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Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, March 16, 2007

n+1 vs. Lit-Bloggers; or, on with the Resipiscence, already

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/16/07 at 08:29 PM

The lit-blogging community is positively apoplectic about the latest n+1.  In “The Intellectual Situation,” you’ll recall, the editors write:

The blogs salved this ennui and created nourishing microcommunities. Yet criticism as an art didn’t survive. People might have used their blogs to post the best they could think or say. They could have posted 5,000 word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, online, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. In practice, blogs reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak, and how secondhand and often ugly our unconscious impulses still are. The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested .... The language is supposed to mimic the way people speak on the street or the college quad, the phatic emotive growl and purr of exhibitionistic consumer satifsfaction—"The Divine Comedy is SOOO GOOOD!"—or displeasure—"I shit on Dante!” So man hands information on to man.

The pace of the contemporary moment is ruinous.  Who has time to develop an opinion anymore?  We must choose between the obvious and la critique trouvé.  The former wins little readership; the latter, a devoted following.  Canny appreciation will win a blogger an audience—earn him entrance into the nourishing microcommunity of his choosing—but the quality of his thought will suffer.  He will repeat himself repeating others and be praised for it.  But it’s not like the editors of n+1 won’t begrudge such coteries the solace of companionship.  As Keith Gessen writes in an email Mark Sarvas posted:

It’s just a different model of magazine. As you say, Eliot’s Criterion, where he published The Waste Land, or something like Partisan Review (those guys published their own poetry!), are places where the editors had things they wanted to say that they believed no one else was saying. Irving Howe’s Dissent. Herzen’s Bell. Dwight Macdonald’s Politics. Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes. The other model is curatorial: you’re throwing a creative writing contest and whoever wins the contest gets published. That’s the New American Review or the Paris Review—or the thousand magazines associated with MFA programs. They’re both valid models, but obviously we’re working in the first one.

Most of those—especially those publishing the work of the New York Intellectuals—are coterie work.  When judging it, you take into account the intellectual environment that produced it.  You look for the shared ideological, intellectual and personal assumptions of the group of people writing for a particular venue and you adjust your assessment accordingly.  To rail against n+1 for treating a self-sustaining intellectual community as a single entity is a general complaint, one easily recognizable to you folk if I substitute “theorists” for “lit-bloggers.” You can, like Jodi, consider any such effort inherently dismissive, but much of what I’ve learned earning my Book of the Month Club degree says otherwise.  The issue is always thornily general; complaints about the inaccuracy of the generalization always miss the point ... especially when they validate the generalization in the same breath they deny its explanatory power.

Take Sarvas.  He should be shamed for publishing private correspondence, but he should be mocked for publishing it because Gessen, Marco Roth et al had to gall to point out that “lit-bloggers [have] become a self-sustaining community, minutemen ready to rise up in defense of their niches.” The pettiness behind his decision to publish Gessen’s emails proves the editors of n+1 correct: some lit-bloggers do turn bellicose when their authority’s questioned.  Garth Risk Hallberg’s considered rebuttals on The Millions work to refute the generalization, but the comments and links to his post contains more of the same:

You think I’m small-minded?  I’ll show you.  I’ll publish your private correspondence.

Teach you to call me petty.

Or consider Edward Champion’s biting response to the claim that lit-bloggers “represent a perfection of the outsourcing ethos of capitalism”:

[insert author name]’s [latest book from author] has hit bookstores. It’s criminally underated, and [reviewer who writes somewhat intelligently or has interesting take] has an interesting take on why it’s worth your time.

Last night, I had a [vaguely personal moment in which I don’t reveal too much of myself to readers, because, based on some of the comments here, I think a few of you are keeping extremely close track of my personal life—for what reason I have no idea]. And it reminded me of [article which probably has nothing to do with moment in question].

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention [A friend or acquaintance who has done something interesting, must keep this near the end to avoid favoritism]’s thoughtful project, which should blow the lid on [incongruous reference here because I’m overworked and I need more coffee so that I can stay awake, until such moment as I will be able to properly collapse].

