Is The Baffler a Leftist Magazine?

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THINK ABOUT IT. The “hard left” publication The Baffler aka “The Baffled” lobbies for the abolition of capitalism and presents itself as having democratic populist solutions for the ills of this flawed-and-ridiculously-complex civilization. They advocate for wrenching changes to do away with the plutocrats once and forever. Yet they, the know-everything prescriptionists, haven’t been able to abolish plutocracy even from their own little enterprise.

In 2015 billionaire Winthrop McCormack donated $3 million to the struggling magazine and installed his son, Noah, as its publisher. The Baffler is a tax shelter, so for the McCormacks it was a win-win situation all around. Nepotism, cronyism, inherited wealth– everything the Baffler editors pretend to oppose.

At least when I ran an activist writers group from 2000 to 2008, we were the genuine article. We lived our ideals– no plutocrats to be found– and still cranked out a shipload of DIY zines, made a hurricane of noise and pissed-off a great many elite people– especially in the island plutocracy of New York City– as a cooperative venture. We were proles for the most part and we slept on floors and endured short rations to keep our rebellion going.

Why do I suspect most of the Manhattanites who staff The Baffler are silk scarf revolutionaries from the Ivy League or similar prosperous spots?

Their editor, Chris Lehmann, product in his own words of downwardly-mobile social workers, has a pronounced fear of poverty, and so is unlikely to buck the system when the shit comes down and he’s required to make a choice. He is, in fact, like the rest of the staff, a Professional Leftist. Like Barbara Ehrenreich, one of their idols, they dip their toe in the real world on occasion and rake in the resulting big-system attention, financial grants, and awards.

In a twitter exchange, Lehmann assured me that “–nonprofit left magazines have always relied on financial angels, and I’m grateful that ours are genuinely principled.”

HOW principled is principal investor Win McCormack?

Win McCormack apparently overlooked the sexual harassment shenanigans of three of his buddies.

Two of them, Neil Goldschmidt and David Wu, are spotlighted here and in other news outlets. The third, fellow blue blood/rich guy Hamilton Fish V, has a long history of sexually harassing women, but friend/crony McCormack, who hired him as publisher of The New Republic when he bought the publication in 2016, just didn’t know! (If you believe that I have some toxic land in Detroit I’d like to sell you.)

This cozy world is the left in America now. Excuse me, “hard left.”

-K.W.

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Barnes and Noble: More Layoffs

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NEWS ITEM: “Barnes & Noble Is Laying Off Workers Amid Declining Sales”– headlines at news outlets like Forbes proclaim. What’s really happening?

The big box model for books was always flawed, in our estimation. Gigantic structures. Enormous space with attendant high rent and heating costs. Too many titles (yes: oversupply reducing the value of writers). Plus, half the customers read books or magazines at the cafe without buying them. I always suspected the cafe was the most (only?) profitable part of the enterprise.

Can we do better? We do happen to have on our drawing board our own model for a profitable-and-fun bookstore. One piece in our foundation for a new literature which we’re putting in place.

Just saying.

-K.W.

Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

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One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

The Circle: Time’s Up?

OR, IS THIS SOMETHING HOLLYWOOD SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT?

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DID successful male author Dave Eggers crib the work of female writer Kate Losse for his novel The Circle, which became this past year a mainstream Hollywood movie? It’s a question that was asked by Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker in 2013, in this article.

Eggers reacted by stating that he’d done no research for his book, period. The entire thing, details and plot included, popped full-blown into his head one afternoon. Similarities to Kate Losse’s book pure coincidence.

While Losse’s case might’ve been a bit of a stretch– at least, there wasn’t enough for a lawsuit– the case is indicative of the power mentality of well-placed men which is now under widespread assault. Eggers stone-walled, denying everything. He in effect said, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Daring the relatively powerless Losse to take him on.

In full disclosure, I clashed with Mr. Eggers myself in the early part of last decade, on a number of points. I know his ability to shut down, to put out of business, any journalist or writer who opposes him. A couple individuals who butt heads with him soon became virtual nonpersons, never to be heard from again.

