March 19, 2007



Man, that was close. You almost made me respect them, and then Keith swoops in and saves the day.


I wrote about this whole thing a bit over at my site over the weekend along with the bizarre dustup that went on in the kid lit blogosphere last week as well (trust me - it was Bi-zarre!). I was honestly puzzled by why all of this had to happen in the first place. If N+1 wanted to be pissy then let them be pissy amd just ignore them - but I can understand now, after reading your very thoughtful piece, how you got caught up in it all. It happens, I know - we all know - and one way or another, we have all been there.

As for Keith's response to all this, well what did he expect? He knew that people were going to be angry about the piece yet went out of his way to keep the fires burning when bloggers responded negatively and now gives this kind of response to your fairly contrite post?

Such arrogance is awesome to behold but I don't think it's the right way to act anymore. How disappointing that this was the best he could offer.


keith, how come you never had an extended dialogue with me? i have a 'lit-blog' also and i posted a lot about n+1. you should have an extended dialogue with me next time. thank you.

did you write the article about walking in brooklyn with the drummer for mineral? i think that was you. mineral is emo. we should listen to mineral together and cry onto a pile of literary magazines.


I have never read anything from n+1 prior to this polemics, and have no preconception on them. However, I really don't understand Keith Gessen's reply to your mail... What are those links supposed to prove? I have read a couple of them, and quite frankly it's no better and no worse than your average book review or essay. Nothing in there I would include if I was trying to convince people to read the mag. So what's the point? Can't they provide us with anything that is better than a piece of the quarterly conversation?
There is one thing on which I would not agree with you: I actually thought the Derrida piece was quite good. Yes, it was a lot about Roth but when someone dies, a good way of rembering him is to think about your own relation with him. I found it much more interesting than all the pieces we got at the time, when the writer was trying to "explain" Derrida and miserably failed to do so. However, this piece strikes me as much more likely to fit or to belong content-wise to a blog than to a literary magazine.


here's why litblogs suck compared to print: too much room for vitriolic. in magazines and newspapers and literary journals, offended and offensive parties must by necessity limit their jeremiads to a reasonable 1,000 or so words. what a snore this has all been.

Steven Augustine

Mark: a very statesman-like way to cap the argument (for now) and most welcome. I doubt that the posters who bashed you with such glee over the (excuse of the) private emails controversy would be big enough to do a mea culpa, or reverse a position, like this in public.

As an aside I have to say that the n+1 excerpts presented as evidence aren't, in my opinion, a rhetorical slam-dunk...you didn't seem to enjoy Kundera's recent essay in the New Yorker (from his new book)on the novel, either...but I loved it.

Anyway, it's good, what you've done here to douse this guttering flamewar. Not that the original heated debate was a problem for me: there's a touchy piety present in American culture these days that seems to want to treat argument in all of its forms (including dissent, tellingly) as rude at best and, at worst, symptomatic of a mortal character flaw (much as masturbation was reviled in a previous, pre-porno era).

I only wearied of this argument when the point of conflict became the argument itself. I'm sorry it didn't live long enough (in a measured, pre-flame way) to earn the time we spent reading it by generating a few discoveries.

Yesterday I read, on one of the many litblogs tangential to the fray (via posted links and comments), a "critique" of Kundera's above-cited "The Curtain" that only just stopped short of employing critical terminology such as "dude" and "awesome". The glaring asymmetry of the n+1 vs TEV tussle was that whereas Mark was (initially) called upon to defend litblogging (or litbloggers) in general, n+1 had only to defend itself. In other words, while reading this Kundera "critique" (which reads like a first draft written while the "writer" was wearing i-pod headphones and glancing at the television), I was filled with a nauseated depression about all the aerosolized half-wittedness that so many litblogs are pumping into the atmosphere...with a productivity that makes pre-EPA Pittsburgh smell like a leak in a bicycle tire in comparison. If thousands of litblogs are generating material of such "quality" on a more or less fulltime basis, and if the serious blogs like TEV (and about a dozen others) are interlinked (literally) with a few hundred of these vastly inferior relatives, how does that *not* represent a dumbing-down of things? Look, there are plenty of slapworthily asinine print-articles out there too, of course...the tradition of hackwork wasn't invented online...but litblog proliferation dwarfs the *printed* volume of available dreck by many orders of magnitude.

