dude with a stilted attitude that he learned from TV brings toward everything and everybody who tries to do something in the world. It's the attitude of people who read celebrity magazines in order to seethe at people, and it's not one that you should be proud. And, of course, you surely are not proud -- as your fake email discloses.

n+1 is a magazine that takes hundreds of hours of work to put together. It ought to be judged on those grounds and those grounds alone. All the other stuff you're getting so hysterical about is meaningless. The New York Times Magazine wrote an article about n+1 and the Believer with a big portrait of Heidi Julavits and another glamor shot of Vendela Vida, and then a small, skronky looking shot of the founding editors of n+1 in Keith Gessen's Crown Height apartment. That's what magazines do -- they illustrate text with photographs. As for the parties -- hundreds of sociable, intelligent, and attractive people doing interesting things have gotten together and had a good time in each other's company on several occasions. Usually the drinks were $1 a bottle. What's "stupid" about that? No, really, James, why is that stupid?

n+1 is not for everyone, and that's fine. The people that are its intended audience get it. Others don't have to, but they shouldn't mistake their own incomprehension for a meaningful criticism. One person that likes n+1 a lot is David Remnick. He's already snapped up three of their writers to write for his magazine.

Now, far be it from me to make an argument from authority. It should not be decisive to anyone that a guy like Remnick would see the value in n+1. But, here's the thing -- Remnick has a record that you can look at -- a record as a writer and an editor -- just as EdRants also has a record and TEV also has a record. And if you go by the record of Remnick's works and his judgments and you compare them to the record of EdRants and TEV's works and judgments, and, considering the wide disparity in their views, and forced to choose between them -- it's hard for a fair minded person not to go with Remnick. Indeed, given that choice -- which is in fact the choice that is given us by fate and circumstance -- who could possibly side with you, James?

That's not to say that we should be slavishly deferential to the New Yorker, as almost everyone in any way connected to the writing world seems to be these days (for good reason, as its the only venue that pays well for good pieces) -- it has plenty of problems. But it's also a reliable source of interesting things to read, in a way that few other magazines are. Anybody that cares about writing knows this. n+1 is also, in its own way, a reliable source of interesting things to read. Every issue has been worth reading. It courts controversy, it can be too clever by half, it can be glib and supercilious, but it's always well-written and highly controlled. It's not something that can be easily dismissed by anyone that cares about writing. It can, however, be easily dismissed by people who seethe with a resentment that they little understand and that is constantly seeking targets upon which to thrust itself. Such people need to get lives.

Steven Augustine

Agree with the bulk of that last comment from "W" or not, it certainly makes one feel less tainted for participating in this discussion than certain previous entries have. That is to say, why are the intelligent, literate, passionate-about-literature people on either side of this fracas fighting, really? And whose 'side' are the dumber comments really supporting?

James

It's wonderful that David Remnick likes your magazine; really, it is.

My criticism is simple: your efforts to court fame and attention and become luminaries is rather unliterary, because your product has, so far, been unworthy of the worldwide attention you have so eagerly sought. You need to focus on becoming worthy of fame and attention, and then start posing for photo spreads. You guys are the irritating sort who have just taken a handful of literature and philosophy classes but foolishly think this equips you to become famous cultural critics. Your plotting of your rise to eminence is too transparent and you've become laughable.

We can almost hear you ticking off the list in your head: "Okay, we've got Indecision, which is kind of like our AHWOSG; we're having big literary parties, which makes us kind of like the Paris Review; and we are contentious and political and angry, which makes us kind of like The Partisan Review.

The articles you have trumpeted as your best work are just foolish. The obituary about Jacques Derrida that is packed with self-congratulatory asides ("he noticed that I didn't have an American accent! That makes me so cool!" ... "my mother's Left Bank friends ... how bohemian my pedigree is!"). That stupid, stupid article about Badiou that you're still trying to live down. (You guys are all so indignant that you are being unfairly criticized, but you sure didn't hesitate to publish that foolish article unfairly maligning someone else, did you?)

