Sunday, September 11, 2005
The Functioning Little Magazines
Long A.O. Scott NYT article on The Believer and n+1:
In the end, this may be the common ground n+1 and The Believer occupy: a demand for seriousness that cuts against ingrained generational habits of flippancy and prankishness. Their differences are differences of emphasis and style - and the failings that each may find in the other (or that even a sympathetic reader may find in both) come from their deep investments in voice, stance and attitude rather than in a particular set of ideas or positions. For The Believer, the way to take things seriously is to care about them - “to endow something with importance,” in Julavits’s words, “by treating it as an emotional experience.” And this can lead, at times, to the credulous, seemingly disingenuous naïveté that Greif finds infantile. For n+1, the index of seriousness is thought for its own sake, which can sanction an especially highhanded form of intellectual arrogance. But, of course, this distinction, between a party of ardor and a party of rigor, is itself too schematic, since The Believer, at its best, is nothing if not thoughtful, and n+1 frequently wears its passions on its sleeve.
I’ve only read webbed bit and pieces of The Believer and one issue (no. 2) of n+1 (handed down by Henry Farrell, who seems to be supplying me with most of my literary paper products these days.) The Believer seems light but genuinely fun in a satisfying way; n+1 seems like a very good thing. I should probably get a subscription. Regarding n+ 1 I must say: I can understand the hostility to ‘just starting a blog’ but I don’t understand why you would want to run a little magazine with so little web content. What do you gain in literary face by cutting off the nose of readership? Scott opines that to stump for dead trees “is to opt for slowness, for rumination, for patience and for length. It is to defend the possibility of seriousness against the glibness and superficiality of the age - and also, of course, against other magazines.” I guess this just seems like hopeless old ‘if it’s on the web, it must be crap’. But surely no one really believes that. My issue of n+1 is not any McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern no. 13, edited by Chris Ware. No artifact that I would prefer not to read on the screen. Also, take Scott’s gloss on n+1‘s intellectual sensibility:
Those articles hint at some key aspects of the magazine’s identity. They show, first of all, a willingness to scramble conventional ideas of genre, mixing criticism, personal essay, fiction and philosophical argument and applying the resulting hybrid to matters both mundane (dating, going to the gym, smoking) and lofty (the meaning of life, the nature of war). Other essays achieve similar blendings of voice, style and genre.
You couldn’t do this on the web (never mind on a blog)? I’m just saying: I wish they had more content online.
Please feel free to discuss the article, and these little magazines.
UPDATE: Henry scoops me by an hour or so, and comes up with a good Randall Jarrell quote, whereas I had none. (The only Jarrell quote I know is “the ideal modern critic [would] resemble one of those robots you meet in science-fiction stories, with a microscope for one eye, a telescope for the other, and a mechanical brain at Harvard for a heart.” Doesn’t fly at all in the present context.)
I must say, it’s nice to see n+1 finally getting the attention it deserves. Their take on “theory” is especially lambent.
Dear John and others,
There seems to be a perception out there that we at n+1 are anti-blog. This, admittedly, is partly true, but, the problem is partly one of generic definition. There are all kinds of blogs and lots of things get called blogs or lumped under blogs that, as is the case with The Valve, deserve a more dignifed title. There’s no sense in putting some of the postings I’ve read here and on Ray Davis’ Pseudopodium in the same boat with Mark Sarvas. Where we do disagree, however, is on something like the labor-value of blogging versus print and a view of the dignity of writing and thinking still implied by each.
I don’t believe that the internet in itself can bring about an open, democratic, intelligent literary culture. And it seems to me that the effort to create utopian communities of scholar-intellectual-critics who breathe only the refined air of broadband or ethernet is an attempt as futile, though perhaps also as noble, as Surrealism or Soviet Modernism. The blog still exists for me as a consolation for friends I could be sharing wine with while I jab a finger at a passage in a book we’re arguing about, or as an opportunity to indulge in a rant I might have otherwise left in a notebook or to become a Romanticist again when I should know that I’m not one any more in any way recognized by our current market structures. So the case for pure online publishing strikes me as more than a bit deliberately escapist, and I’m not enough a creature of pure intellect to deny that I feel another order of pleasure when I see my work in print and can touch the pages of a book or journal, or that I enjoy other material forms of compensation as recognition for my work. Now there may be people who feel they can only write when there is no question of any market of any kind, and to such people I wish the best of fortune under difficult conditions. In further defense of n+1, though, I’d add that we started it in part because we felt that people of our generation were faced with a false choice: either to write as they wished and earn a living in some other way or to alienate their own thoughts in order to become recognized as writers. This paradigm is so familiar to us from the history of modernism and, indeed all the way back to Balzac if not before,that we can be forgiven for assuming that only a wholesale technological shift would alter it. Still, it was a myth of the writer or the adversarial critic that had assumed too much the appearence of a truth for my taste.So we’re doing what we can to change it. Could we publish more stuff online? Of course, and we will and have been. Will our site become more “reader-response friendly?” That’s something we’ll be revisiting soon as we redesign our website. At the moment, though, I’d like us to keep our web readers slightly dissatisfied, so they feel, perhaps a bit more strongly than they otherwise might, the strangeness of the medium and the great distance still to be bridged between online technology and utopia.
I can’t exactly speak for anyone else here, but not only I am not a McLuhanist, I’ve also suggested that technodeterminist utopianism is a literal form of demon-worship (Pazuzine)--not that there’s anything wrong with that, exactly.
The intense hostility the Valve has sometimes met with (justly or unjustly) has deflated the internet utopianism to which some of us (ok, just me) might have been prone earlier. While the barriers for entry on the internet are lower and easier than in commercial print publishing, the competitiveness and the ‘crank factor’ are as bad here, or worse.
Still, it doesn’t mean that it won’t turn into something more solid later. And I don’t think the idea of writing for, or reading on the internet is ‘strange’ anymore. An increasing number of young people are perfectly comfortable reading long texts on their computer screens—including, in some cases, novels. (My undergraduate students have always been online.) The fetish of the printed text is not going to disappear overnight, but it might well start to seem a little fuzzy 20 years from now.
As for enjoying compensation and other forms of recognition, there’s no question you’re right. I think many of us (not all) are looking to try and publish ‘for real’ where we can; blogging is often a springboard. The Valve was started as a sort of hybrid experiment.
One other thing—one major benefit of free and immediate access online is the possibility of including people in other parts of the world. John Holbo is in Singapore and Laura Carroll is in Australia. And many of the readers on my personal blog are in South Asia. It’s always possible for such readers to take out subscriptions to magazines like n+1 (though in the Indian case, people might balk at the stiff currency conversion rate and the cost). But it isn’t easy to do.
* * * *
On a separate note:
The following comment from Vendela Vida of the Believer is a powerful justification for the little magazine:
“The vast majority of magazines in the United States tell you exactly the same thing at the same time,” Vendela Vida said not long ago by telephone from San Francisco, where she lives and where The Believer is published (though two of its editors, Park and Julavits, live most of the time in New York). “We’d all apparently entered into this agreement that every month we’d be interested in the same thing” - the upcoming movies, novels, recordings and television shows.
Pithy translation: Little Magazine, meet Long Tail!
Where and when was this “intense hostility?”
Where we do disagree, however, is on something like the labor-value of blogging versus print and a view of the dignity of writing and thinking still implied by each.
I don’t believe that the internet in itself can bring about an open, democratic, intelligent literary culture.
I don’t get this at all. If there’s a point to a little magazine, it must reflect the understanding that there’s nothing inherently great about print. If existing print culture were good enough, there wouldn’t be any need for a new little magazine. It seems obvious that there’s plenty of undignified hard copy out there and lots of wasted labor. No reason therefore to assume that blogging must be of less value.
And, of course, the inflated expectations people have had for blogging were preceded by inflated expecatations for little magazines. The fact that historically sometimes those expectations weren’t exaggerated at all seems like a good reason to think that blogging might have positive consequences that will exceed what it’s current status would lead you to think.
I’m thinking of Cultural Revolution and several of the other Long Sunday bloggers. Also J*hn Br*ce. All of the theory-wars spats. And more.
Other people have been perhaps not hostile, but certainly not enthusiastic (gzombie). I’m not saying it’s hell on earth (perhaps I could have replaced “intensely hostile” with “skeptical, quizzical, and occasionally quite hostile"), but I think it’s fair to say that the world of literary blogs is not some snark-free paradise.
Thanks Marco, I very much enjoyed n+1 no. 2 and I congratulate you on your NYTimes burst of notoriety, which I’m sure you deserve. My personal preference for pixels over print is to some degree a function of the inconvenience of securing the latter in Singapore (where I live). That aside, I hope for your sake going the print route pans out, in terms of securing solid long-term readership. The little magazine dream is a noble one, and it would be a shame to sink in print if you could have found some way to float to thousands of readers online. (But you don’t need me to tell you your worries. You’ve already got them.)
I don’t by any means think it’s more noble to despise the material compensation angle either. If you can find some way to pay your writers, more power to you. I’m sure they deserve it. Best of luck to you.
Hey you’re right, Matt, there is more available there in the archives than I thought. (I guess I just missed it. Have to do an update and tell people to go read the archived stuff.)
Other people have been perhaps not hostile, but certainly not enthusiastic (gzombie).
Hey, I’m interested in language, literature, and culture from about 1600 to about 1800. If you had more posts related to these things, I’d be more enthusiastic.