As withering self-deprecation goes, Champion’s performance is brilliant; unfortunately, it also proves the very point he wanted to refute.  In real sense, Champion and other lit-bloggers are vehicles for information about literature, not organs (ahem, ahem) devoted to its study.  Which is fine.  I read Champion because he has his ear to the ground.  He does a phenomenonal job tracking trends in contemporary literature.  (I find his book reviews a little too mainstream for my taste, but their failings are exemplary of the form, not the individual.) Perhaps unfairly, n+1 castigated the lit-bloggers for not being something they aren’t trying to be; but the editors do have a point about the lack of speculative gusto, or more mundanely, the poor reading skills of many in the lit-blogging community.

You see, my biggest complaint about the lit-blogger’s response n+1 is that it simply misses the point.  The entire “Intellectual Situation” is a meditation on the relation of speed and technology to the cultivation of thought:

The true mood of the form is spontaneity, alacrity—the right time to reply to a message is right away. But do that and your life is gone.

As with email, so too with cellphones and blogs.  The dearth of analytic vim in any blogging community is not necessarily the fault of the individuals comprising it, but a symptom of the temptations of the genre.  It is tempting to write book-chat.  It is tempting to turn a blog into group therapy.  It is tempting to post the same sort of fluff found in Slate.  It is tempting to link to the same YouTube video everyone else has.  Unless you consciously fight it, the inertia of generic norms will exert its influence on you ... and your blog’ll be the worse for it.  That lit-blogs are singled out speaks to their potential—to the potential of people who are still devoted readers—to bring to their blogging the same spirit of resistance they demonstrate every time they choose to read instead of write an email, use their cellphone, or turn on their Wii.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play tennis.


Comments

I think that I was tired of this particular “controversy” before it even began.  So I’ll just refer back to some Valve discussion that occured before it even began: between here, here, and here.  My basic point: if you’re taking the stance that you are focussed on “the current situation”, you have to temper this ambition with awareness of the limits of your knowledge.  It’s not an article that can be fixed up by saying something trite like “Hey, there are good lit-blogs out there, but they aren’t very visible; we weren’t writing about them”.  It’s a matter of not recognizing what the current situation is.  The Valve, Long Sunday, and all of the individual blogs by various similar writers aren’t as invisible within lit-blogging as the article would suggest.

Keith Gessen writes in one of the linked comment threads: “As long as these people are the ones making noise, when some mainstream media person puts together a list of “leading lit-blogs,” they’ll be on it. And when a print publication like n+1 decides to write something about blogs, those will be the people on our minds, because they’re the ones shoving their half-formed sentences in our faces. You--the better bloggers--have no right to complain about this, because you’re not coming forward to say: No, those guys aren’t the real bloggers. And you’re not telling them to shut up. Until you do that, they will represent you to the world. It’s up to you.”

Well, no.  People have far better things to do than to operate an impossible discipline & punish Internet police action on behalf of litblogging.  I counter-suggest that maybe it’s a critic’s responsiblity to find what’s good.  Dismissing what’s bad is amusing also, of course, but not if it turns into something too much like rejecting academia because it contains Ward Churchill, and then telling academics that they should have told him to shut up.

Of course, you need a certain degree of ambitiousness to attempt something like n+1 in the first place.  The whole thing doesn’t deserve the flame war that’s inevitably going to happen.

By on 03/16/07 at 09:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s already happening.  See here or, “better” yet, here.  Literary folk ought not reduce themselves to mocking each other’s appearances.  (As we here well know.) I’m annoyed by the whole matter, but am just emerging from a week-and-a-half-long fog, so this post was as much as I could muster.

The thing is, I actually agree with the n+1 assessment, in that I use my RSS feeds of so-called “lit-blogs”—I hate the word with the hyphen, but even more without—and wish that more of them could be, if not academic, then at least more like Kugelmass.  By which I mean, more literary, less chatty.  I know this criticism is unjust—you can’t ask other people to tailor their hobbies to your needs—but there’s a rhetoric of representation here that bothers me. 

What I mean is—yes, I am saying that a lot, but I blame the foggy-headedness—that it’s odd that the Valve and Long Sunday are suddenly included in all the lists of lit-blogs, despite that never having been the case before.  We’re being held as exemplars of that which we are not, but which others are chided for not being.  That irks me.  (Then again, so does everything else right now.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/16/07 at 10:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Maybe I’m foggy-headed too, Scott, but I don’t understand your last paragraph.  It had never been the case that the Valve and LS were lit-blogs?  Maybe people have some specialized construction of “lit-blog” that I don’t understand, but I took it to mean “a blog that discusses literature”.