Sorry, you guys are taking this all too seriously. You take yourselves too seriously and you take these criticisms of you too seriously. You can, as they say, "dish it out but you can't take it." Why do you care so much?

fats

boodle gold.

Excellence

James,

A handful of literature and philosophy classes? As several people in the media have been eager to point out (and make faces at), all of the editors did BAs at either Harvard or Columbia, and two went on to do PhDs at Yale. To say they've taken a handful of literature and philosophy classes is blatantly false.

The articles you cite as the ones n+1 has "trumpeted" are all web-only articles. You apparently laughed off the magazine before ever opening its pages. The cultural criticism in the print issues is incisive--much more probing than, for instance, your observation that a magazine is "plotting [its] rise to eminence"--and I'd be happy, as an n+1 reader, to give examples if you're interested. After reading a handful of articles on the magazine's website (and only the controversial ones, at that), you are not very "equipped" to deride n+1's literary and cultural criticism, now, are you?

E. Aldrige

w

Nobody courted fame, and it's not "me" that did the not-courting. I know the n+1 people socially, but I've written a lot more that is critical(like actually critical rather than snidely dismissive in a juvenile way) of them than is positive about them. The Times Magazine piece was not a bid for stardom, and the photograph was a requirement of the magazine grudgingly agreed to. I know as much about what there is to love or hate about the magazine as there is to know.

There's some of both, and trust me, you've created a monster in your head that's animated entirely by your fears and self-contempt and your resentment at a world -- that really ought to be resented, it's a terrible, corrupt place -- but it has nothing to do with n+1. It's a debatable question whether n+1 was "ready" or "good enough" to be featured in a major magazine when they were -- it was just the beginning, after all -- but nobody starting a magazine is going to turn down the opportunity, and the Scott piece turned out to be an intelligent one on larger issues, not just a shill piece for n+1.

It's a matter of injustice that the New York media never paid any attention to Hermenaut or the Baffler, two small predecessor magazines that carried out the mission of the small magazines very well -- keeping alive a critical spark for writers at a time when everybody was carried away with the false euphoria of the Clinton years. And it's a matter of injustice that the reason the media paid some fleeting attention to n+1 and never paid any to Hermenaut is that Hermenaut also threw big parties in the late 90's -- but those all happened in Boston, while n+1 happens to be in New York, where tastes are made. Hermenaut was more innovative qua magazine than n+1 is -- A Public Space, for instance, basically ripped of their design wholesale -- they drew from a wider cross-section of zine and alternative culture to create something that was generationally specific in a way that n+1 doesn't try to do. Bu then there are the kinds of people who sought out Hermenaut and the Baffler when they existed, and who would have sought out n+1 whether or not it was written up in the Times. I guarantee that the people, like you, who get hysterical about the fact that n+1 was in the Times, and that they sell totebags -- are the people who wouldn't. They just wait for things to appear in the Times and then shit on them.

So. That's all too bad, and lamentable, but then, people in every field of creative endeavor pay a steep premium to live in New York City and sometimes, if they are lucky, and if they are good, they reap the benefits. If n+1 hadn't published things as good as Babel in California, and if it weren't consistently stocked with things that draw you in and keep you engrossed all the way through, no one would care. That's not the same thing as being the Holy Grail or the same thing as being the instrument that delivers our intellectual future to us, but it's pretty darn good.

There's an obvious disconnect between the lofty aspirations of the magazine and the sometimes hit or miss reality of its web content, and the rather threadbare conditions in which it is produced -- but the people who hate the magazine -- admit it -- don't really hate it for its failures to attain its aspirations; they hate it for the aspiration itself. They are far more comfortable with Gawker, that characteristic generational expression, taking that comfortable attitude of japing passivity at everything and everyone, and using its own voluble self-contempt as a fig leaf for its own affected disaffection. It does not matter whether you hate Gawker itself or not, you have imbibed its spirit, as everybody in this generation has. You live that spirit when you go on comments sections to write stupid drivel slamming n+1.