The big mistake right now would be to fail to keep faith with what theory once meant to us. You hear a great collective sigh of relief from people who don’t have to read “that stuff” anymore—the ones who never read it in the first place. But who will insult these people now, expose their life as self-deception, their media as obstacles to truth, their conventional wisdom as ideology? It will be unbearable to live with such people if they aren’t regularly insulted.
regular insult: found in the blogosphere in abundance.
One item I noticed about that article:
Pan-European successor candidates, the likes of Zizek, Badiou, Ferry, Virillio, Agamben, Negri, Vattimo, Sloterdijk, Luhmann, Kittler
These folks are “smaller” than Baudrillard? That’s a sentence that sounds better than it means.
I’m not sure if my earlier comment was deleted or just didn’t register. If it did, I sincerely apologize- I attempted to balance my sentiments with a measure of restraint, but apparently failed.
To paraphrase more gently:
While I don’t want to judge an entire magazine by the few on-line items I read, I found the article “Wes Anderson and the Problem with Hipsters, Or What Happens When a Generation Refuses to Grow Up” disturbing, and not only because I love Anderson:
It felt it was written with great vanity,
displaying gleeful dismissal based on insufficient depth of insight, and shares quite a lot of the properties of the hipster culture it attempts to set against.
It also repeatedly committing the fallacy of pulling out a random quote and taking it at face value as representational of the authorial stance, actually naming a scene where a man who stole money from his own son, cheated on his wife, lied to his entire family, and is largely considered a bastard uses racial slurs as an instance of racism.
And It’s dancing such an ancient dance of hipster writing - for almost every artist, by the fourth movie, hipsters begin to proclaim him a false god deified by hipsters, usually with the exact same rhetoric used in this article, the names being the only thing that changes.
Beyond disagreeing with the article, I just feel it belongs to a dominant and traditional mode of critical journalistic writing, hardly ‘defending the possibility of seriousness against the glibness and superficiality of the age’ or really offering any newness at all.
You hear a great collective sigh of relief from people who don’t have to read “that stuff” anymore—the ones who never read it in the first place.
How true. Though instead of following it up with a nod to the late HST, one might point out, oh, how the defining irony of our times is that the contrarians are now mainstream, having learned a lesson or two in assimilation techniques (as the article points out, so many of the brightest went for the $ in advertising, after all).
Likewise it is now quite popular and dogmatically commensensical to snark at “theory” as though this come-lately American-invented word were always both self-evident and self-enclosed (and why bother with the originals.) But the philistines and mimics aren’t only in the academy; their graduates are on the TV too. Meanwhile the real thing continues to be neglected, though readings through and beyond ‘it’ are greatly needed, perhaps now more than ever.
Anyway, some reminders of the context, whilst we continue to wait for more specifics from those genuinely wishing to distance themselves from the empire of commonsense:
Indeed, they are doing more than merely sighing.
Dear Peli Grietzer,
I’m sorry to have disturbed you with my article on Wes Anderson and the problem with hipsters. Given your evident sensitivity to movie criticism, you might in the future stop reading at the first tremors.
You would be mistaken if you let my essay stop you from reading other material in n+1. I deviate from its pervasive mode, and it is a tribute to the editors’ openness to divergent viewpoints that they have published my writing at all.
As for my glibness, vanity, and traditionalism: guilty as charged. I would say that to point these things out was perceptive of you, but they are the obvious and intended hallmarks of my writing. The evisceration of false hipster gods offers pleasures as simple and reliable as those of a pop song.
You are wrong about Royal Tennenbaum. He may be perceived as a sinner, and redeemed in the last 10 minutes (right before cardiac thombrosis claims him), but he is the movie’s rascally hero, and its pleasures lie more in his early and many wrongs than in his late and scarce rights. That conceit is often satisfying and very ancient, as old at least as the “Golden Ass” of Apuleius.
[You’re being poignant and subtly aggressive but perfectly good-spirited and kind - thank you for that. I fear I might lack your finesse, so please, do not take my tone a sign of personal hostility, as you’ve been a perfect gentleman.]
Movie criticism I am fine with, it’s a conceited and prophetic glee of the self crowned illusion shattered which I shudder at the sight of.
There is a kind of vanity only the Marxian theorist, the psychoanalyst, and the trend commentator share.
And Royal’s rascally deeds are a mixed bag - Some are picaresque actions the movie indulges, some the movie looks rather coldly upon - his brutality towards his children, for example. The whole essence of the movie lies in the fact that Royal is a mix of The Trixter and of a genuine bastard. He never repents from being the Trixter, to the degree where he has a blatant lie written in his grave. He repents and partially recovers from being a bastard.
So the picaresque model , while relevant as a target for intetextuality, is hardly the right conceit.
But either way the fact is, the slurs are among many assholish things done by him. You can claim that the movie is questionable for giving its forgiveness for someone who used these slurs,
or for not looking upon them as a great enough crime, but ignoring the fact that Royal is a morally unreliable character is just a misrepresentation.
Ignoring the fact that Royale was aggravating his romantic rival by waging a very dirty war, rather than expressing racist views which we do not in fact have any reason to beleive he possesses, is similarly a misrepresentation, but that’s redundant.
"There’s no sense in putting some of the postings I’ve read here and on Ray Davis’ Pseudopodium in the same boat with Mark Sarvas.”
Marco Roth: Have you read Mark Sarvas’s current interview with John Banville? Have you read any of his reviews? I’m sorry, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I never practice intertextuality, much less Marxism or the Viennese science, and I try not to make people shudder because tingling is a better feeling, especially in the spine. So sorry about that. If the Marxian, the shrink, and I are sharing our vanity, who gets it on which day? I could certainly use it on Friday, so that I can peacock before my tomcatting.
In all of the Wes Anderson movies there are actors of many races, and racial material. Some things happen that are racist, usually a case of the auteur trying to tweak his mostly white, mostly educated, mostly politically correct audience, who can laugh at these naughty goofs confident they are not running out of ethnic friends. By and large this is harmless, and casual. That is, “a casual racism pervades,” as I wrote. That part of the essay was intended to be more description than indictment. The full text is here:
The Golden Ass and Royal Tenenbaums share a last minute redemption aspect to their plots. I never meant to imply that Royal Tenenbaums was a picaresque. Such an assertion would be absurd! The Life Aquatic, that’s a picaresque, one that is corny and flat yet indicative of a great sea change in the cultural life of a generation.
You don’t imply the Royal Tenenbaum is a picaresque, but you did in fact *say* that the work’s relationaship with its hero’s actions is similar to that of a picaresque. And that is, in fact, what I contradcted.
But you being the wittier party, I really don’t have much of a chance here.
I have to agree with Daniel that Sarvas does not deserve to be singled out for denigration. (I didn’t properly process that slight, reading through the first time. But it seems to me undeserved.)
Yawn writes: “Likewise it is now quite popular and dogmatically commensensical to snark at “theory” as though this come-lately American-invented word were always both self-evident and self-enclosed (and why bother with the originals.)” I hope you aren’t addressing us, yawn. If so, then may I point out that, while Nietzsche says a will to misunderstand is sometimes necessary, it is possible to go overboard in that direction. Word to the wise.
I sure love Wes Anderson, although “Life Aquatic” was disappointing.
John- If I may recommend, watch it again some day. I was bitterly disappointed with it when I originally watched it, as all the allegations about Anderson sprinkling random quirkiness for indie-cred I found so aggravating seemed true: I didn’t feel like it had any unity, weather Aristotelian or allegorical or emotional or stylistic.
Watching it a second time about a week ago, I thought it was simply fantastic, everything felt perfectly orchestrated and meaningful, every gesture essential and harmonious. Keeping up with the lame musical metaphor, I think the reason every Anderson fan I know, including me, ‘didn’t get it’, or as it seemed a the times, just didn’t like it, is that the movie switches Andersons aesthetic from a minor to a major key- the gestures are bigger, the moments pushing against the borders of realism more dense, the characters stranger, their life more detached from the common life, the colors brighter.
It disrupted the readerly (watcherly? readerly sounds more like a word) capacities I developed for watching Anderson films - I showed up at the movies attuned for certain kinds of affects, expecting certain kinds of subtleties , certain kinds of surfaces requiring a peel, nuances to be watched four, patterns to expect, and in all these ‘sensors’ I set up I really didn’t pick up enough substance for the movie to seem great.
As it turns out, I was just on the wrong wavelength. It’s not that this movie is very different from the others- it just calls for a different mode of watching.
People I know who never watched Anderson before *love* this movie, far more than any Anderson film they watch after it. Seeing it for a second time - already having the whole film in mind, which allowed for certain changes of perspective, as I already had some sense of possible focal points - it suddenly all made sense in a wonderful, abstract way.
I carry the opposing standard. But I honor Marco’s, and as much as it’s in my power, I try to understand it, as he does mine. There’s a paper audience and a paper legacy, and, for some people, the paper history means enough to help them do what wouldn’t be done otherwise. n+1’s online offerings have been frequent and splendid. Online and offline, it compares well to the best of the web journals I follow. (The Believer compares so-so to the mediocre web journals I glance at.)
(The money, though? If there were ten n+1s publishing monthly, an ethical, prolific, and very frugal writer living in a backwater might be able to scrape by. As it is, though, a good bartender makes more on a good night, and there are more good nights per month than good magazines.)
