n+1 Revisited

DaynaTortorici

(Photo of rich girl Dayna Tortorici, Editor of n+1 magazine.)

We’ve already covered one of New York City’s chief literary mags, the pretentiously named n+1 magazine. See our Op-Ed.

In recent days, editor Chad Harbach has been the subject of a lawsuit which claims he plagiarized another author’s novel for material for his own. See this story.

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(Photo of the questionable Chad Harbach.)

ARE n+1 editors icons of truthfulness? There’s the fact that Chad Harbach is listed at wikipedia– and until recently at their site– as one of six founding editors. Neat– except that anyone who read their first few issues knows there were actually four founding editors– Gessen, Greif, Kunkel, and Roth. One can speculate that the change was made to include a woman– Alison Lorentzen– as a founder. Harbach then thrown in also. Very Orwellian. One can speculate that, with Harbach now the subject of controversy, he’s apt to become any moment in the n+1 histories a nonperson. As the old joke in the Soviet Union went, the future is certain but the past is always changing.
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What does n+1 have to do with the “wise men” we profiled here in a recent post?

At its beginning, the n+1 editors’ professed model was William Phillips’ Partisan Review. One of their early mentors was Robert B. Silvers, who worked for Paris Review and founded New York Review of Books.

These facts and others raise more questions about the magazine, about its mission and its funding– questions we won’t address now.

 

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Awards Update

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NEWS ITEM:  All five of the National Book Foundation’s “Five Under 35” awards this year are given to women writers. See this.
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QUESTION:  This unusual occurrence signifies the:

A.) Equalization of literature.

B.) Politicization of literature.

C.) Demasculization of literature.

D.) Feminization of literature.

Choose one!
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(NOTE: Our News staff is merely having fun. No antifa posses, please! We love women writers– we have the work of three terrific women writers upcoming.)

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(p.s. Anne Baxter should’ve received an award for this performance. Just saying.)

The Wise Men

American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Who steered the direction of American literature after World War II?

Editors like George Plimpton, Robie Macauley, Reed Whittemore, Robert Silvers, and William Phillips. Men on a mission who, as much as they professed no artistic ideology, very much pushed an artistic ideology. They’d been formed by various factors, whether by privilege, or the war, or by disillusion with Communism. By 1950 all were Wilsonians out to save the world by making it “Safe for Democracy”– their own special internationalist version of democracy.

Literature was their tool– they fully believed in the importance of the art. Paris Review (like Encounter magazine in the UK) was founded as a cultural ambassador for Anglo-American liberal ideals– presenting an intellectual alternative to the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and Communism. Liberal Cold Warriors, these editors disdained– or had rejected– the populism of the American past. John Steinbeck and his kind were out. Henry James as the ideal cosmopolitan author was in.

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For our cultural aristocrats, literature, to be safe, must never engage too strongly in ideas. As an editor at New York Review of Books told me in a note in the late 1990’s, characters must never serve as mouthpieces for ideas. George Plimpton told me essentially the same thing on the one occasion I met him, at a literary debate held at CBGB’s in 2001. To these people, burdened– as they saw it– with the task of preserving literature, a broad view of the world was considered dangerous. An Ayn Rand or Frank Norris wrote beyond their well-regulated lines.

Focus moved instead to the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois self. American literature became gnostic: insular and solipsistic. Cleansed, nuanced, refined; denuded of its loud voice but also much of its energy. For prose: John Updike. For poetry: John Ashbery.  Aesthetics was not the only weapon. No longer could a writer appear off the street like Thomas Wolfe or Jack London and be taken seriously. Writing programs and markers of breeding ensured all who entered the Halls of Approval were thoroughly screened.

Did these men and their journals have influence? Tremendous influence. They understood the concept of leverage; that a publication with a readership of 10,000 could determine who did or did not receive a large book contract– chiefly because that small readership was powerful and elite.

The change in aesthetic direction made the wise men– as well as their sources of money– very happy. Literature came under the control not of the unpredictable American people, but of themselves. The Elect.
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American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

The thing to know about these men and their journals is that the faces they showed the world were misleading. George Plimpton was a smiling bon-vivant but also much more than that. The notion that he didn’t know the source of Paris Review‘s original funding is an absurdity.

Likewise, New York Review of Books, founded by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, postured for a long while as a radical Leftist publication– yet it was started with Random House money during a New York newspaper strike as a way for the giant book companies to advertise their new releases. It’s always been an extension of New York-based Big Corporate Publishing. Sophisticated PR for them, one might say.

In the New York literary world, nothing is ever as it seems.

Turmoil at New York Times?