Image is important to Dave Eggers. Given his carefully-manufactured good-guy persona, it’s everything. Yet he’s never hesitated in the past to appropriate from any and every available avenue in the pursuit of that image. One example was his accepting a “Firecracker” Alternative Book Award in 2001 for Best Zine, for the well-staffed-and-funded slick publication McSweeney’s. (One of the matters I and DIY friends disagreed with him on. There was nothing alternative about McSweeney’s or Eggers, and never has been.) I could mention other instances.

What’s the bottom line? Is it the corruption of power? Is it that the ruthless kind of personality which enables men or women to achieve great things also makes them unable to pull back from that steamroller mindset? Is it a question of entitlement– which many writers admittedly have? That the entire world and all its peoples exist as material for them?

-K.W.

Fantasyland: Or, Rich Guy Slams America

THIS WEEK we highlight a new book trashing America by establishment trashmeister Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

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One doesn’t have to read the book– the text is in the title. The title is all you need to know about what’s contained in the pages.

Mr. Andersen is getting a splash of publicity c/o his publisher, with laudatory reviews.

“A frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline–”  -The Guardian

Kurt Andersen’s publisher is Penguin Random House, a multinational company, part of one of the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates which dominate the trade. Their headquarters is in New York City. They’d better hope the nation isn’t in terminal decline!

“Reading a great revisionist history of America is the bookish way to feel what it’s like to be born again.”  -Hanna Rosin, New York Times

Andersen himself, curiously, is an Insider’s Insider; a Capitalist’s Capitalist. One of the Elect: Harvard grad married to a Harvard grad. From his bio:

“He was named by New York magazine as one of the “100 People Who Changed New York,” and by Forbes as one of the “25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media.” And he was named the 2014 arts Medalist by Harvard College’s Signet Society.”

In his career Andersen has founded start-ups and sold them for huge sums of money. See the negotiations for one of his companies as related by Ken Auletta:

“”I don’t believe that anyone is going to give the company more money,’ Cramer remembers telling Andersen.”

He took the best deal. Cashed in. Sitting pretty. Yet Kurt Andersen isn’t happy. You would think he’d be kicking back smoking a big cigar saying, “Isn’t America great?” There’s no disdain for Harvard or venture capitalists (those he knows) in his book, one can wager. Instead, he takes aim at the American people themselves– for their populist ethos and political choices, all of which makes Kurt Andersen’s life, if not unprofitable, at least discomfiting. (2016 was the first time since 1984 that a Harvard-or-Yale grad was NOT elected to the Presidency, and in Andersen’s lofty milieu, that is simply outrageous.)

Yes, trash America’s 500-year history– and make yet more money in the process. Open the door for Dostoevsky’s Demons. Who cares? The French aristocrats who sparked revolution in 1789 were consumed by what they sparked. What does that have to do with aristocrats today?

Meanwhile, we have a question for our readers. How would you describe Kurt Andersen’s expression in the photograph below? Smug? Pompous? Arrogant? Or does the facial smirk represent something else? Indigestion? Complacency? Constipation?

Hatred of his own country?

Let us know. Thanks!

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Revolutionary Wannabe #1

FIRST in a series examining the radical stance of several of the literary establishment’s most prominent editors and writers.
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OUR QUESTION: Are any of these people for real?

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R.W. #1:  Lauren Groff

One of the New York Monolith’s most hyped literary commodities, Groff recently sent out this tweet:

Among her other statements, Groff has also said “Thanksgiving is a lie,” and white people, including her sons, owe “a profound debt” for their “vast privileges,” “which they have to repay over the course of their lives–”

WHO is Lauren Groff?

Lauren Groff has been published by Disney’s Hyperion and by Penguin Random House, both part of gigantic “Big Five” New York-based media conglomerates. She has degrees from exclusive Amherst College and from the University of Wisconsin. Her father is Vice-President of a health care company which owns four hospitals and 23 health centers. She’s upper-class enough to have had her 2006 marriage featured in the society pages of the New York Times. Groff’s husband, Clayton Byron Kallman, is a real estate developer– a business he began in by managing an apartment building owned by his dad.