But I’d like to broach the old argument with startling new evidence.
The first two issues of n+1 are sold out. I don’t think they got into many public libraries. Certainly not internationally. Anyone who’s ever been ripped off by cereal box tops or X-ray glasses will be wary of subscribing to the first issues of an American little magazine.
In one way, it must be a thrill to run out. But in another way it must mean something else to the kind of writers attracted to the magazine that their work is inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t in an urban center with disposable income at just the right moment.
Anyway, I just get nervous at moments like this—seen too much drop out of sight, I guess. I’m sure there’s some plan underway to deal with this artificial (under the circumstances) scarcity. And again, I greatly appreciate what’s resulted so far, and, come the revolution, I’ll samizdat it as needed should it be such a horrifically ill-run revolution that I survive it.
(Sorry to drag us out of N+1 territory - Marco and the bunch should know I feel they’re excellent, and that they’re welcome over on Long Sunday as guest posters etc any time they like… And the photo in the NYT of the apartment/headoffice incited immediate and total Bkyln nostalgia in me - I’m in exile from Cobble Hill as of 3 mos. ago.)
Hope you weren’t including me in under “crank factor” - I don’t troll… And I don’t throw bombs without aiming. And as for “competitiveness,” I could care less what traffic I yield. I was 100% in earnest, and I think the issue’s stilll open…
The posts that get comments (and we have to imagine traffic) on the Valve are those that attack theory / leftist approaches to literature. Plain and simple. The other stuff just floats.
The lack of, as it were, a counternarrative - a positive contribution - was what I was worried about from the start. So far, the Valve has fallen flat in that regard. (The Literary Wittgenstein kinda failed to spark the counterrevolution, no?) But throw up another diatribe vs. English department decadence, and the meter will start ticking…
Well I won’t say that blogging can’t be fun...So,dear Valvolines, in brief reply to some of the many comments in no particular order: My initial response took up the print/blog question in reaction to John’s inaugural Valve essay which, if I remember it properly, did seem to make a case for the particular value of an on-line medium in the present age of mass media saturation, the decline of live discussion w/in the classroom and the campus for all the reasons mentioned in so many articles that I can’t even begin to name them, all this as the academy cast itself all too self-consciously as a “market.” All this meant that you were as likely to find a colleague or friend who shared your sympathies and tastes and disputatious tendencies in Singapore or Turkey or India as in the office next door (susbtitute Utah, Wyoming, or Pennsylvania if you happen to be reading this in Turkey, India, or Singapore). I caught a note of the Valve’s opening salvo in John’s posting about n+1, and wanted to point out that we can agree on the need to do something but that I was skeptical about techno-utopianism. I didn’t want to say that print was then better, as Sean seems to think I have, because that would have been making a techno-reactionary argument and my aim was to steer the discussion away from technology itself to the uses we can make of it within limits. I’d still prefer a mass movement to lower airfares and end the criminalization of immigration to the substitute consolations of free internet traffic until we can no longer afford the energy costs, but in a better world there’d be no reason not to have both.
In response to some of Ray’s post and part of Amardeep’s, I’m going to say a little more about n+1’s printing plans. We’ve discussed having the issue printed in India as well as the US and possibly in other cheaper Euro locations; we’d sell it there for a fair price; though we couldn’t possibly achieve the circulation of the Soviet books Pankaj Mishra writes about in our forthcoming issue, we’d certainly be more affordable there than we are now with current overseas subscription rates.
Our first two issues did make it into some libraries, and we’re not currently charging exorbitant library rates. I’d also urge anyone who no longer wants their first two issues of n+1 to donate them to good local public libraries, and “samizadating” is fine. And, lastly, as our first two issues become harder to find, we’ve made more of the content available online and we’re working to improve our own archive system. There’s no doubt that the web offers an unparalleled resource as an archive, and I’d be a fool to say otherwise. We’d like to maintain a healthy stretch of time between the release of an issue and the posting of too much of its content on the web and we’d also like to remain sensitive to the rights of our authors to withold pieces for online publication if they wish or to their desire to be made as widely available as they like. I can’t say anything now about plans to deal with our demand for non-existent back issues. Hope that clears up some things.
I don’t throw bombs without aiming.
Always the bomb thrower’s defense.
Ah, Marco, I did misunderstand you, but that’s because you referred to “the dignity of writing and thinking still implied by” print publication and blogging.
I see your point now, but I think it rests on a misreading of what John originally wrote. Is it your implication that he’s the techno-utopianist? That would be wrong. The initial argument was that blogging could play one valuable role in the publishing (and, arguably, cultural) crisis of the academic humanities, not that it would bring about the revolution.
A quote from that post:
For another, I might produce the erroneous impression that I think a blog like this IS the magic-bullet solution, which would be silly. I do think that the solution to the problem of poor circulation of ideas (not paper) has to involve making room for something that blogs do well.
Comparing that to Surrealism or Soviet style modernism would be a misreading.
Thank you for the reassurance, Marco. I figured something(s) like that must be underway.
CR, I would by no means call you a crank—and I note that Amardeep didn’t either. There is, though, a real difficulty with a site like this that I didn’t foresee, and that I think some other contributors didn’t either.
* We don’t have a lot in common, which I thought of as a good thing at the time.
* Traditionally bloggy turn-up-the-heat generalizations garner more explicit attention from the outside world than research notes, appreciations, jokes, and so forth. That’s just a fact of online life: There are some things that people find and enjoy; there are other things that make people want to argue; argumentative people are louder than contented people.
Combine those two points, and some writers who aren’t in this for a fight may feel themselves stuck between floods of hostility and droughts of complete disregard, sometimes spattered by a little inappropriate hostility flying through on its way to the next flame.
Such writers are unlikely to find it a hospitable climate. I suspect, although I haven’t asked her about it, that something like that is why Miriam Burstein didn’t post her review of Lord Byron’s Novel—well informed, well analyzed, well written—here in The Valve, where it would in theory be right at home. At her own site, it hasn’t received comments—just links and appreciative readers. Here, I think it would get more of each, but might also get a crazed troll or two, or be dismissed in terms like “The other stuff just floats.”
The “crank factor” is an annoyance to be managed explicitly. But the “competitiveness” that Amardeep mentions and that CR reinforces is something we need to manage in our own minds if we’re going to work towards that “positive contribution”. CR, in associating that hope with attention to the site-meter, I’m afraid you put us in the same bind as the reviewer who so oddly complained about lack of fireworks in the Theory’s Empire discussion.
One of the things that frustrated me about print publication was the relative difficulty of reader reach and response. Conversely, though, that lack of immediacy, that uncertainty, may be helpful for many writers in avoiding the distraction of self-imposed competition. I doubt very much that one n+1 contributor feels crummy when his piece gets fewer hits than another’s.
Your observation, CR, is plain and simple bullshit. The most comments on any post I’ve ever made were attached to a post encouraging educational decadence. Furthermore, your comments here, including this last, often are nasty and insinuating. Would you post them under your own name?
Dear Ray Davis,
As the most vain, glib of n+1’s web contributors, I can assure you that I monitor n+1’s web stats obsessively. Competition is practically my favorite thing. Correction: winning is my favorite thing, along with being “the best.” Luckily, I have no cause to feel crummy, as in terms of n+1 web “hits” I am the biggest of all time, the Hank Aaron of little magazine online components. The internet has not democratized expression; it has marketized it. Wait, perhaps the two are one in the same. Whatever, it feels good at the top, baby.
"We’d like to maintain a healthy stretch of time between the release of an issue and the posting of too much of its content on the web”
Why? The primary result of making the content available earlier would be more readers for that issue. Is your romance with print so deep that you would willingly sacrifice readers for your writers?
The lack of, as it were, a counternarrative - a positive contribution - was what I was worried about from the start. So far, the Valve has fallen flat in that regard.
Interesting point, from the thug.
Ah, the anonymity card. I don’t post under my own name not because I’d be worried about, say, Valve critique, but because my site has a primarily political angle… An angle increasingly unwelcome and career-threatening in our business.
Just ask the guy one office down from me who’s recently joined Horowitz’s Network. Sickening. Not fun or funny. Chilling.
So I keep my head down, yes, a bit gutlessly. But I’ve got a family to feed along with my ethico-political obligations to observe… I’d like to stay in the business for a little while yet. Perhaps after tenure I’ll change my policy. That, after all, is what tenure is for…
(Of course, the same folks pouring money into the Horowitz led witchhunt one door away from me are those that fund the ALSC. Seeing it up close only makes me more sure of what I argued in the first place...)
Oh, and Jonathan, we’ve been through this a hundred times about yr position here, what role you serve. You know what I mean: lit posts, and even postive proposals, fall by the wayside.
Ray - I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said…
Thanks, Marco. My inaugural post was really more focused on academic publishing and styles of academic writing. I really need to revisit that post and say again, on reflection, what I think a thing like this is good for. In broadest outlines, my idea is that nimble bloggy-things can and should complement, not replace, in an academic context. There is a level of fluid conversation - smart, frank, sharp, witty back-and-forth - that is vital for intellectual health, yet difficult to establish, particularly in disciplines with thousands of inhabitants. One of the things I had originally contemplated - and still do, but haven’t actually attempted - is a sort of regular ‘review the reviews’ feature with authors assigned to figure out what’s actually worth reading in the journals, month by month. Obviously that would have to be webbed, as well as different in style from other academic stuff, otherwise it would just be another journal clogging the pipes. The point is to invent something to clear the pipes.