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The mighty New York Times getting its facts wrong?

Or is the real turmoil within the media establishment itself?

Controversy erupted this week between two wings of Insider media. Between the Times with new op-ed writer Michelle Goldberg, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis.  The controversy, over Vanessa’s book Blurred Lines, is described here.

Questions:

1.) Are New York p.c. mandarins siding with Grigoriadis because of Michelle Goldberg’s statements in the review, like this one:

“Campus rape hasn’t become a major political issue because college students are more vulnerable than their peers, but because they are more powerful, able to demand an institutional response to their traumas.”

Or was Goldberg’s review truly as botched as said?

2.) If Vanessa Grigoriadis were an outsider writer whose ideas were distorted– and was not herself a well-connected member of New York’s literary “In” crowd– would there have been any blowback at all? Are distorted reviews and hit pieces the norm, and we simply don’t know about it?

OR: This matter has become an issue because Vanessa Grigoriadis herself is “more powerful, able to demand” a response than the typical author.
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NEXT: “The Wise Men: Origins of Establishment Literature.”

 

The Lit Scene Now

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All sides represent contradictions, as American literature is in a state of flux and objective(?) observers such as ourselves wait for things to sort themselves out. For the moment, intellectual thought about all matters literary is polarized.

THE RIGHT
We pass over long-time conservative journals like Commentary and National Review, which are adjuncts of an internationally focused intellectual establishment based in Washington D.C. and New York. We’re talking about the new Right.

What is it? Can it be defined? We wait for someone to define it. There is new thought, new energy coming from that end of the spectrum. To us it seems a badly put-together Frankenstein monster; a contradictory amalgam of Nietzschean paganism and tradition-leaning Catholicism. Its origins are found in intellectual journals like Taki Mag, with writers ranging from libertarian to libertine to anarchist to all things. Hardly conservative– many have opened Pandora’s Box. The aesthetic attitude is often snobbish and effete, and as such, out of synch with the mass of populists who voted for Trump. The impact to date on the literary world of these writers is small.

THE LEFT
The energy on the Left comes from a spate of journals like Jacobin Mag, The Baffler, and n+1— along with at least one interesting new one which we’ll discuss at a later time. All espouse some variety of Marxism. All editors, writers, and interns of these journals are from real privilege. Are they the Left? A curious form of it. Their common origin point is the Ivy League. What the publications present in their essays, editorials, poetry and prose is the skewed “View from Harvard Yard.” The tops-down acceptable narrative from cogs and creators of the established machine. Each individual has paid dues within the current literary system. They’re artistic conformists in every aspect.

Today’s nobility, representing a tiny sliver of America, peering at the Unknown from their Brooklyn/Manhattan fortress. Living a 2017 variation of Margaret Mitchell’s Plantation Madness.

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(Former overseer Jonas Wilkerson and “white trash” Emmy Slattery getting thrown off the Tara estate.)
Well-bred aristocrats united with loyal retainers of color against the Enemy: white populists of sketchy background who carry the potential to upset their flimsy Potemkin facade. That high and narrow construction of paste and plywood labelled “LITERATURE,” which they present as the legitimate article– when it’s clearly NOT.

To understand these journals and editors and the role they play in literary culture, one first has to understand their predecessors. We’ll examine those in our next post.

 

Our “Best of the Net 2017” Nominations

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We’ve nominated two stories and four poems for the Best of the Net 2017 anthology put together by Sundress Publications.

The stories are:

“Picture This” by Anne Leigh Parrish
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/picture-this/
2/10/2017

 “Travelogue” by Robin Wyatt Dunn
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The poems are:”(Terre Noir)” by Jess Mize
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/inspired-by-death-in-the-afternoon/
7/8/2016

“Shocking” by Dan Nielsen

 08/29/2016

“Frat Boy” by Timmy Chong

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AS WE never know how editors judge these things, our policy is three-fold:

1.) Submit strong writing.

2.) Choose fairly brief submissions– making it easier for overburdened editors/judges to both read and include in a voluminous anthology.

3.) Choose a variety of writing styles, in hopes one of the works will catch the judges’ taste.

All six of these works are striking, albeit in different ways. Have fun rereading them!

Who Controls Universities?

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During times of upheaval, the students do. The programmed mob. Raging Id. An unleashed beast.

Dictators from Hitler to Castro to Pol Pot have known that students are the shock troops of totalitarianism.

Professors, those institutional markers of mediocrity, either stand aside, or rush to get in front of the parade. Administrators are as squeamish.

During times of protest, students feel their raging youth, their numbers and their idealism.

