Harper’s and the Realities of the Internet

We’ve only just been released from the hospital and we’re spending a good deal of time adjusting to our unexpected euphoria. We have some things to say about Ben Marcus’s Harper’s essay on Jonathan Franzen and experimental novelists (which we read ourselves the other day) that we hope we’ll find time to get to, although, at the present juncture, it looks unlikely. We’re as surprised as anyone that, save Reader of Depressing Books, the litblog scene has been so silent on it. (You lapped up Dale Peck. You lapped up Heidi Julavits’ antisnark manifesto. And you mean to tell me that yet another polemical essay calling for a reevaluation of how we interpret the novel has evaded your attention? Fer shame!)

Perhaps the silence has much to do with the fact that Harper’s, like many other misguided American periodicals, has not produced the essay in question (with the exception of this excerpt) online. Which is a damn silly thing to do at this particular moment in the 21st century and a damn silly thing to publish today, at the end of the month of all things, when I myself just received the next issue of Harper’s in the mailbox.

So what is this, Lapham? A last-minute take to get nimble-minded literary enthusiasts and grad students to set down the baroque threads of their lives and race to their newsstands and bookstores and librarires before it is sold out or replaced by the next issue? All for you? All because the essay failed to strike the appropriate chord online because, after all, you failed to produce a substantial chunk of it online until the very last possible minute (“published Thursday, September 29, 2005”)?

Is it possible that even Harper’s still operates as if it’s 1995?

It don’t work that way, my ornery friend. If you want a public debate these days (and just to be clear on this, we’re talking the Year of Our Lust 2005, Anno Domini, Glorious Year of Tom DeLay Being Indicted, Britney Spears With Child and the Hopeful Declivity Ensnaring the Republican Menace), you do what the New Yorker, the New York Times, and any other functional magazine does (even The Believer does this to some degree!). You provide it for us online. And if you still insist on an excerpt to ward off the freeloaders, you provide a substantial chunk for all of us to peruse and respond to. That essay is long, man!


  1. …or, Harper’s, face the unintended consequences of internet-savvy individuals posting scanned/photocopied/PDF’d copies of the entire article online for limited-budget people like myself to read.

    Who, who, who will post the whole article?

  2. Yes, that is why I haven’t read it. I have Glamour and Marie Claire and the Atlantic and The New Yorker to get through; put the fucking shit online or I can’t attend to it.

  3. I returned from vacation to find that I am 4 New Yorkers (am tempted to just recycle the whole pile—anything worth reading there?), a Bookforum, and a Harper’s behind. I haven’t gotten to the Marcus article yet. And unfortunately, I possess no scanning technology. Now if you had said cloning…..

  4. That the essay wasn’t available online is the entire reason why no one’s talked about it much. You’re right to call this to Mr. Lapham’s attention.

  5. Well, it was tiresome, as was the Franzen essay, “Mr Difficult” to which it was a rebuttal. Tiresome, but not totally inane, as was Franzen’s notions of a contract with the reader. I read The Correction, but didn’t have to sign anything. Franzen bemoans the fact that a reader wrote him and complained that he used a big word, and he festered and winced for a long long time until out popped the New Yorker piece. Calm down, JF, you’re not in default, there is no contract. Look, if there were, would it be the same document for every reader? Some readers know certain big words and some don’t, … so how would you know which ones to proscribe — I mean, not allow. Relax, the real problem with The Corrections was that it was a handful of novellas stitched together to fake a novel and also the ending was too lame for wakefulness. And Ben, everything you said made sense and nobody is going to argue with you unless they read anything that you wrote, in which case they’re gonna say, who knew you meant complete nonsense? Oh yeah, Tender Buttons, that’s the tip off.

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