As for wanting more blogs to be like Kugelmass, how many blogs can one read?  Joseph posted an essay above that’s going to take my available reading time for the next who-knows-how-long; if many more people decided to post more like him then I wouldn’t have time to read them anyway.  Why not just let chattiness exist for those who want it?

Fully agree on the picture mockery, of course.

By on 03/16/07 at 10:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Sitatuon”, Scott?

I whined about this when a similar excerpt was published at Long Sunday*, but <q>The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested</q> … ok, that’s one willed style, and one can object to it because it wears its willedness on its sleeve (as someone else in the same LS thread pointed out, what style isn’t willed?—well, I decline to speculate; probably some aren’t).  But no less does the Intellectual Situation bit wear its on its, and that style, supercilious, facile, sort of erudite, and yet completely obvious, is, to me, much more offensive than whatever it is they’re decrying.  Or so at any rate I suspect; if I’ve ever read anything online that mimicked the way people spoke on “the college quad” of my college, it was quoted from n+1.

*I see now that that’s precisely what the first link is.  Ah well.

By ben wolfson on 03/16/07 at 10:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

OK. Now that Scott’s taken me on a nasty little tour of the lit-blogs the n+1 guys were talking about, I entirely agree with their assessment. Whoa-hey. Those aren’t pretty. Very much sub-useful.

Problem was, when I wrote the response Scott links to above, I thought that we were the litblogs, meaning LS and well sure I guess the Valve. I mean, I’ve read Bookslut. She was once, along time ago, on my rss rolodex. But these blogs here, no....

And the whole “caught Gessen out because he sent us a copy” stuff. What, are they priming for the next Oprah / faux memoir affair? Just stupid.

By CR on 03/16/07 at 11:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

CR, I wouldn’t say “sub-useful.” “Not academic,” maybe, but I remember when I was enthusiastic about ideas-qua-ideas, and didn’t worry about how they’d reflect upon my professional ambitions.  (Yes, I am the shill y’all have always suspected I am.) I suppose the difference, for me, is between raw enthusiasm and aged opinion.  There was a time I’d talk about nothing but Lot 49 to everyone who crossed my path—can I emphasize how little that did for my dating life—but I understand the utility of such enthusiasm.  It can lead to greater appreciation, and is the first step to it.  If lit-blogs are a virtual community replicating the haphazard one I (luckily) stumbled into, the more power to them.  Enthusiasm comes first, no?  (And I realize I’m so tired and ill I’m now playing my own Devil’s Advocate, but whatever.  This is merely a blog, after all.)

Rich, we may be a lit-blog inasmuch as we talk about literature, but neither us nor the Long Sunday bunch belong to the community of self-identifying lit-bloggers.  We’re not listed in that MetaxuCafé thing I can’t navigate, nor are we on the blogrolls o’ all them other lit-blogs ... which isn’t a judgment, only a way to say that n+1 is correct about the nature of the lit-blogging community.  (I mean, one of them, Literary Kicks, played host to the Troll of Sorrow’s endless self-aggrandizement.  I mean, they still ain’t recognized him for the fraud he is.  Not that this is representative of the lit-bloggers, mind you, only that it indicates, um, something or other.  I should say now, and definitively, that I actively like and think fondly of Edward Champion and Scott Esposito.  I mean, neither of them is quite up to Daniel Green‘s level, but I value both of them for their occasional thoughtfulness ... but I wish they’d be more like Daniel.  I mean, even when I disagree with him, I get the sense of a mind behind the prose, but outside of Champion, Esposito and a few others, I don’t get that.  There’s a whiff of obligatory fanboyism counteracting all the good enthusiastic vibes.

Ben, I can’t spell.  You know that, and you know why I can’t spell even worserly tonight.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/17/07 at 12:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I do?  Why is this night different from every other night?

By ben wolfson on 03/17/07 at 12:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Has it ever occurred to some of you that there are underlying layers to the things I write?  That maybe my posting of the picture might be a wry commentary on how all parties (which would include many of you folks, apparently, and, of course, me) are content to judge other people through snapshots?  Scott Eric Kaufman, at least, can recognize that there are additional layers at work here (and thanks for your kind words, but as I’ve repeatedly confessed, I’m more or less a thuggish intellectual, “ear to the ground” or not).  But here you are, taking me to task for “judging” the n+1 boys on a photo, when you have simultaneously judged my entire worth as a thinker based on one paragraph.  Which proves the underlying point I was trying to make.