Attend one of those “Nutcracker” ballet matinees during the holidays and watch what happens when the children in attendance outnumber the adults– and they realize it. They take over the hall– shouting; screaming; running up and down the aisles.

We knew something was up in colleges when we had a table at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit two summers ago. I had sat at a table with a small press guy at the AMC in 2008. Back then it was a standard DIY zine-style event. Activists were there, sure. (Including myself.) But everyone was happy. The atmosphere, whatever your cause– if you had one– was harmonious. By 2015 the vibe had changed. No harmony. Instead: fragmentation. Each table with their own particular identity politics, from race to gender to abundant bodies– and everyone was angry.

Trump’s election didn’t create the anger. It set it off.

We sensed the irrational force hovering over the proceedings. Without question the self-righteous force is more dominant on college campuses now than in 2015. News events show this.

Mob power by its nature is intolerant. The question of “free speech” in the fight against injustice, to the youthful crowd on the side of right, is beyond irrelevant. Distasteful speech becomes an object of hate which must be steamrolled; cleansed away. Most people aren’t aware that Nazism itself was a youth movement which took over universities. Mob rule is always irrational, always fascistic, always totalitarian, no matter the flag of the moment it flies under.

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But who creates the mob–?

Death of the Alt-Right

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While it will likely stumble on in the political sphere a while longer, the so-called alt -right is finished in the literary realm. Didn’t take much to end it. An alt-right site, Excavation– digging up the underground, was forced to shut down by an aggressive antifa campaign. Its editor, Michael Marrotti, has vanished from view. From what evidence I’ve seen, the criminalized words he used ranged from “Jewish Sharia” to “white pride.” As epithets,  fairly mild– but still thought crimes in this well-regulated time. The poets who’d published their work at the site didn’t realize he was a white supremacist until told about it.

Marrotti himself is a working class poet from the rust belt city of Pittsburgh– not a person of any power. “Supremacist” is a misnomer. “Defensivist” might be more accurate.

“It’s all about pain
steak knives used
to warm the soul
from a frigid planet”
-from Marrotti’s poem, “Optimistic Poetry”

Another alt-right site, Casper Magazine, changed its name several months ago when the ideological weather vane began changing– at the same time its original editor, “Pozwald Spengler,” either radically changed his identity and belief system, or sped away without a whimper of protest, not to be heard from again.

At least two stories were expunged from the site, “Cathy” by Ben Arzate, and “Scumbag,” by Alice Florida Xu. They’ve been safely flushed down the Orwellian memory hole. No complaints heard yet from either of the two writers. Given today’s hysterical McCarthyist climate, one can understand their silence.

Other alt-right figures who were once buoyant about creating an intellectual alternative to today’s p.c. monolith have backed off from, or recanted, their ideas.

OUR CONCLUSION is that it was never much of a movement– more straw man than army. Its few writers and editors were easily intimidated. If any remain they’ll be rounded up by the antifa posses, publicly chastized and silenced.
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How much of a danger did alt-right-leaning writers pose? Could they have posed?

It’s noteworthy that these advocates of “supremacy” had not a sole representative at any of this nation’s major cultural and literary institutions. Not at publishing’s Big Five, nor at the Washington Post or New York Times, nor at The New Yorker magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, New York Review of Books, Bookforum, LARB, etc. etc. etc. Instead, individuals of marked privilege themselves at these bastions of influence have used the opportunity to themselves denounce any trace of alt-right thinking in literature today, to adopt a posture against privilege, and approve and endorse the angry antifa posses.

In the literary sphere, there are dangers and then there are dangers.

 

Disclaimer

CAUTION: We’re turning this blog into a free speech zone, where we’ll discuss actions of the New Censorship Movement; in some cases mentioning the incidents and names (gasp!) of those writers or literary sites which have been expunged from the Internet. Such actions reek too much of Orwell’s classic novel 1984 to suit our taste. Too many people have fought too hard for the freedom of expression all of us (up until now) have enjoyed, for us to casually sit by when such freedoms are restricted.

Example: Our upcoming new entrants in the All-Time American Writers Tournament include two controversial writers, one controversial in his political ideas and actions and the other controversial in his art. Should they be expunged from memory because they offended people?

We’re frankly amazed by the complacency of writers to what’s happening– but we shouldn’t be, given our own history within a well-regulated U.S. literary world. We may at some point discuss that history here, and the role it’s played in our thinking.
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THE WEEK IN POP LIT

The current week includes a very good new story by Brian Eckert which affirms the right of an individual to live life as he chooses. We also reported on the above-mentioned Tournament (more reportage this weekend). Keep up on pop lit doings at our home page.

Thanks for reading!