This crosses over the line to what you are doing because, frankly, when I look at PMLA I think it needs to look just a bit more like n+1. I don’t mean EXACTLY like it, obviously. PMLA doesn’t publish fiction. I’m not saying it should. n+1 isn’t scholarship. Nor should it be ashamed of not being. But, regarding this thing, the essay ... take what A.O. Scott wrote: “a willingness to scramble conventional ideas of genre, mixing criticism, personal essay, fiction and philosophical argument and applying the resulting hybrid to matters both mundane (dating, going to the gym, smoking) and lofty (the meaning of life, the nature of war).” That’s not just you; that’s the academic humanities, but there’s an institutional stiffness to it, a status anxiety about its seriousness that is actually making it worse than it needs to be; this anxiety needs to be goosed, among other things. Why aren’t there any jokes in PMLA? Nothing this eclectic and hybrid high-low has any business not being funny some of the time. The problem isn’t the lack of jokes, obviously, but when their studied omission is all that honestly separates some eclectic PLMA interdisciplinary mash-up from some n+1 piece - then the absence symptomizes a failure to really get clear about what sorts of things we are writing in the academy and why. The sheer mass of academic publication, the heavy tumbrils of the tenure process rolling through the street, keep us moving. And maybe it can just keep going on. But that isn’t a reason for it to. Bad sales of humanities books are a matter of people not writing in ways that interest and engage. I have this feeling that if the weight of artificial academic obligations, as they stand, could be lifted and shifted in the right way, things would blossom so much more interestingly. So many smart people writing articles no one really wants to read. That’s a shame.
(And folks like Ray aren’t academics. So the Valve isn’t pure academia. And we like it that way. Academics should not dwell apart. That’s unhealthy.)
In short, your problem is figuring how to get paid decently for doing something good. My problem is figuring out how to do something good for what I’m paid decently - i.e. my academic salary.
Cult Rev, don’t deny it: you LOVE to party like it’s 1992, culture war style. You LOVE the smell of email in the morning. ‘Sean replied to your comment’. It smells like ... victory. No, seriously. For now you’ll have to settle for Wittgenstein. Who is a pretty good philosopher, however airy and open and un-locker room-like the comment threads may be. I’m sure we’ll get back to the good stuff - Theory. And when we do, we can count on you to sharpen the tang and thicken the fug of debate. In the meantime, I hope people are reading about Wittgenstein, even if they don’t feel they have anything to contribute. Speaking of which, please: no bombs. Just serious comments. (That you take aim is to your credit, but there is also a consequentialist angle: random is as random does, or damn near, looking at some of these threads.)
I kid! (You’re a good kid, CR, and your snark is worse than your bite; but I have to tickle your ribs now and again or I’d go nuts around this place. Also, wake me when the Valve attacks leftist approachs to literature. I totally want to see it.)
You know, when you first hassled me about being a front for a right-wing organization, we got along fine. Let’s try to recover that level of mutual respect we once shared.
Oh, cross posted with CR. Hey, I got an angry link from the Horowitz people once. Do I get props?
The thing about that is--I know who you are. You’ve revealed more than enough on your own blog for someone in the field to know. So there’s that. I think your stated reasons above for being pseudonymous are exaggerated, but I’m not criticizing that decision. I just wish that you would ask yourself before posting comments here if you would sign your own name to them. Remember that John wrote about 6,000 words in response to your Scaife-contamination comments. Did your response to that even begin to address his argument? Did you even in fact respond, or do you just continue to dredge up the same insinuation whenever it’s convenient? See where I’m going with this?
Xian, since you don’t feel crummy, my hopeful doubt can continue. I’m all for competitiveness that leads to more work and more writerly satisfaction—go for it, slugger! (Gawd DAMN that little guy can run!)
But for most of the people I’ve loved, respected, or learned from, that double-edged sword seems sharper on the inside edge.
Crickets. Hear them? Weird…
Anywho. That’s funny Jonathan, that you think you know who I am. Or even really do!
I’m famous, I guess! Who knew…
I really don’t mind if patient readers of my site (such as it is - I’ve been a wee bit busy of late) figure out who I am. Just don’t go spreading it around, indiscriminately or even discriminately, s’il vous plait.
In addition to somewhat hysterical concerns about Horowitzism, I’m also just not that fond of Google. I’d rather some bile soaked comment I post on here in response to McCann isn’t the FIRST bit of writing people see when they consult my real-time dossier. 800th thing, fine, but not the first. No, it’s not my best work, what I churn out here… But that’s out of my hands on the internets. So that’s another, slightly less hysterical reason.
(par exemple: currently when you google my real name, just about the first hit is a goddamned poem - awful - that I wrote my first year of grad school and which was published in a godforsaken internet poetry journal. Was paid a $15 Amazon gift certificate for my efforts! And the worst of it is, they didn’t publish the damn thing for like four years, so it looks like I wrote it just about yesterday… The even worser: the reason that it’s staying high despite other publications and references must be because everyone who googles me - job committees, colleagues, Jonathan - is reading the damn poem...)
(When I bought my current house, the guy who sold me the place kept bringing up the poem… arghh!)
Anyway, that’s another reason I go by CR… I’m sure you’ve had your doubts, Jonathan, about taking the opposite tack, no?
(And by the way, couldn’t I just judo you over and say: wait, your posts / comments are infected with careerist pretence whereas mine serve no master - distinterested interest only… Comment for comment’s sake… Truth suffers from an-anonymity as well, does it not?)
PS. For John’s sake, my own, and everyone’s really, I’m not going to accept your invitation to revisit more fully the initial debate… The idea that I didn’t respond is wrong - I wrote about 10 comments under John’s post. I think we left it (somewhat amicably even) at “wait and see - whether we live up to our funding...” And I’ve been waiting and seeing. And still am, of course…
Watch me put my good-faith hat on right here.
I find your comment VERY interesting indeed. I really do… This stuff:
But, regarding this thing, the essay ... take what A.O. Scott wrote: “a willingness to scramble conventional ideas of genre, mixing criticism, personal essay, fiction and philosophical argument and applying the resulting hybrid to matters both mundane (dating, going to the gym, smoking) and lofty (the meaning of life, the nature of war).” That’s not just you; that’s the academic humanities, but there’s an institutional stiffness to it, a status anxiety about its seriousness that is actually making it worse than it needs to be; this anxiety needs to be goosed, among other things.
I think this is very interesting because I see the theoretical turn as one that took the humanities in exactly this direction. At least some of the time. And the thing is, things are heading now in the other direction. Ebb tide. Toward serious scholarship, historicism in the New Historicist sense, but even worse: textual criticism is coming back (for non-initiates, that doesn’t mean close reading but rather hanging out in libraries, looking at multiple copies of the same dusty book - yuck!) Theoretical extravagance is regarded as outre and kind of silly. (Sure you have to know your theory - but by god be discrete about it...)
In other words, a specter’s haunting English, a specter that brings narrowness, specialization, horrendous boredom, and useless expertise. But that specter’s name ain’t theory. Theory, at base, was more centrifugal than centripetal. Hence English Department Imperialism back in the day etc…
Are you familiar with the works of Avital Ronell at all? However one feels about her work and her tone, what was a difficult road when she came up is now completely impossible. Blocked with an avalanche of seriousness…
I think that’s one of the big thing that the Valve often gets wrong. And it’s a huge thing: theory isn’t still dominant in English departments - at least not in the “best” ones where the news comes first.
Bad sales of humanities books are a matter of people not writing in ways that interest and engage. I have this feeling that if the weight of artificial academic obligations, as they stand, could be lifted and shifted in the right way, things would blossom so much more interestingly. So many smart people writing articles no one really wants to read. That’s a shame.
Absolutely - agree 100%. Except that’s, to my mind, more attributable to this new turn than to the previous turn toward theory. Who would ever want to read “Prostitution, Imagination, and British Romanticism” or “Modes of Literary Production in America: 1660-1860” or what you will.
Serious scholarship vs. Insistent Pertinence is the way I see it. I side with the latter. You’d have perhaps a slightly different binary…
My problem is figuring out how to do something good for what I’m paid decently - i.e. my academic salary.
Absitively! Me too! Or, to be more honest: how to do something good, but nonetheless continue to be paid decently… Luckily I’m at an insitution more open to experiment in this regard than most…
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about Marshall Berman’s All That is Solid Melts Into Air as a model of… of something…
To bring all this home with just what you’re asking for, a personal essay:
I’m currently at that waypoint when one starts to figure out how to turn the diss into a proper book.
The road forks.
On the one hand, I could swiftly revise and send it out. A dissertation plus, a monograph. On the other (and this is where I’m leaning) I could take my time and revise it into something readable, something that might interest a wider populations than the 20 or so people who read books in my “field”... Something, say, that lands on the front table at the better bookstore - where not many works on literature land nowadays.
I keep thinking about Marshall Berman’s book as a kind of model… And behind that, some of Jameson’s windier stuff. Ironically (and this is the important part) what a revision in that direction would require is a massive reduction in the amount of close reading, textual attention that I perform in the diss. in favor of essayistic reflection, BROAD historical contextualization + pointed historical annecdote, and - yes - probably some more theory to help the general (highbrow) reader locate themselves and my argument.