Also, I can’t be Dan Green.  I can only be Edward Champion.  And Scott Esposito can only be Scott Esposito.  And Keith Gessen can only be Keith Gessen.  I’m so sorry that we all don’t subscribe to your criteria, but then I’m uninterested in subscribing to any criteria.  And I suspect these two gentlemen aren’t either.

By Edward Champion on 03/17/07 at 11:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The litblogging community is not apoplectic about n+1.  There are hundreds of litblogs and personal blogs heavy on literature, so a very small minority is doing the loudest complaining.  In addition, I strongly suspect that very few of those railing against n+1 have read the entire article in question.

It’s embarrassing, in my personal opinion, that we are being represented in such a way.

By marydell on 03/17/07 at 01:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hm.  So some people are too stupid or cowardly to will their style–is that it, Ben?  As to whether the generalities of the Intellectual Situation are more offensive than ToS-style pizza delivery boy mantras, and blowjob jokes, well...the latter is available everywhere, the former is occasionally exceptional, or at the very least precisely suggestive and sincere, sincerely-risking (notice Marco’s partial recantation) and thought-out.

I’d guess that by most (intellectual) people’s standards the actual essays are anything but “completely obvious;” in fact many of them are worthy of discussion.  Which we’ll be doing shortly on Long Sunday.

By Matt on 03/17/07 at 02:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott: “To rail against n+1 for treating a self-sustaining intellectual community as a single entity is a general complaint, one easily recognizable to you folk if I substitute “theorists” for “lit-bloggers.””

After thinking about it, and reading these threads, I don’t think that this example holds up.  A “theorist” is someone who “does theory”, and there’s pretty good agreement about what that means as a specialized term of art.  That agreement isn’t invalidated by theorists disagreeing with each other, or having internally differing traditions, or any of the other objections brought up.  But “lit-bloggers” is evidently not being used in that sense.  Scott, you seem to be using lit-bloggers to mean “the community of self-identifying lit-bloggers” that links to Metaxucafe and so on, so that it’s no longer defined by the activity of blogging about literature.

So this turns into a big argument about who is a lit-blogger and who is meant, with some saying they were ignored, some misrepresented, some saying that the n+1 article is OK because they weren’t meant, some like marydell above not wanting to be represented as part of the criticized group.  But that’s really a problem with the original article.  If they hadn’t meant all lit-blogging, they should have said so, or mentioned specific examples of which blogs they were talking about.  It’s easy to see why they didn’t, though.  Then it doesn’t become a piece about “the current situation”.  Writing about “the current situation” almost always requires this kind of emphatic overgeneralization.

At the top of this thread, I wrote that n+1 didn’t deserve to be flamed.  I similarly think that Ed Champion and so on are being judged too harshly by CR and others.  No one is going to look good if your first view of them is mid-flame-war.  (And no, I don’t buy “but there are so many layers!” about the picture, but that isn’t a reason to reject an entire blog’s worth of output.  CR, don’t be too confident that we’ve always done better.) I particularly agree that wanting people to come up to someone else’s level is not good; everyone writes at whatever level they write at, and no one has to read them.

But the thread ends as the thread starts.  By writing the article as they did, n+1 made it so that no discussion that anyone can learn anything from really can follow.  That’s the basic problem.

By on 03/17/07 at 02:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So some people are too stupid or cowardly to will their style–is that it, Ben?

Yes, exactly.  How clever of you to know that I hoped someone would chance on a reading of precisely that implausibility and uncharitability!  What else, after all, could one mean in saying that there are probably some un-willed styles?

I’d guess that by most (intellectual) people’s standards the actual essays are anything but “completely obvious;”

I assume you’re talking about the content here?  Granting that one can’t make a neat-n-clean separation between content and style, one can make a rough separation, and it’s the bludgeoning I took at the hands of the style to which I objected.  As I said.  Quite plainly.  I take it the parenthetical is meant to imply that I’m not an intellectual person?

By ben wolfson on 03/17/07 at 03:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"By writing the article as they did, n+1 made it so that no discussion that anyone can learn anything from really can follow.”

