Garth at The Millions has some choice words to say about an “essay” that appeared in Issue 5 of n + 1, attacking litblogs. I’ve read the article in question.
Let me just say that I’m not against third parties taking litblogs to task. In fact, informed criticism is a healthy manner of keeping the conversation alive. What I object to is an uninformed statement that goes after any target without using supporting examples. n + 1, with this essay and the adolescent posturing seen in “The Decivilizing Process” has cemented its status as a worthless publication that is intellectually unfit to stand up against The Believer. I’ll confess that it took me a few years to warm up to The Believer, but, after a shaky start, it seems to be turning a corner, expanding its scope, penetrating more obscure and darker pastures and offering all manner of helpful reference points for the curious within its articles. Sure, The Believer still has a bit of a naive sense of wonder attached, and I’m not sure if its play-nice review coverage is entirely honest. But I’ve read the March 2007 issue of The Believer and greatly enjoyed this quirky article on Roberto Bolaño and Stephen Elliott’s lengthy essay, which is one of the most candid essays I’ve seen in The Believer‘s pages.
n + 1, by contrast, is nothing more than hollow posturing. More noise than signal. It believes that risk can be found through poorly thought out statements of outrage. It dabbles in masturbation, literally and figuratively, in a manner reminiscent of obnoxious liberal arts majors with too much time on their hands. Take this excerpt:
At one point the feminist writer Lonnie Barbach even suggested that men’s propensity to ejaculate before their female partners had achieved orgasm was the result not of selfishness but of an oppressive anti-masturbatory regime that taught boys to come as quickly as possible so as to avoid detection by their parents and schoolmasters.
Now to me, regardless of whether I agree with this or not, Barbach’s is an interesting idea. And a good essayist would address the current masturbation situation, either though specific quotes or interviews, or attempt to examine why Barbach drew this association. But instead of trying to place this Barbach paraphrase into context, or to even consider Barbach’s premise at face value, this assertion is followed up with these sentences: “Now this—this was solidarity. Masturbation had achieved the height of its moral prestige.”
$12 for this nonsense? For generalizations more content to waltz around an idea rather than plunge into it?
Why pay $12 when I can have some starry-eyed undergraduate hand me some pamphlet laced with this kind of doggerel for free?
Okay, Ed. Now you are officially freaking me out. I read the Fresan on Bolano piece last night and posted about it this morning. Have you tapped into my brainwaves? Hopped into me via many mice who travel from SF to LA?
Love it though and I think “quirky” is a wonderful way to describe it.
As for n+1, Heidi Julavits’ face said it all at her recent LA reading. When asked about n+1 vis-a-vis The Believer, her face wrinkled up, her lips curled and she gave the questioner a death stare…if ever so briefly. She then regained compusure and went on to say something about it being good that The Believer has opened the door for other publications to offer their version of critical work…and so on. It was VERY clear the Julavits didn’t find n+1 to be on par with The Believer.