NOT exactly a person who’s bucked the system to date. But things change– NOW she’s ready to chuck it all and march in the streets. To the barricades!
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(We invite Lauren Groff to join the D.F.S., or Disinvest From Success, movement, known also as Disinvestment Of Or From Unearned Success, or D.O.O.F.U.S. Instead of placing all burden on her sons, Groff can rip up her book contracts, her husband can give away his real estate holdings, and they can have undocumented refugees move in with them in their large home in Gainesville, Florida. This will tell the world that Lauren Groff is for real. Will she?)
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COMING SOON:  Revolutionary Wannabe #2.

-K.W.

Our 2017 Pushcart Choices

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WE HAVE an image in our heads of a back room at Pushcart Press. In the room are envelopes– stacks of postmarked envelopes. Corridors of mountains of stacks of mailed envelopes sent by every literary press or project in America– nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. Ours is there, in the room, somewhere, among them.

We’re optimists, so we designed our mailing and its Intro letter– and chose our nominees– with a goal in mind: winning the elusive prize. The odds? What are odds!? We sneer at the odds! We have no “name” writers, and we aren’t a name ourselves to the good people at Wainscott, New York. But we’re here and we believe in ourselves and our project.

This year we published a number of excellent stories, poems, and profiles. Many could have been nominated. We used reasoning and rationalizations to make our selections– all such decisions are ultimately arbitrary, based on whim and whisper as much as logic. So it was with us.

OUR SELECTIONS and the reasons for them:

Elusive Instinct” by Ana Prundaru.

Simple, clear writing. Perfectly easy to get into, but with marked style as well. No easy trick to accomplish. A story whose tone and mood fits the stylish aesthetic to which we aspire.

“Dry Bones” by Sonia Christensen, and “The Fetus” by Clint Margrave.

Two well-written, powerful stories which begin with intriguing openings. Read the first sentences of both of them. The titles themselves are provocative and visual. More than this, the stories are works of art with depth of meaning to them.

“Operative 73 Takes a Swim”  by Wred Fright.

This one is so different from the norm in execution, ideas, and plot we believe it would catch anyone’s eye. Even in Wainscott, should any eye happen to glance at it, within the mountains and stacks. Like the others, it’s also a terrific little tale. Wred has published work with New Pop Lit on several occasions, is overdue for recognition from us. The lesson: keep sending us work!

Finally, we nominated two short-but-striking Appreciations of American writers, which we published as part of the ongoing All-Time American Writers Tournament.

One, about Philip K. Dick, is by D.C. Miller. The other, about Gene Wolfe, is by Robin Wyatt Dunn. Two able wordsmiths who can do much with a limited amount of words.
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We love and respect all the writers we’ve published, and all who’ve submitted work. Without the writer we’re nowhere– just a blank screen awaiting the magic of art.

An Invitation

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CONSIDER THIS a standing invitation to anyone in the mainstream literary scene to discuss or debate the points made in our seven posts about the National Book Awards. (The posts previous to this one.)

Will anyone take us up on the offer? Not likely! What makes the scene a monolith, beside the fact everyone in it thinks alike, is that not a single contrary thought is allowed to enter into it. It stands impervious, like a block of steel.

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What does a totalitarian intellectual community look like?
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Why do we persist with our News blog, as only an irritant, maybe not even that?

There should be a place for honest news and information about today’s literary scene. Someone has to at least try to ask the tough questions– has to make the attempt, quixotic or not, to stir the lethargic and complacent literary-publishing apparatus and the apparatchiks inside it.

 

Handicapping the Fiction Award

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ONE big question remains: Who will win the Fiction Prize at this year’s (2017) National Book Awards?

Don’t think for a moment that such choices aren’t made with political and image considerations. This year several competing dynamics are at play.