Look, the Age of Revolution, beginning with the 18th century Englihtenment philosophes, began as a conspiracy from coffeehouses run by a handful of intellectuals plotting a vision of a new world. It's had extremely ambiguous consequences, but the world they helped to make is the world we live today.

To be an old-style literary intellectual in age of specialization is inevitably to be a kind of laughable anachronism left behind by the very history those conspirators had set in motion. Today's activist intellectuals -- the ones who actually change the world -- are the theorists of jihad and the neo-conservatives, And the makers of our future are all working for pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, or they working with the technology transfer departments of their universities to patent their findings and launch their own startups. This privatized world of knowledge has more need of public intellectuals, not less, and yet it's only the conservatives who fund theirs.

Does n+1 have an answer to the conundrum that history presents us with? Not that I've seen in anything of the work they've done; but then, nobody else seems to have this answer either. In the meantime, it's a good magazine that you can sit down and read cover to cover and then go back later to read some of the better articles over again, and feel rewarded for having done so. That is just true; try it sometime. If you were honest -- and of course you are not -- you would admit it.

It's true that the people who respond to comment sections respond, for the most part, out of narcissism. That is, of course, the main reason that writers visit the sites in the first place. No one else responds in real time to the work of book reviewers or journalists. So we go to the blogs to see if they're writing about us. If we're not careful, we too can get sucked into the flame wars that take place in the comments sections, because writers are as subject to their worst impulses as anyone else, and because the typing that goes on in comments sections so closely resembles the writing they do for a living.

Like all bullies and provocateurs, you stir people with inflammatory rhetoric, and when they respond, you then ask them "why do you care so much?" as if your criticism was so cutting that we must be maddened with rage. But criticism can be enraging for two reasons. It can be enraging because it cuts some to the quick, as yours does not -- how could it? ungrammatical, insult-laden hash that it is. It can also be enraging because it epitomizes all the worst tendencies of all the worst people, as yours does. So, to answer your question, I care because I like n+1 quite a bit; but mostly because I really despise their detractors, and then some of their detractors are more shameless and despicable than others, and they can really set you off.

I've heard it all from every conceivable enemy of n+1, some of whom are extremely articulate -- vastly more so than you -- and some of whom are my good friends. None of them are obeying their better impulses when they assail n+1. They just aren't.

TEV

W. There is much in your post that is reasonable, true and well-argued. I would like to respectfully suggest, though, that you - and nearly all the other n+1 supporters commenting here - considering stepping out from behind your anonymity and sign your name. I think it would add even more weight to a persuasive post.

ed

I agree in large part with w's post, but again, the problem is that you're conflating a litblog, which is an entirely different medium and DOESN'T have a fat budget, a team of writers and fact checkers, etc., and is run by one human being, with a magazine like the New Yorker that DOES have these things in place. Nor would I be foolish to even compare my site with the New Yorker. That's like comparing a small-town mayor with the House of Representatives. I think any blogger or blog reader is fully aware of a blog's limitations. This whole notion of blogs including 5,000 word essays in order to be "significant" misses the point of the medium. I thought these questions were settled back in 1999, when there were all those silly blogs vs. journalism wars. Apparently not.

This "discussion," whether here, the Valve, the Millions, or what not, has become utterly ridiculous, particularly when we're all guilty of judging individuals based on mere snippets of information. Even Keith Gessen averred in the Millions thread that it's all a matter of personal preference. That's fine. So some of you dig n+1. Some of you dig litblogs. Some of you dig both. Whatever gets you through the night, it's all right. It's all right.

It is even more preposterous to damn n+1 for its photo spreads and the like, when one should look directly to the magazine for its strengths and fallacies, not these ancillary press write-ups. This is why I posted that preposterous n+1 photo yesterday and apparently failed at revealing the irony of these discussions: that people simply aren't going beyond scratching the surface. I'd also like to say that I don't view Keith Gessen or anyone at n+1 as the devil incarnate. I think I'm simply going to recuse myself from any further comment on this to concentrate on more meaningful things -- like putting up podcasts containing thoughtful discussions with Martin Amis and the like. This simply isn't worth my time. And Mark, I think abandoning this issue altogether might be a good idea.

