An Open Letter to Dave Eggers

Dear Dave:

Seriously, man, do not fuck with people’s emotions. I’m with you for lifting up people’s spirits. I’ve done quite a bit of that myself in ways you can possibly never know and which I prefer not to disclose. True intrinsic kindness involves not telling and not advertising. (This is not necessarily an imputation from me. This is how many people perceive you, as I’m sure you know. You want to be a force for good? Well, it sure as hell doesn’t help that you’ve never once opened yourself up to anything even remotely critical. That’s fundamentally dishonest. I mean, you’re almost forty years old, for crying out loud. And your treatment of Neal Pollack was utterly abysmal.)

Here’s the thing: You cannot lead people on. You cannot give them an unrealistic vision.

People have the right to feel sad. They have the right to feel despair. Has it occurred to you that great things sometimes come from a terrible pit? It must have. So why all this nonsense?

Nevertheless, in case, you haven’t noticed, newspapers are dying. People who have spent lifetimes at papers don’t know what to do. I can tell you stories of smart and talented people now working as supermarket clerks without health care. Broken marriages. Broken homes. This is serious shit. These are wrecked lives that may not recover for some time. And these are not people to be trifled with. You may live in privilege. But many of us don’t. Dude, I work 100 hours a week trying to keep my little operation alive. And even that may not be enough.

I beseech you. Don’t fucking sugarcoat the truth. Don’t make nice a four letter word. Be kind, yes, wherever possible. But you have to tell the truth. You have to get people impassioned, but you cannot give them false hope. You have to give them a scenario in which they can think for themselves and innovate. For some, it may involve positivism. For others, it may involve God. But there is no universal Band-Aid. And you know it.

Because you see, there’s no room in your little universe for the eccentrics. There’s no room in your little universe for the innovators. Sometimes innovation often requires living on the edge. The literary world views a truth-teller like Thomas Disch as an ugly scoundrel when he lives and only includes him after he’s blown his fucking brains out. (A sensitive point with me, I admit. But then I was the last guy to interview him in person — a week before he committed suicide. I understand that none of the major New York media outlets were interested in talking with this wonderful talent. And I treated the man with respect. And he was shocked to talk with someone who got what he was doing.)

But hey prove me wrong. If you can demonstrate that there is room in your little universe for a Thomas Disch-like figure — and, really, despite what I have enjoyed from your operation, the history of the McSweeney’s Empire indicates that there is not* — then I’m happy to change my mind.

Thanks and all best,

Ed

P.S. Why didn’t you take the Rake up on his $158 check offer? Dude, it was for the kids! It was for positivism!

P.P.S. Incidentally, the offer still remains open to appear on The Bat Segundo Show. Or do you really think you’re better than John Updike, Marilynne Robinson, Atom Egoyan, and David Lynch?

* — With the possible exception of publishing William T. Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down.

[UPDATE: Since some people have emailed me about the Rake check offer, let me explain what happened. In November 2006, the litblog Rake's Progress noted that Dave Eggers's 1996 review of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest was remarkably different from his subsequent fawning in the foreword for the 2006 tenth anniversary reissue of Infinite Jest. Why should this be important? Because his words in the foreword were fundamentally dishonest. All Eggers would have had to write in the foreword is this: "When I first read Infinite Jest, I had my doubts. But I grew to understand it on a second read." But, of course, since Dave Eggers is so incapable of revealing a single flaw about himself and since Dave Eggers is incapable of subjecting himself to a single critical question, he may be a positive force for philanthropy, but he is ultimately a dishonest, self-serving man who too many people don't have the guts to call on the carpet. (826 Valencia has been known to provide funds to literary magazines who desperately need the money. This ensures that critical voices will be silenced. And indeed, at least three people have informed me of pieces critical of Eggers or 826 Valencia being silenced for reasons along these lines. And, no, you won't get their names from me. Not even if you waterboard me at Guantanamo.)

Various inquiries were put forth to people who worked for Dave Eggers for an explanation for this change in stance. This was something that could have been cleared up in two minutes, or at least laughed off. But Eggers did not reply. An offer was also made to Eggers to appear on The Bat Segundo Show. Eggers did not reply.

The Rake then offered a $49 check to 826 Valencia for an explanation. The amount was then raised to $158. It was the kind of humor that Eggers himself once practiced at Might Magazine -- indeed, far more benign than faking Adam Rich's death. But of course, Eggers did not reply. One of his cronies at McSweeney's did, who was very nice and who the Rake and I explained our positions to.

Incidentally, this post was emailed to Dave Eggers at the precise moment it was posted. Eggers has not replied. Contrary to his assertions at the recent event, Eggers appears quite incapable of convincing this particular correspondent that he is wrong. And he seems quite incapable of lifting up my spirits. Oh well. I guess Dave Eggers isn't the Messiah. But again, I'm happy to be proven wrong.]

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6 Comments

  1. Kind of railing against optimism, aren’t we?

  2. Heh. I try to get out, and they pull me back in.

  3. Heh…Return of the Reluctant Black Garterbelt?

  4. Wells: I’m not against optimism at all. I’m more of a panglossian anarchist. But do check out Seligman and Maier’s thoughts on learned helplessness, which I think applies to Eggers’s position.

  5. Jacob Silverman May 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Can you explain what the $158 offer from the Rake is? I looked at the linked-to post and didn’t really follow. Thank ya.

  6. Eggers: the poor man’s Oprah

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