A.)  The omnipresence in the news media of the ongoing sex abuse scandals favors giving the award to a woman. This year, four-out-of-five finalists are women. Could the judges not award the prize to one of them?

B.)  On the other hand, there’s the (surmised) campaign to make Elliot Ackerman the next John F. Kennedy. See our previous post, and the one before that.

C.)  Jacqueline Woodson, chair of this year’s judging panel, was the target of Daniel Handler’s watermelon jokes at the 2014 event when she won the award for Young People’s Literature. Will this impact her decision this year? Would she be willing to go along with a push to hand Ackerman the prize?

D.)  The X factor is judge Dave Eggers, one of the more powerful figures in the literary business. Several factors are at play with “The Dave.”

One is his psychological need to appear as Munificent Good Guy. This includes a Great White Savior complex. (See his book, What Is the What.) Eggers grew up in one of the richest, most segregated cities in America, and sees People-Of-Color as “Victim.” A variation of Liberal Morality Play, except Dave Eggers lives it. This theory argues he’ll push to give the award to one of the women– Jesmyn Ward most likely, whose life story in spots is truly “heartbreaking.”

On the other hand, Eggers has a personality akin to Peter Ackerman’s (again, see our previous two posts)– a Jekyll-Hyde balance between benevolence and aggressiveness. Dave Eggers respects power and knows Elliot’s father has it. Nothing need be said– these things are sensed. The son, Elliot, is a child of privilege, as is Eggers, and takes a similar global view of the world– and of America’s central place in it. There’d be natural sympathy between the two men.

Of the five judges, Dave Eggers has the standing, reputation, personality, and will to dominate the group. In addition, one of the other judges, Karolina Waclawiak, was until recently an employee of his, as Assistant Editor at The Believer, an Eggers publication. The deck isn’t stacked– but Eggers holds a strong hand.

Jacqueline Woodson is panel Chair. As a black woman (a black woman, moreover, who was disrespected by Handler, a friend of the Dave’s) Woodson carries implicit moral authority, particularly in the world of the established intelligentsia, which by definition is an ultra-liberal world. See the ideological slant of this year’s nominations. If Woodson has determined on a winner, not even Dave Eggers, hyper-sensitive as he is to issues and images of race, would be willing to stand against her choice. But if she hasn’t decided– then the decision is his.

They might agree on the choice anyway.

Here then are the odds for this year’s contest:

Elliot Ackerman:  While he has less than a 50% chance of winning, the offstage presence of all-powerful Dad still makes Elliot the co-favorite to win.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Lisa Ko:  Ko’s novel The Leavers, about undocumented immigrants, is the most topical and best-positioned politically to win the award. If the panel wishes to send a “So there!” message to President Trump, this book will be the choice. The other “Ko” favorite.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Jesmyn Ward:  The biggest argument against Jesmyn Ward is that she won the award in 2011. Would she be given another one?

Odds:  5 to 1.
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Min Jin Lee:  Ms. Lee has terrific Insider credentials, as a graduate of Georgetown and Yale and a former corporate lawyer in New York. She also has a big-time publisher in Hachette. However, the plot of Pachinko involves discrimination against Koreans by Japan. Not a trendy cause.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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Carmen Maria Machado:  There are two strikes against Ms. Machado: A.) Has a small publisher, Graywolf Press.  B.) A book of stories by a little-known author is unlikely to win.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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ALTERNATE VERSION
A different “Alt Right” view says that, based on the Radhika Jones hiring at Vanity Fair and other happenings, white males are being purged throughout New York literary culture– they present the wrong image, and so Elliot Ackerman’s real odds of winning the prize are one in 500,000. Under this version, white male publishers Morgan Entrekin, David Steinberger, and the owners of the Big Five publishing companies will commit ritual suicide at the end of the event, a la Cho Cho San at the end of the opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The entire scripted 2017 National Book Awards ceremony is in fact a ritual suicide, only, like “Madame Butterly,” it’s all theater.

(See the other posts in the series, here.)

-K.W.