I completely agree. I don’t understand what Gessen and Roth thought they were accomplishing by fanning this flame war in the first place. They published a piece slamming litbloggers, but rather than name names in the piece itself they waited until the predictable response from litbloggers who thought they *might* be among those who don’t measure up to G & R’s standards to leap in and start sliming individual bloggers. The slur against Scott Esposito was especially vile. As far as I can tell, Scott has done nothing to offend the n+1ers, and has even talked up the magazine on his blog. He’s gone on record as opposing Mark S’s tactic of publishing Gessen’s e-mails.

Bottom-line questions: Do Gessen and Roth want readers for their journal or not? If they do, why don’t they 1) make more of their content available online so that those of us who don’t know if we want to subscribe (and I have to say I’m now *much* less likely to subscribe) can decide if we like the thing or not, and 2) stop acting as if the “contest” between print mags and blogs is a zero-sum game.

The very people who are likely to read n + 1, even to do a little of the very publicizing G & R so revile on *its*, behalf, are the bloggers and their own readers. Yet Gessen and Roth seem to do everything they can do express their disdain for these litbloggers. Am I the only one who thinks that as a marketing strategy, this is insane?

And I surely do appreciate Scott K’s kind words about me.

By Daniel Green on 03/17/07 at 03:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What else, after all, could one mean in saying that there are probably some un-willed styles?

Um, I don’t know, Ben.  Aside from “coming by it naturally” as I suggested in the thread you cite as having abandoned.  But that’s why I asked, because I (still) don’t know, what you think.  Which makes for difficulty in placing your rather bold and sweeping criticism. 

and it’s the bludgeoning I took at the hands of the style to which I objected.  As I said.  Quite plainly.

Quite.  Also, you were reacting to the one paragraph from the Intellectual Situation excerpted by CR.

I’m not talking about style vs. content at all.  Those of the Intellectual Situation are significantly removed from those of the essays (many of which are written by people other than the editors).

By Matt on 03/17/07 at 03:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I also happen to agree with CR, and with this post’s albeit likely doomed attempt to return discussion to the actual themes (as opposed to names) at stake.  Of course it adds insult to injury not even to be named (lit-bloggers are if anything all about NAMING); that too was fitting.  Fortunately, and contra the above slippage in generalization (n+1 having expressed many things besides disdain, and to different people), Mark Sarvas is not (thank God) the only means of publicity for a journal.  After all for some of us it’s been over two and a half years now.

You see, my biggest complaint about the lit-blogger’s response to n+1 is that it simply misses the point.  The entire “Intellectual Situation” [not to mention the issue itself] is a meditation on the relation of speed and technology to the cultivation of thought:

“The true mood of the form is spontaneity, alacrity—the right time to reply to a message is right away. But do that and your life is gone.”

As with email, so too with cellphones and blogs.  The dearth of analytic vim in any blogging community is not necessarily the fault of the individuals comprising it, but a symptom of the temptations of the genre.  It is tempting to write book-chat.  It is tempting to turn a blog into group therapy.  It is tempting to post the same sort of fluff found in Slate.  It is tempting to link to the same YouTube video everyone else has.  Unless you consciously fight it, the inertia of generic norms will exert its influence on you ... and your blog’ll be the worse for it.  That lit-blogs are singled out speaks to their potential—to the potential of people who are still devoted readers—to bring to their blogging the same spirit of resistance they demonstrate every time they choose to read instead of write an email, use their cellphone, or turn on their Wii.

Thanks Scott.

By Matt on 03/17/07 at 04:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Just to clear up Ben Wolfson’s confusion about “willed style”:
the sentence goes, “The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested.” In other words, people who know better, or ought to, affect to talk or write like drunk frat boys ranking girls or watching sports. The whole paragraph suggests that this is a faux-populism which can and ought to be resisted by those of us who still have hope for “the real language of men” [and women]. I’d say Scott’s post gets this right, if authors are allowed to judge how close readers come to their intentions. Of course, recent events might lead me to reconsider how “willed” this style is for some of us. Maybe we all actively prevent ourselves from writing badly or bad things (harder to say things true and not unkind), but I don’t believe it. Anyway, I agree that “style” by itself may have been sufficient to make the point, but that’s just copyediting.