Here’s the kicker: the safe, disciplinarily approved route is route A. Close reading, a smattering of theory. Lots and lots of reference to other academic criticism. Limited scope. Transcript of expertise. Three or four authors and out.
But that seems like a lame thing to do to me. Zzzzz…
So to recap: I’d be heading, I think, toward N+1 territory in a certain sense, away from PMLA. But that street runs in exactly the opposite direction than what you think… Out of straight lit crit and toward theory, a theoretical stance…
(Except perhaps for humor, which you want as well. But that’s a taller order than you think, I think...)
CR, anyone dull can be dull with anything. The now-canonical theorists I enjoyed were funny, original, exciting, and eccentric at their best. The same’s true of Jerome McGann and Hugh Kenner and Joanna Russ at their best. The theorists I’ve enjoyed most paid attention to what they were about instead of parading in borrowed fustian, and the same goes for the non-theorists. They weren’t canonical or imitating a canon, and the non-theorists I’ve enjoyed weren’t either. The real division in critical writing isn’t Theory vs. Reaction, or Nonsense vs. Clear Thinking, but people who begin “In this paper I will argue” (or regional dialects thereof) and people who don’t. Serious scholarship is one and the same with insistent pertinence, or it just doesn’t count as that serious or that insistent.
I fulminate. I fulminate because I love.
Once again, I totally agree with you. I just don’t think John agrees with you… Nor does the discipline of English as currently institutionalized, in a certain sense.
Or maybe the discipline is just waiting for this to happen… For serious scholarship to turn back into insistent pertinence.
Your first and penultimate paragraphs are very good examples of what I’m talking about.
Your boss just called for a sense of humor to be implemented… Get to it!
It was eerie, the burst of comments in the AM, then the complete silence in the PM, and now this late (John, of course, should simply reverse his meridians...) Thus my crickets. No harm no foul.
And I have a point, no, about the consequences of signing your posts? Isn’t the utopian space of the bloggernets supposed to liberate us from the shackles of “identity” so that we might freely commune as disembodied, unprofessional, Spirits?
Jonathan, speaking as a bystander, I’m mystified.
CR, I think John’s working at being moist and delicious, too, and (to make like the prescriptive critics I fucking loathe) I wish he also wouldn’t let himself be distracted by this division that seems to have nothing to do with doing the specific good jobs you both want to do. Not that you two shouldn’t be fighting, but I have some dumb faith that given free rein you’d find more peculiar things to fight about.
Personally, based purely on the fates of the critics I admire, I think both of you are likely to be less acceptible in academia in direct proportion to the quality of your work no matter which orthodoxies are most prevalent where. Holbo looked pretty odd-man-out-ish in the ALSC newsletter. Come on, he’s a pop-cultural analytical Nietzschean!
CR, we agree about much. But indeed I don’t think the binary is serious scholarship vs. insistent pertinence. I agree that the scholarship thing can get dreary. (Cf. Edmund Wilson, “The Fruits of the MLA”. Someone is always snarking at the MLA. It just can’t win. It’s always doing something. And it’s so big that therefore it is always doing TOO MUCH of something.) But the dusty book thing is unavoidably a major part of the territory. ‘Yuck!’ is sort of a confession that you may be in the wrong business. Or at least that a big part of the business isn’t for you. Hard to get around that, I think.
I object to the hint at Theory = pertinence. (Not just because Theory is so impertinent, always tweaking everything.) But we won’t go there right now.
“Prostitution, Imagination, and British Romanticism” could be fascinating and it could just be empty and dull. Depends whether it has and projects a sense of WHY it is interesting, or just flows lazily in the over-production current.
I suspect the same thing, yes.
I now pronounce us man and Holbo.
Luckily, I work at a place that is probably more accepting than most of out-on-a-limb-ness. One of the rare places. So I think I’ll take the path less travelled by. And John, well, has already…
If he could just lose the ALSC logo I’d feel much more comfortable with him / this site. I was traumatized, you see, by ALSCeans as a young man…
Well sure I occassionally look at a dusty book or two (generally what’s on Amazon works well enough for me) but the problem is that lit studies has headed into dustiness for dustiness’s sake” territory. Which does absolutely nothing for me.
I’ve gotten around it so far, in spades. Refreshing, I’d like to think I am. There’s lot of big parts of your business, as well, that you seem to be skipping… Or giving less than full attention to. But good for you!
Theory doesn’t automatically = pertinence, no. But a better chance than the other, what we have now…
Off to bed.
Thanks to Dan,
From that Sarvas interview with Banville:
“Most of the publishers that I’ve dealt with actually love books, <object itself. It’s a great thing in this day an age.</i> As you know, it’s diametrically opposed to the film industry – which is understandable, there’s so much money involved. But in the film industry, you’re never asked to be original. You’re asked to repeat something somebody did last week.”
There is the danger, isn’t there, that blogs + money might = another film industry?
Blogs are very good for some things. They are very good as aggregators that break down the chaos of the Internet into digestible portions and ordered forms. They are very good in that they permit people to talk across long distances.
But let’s have the courage to say that for all their virtues, they are neither-nor, and useful mostly as substitute gratifications. They create a demi-literature whose relationship is more parasitic than symbiotic with the print culture. They are indices of the decline of intellectual life that mitigate in meaningful ways the decline they underscore. That we have to each be here behind our computer screens talking about these ideas instead of gathered in a coffehouses where you can walk in at any time of day and be assured to meet other smart people who want to talk about ideas shows how impoverished we are.
It would be much more interesting to meet the lot of you around a table with drinks. And all of the very intelligent thoughts posted here would be all the more intelligent if subjected to the long thought and editorial scrutiny that comes with shaping a piece for publication. The print culture imposed its ironclad rule: the way to appear in public is at your best.
The blog and email culture is breaking this mentality down. Lee Siegel made this point in his review of Sean Wilsey’s memoir. Now we have books that read like emails. Soon we will have books that read like blogs.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love blogs, I read blogs, I learn things from blogs, I even, for a while, maintained a blog on which I satirized my own friends. Blogs are going to become increasingly more important important and useful as ways of producing collaborative knowledge of various kinds—they are perfect for car enthusiasts, local history buffs, foodies, hobbyists of many sorts, and so on—and for publicizing news stories and as personal expression that mixes streaming video content with audio clips, photo montages, and the personal voice.
But there’s something about the real life conversation, and the real live fully finished piece and edited work of writing that you can hold in your hands and carry for you, that nothing is going to displace or substitute for. Period. Let’s say all kinds of things about the possibilities of blogs.
Now if this post seems a bit disjointed and maybe even to reverse itself from point to point—there you see it. In a bar you could’ve stopped me and gotten clarification in the midst of my stream of consciousness. In composing a piece, I would’ve gone back and ironed everything out. Instead, I just laid all out and pressed send.
the print culture of N + 1 led someone there to make the suggestion that an important intellectual service is played by insult and to worry that there might be less of it around. That doesn’t seem to me even the slightest bit more thoughtful than the average blog spout.
There isn’t now and there never was an ironclad rule about print publication. Blogging looks worse mainly by a false golden ageism, I think.
I’m not sure which piece you have in mind—something from the front matter, no doubt. And, of course, the Valve and other sites like it regularly has far more incisive commentary and criticism than appear in our print journals of opinion or even the New York Times.
But the print culture of n+1 also produced: “Moghadishu, Baghdad, Troy,” probably the best and most important thing to have come of that magazine, and “Babel in California,” among the more entertaining long essays to be published by anyone in any venue.
Both of these achievements were specific to the print culture. I don’t want to deride what blogs do, because I like what blogs do. But there are certain things that only print can do, and it’s this that I want to emphasize.
It’s a pleasure to be here talking about these things with all of you, but it would be even better to have you across the table, and really, the only reason we’re here at all is because someone else spent a long time by themselves, struggling against the temptation we’re all presently succumbing—to procrastinate through email and the web—to produce these singular, and finished objects of thought.
What tends to happen in these long cyber-exchanges is that people end up having to explain their sarcasm after the fact, or people end up in flame wars because others interpret their hastily cobbled together-thoughts in ways other than they had intended, so a lot of meta-conversation has to happen and then you get so tied up in this stuff that not a lot gets solved. Let’s love the blogs and email and Internet for what it can do but let’s also pay tribute to the special sovereignty that belongs to print alone. And for that, let’s acknowledge that virtual community is a very poor substitute for the real thing that involves bodies and gestures and proximity of people in one space.
New York City used to have 100’s of independent booksellers and it used to teem with people trying to live intellectual lives outside of academic settings. It was out of this culture that the great intellectual magazines sprang.
It’s not false golden age-ism to point out that this live eco-system has been levelled—and not just by TV and the Internet or the anti-intellectual of American life, but also by the practices of chain bookstores, and corporatized publishing, which has built its middlebrow high-rises where lots of diversity and life used to flourish. The real question that n+1 poses has nothing to do with the blog future vs. some fetishistic attachment to an imagined utopia of the past; it has to do with whether and to what extent intellectuals determined to maintain an independent existence and rebuild some of the living ecosystem that’s been paved over by Bertelsman, among others, can continue to do so while maintaining cozy personal and fiduciary ties to those conglomerates.
"But there are certain things that only print can do”
Exactly how is this true? Are you talking about length or ease of access? These are technological problems which may or may not ultimately be solved, but they have nothing to do with a print “culture.”
