An Urgent Plea to Sam Tanenhaus

Mr. Tanenhaus, while we profoundly disagree on a number of points, I must echo the sentiments of my colleague. Your concerns, interests, and curiosity are clearly within politics, and the time has come for you to resign from the New York Times and take a chance. It is abundantly clear from the thoughtful and striking qualities of your New Republic piece that politics, not literature, is your beat. Your heart is in finishing the Buckley bio, not in books. Your literary hero, John Updike, is dead. And you clearly aren’t interested in any the emerging literary talents. So why continue to pretend?

But here’s the good news. There are plenty of people who can do what you cannot on the literary front. And with Democrats now controlling a sizable stretch within the Beltway, there are plenty of conservatives who cannot do what you can do on the politics front. If you wish to flail the sheets of conservatism and get a movement going, would such linen-shaking be best served in your current sinecure at the New York Times? Or would it better served through work carried out at The New Republic and other publications? I may be a liberal, but frankly a number of my progressive friends and colleagues could use a few swift kicks in the ass. Right now, there is no better candidate than you to puncture the complacency that has settled in among certain sectors of the Obama camp, who still genuinely believe that questioning even a few notions of Obama’s decisions do not involve the gestures of a natural skeptic, but a liberal drifting right. Like Jefferson, I like a little rebellion now and then. Natural storms must inhabit any partisan atmospheres if the American system is to remain honest. And while we both rest on different wings, I sense that you feel the same way.

Would not the sparring that you once unsuccessfully attempted by assigning Leon Wieseltier to write an ad hominem attack on Nicholson Baker be better served through politics? I’m sure you know by now that what works for politics does not always work for books. Humorless and austere writing — that Burkean tone you so admire and attempt to employ, often stubbornly, within the Review — does not blend particularly well with the fun and bipartisan possibilities of literary journalism. But it does work for politics.

I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Tanenhaus. Did the Democrats fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this current political climate represents a .44 Magnum pointed in your direction, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a few questions. Do I cower away from the principles with which I’ve lived my life? Or do I accept who I am and write and work with my strengths in mind?

Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

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7 Comments

  1. Well said. Here’s my favorite part:

    “Humorless and austere writing — that Burkean tone you so admire and attempt to employ, often stubbornly, within the Review — does not blend particularly well with the fun and bipartisan possibilities of literary journalism. But it does work for politics.”

    I do think Sam Tanenhaus has much more credibility as a political writer than as a literary editor.

  2. This is the best thing I’ve ever read about Tanenhaus to Tanenhaus about Tanenhaus. There is so much restructuring going on at the New York Times — people hanging on precariously by their fingernails — couldn’t he just resign gracefully for health reasons.

    Our health.

    Not his. — Tim Barrus, Amsterdam

  3. The first sentence is unreadable. The last two paragraphs are cringe-inducing. And in between – bilious, disingenuous drivel.

    If I were Mr. Tanenhaus, I’d be worried that someone like you is entertaining fantasies about his head being blown off, metaphorically or not.

  4. I think the idea you propose is interesting, though I don’t think you expect him to take it seriously. Perhaps that’s why you invoked Dirty Harry. But I also think that the reference was a bit odd and uncomfortable, if not quite as disturbing as the last poster found it.

  5. Magnificently expressed and gorgeously presented. What else is news, though, Edward?

    IMO, if I were you (and, I ain’t; but, am happy that’s true, too, since you’re a OneOf), I’d worry about the comment above the cowardly anonymous one. That sounds like a psycho to me; and, I could prolly name said psycho; but, why stoop to conquer when I can rise to communicate with one of the last cut-above thinking Americans on the planet?

    Thanks for this; you know, after I read Levi’s post on your meeting, I completely lost hope and faith in the bookerly world insofar as that organisation goes (downhell). If ST doesn’t read around Cyberia, he’s got no business doing the job he’s (allegedly) doing; and, if he does, he’s got the integrity of a piece of VD (and, um, okay, go ahead: Make my dinner on Valentine’s Day, eh? LOL).
    p.s. Too bad a couple commentarians don’t recognise a good trope when they see one lopin’ across their screens; maybe, jes’ maybe, if they firmly grasp their ears and tug, tug, tug, they’d be able to give up brushing with Prep-H
    p.p.s. Hope your sweetie understands I ain’t puttin’ the make on her bloody-rare steak 🙂

  6. Ms. Fitzgerald: Ma’am, I do recognize bad tropes when I see them, and that’s what we’ve got here, one limping after another. For example:

    “If you wish to flail the sheets of conservatism and get a movement going, would such linen-shaking be best served in your current sinecure at the New York Times?”

    What is happening here? Who the hell beats an ideology’s linen, and why would they do so?

    “flail the sheets of conservatism”… Christ, I would have understood waving flags. Or hoisting ships’ sails. Or filling them with wind. Or unfurling banners. Or even, God help us, stitching together some kind of quilt. Even restricting ourselves to fabric alone, there are probably a dozen ways this stillborn teratoma of an image could have been brought to term. But beating linen? The linen sheets of… conservatism? What? Why?

    And I’ve deliberately chosen one of the less bizarre conceits here. I won’t go into the storms which somehow keep atmospheres honest, or the different wings upon which we rest, or the Democrats’ depleted revolver of… political… ?? I give up.

    This sort of thing happens every other sentence or so here: garbled grammar, mixed metaphors, botched allusions, pointless and misleading thesaurus-speak, grotesque flights of curdled dudgeon –

    And yet this unerringly tin-fingered Mr. Malaprop is somehow pompous enough to rant and froth about who’s qualified to edit the NYT and who isn’t? Give me a break.

  7. Perhaps because Mr. Malaprop actually has a purpose behind every sentence, and your dull tin lobes can’t ken what’s going on beneath. And, no, I won’t explain it to you either. If you want literal-minded content, I suggest you go elsewhere. Perhaps Maxim and People are more your speed?

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