How can Mark draw a crucial line between his much-appreciated, serious efforts (less as a critic than as a taste-maker or popularizer, I feel) and all that dull, recycled, pop-filtered, half-baked "literary" logorrhea out there? The communalism of the web...often a kind of hysterical, enforced gregarity...(most of the links on most of these pages are identical) forbids it. If Mark drew the line, his support would dry up. It's a form of *random logrolling* peculiar to the web (The New Yorker doesn't stay in business by "shouting out" the Atlantic Monthly or Granta...even less does it survive by inter-linking with Details, or...uh...name another trashy glossy); healthy competition in the real world is replaced by decidely unhealthy incest (and fourth-and-fifth generation copy-and-pastes) in the litbloggerverse.

The terrible truth of blogging is that it presents a powerful temptation to the narcissist, who, all other qualities aside, is not (by definition) the best judge of her or his own output; the narcissist knows no self-critical filter (and therefore, no rigor). Intelligent, well-educated narcissists in possession of the rudiments of a literary style are preferable to their lesser brethren (the legion of boxing glove-wearing typists out there), but still. So much of it (among the not truly terrible) reads like not much more than a clever 11th-grader's 'Dear Diary'...why should anyone care, for example, what music is currently on rotation on some stranger's i-pod? Why should anyone be interested in some stranger's off-the-cuff (or off-the-rack) opinions on books, movies, world events...or scenes from the personal life? Since when did your *Self* become my field of interest? The Medium is the Masseur. The problem of the litblog is not so much all of that...the problem, again, is how the Best is inextricably entangled with the Worst.

At the height of this n+1 vs TEV debacle we saw some litbloggers circling their wagons, and the metaphor is apt, alluding as it does to the word "pioneer". Perhaps when blogging has "matured" and all the *serious* bloggers (in possession of real tools, fine sensibilities and individuated visions) can draw massive traffic without resorting to the tainted leveler of tier upon tier of inter-linking...the online form will have arrived. It will certainly, by then, have replaced most(magazine; newspaper) print...economics demands it. The only question remains: for better, or worse? The averaged level of litblogging *now* will have an effect on that outcome.

Mike Jones

I believe this is the Post Hoc Cedo doctrine, best summarized by the critical minds at fark thusly.

Steven Augustine

That was funny, Mike, but like a lot of 'funny' things on the internet, I've seen it a few hundred times before...


How can Mark draw a crucial line between his much-appreciated, serious efforts (less as a critic than as a taste-maker or popularizer, I feel) and all that dull, recycled, pop-filtered, half-baked "literary" logorrhea out there?

I dont' quite understand the argument. How can one draw a crucial line between a literary magazine full of quality writing (such as N+1 often) and the hundreds of dull, recycled undergrad-filtered "literary" magazines out there?

Lots of shitty blogs, lots of shitty magazines. C'est la vie.

Scott Eric Kaufman

I'm going to agree with Augustine up there: Gessen's email seems to me perfectly pitched, a statement that he's comfortable letting the work speak for itself.

(Also, I find it funny that the Valve's been demoted to a palsied "academic blog" mere days after having been sky-hooked into the litblogosphere. There's something interesting going on here -- something to do with professional anxieties, qualms about seriousness and what-not -- but that's better left to another day.)

tod goldberg

So, just so I'm clear, who gets to live in the Gaza Strip now?

Dorothy W.

Mark, I think your post is a great response to the whole episode.


Ten years from now, will blogs exist? Will n + 1?

I suspect that all the smart, talented people involved will be doing something else.

And they will look back on this with nostalgia for the good old days.


That was a graceful way to end this imbroglio, Mark. However, I still do not understand why the N+1 crowd was so panicked at the thought of you publishing the e-mails. The cries of "Mark, no ... Don't do it, Mark ... for the love of God, Mark, don't!" are the sort of thing more often heard in the final seconds before a public suicide.

The way the N+1 surrogates flooded into the comments space of your blog kind of reminded of the "Brooks Brothers riot" during the Bush/Gore recount thing. A lot of anonymous jerks pounding on the door, trying to intimidate you.


Well done, Mark. This affair seems to have brought out the worst in everyone but you've shown real class here whereas Gessen has shown his true colors. I may return my attention to n+1 in a few years from now when they've grown up a little. Very disappointing.

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