Feel free to let me know when you're all done with your dick wars. I've got more important things to do with my time.

w

Dear Ed and Mark,

I'm glad we agree on some things, and hopefully we can now end this thread on a reasonable note. The Intellectual Situation piece that started this whole thing was deliberately inflammatory and it was surely susceptible to many of the criticisms lodged against it. 5,000 word blog postings are not the answer. Blogs are what they are and they can be interesting for what they are, though it's legitimate for a critic to try to register some objections to the general trends he observes, which the reader is then in a position to either accept or reject. Still, it was a fun piece. Enough said.

The whole posting of Keith's email's thing was not a good idea, Mark -- I think you realize that by now -- and the various declarations to write n+1 off made by both of you were mostly motivated by the momentary spite that can take over any of us and that the instantaneousness of blog posting can (let's admit it) inspire in all of us. Part of the strange fascination of blogs is to see people undigested in real time, but a lot of that fascination is, as a previous writer pointed out, pornographic rather than literary. Pornography and literature can overlap, of course, and the overlap can sometimes be inadvertent, and there's a way of appreciating the blogosphere's pornographic vigor that is much like the appreciation we can have for COPS or the reality dating shows.

But another part of the blogs that is valuable is that people can something go into the comments section and work out their differences or at least define them with greater clarity, and sometimes discover they have been reduced, as I think we possibly have been able to do here. That's a virtue of blogs that the n+1 piece, and their overall stance on the blogs misses altogether. To the extent that blogs and the people who go their can foster do the latter instead of the former, they can be a force for good.

Let's close out this thread without false promises of glowing amity, but with at least a renewed sense of where the boundaries lie. Everybody got their shots in, everybody probably managed to make the other side look worse without making themselves look any better. What you do has your constituency, what n+1 has theirs, and there's a decently large overlap between those constituencies that won't go away.

But we all had a good time letting off steam in the privacy of our bedrooms. That's not the highest or best form of pleasure -- I'd rather be dancing with a beautiful woman in a room crowded with hundreds of other attractive, sociable people -- but it was good while it lasted. Let's move on.

Levi

It's funny that these types of public arguments often make all the participants feel somewhat exposed, as if we're all embarrassed to reveal how deeply we care about literature, about criticism, about "fame". Well, despite the fact that some who've posted here think everybody should shut up, in my opinion this has turned out to be a pretty invigorating debate (though certainly dumb in sections) and I think some of us may have even learned something.

As for me, I've thumbed through issues of N+1 in the past, but all this discussion inspired me to spend some significant time with the latest issue, and I've decided to write up my impressions on my own little blog as soon as I get a chance (hopefully in a day or two). I found at least one major piece in the new issue that I liked a lot, and at least one major piece that points to the shallowness (accompanied by great appearances of depth) that makes many readers of N+1 feel so frequently annoyed.

I'm looking forward to posting my findings, and I promise NOT to bring this whole litblog flame war into my review at all, just because I guess any sane person will consider that topic to have been beaten to death by now. But, even if this whole N+1/blog battle was a publicity stunt (as Liz from Kenyon Review suspects it was), I'm happy to play along and deliver what I hope will be a fair consideration of this magazine's weaknesses and strengths. So, if anybody out there still wants to talk about N+1 in a day or two, I'll hopefully have a fresh (and non-litblog-related) perspective to offer over at my place. Looking fwd to Mark's upcoming postings too. What's wrong with a little debate, people?!?!!!

jah

I wish Francine Prose were here. That would cement this as the ultimate battle of people who believe they influence culture but are actually incredibly boring.

tao

i think francine's book about this is coming out later this month

Tom

Mark- Could you piss off Steve Almond again? At least that exchange was amusing.

The comments to this entry are closed.

TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."