It’s actually the “culture” that I would emphasize above print itself. Because, of course, you can take either of the essays I referenced in my post and you can post them on the web. And you can, in fact, try to have a website that consists of such essays.
This is what Feed Magazine tried to do, and some long, important work went up on that site. But Feed and other sites like it all went defunct, to be replaced by blogs, because that’s the nature of the web. The web is just better for the links, provocations, riffs.
Feed never worked as a revenue producing model, because it was an attempt to impose the print “culture” onto the Internet. Whereas Gawker.com and its affiliated websites succeeds as a revenue model because it’s cut out for the medium.
The blogs are excellent venues for smart talk of many kinds, but sustained thinking still belongs to the print culture. No blogger is ever going to post “Babel in California.”
And print literary magazines don’t appear and then go defunct? This happens to most of them. If “Gawker” is your idea of a relevant blog, you need to get around more.
“but sustained thinking still belongs to the print culture”
Dear Dan Green,
Thanks for changing “horseshit” to “nonsense” between the time I began responding to your post and now. A joke springs to mind, but in the spirit of self-editing you’ve initiated, I’ll suppress it. I have no interest in getting into a flame war with you or anyone else, but as to my concerns about the blogosphere, I will point to your angry, post and say QED, my friend, QED.
I’ve been to all the litblogs I’m sure you have in mind. Most consist of links to pieces that appeared first in print magazines about books that appeared in print. I believe this exists for a reason that is intrinsic to the nature of print and cyberspace.
The decentralized, spontaneous, collaborative, uinrestricted nature of the medium makes it better suited for some things than others, whereas the singular, sovereign, discrete, delimited, physical nature of the book or journal makes it intrinsically suited for other purposes. Those correspond to the existing division of labor: the books exist to tell us stories or make us think; the web exists as a venue to think further about the thinks that the books have made us think, and to bounce that thought in spontaneous and collaborative ways against others.
Now, maybe you think this existing division of labor is temporary, and I lack the vision to see the day when the web will usurp and consume the aura and authority of print. But, in fact, what I see happening on the web is the usurpation of the print culture by a streaming media culture that is rapidly accelerating as more people get hooked up to high speed connections.
If you want to make a case that the division of labor that presently obtains between print and the blogs is temporary and will soon be swept away, I’ll happily entertain it. If you want to have a flame war, I’m sure you can find someone else who will be eager to engage you.
I agree with you, Wesley, that the blogosphere and print are suited to different, though overlapping pursuits. But, like Dan, I think you’re overstating the implications of that difference and confusing the things you describe a little. There are definitely qualities of the internets that encourage flame wars, etc. But flame wars are a pretty prominent part of the history of print (as are meta-problems and the inability to resolve disputes), too, and sustained or careful thought has always been relatively rare in it.
I think you downplay the significance of that fact when you say, “let’s also pay tribute to the special sovereignty that belongs to print alone. And for that, let’s acknowledge that virtual community is a very poor substitute for the real thing that involves bodies and gestures and proximity of people in one space."
You’re conflating two things here: print communities and face-to-face communities. In the former, lots of vices you associate with blogs haven’t been unusual, and in the blogosphere many of the virtues you associate with print are quite possible. (A lot of journalistic writing, for example, is much the kind of second order commentary on more extended writings that you see as special to blogs. E.g., book reviews.)
"Most consist of links to pieces that appeared first in print magazines about books that appeared in print.”
So what? Most essays in print journals, especially scholarly journals, also “link” to other writing that appeared elsewhere and in books. Most books “link” in this way as well. If the “link” is also accompanied by an intelligent discussion of the issues raised by the linked-to source, why is it inherently inferior if it occurs in a blog?
This is not a flame war. You simply haven’t responded to my initial questions except to reiterate your own assertions.
UPDATE: On the issue of “links”: As Sean has just pointed out as well.
"And print literary magazines don’t appear and then go defunct? This happens to most of them.”
Yes, individual venues go defunct, but the institution of print journalism as the proper venue for long, considered, carefully edited work to appear first continues, whereas “content-generating” web sites have been displaced by blogs of various kinds. My argument is that this happend for a reason.
The difference between the editorial and quick-hit commentaries that appear in the opinion journals and on the web is rather slight—as I observed in my initial post to which you objected so strenuously.
But the two essays I referenced in n+1 really do, in a way that is intrinsic to their structure, aspire to be in print. Even if they had only been put on the n+1 website, they would have done so after being subject to habits of mind and craft that exist in the print culture primarily. They represent the highest thing that print culture is capable of—which is not to say that print culture isn’t susceptible to all of the flaws of online and other cultures. Of course it is.
The effort to make a viable business out of this model failed not just in a few instances - but for everybody. (Salon.Com is the exception that proves the rule.) And, in my view, the failure corresponds to a tendency in the medium itself. You can curl up and live with a book in a way that you can’t with a stationary screen.
Somebody we’ll maybe have portable machines that allow you download books through the wireless internet that will hve a special coating to make them as readable as paper. But those devices won’t be _blogs_—they won’t have the advantages of the spontaenous, unrestricted, decentralized medium—nor its drawbacks. There is always intertextuality, and people are always commenting on each other’s commentaries, and so forth. But the highest and best thing that the print culture is able to do is something that the cyber culture really hasn’t yet done, and probably won’t ever do, because that is not its role.
I miswrote when I implied a connection between the blogs’s failings to books and its failing to be real community. I began by saying that blogs are neither-nor and substitute gratifications for better things—for the full on satisfaction of books, or the full on satisfaction of face to face interaction. I stand behind this, though I would soften my rhetoric if I were to write an essay on it, as opposed to say—gassing off on a blog. The backtracking I’m doing here is another example of the thing to be demonstrated being demonstrated in the act.
Wesley: You keep referring to efforts to “make a viable business” out of various internet forms. Surely this is beside the point. The point of your comments has been that there is a distinct “print culture” that is superior to what can be found on blogs. Are you arguing it’s superior because some print venues make money? Most don’t.
“Even if they had only been put on the n+1 website, they would have done so after being subject to habits of mind and craft that exist in the print culture primarily.”
Is this because of some mysterious and inherent superiority of print-thinking, or because as of yet only a few internet publications whose propietors have these “habits of mind and craft” have appeared? Does some chemical exuding from wood pulp inculcate these habits?
How do you know what the role of cyber culture will come to be? Are you psychic, or do you just possess a higher-order wisdom about these things?
My argument is simply this: when individuals like Maud Newton and Jessica Crispin began to post links and short commentary on the web, the Internet began to assume its “true” form when it came to treating literary culture, the one that is best matched to the medium’s inherent attributes.
I’ve already stated several times what I think those attributes are: spontaneity, collaboration, timeliness, decentralization, and so forth. Early attempts to import the apparatus of print culture to the web all failed—partly because of the money, mostly because this was something other than the “true” form best suited to the medium.
Now, this is an argument that relies on an analysis of how the medium works based on my experience of it. It is certainly not an argument based on looking into the future. But if my argument is correct, what we’ll see for the future of online content is a lot more streaming media, and further elaborations of the single-person blog concept into ventures like this collaborative entity here.
Throughout all this, print is going retain its special function too: it will continue to be the venue through which long and sustained works of the imagination and intellect appear first.
If you have another vision, I’m happy to entertain it. It’s not important to me to be right about this, although I think I am—if really cool stuff happens on the web with literature, and the web becomes the primary venue where new works fo the imagination and intellect appear—that’ll be great too. But my sense of things tells me otherwise.
Wesley: You say that yours is “not an argument based on looking into the future” and then you say “print is going retain its special function too: it will continue to be the venue through which long and sustained works of the imagination and intellect appear first.” Again, how do you know this? What has given you special insight into the “inherent” value of the cyber medium? What seems inherent today may seem wholly contingent and superseded tomorrow.
You’re right, this could happen. I don’t think it will for the reasons I’ve reiterated about a half-dozen times, but if it does, I’ll happily issue a retraction.
“things are heading now in the other direction. Ebb tide. Toward serious scholarship, historicism in the New Historicist sense, but even worse: textual criticism is coming back (for non-initiates, that doesn’t mean close reading but rather hanging out in libraries, looking at multiple copies of the same dusty book - yuck!)”
“the problem is that lit studies has headed into dustiness for dustiness’s sake territory. “
What are you talking about, CR? Could you provide, say, five examples of influential articles, books, or editions from the last decade that represent this trend you fear?
I see Wesley Yang has a blog in which he deposits his journalism. So far, it contains a NY Observer review of n+1. Interesting. (I’m not being sarcastic or insinuating anything. It’s interesting.)
As to Wesley’s thesis. I’ll quote from his first comment, from which he has not sigificantly retreated (except to admit that if the future proves him wrong, he’s wrong):
“But let’s have the courage to say that for all [blogs’] virtues, they are neither-nor, and useful mostly as substitute gratifications. They create a demi-literature whose relationship is more parasitic than symbiotic with the print culture. They are indices of the decline of intellectual life that mitigate in meaningful ways the decline they underscore. That we have to each be here behind our computer screens talking about these ideas instead of gathered in a coffehouses where you can walk in at any time of day and be assured to meet other smart people who want to talk about ideas shows how impoverished we are.