By on 03/18/07 at 02:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

All finely-tuned, excellent interpreters of literature who happen to write blogs, I encourage you to send your work to me. I am beginning a publication of new arts and ideas for the 21st century called The Boy Bedlam Review (beta issue 1 on soft-launch April 1). I intend to take the very best discussions of literature, and of all the arts, and link them together for a new matrix—a poetics of information. We will edit your blog entries so they are neither conversational nor academic, but finely wrought works of art themselves. Please send me your best work.

dedalus99 at earthlink dot net
I will give you many more details if you ask. We intend to be the answer to n+1’s vituperation.

By David Schneider on 03/18/07 at 02:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Daniel - I certainly don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t your comment precisely an example of the kind of cliqueishness that Gessen etc are trying to get at? I agree that they should have named names when they wrote it (and I don’t think it’s one of the better essays that n+1 has published) - but why on earth on earth do they have an obligation not to be rude to people whose blogs they don’t like? The undertone of your comment seems to me to be that the n+1 folks shouldn’t be rude to Esposito, because he has been nice to them in the past, and that if they want to publicize their journal, they should be making nice to litbloggers, engaging in mutual backslapping, logrolling and all those things that make for a cosy and comfortable little circle of friends where everyone coos about how wonderful everyone else is. Which is surely what they are objecting to, trying to remove themselves from and so on, nicht wahr??

There’s a nice bit in Randall Jarrell’s collected letters - someone had gotten upset because he had been rude when reviewing a mediocre poet.

I had thought a good motto for critics might be what the Persians taught their children: to shoot the bow and speak the truth; but perhaps a better one would be Cordelia’s love and be silent.

Cordelia’s motto makes for a comfier atmosphere, but for rather worse criticism surely. Not that I have any views on the particular merits of the complaints they make about specific litblogs blogs - since I became bored with Jessa Crispin a couple of years ago, I haven’t read litblogs (unless Maud Newton counts). But the suggestion that the n+1 folks should realise just aren’t clubbable and should mend their ways seems to miss the mark by a rather excessive amount.

By Henry Farrell on 03/18/07 at 10:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Bad writing is bad for writing. Bad reading is bad for reading. Much of what has been published on Sarvas or Ed or Scott Esposito (sorry, Scott) has been well-intentioned--and phenomenally ignorant.”

This is Gessen’s comment. He offers no illustraton of the “phenomenal ignorance” of Scott Esposito’s blog, either here or in the orginal “Blog Reflex” thingamajig. My undertone is not that G & R shouldn’t be rude but that they should at least offer some evidence to support their snark. Surely calling bloggers names is no more intellectually rigorous than making cooing noises.

By Daniel Green on 03/19/07 at 12:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Sure, they should make their criticisms specific - but that’s not your complaint as I read it.

You say

The slur against Scott Esposito was especially vile. As far as I can tell, Scott has done nothing to offend the n+1ers, and has even talked up the magazine on his blog. He’s gone on record as opposing Mark S’s tactic of publishing Gessen’s e-mails.

and then:

The very people who are likely to read n + 1, even to do a little of the very publicizing G & R so revile on *its*, behalf, are the bloggers and their own readers. Yet Gessen and Roth seem to do everything they can do express their disdain for these litbloggers. Am I the only one who thinks that as a marketing strategy, this is insane?

This reads a lot like “be nice to litbloggers if you want them to be nice to you” and “you have to get along to get ahead” to me.

By Henry Farrell on 03/19/07 at 02:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My complaint is that print journals and litblogs have essentially the same goals---the discussion and criticism of literature--and that to see them in some kind of competition for who can be the most “genuine” is stupid.

By Dan Green on 03/19/07 at 06:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Since Dan said that he agreed with me, I should reiterate that my concern had little to do with being nice.  The point is that the original n+1 statement was an overbroad, stereotyping provocation.  As such, it will predictably produce defensive rejections.  But even when you get past those, there is nowhere else for the discussion to go.  For a discussion to proceed somewhere worthwhile, it has to start with something worthwhile.  It takes heroic determination on the part of all concerned to start with an intellectually lazy and under-researched provocation and turn it into a discussion.

I mean, let’s start with the self-evident fact that criticism as an art *did* survive and that the Holbonic 5,000 word critique is so often seen that it has obtained its own adjective.  What then?  Scott valiently tries to save the piece by saying that it’s really about the temptations of the genre.  Well, Scott’s piece is much better than the original, so let’s see.  It’s true that Crooked Timber, to take one specific example, has fallen for these temptations to a large extent.  (The time when three different posters all linked to the same beer commercial was about when I stopped reading it.) But the Valve and LS haven’t, and they are more properly literary blogs.

