clap clap blog: we have moved

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Well, perhaps I spoke too soon about Mr. Eggers' response.

The part that stuck in my craw in particular as I mulled yesterday was this bit:

It was our hope at McSweeney's, and continues to be our goal with The Believer, that the literary world could be one of community, of mutual support, of spirited but nonviolent discourse—all in the interest of building and maintaining a literate society. It's what we teach at 826 Valencia, too: that books are good, that reading is good, that everyone can and should write in some capacity, and that anyone pissing in the very small and fragile ecosystem that is the literary world is mucking it up for everyone—and sending a very poor message to the next generation.
Now, Eggers claims that this is the woo he's been pitching all along. But in my recollection--and this is as someone who's been out of the McSwyns loop for a year or so--it's never been put quite this explicitly, even granting that this was at the core of his arguments all along. And put this way, it annoys the hell out of me. You can see the obvious parallels between what I was bitching about yesterday in the old 'hood and the idea of "everyone supports everyone" that's being put forth here. (I imagine the more virulent anti-Eggersites would point out that the widespread resentment of McSweeney's stems almost solely from the fact that the Eggers cadre seems to only "support" a fairly small group of people, but that seems unfair; there's only so much they can do, and Eggers is always quick to point out the smallness of their staff.) The particular brand of support that seems to emerge in such situations always seems intensely self-interested, with the patina of communitiy laid on top, which as far as I can tell has always just made things harder, and in the end is a sort of nervous horse-hitching, a micobandwagon you calculatedly jump. This is a bit cynical, I realize, but especially at a young age, none of the writers I know are really capable of being supportive in the way Eggers is proposing, and that's why the competitive model has held for so long. I've been in enough goddamn workshops to know that "being supportive" is just the watchword we slide through clenched teeth. And, indeed, this may be the best response to the imagined anti-Eggers criticism above: Eggers believes in being supportive of stuff that isn't crap. I don't know if this is true or not--maybe he just doesn't want to say it out loud, which is certainly understandable--but that I could get behind.

What it's harder to get behind is the last bit. I've long argued that if an art is so fragile that it needs to be protected in this way, shielded behind some sort of protective mother-figure from the mean bullies of the critical schoolyards, then maybe it's time we put it out of its misery. If something we love so much has withered away to the point where it can't withstand a few jokes at its expense, it's better for all concerned that we choose the time and place of its demise, rather than letting it be pricked to death. But this seems an awfully pessimistic view of literature, and it seems equally dangerous to send a message "to the next generation" that the genre is near-death. Given this view, why would anyone want to get involved with writing?

I was a big fan of the critical ideas put forth by Eggers, Lethem, Julavits, et al, because they were much more nuanced than this. And, sure, maybe it's unfair to expect Eggers to convey these subtleties in the course of a paragraph in something called "a small correction." But then why include it at all?

One of the first things I posted to this blog was actually a (supportive) response to that Julavits essay in the first issue of The Believer. I just went back and reread it, and was shocked to find that it wasn't anywhere near as embarassing as I assumed it would be. So I'm going to point you to that, although I would request that you just begin at the paragraph beginning "First off..." This, anyway, was what I took away from the essay, even though it seems to have been a fair ways off what Julavits (who is not Eggers, etc. etc., but you know) was thinking.

Anyway, all that said, Mr. Wolk has an article on the Fall at the Believer's site, so go read that if you don't want to deal with more of my yammerings.