It would be much more interesting to meet the lot of you around a table with drinks. And all of the very intelligent thoughts posted here would be all the more intelligent if subjected to the long thought and editorial scrutiny that comes with shaping a piece for publication. The print culture imposed its ironclad rule: the way to appear in public is at your best.”
As to the coffeehouse, or out-for-drinks: I think Wesley significantly overemphasizes and indulges in a bit of artificial self-confirmation.
“Now if this post seems a bit disjointed and maybe even to reverse itself from point to point—there you see it. In a bar you could’ve stopped me and gotten clarification in the midst of my stream of consciousness. In composing a piece, I would’ve gone back and ironed everything out. Instead, I just laid all out and pressed send.”
A good post is not unedited, certainly not a key-rattling stream of consciousness. I and others spend hours slaving before hitting ‘post’. This might seem prickly-picky defensiveness, but ‘think before you post’ is a significant determinant of the quality and character of serious blog conversations. The intellectual level is significantly higher in a good thread than around the table for drinks. This applies less to comments, but applies. (Obviously there are flame wars, but bar fights break out too.) Evolution has not equipped your mouth with a ‘preview’ button. If you saw a transcript of your conversation at the bar, I don’t think it would stand against a good post plus attendant comments. Unless you are such a superlatively rigorous raconteur and adept unwinder of consecutive oral argument that you are, frankly, a bad data point.
There’s a thread going at CT about this right now, in which the correct point is made that the gold standard for comment quality is maintained by the Nielsen Haydens. They’re the best because they weed and cultivate the garden constantly. Salon life just doesn’t get much better, frankly.
Whatever the infirmities of intellectual life at the start of the 21st Century, I have to say I feel inordinately privileged in the conversation department. I have much better conversations today, on blogs, than I had - for the most part - as a graduate student at UC Berkeley or as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. I have dozens of colleagues and friends (and frenemies and a few enemies) with whom I maintain sustained intellectual discussions. I have formed some very serious, very close intellectual bonds. Apart from a touch of RSS-induced ADD (I admit it), I feel the change in my intellectual life has been for the better. Blog triumphalism is distasteful because it is associated with idiots, and because we are all - I trust I speak for us all - book-fetishists who fear for the passing or decline of a beloved medium. But blogging is still great. Period.
I was just on a panel at the American Political Science Association with three fellow bloggers - Henry Farrell, Russell Fox and Scott McLemee. The discussion went well, but largely because we were primed by the blogging build-up, and I can’t honestly say that the event itself was more intellectually stimulating than stages of the build-up, i.e. the getting to know each other over years of reading and comment. Of course I was delighted to be able to go out to drinks with these people I’d been talking to for years. But that’s rather a different matter. Social and personal, not relief at finally being able to TALK. It seems drafting serious thoughts, then revising in the fact of comments; then saying almost the same thing; getting knocked; repeating in the attempt to get it right - serves an intellectual end. The blog is not a distraction but an instrument of intellectual discipline (employed properly. Obviously there are temptations not to. But Wesley is arguing a stronger negative thesis than, ‘blogging can be grand wanking waste of time’, which no sane observer would deny.)
To be fair, Wesley lavishly compliments us:
“And, of course, the Valve and other sites like it regularly has far more incisive commentary and criticism than appear in our print journals of opinion or even the New York Times.”
But then he back-pedals.
“It’s a pleasure to be here talking about these things with all of you, but it would be even better to have you across the table, and really, the only reason we’re here at all is because someone else spent a long time by themselves, struggling against the temptation we’re all presently succumbing—to procrastinate through email and the web—to produce these singular, and finished objects of thought.”
But if we are as good as the print journals or the NY Times - at at our best - why say we are putting off our higher duty to get our stuff into print, as ‘finished objects’? The answer seems to come in the intervening bit where Wesley praises two essays in particular from n+1. Without debating the merits of these specific critical judgments, his argument REALLY seems to be that we ought to be working not to get into print but to produce works of singular genius.
There is something to this. It would be funny to write a Donald Bartheleme-style short-story: “The Blogpost of Genius” about a post that reduces people to tears, inspires thousands of book-length scholarly monographs, causes a revolution, makes wives leave their husbands, is made into a movie starring Ethan Hawke, etc. (Obviously the story would give no hint as to the content of the post. It would be a McGuffin.)
To put it another way: the news-cycle pace which, to an unfortunate degree, determines blog post consumption ... is a bitch. Granted. You don’t write for eternity but for the next 48 hours. Still, if you grant (and apparently you do) that the quality is as good as the NY Times, at it’s best, then your point is really ... well, it looks to me like you are either just a print fetishist or else are holding out for works of transcendent genius.
This point is a bit further down the thread. Wesley writes:
“I’ve been to all the litblogs I’m sure you have in mind. Most consist of links to pieces that appeared first in print magazines about books that appeared in print. I believe this exists for a reason that is intrinsic to the nature of print and cyberspace.”
I’m sure this is an accident, but the slip is telling. Blogs - blog posts - do not ‘consist’ of links. They contain links. There is a style - linky-linky - that comes closest to ‘consisting’ of links. Which brings us to summation:
“My argument is simply this: when individuals like Maud Newton and Jessica Crispin began to post links and short commentary on the web, the Internet began to assume its “true” form when it came to treating literary culture, the one that is best matched to the medium’s inherent attributes.”
The problem with this is that Maud and Jessica are one KIND of blogger. I dearly love Maud . She’s queen bee in my book. Come to think of it, I quoted Jessica Crispin in a paper I gave at a conference. Gave here a footnote and everything. (Mostly a case of getting a good push off from a joke she cracked. Still.) But these two aren’t exactly LIKE the Valve? They don’t publish several-thousand word academic essays, or even para-academic essays. Not that this means the big brains are on us. But it really seems hard to maintain that they are more attuned to the medium’s ‘inherent attributes’ than we are. (I agree that there is a sort of compulsive chattiness to linky-linky that may seem a terminal distraction from getting down to serious work. But that is rather a separate point. To argue that the internet facilitates linky-linky is not even to begin to argue that it cannot facilitate non-linky-linky.)
I don’t mean just to hammer on Wesley with all this. I find his skepticism interesting and provoking. In a good way. I think his argument really comes down to this: blog posts will not be works of genius. There is something in the nature of the disposable, news-cycle ‘alms for oblivion’ pace that ensures sub-optimal - but perhaps still quite high quality - production.
And if THIS comment doesn’t gob-stop the thread, nothing will.
I’m off to Bali. No blogs for me for a week. See you all next weekend.
Far be it from me to take advantage of anyone’s absence (though I’m sure he’ll pop back up if he feels like it)...nor to suggest that Wesley Yang--who makes some truly excellent points--in the absence of other targets has just been declined in a symptomatic manner his humble offer of imprisonment...but I dare say this “gob-stop” seems more than a bit disingenuous to me, or at the very least somewhat wishful (complete with a jubilatory “I’m off to Bali” no less!)
(As a side note, I also find it mildly amusing that Dan Green has gone from “agreeing” with my own barb of criticism for blogs (see his blog) to suddenly playing resolute bad cop over here.)
Perhaps the distinction could be made between Bloggy-Blogs and Un-Blogs or Blogs-In-Denial (of their bloggliness). Not that there is any pure essence of blog, nor necessarily any ‘outside the blog’, but only that certain standards, material conditions and economies of interest, as well as various naive euphorias (as well as their counterpart phobias) are, inevitably, at stake.
Here, for instance is a Bloggy-Blog:
Perhaps the Bloggy-Blog par excellence.
There are reasons why this blog is so “successful” qua blog. There are also reasons why this blog would be fighting its very blogliness, and undoubtedly lose some of its bloggy lustre, were it to suddenly start posting essays like the superb “Babel in California.”
The distinction is worth emphasizing in many ways, but perhaps Yang hits it on the head with the mention of this word, “solitude.”
No doubt blogs can be divine mediums for meeting people, for intellectual conversation, blunt feedback, refinement and argument (though masterful “argument” for argument’s sake is perhaps generally not literary or even philosophical so much as addictive, or worse). There is even a kind of democratization or short-circuiting that takes place in the absence of anything but the written word itself (in which it is harder for things like social class, vanity and ideology to hide).
But truly literary blogs, for instance, will never be successful by blog-market standards; they just won’t. And that shouldn’t bother anyone. Blanchot has an essay on this, as a matter of fact, should anyone be interested.
I have no desire to dissect the above, typically very congenial and yet unconpromisingly “conclusive” Holbonic essay, but only to make a few basic points.
The personal anecdote that begins, “I was just on a panel at the American Political Science Association with three fellow bloggers - Henry Farrell, Russell Fox and Scott McLemee. The discussion went well, but largely because we were primed by the blogging build-up, and I can’t honestly say that the event itself was more intellectually stimulating than stages of the build-up, i.e. the getting to know each other over years of reading and comment. Of course I was delighted to be able to go out to drinks with these people I’d been talking to for years. But that’s rather a different matter. Social and personal, not relief at finally being able to TALK.”
I think fundamentally misconstrues Yang’s general point. There is a bodily aspect to all writing, indeed, as well as social and personal, but nowhere does Yang suggest communication is only possible in person. It’s just richer, that’s a fact.
Still, this is, in my view the weakest of Yang’s arguments. The point about solitude, perhaps also about toward which symbolic Other and what future one gears one’s performance, is more central.
“It seems drafting serious thoughts, then revising in the fact of comments; then saying almost the same thing; getting knocked; repeating in the attempt to get it right - serves an intellectual end.”