The only real way to address this intelligently is through specificity.  Let’s take Scott’s own blog, for instance.  It occasionally threatens to veer into book chat, therapy, or links to videos.  Is that bad, though?  On the contrary, I’d say that this is part of Scott’s creation of a narrator who can sustain reader interest.  Even the most academic of literary bloggers tend to have some sort of contructed personal narrativity that surrounds their pieces on literary theory or criticism.  What would “Dan Green” be without the brooding outsider critic persona, “John Emerson” without his punk sensibility (which he steadfastly refuses to recognize as a punk sensibility or as being a positive characterization, so I should choose something else), or “Miriam Burstein” without her Little-Professorhood and fascination with bookshelves?

The temptation to be taken over by book-chat then becomes a sort of failure of narrativity, a lapse into cliche.  Rather than being a symptom of intemperance / unconsideration / undigestion, it’s a matter of *tiredness*—the role played too long lapses into gesture.  That’s about the best I can do at rehabilitating the thread.  But I don’t see how it really has much to do with the original n+1 statement, which directs its guns towards an empty field.

By on 03/19/07 at 07:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Keith here to wrap up (I hope).

First, Scott, thank you for that very generous and thoughtful post.

David Schneider: Good luck with the Boy Bedlam Review. That’s a good idea. I couldn’t tell whether your last sentence meant you intended to be a response or an antidote to our anti-blogging article. I hope it’s the former. Surely we’re not such a poison that you would need the latter.

Daniel: What you say is untrue. You quote the first sentence of the paragraph; the rest of the paragraph is devoted to two examples: the anti-Wasserman and anti-Tanenhaus campaigns, both of which are anti… historical, and the latter of which “Conversational Reading” has been party to. (Though certainly not at Ed levels.) I don’t actually think Conversational Reading is in the same category as TEV and Ed, for a number of reasons, and I included it on the list with some reluctance.

Actually, Scott’s response to the whole thing has been illustrative. He quickly posted two dismissive responses--one saying he couldn’t take us seriously, the other saying that we were trying to “marginalize” blogs with one hand and reach out to them (via email) with the other. (As the TEV emails reveal, I think, it has never been my intention, as the person in charge of n+1 publicity, to marginalize blogs: I think they’re important and I want them to do a better job. But that’s not marginalization.) Then he put up a post saying he disapproved of the email-publishing on TEV (exactly the sort of policing Rich disdains, but which any community needs), and ended it all with a reasonable and good-natured post. All this speaks well of him--and I happen to know that he had the article sent to him in Mexico so he could read it before responding, which speaks even better of him still.

Rich: That leaves you and me, again, old Valve disputants. The article was a provocation, you’re absolutely right. And let us a pause for a moment before the awesome might of the internet: The two bloggers whom the past week did the most to discredit (will we blog readers ever forget the classic thread that followed Ed’s posting of the n+1 photo? You can’t buy that kind of entertainment)---I say, those two bloggers hadn’t even read the article in question. That, my friends, is magic.

By Keith Gessen on 03/20/07 at 01:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"exactly the sort of policing Rich disdains, but which any community needs”

There are really two different types of policing being talked about, though.  Disapproving of Email publishing is policing basic etiquette.  Telling people who are making noise that they are not the real lit-bloggers and that they should shut up is another kind of policing entirely.

I know that you want to wrap up, but I obviously have the tendency to go on and on once started.  So I think that there’s a more basic problem with the policing idea than the distinction that I make in the paragraph above.  It’s the concept of “representing”, as in “who are the real people who represent literary blogging to the mainstream media”.  The concept of this kind of representation leads straight back to being “unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak”, doesn’t it?  The purpose of literary blogging should be to write something insightful, not to make a good impression on the media.

If no one was reading, that would be a problem.  But look at technorati (which measures linkage, not readership directly, but it’s the best available proxy that I know of).  The Valve ranks around 13,000, Acephalous 2,200 (ranking raised by links from his meme experiment, maybe), Long Sunday 26,000.  Return of the Reluctant 5,700, The Elegant Variation 7,200, Metaxucafe seems fragmented, but probably about 40,000.  As I’d expect, there are fewer people interested in academic-literary blogs than in interviews, reviews, or current events.  But the difference in visibility between the groups is just not as large as you imply.

By on 03/20/07 at 11:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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