Honestly this sounds more like the boxing of automatons to me, but what do I know. To the degree that any of us can “get it right,” what better way to dance than to give the serious work its due, its time for sincere contemplation. Serious works require an investment of solitude and take time to absorb, and then more time to write alongside and be faithful to, faithful enough even to leave them behind (or, waxing romantic that I am, perhaps in the stars). It’s not a matter of throwing punches. In short, the space in between written articles or books is part of a conception of time and likewise an investment in a future (the period in between the publishing of books is in the end another arbitrary market value, whose effects on culture have been profound--but this doesn’t permit one to forsake the necesary distance and integrity of the future to which such values point).
Matt: What are “blog-market standards”? This is a sincere question. I don’t think I understand your point.
Dan: According to all the experts they seem to have much to do with links and daily traffic, revenue from ads, etc. One could certainly argue for different standards, as one should, but on both a technical and cultural level and more, those are them. The blogs that suck you in, “succeed.”
For n+1 to ever appear at the top of this list:
my guess is that Marco would have to (just kidding, we’re friends, really).
Then again, anything to replace that utter philistine Denis Dutton at #29…
Matt: So you’re saying that “truly literary blogs” will never be very “popular.” Can’t disagree with that. They could exert their own kind of influence, however, couldn’t they? Yang’s own invocation of “print culture” itself seems to take us beyond mere popularity.
Just to be clear:
I do think Yang is making a somewhat reactionary argument here.
At the same time I absolutely do agree with Holbo when he says “that nimble bloggy-things can and should complement, not replace, in an academic context.”
Sorry for the tone of my previous comment.
I don’t believe anyone thinks “bloggy things” can *replace* the current forms of academic scholarship. John, I think, does believe that blog writing can (or should) adapt itself to academic standards, and should be viewed as a kind of acceptable scholarly discourse. Indeed a “complement.”
Dan: Within limits, sure, absolutely. As Marco said at the very beginning of this thread, before you proceeding to demand his head on a platter for making an unfortunate choice with his analogy.
Matt: If you’re referring to his comment about Mark Sarvas, I did indeed take umbrage. To me it indicated he hasn’t really paid very close attention to the very blogs he’s otherwise so quick to dismiss.
Dan: Be that as it may, and your umbrage notwithstanding, it doesn’t necessarily bear on the substance of his point (that which despite appearances I don’t think you or others are really so quick to dismiss).
And honestly, it’s not that hard to miss the original content and more substantial interviews on litblogs, as they’re also in the hyptertextual business of doing something other than being a magazine. I mean, n+1 has reviews too, and of philosophers like Agamben, but it seems to exist primarily to give space to original writing (not scholarly, strictly, so much as *literary*). For the reasons already stated, the distinctions between *blog* and *magazine* are important.
That said, lucky us that magazines like n+1 eventually make their contents available online. But I, for one, would never presume to place my own spur-of-the-moment blog commentary on such articles in the same league as the articles themselves; that’s just vanity.
That said, lots of print articles are full of shit, and lucky us that blogs are there to help point this out, and then point out when the bullshit-callers are full of shit, etc. Perhaps blogs should be wary of sounding like parasites in denial?
Call it parasitical if you wish, but then all of the commentators on Derrida (or whomever you wish) and all of the scholars adding new readings to old readings are parasites as well.
Just to be clear: I never said that any blog or any online magazine was better than or as good as n+1. I simply can’t see why they’re so resistant to putting more of their content online sooner.
Nonono, just the ones only using blogs. And n+1 puts lots of stuff online that never appears in print.
Sorry to interupt, but gzombie asked me a question a ways back:
What are you talking about, CR? Could you provide, say, five examples of influential articles, books, or editions from the last decade that represent this trend you fear?
Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it? I CAN’T point to a widely influential article, book, or edition (edition!) from the last decade in the first place. Can you?
(Hardt and Negri’s Empire, btw, is nothing if it’s not the exception that proves the rule...)
The breaking news that our field generates comes from the field of textual criticism… Consider yr guy’s work on Equiano. That’s the breaking news? Nothing against him, it’s fine work for what it is, but if that’s the controversy that brings us on to the front page of the Chronicle, well, I think we’re going to have a bit of a hard time convincing students, fellow academics, and the general public that we’re up to something important.
Whether you’re “pro-theory” or not, whether you think relevance comes in the form of a Trilling or a Jameson, a Said or a Leavis, I’m afraid to say that we’ve left relevance behind.
I’m of the mind that it’s time to start hunting big game again… That’s what I was talking about. Go look at the table of contents of ANY journal in the field… And ask yourself how much of this stuff could possibly, possibly matter to a non-initiate… Of course some of this work must be done - groundwork, knitting, etc…
Someone, first of all, needs to start explaining (again) Why literature matters. First and foremost… We can’t take this for granted… It does matter, I believe that with all my heart, but you wouldn’t know it from the current patterns of critical production…
And leaving pertinence aside: you really think the tide hasn’t shifted back away from theory toward textual analysis and historicism? Really? You think the Irvine-ites who snagged all the jobs in the 1980s would be welcome today as beginning professors? Go check the JIL. How many “theory” jobs do you see out there? Ask Scott Kaufman if the straight theory folks that assuredly must still be there at Irvine are getting jobs… They did 15-20 years ago.
At the department where I just finished no one, absolutely no one, exited as a theory specialist during the time that I was there. At the department where I’m currently employed, one of the primary problems is grad students who specialize in deleuze, read no literature at all, and then are shocked when the job in deleuze studies fails to materialize.
A graduate student entering today would be absolutely insane to concentrate on theory as her/his mainline field. This wasn’t true 20 years ago.
Any way, I turn the question back to you: Name any influential articles, books, editions published during the last decade. Period.
I’ve some more to say about this, but broader arguments about the value of literature rely on the textual scholars who prepare and correct the editions used to generate the generalizations. Much of the interesting new media scholarship, often described as the best candidate for demonstrating the English Department’s continued relevance, comes from the textual studies tradition.
Of course they do, of course the broader arguments rely on previous picky work… I’d never say they didn’t. But my sense is that the tide has turned in general against the broader argument.
Probably a dialectical swing in the wake of the “excesses” of theory. Or something more sinister and/or hypocritical- a la the “Grand Abdication” issue of CI in the wake of 9/11. ("As we head off toward our retirement condos in Florida, we’d like to remind you that the game is over. Was always already over. And by the way, there’s a war on terror going on. Loose notions sink nations.") What ugliness…
New Media work is a whole other ball of wax. Another issue to discuss - it’s place within literary studies. Whether it is the savior or the angel of death. But it’s not just textual studies - there’s a pretty heavy dose of theory involved there as well. From Benjamin to Kittler, lots of body stuff from Butler on back…
There is no coherent textual studies/theory dichotomy. Also, the dialectic swerves. There’s a rich vorsokratiker heritage there.
Don’t be a know-nothing. You know what I mean. Maybe it’s not coherent, but it’s fully in effect in hiring practices, venues of publication, general atmospheric mindset.
Swerve is fine. But for the fact that most dialectical operations I’m familiar with nowadays seem to have stalled. At a standstill all around when it comes to forward motion. They, therefore, pendulate. They swing. Cf. US politics.
Bush - Clinton - Clinton - Bush - Bush - Clinton or Bush - Bush or Clinton.
Like an f’n grandfather clock. Ding dong. Ding dong.
Let’s see if we can’t get the forward momentum, the swerve, back into effect, on all fronts…
CR writes, “you really think the tide hasn’t shifted back away from theory toward textual analysis and historicism? Really? You think the Irvine-ites who snagged all the jobs in the 1980s would be welcome today as beginning professors?”
Who are you talking to? I never said any of this. I just asked you a question. Let me ask it again in a simplified manner.
You wrote “things are heading now in the other direction. Ebb tide. Toward serious scholarship, historicism in the New Historicist sense, but even worse: textual criticism is coming back”
I’ll repeat my question without the “influential” part: What are you talking about? You are asserting a trend in literary studies. What examples can you cite to support this assertion? [And Vin Carretta’s research into Equiano’s birthplace is not an example of textual criticism.]
I’m just asking for clarification.
Since one thread of this conversation’s mini-migrated to my site, I thought I’d cross-post this comment here:
My question is - where are the grand claim makers? Where did they disappear to?
I think there’s an absence of the kind of synthetic superstars--those who dance from Freud to Nietzsche to Hegel and back again--who ruled days past, but I don’t think there’s a dearth of ideas, or that the work currently being done isn’t considered by those who do theory to be of critical importance. I think what we’re seeing isn’t the result of less celebrity aspirants so much as less celebrity-enthralled audiences. The Lacanians have split from the Foucauldians in ways that make critics who appeal to both thinkers suspect to both audiences. The fact that, say, I didn’t see many of the faces familiar to me from Derrida’s seminars at Zizek’s lectures indicates that, on some level, theory has specialized in ways that make the kind of thinkers whose absence you lament difficult to both produce and disseminate.
And who gets to determine who picks nits and who gets to shout?
We do, of course. When I came to UCI, I came here to “do theory” and study Joyce. I chose to do otherwise, to become the foot stool of future theorists, and I don’t regret the decision.
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If I were chief mechanic of The Valve, I’d find some way to get these guys to join forces with Denis Dutton, and then unleash CR on them.