peteg's blog - noise - books - 2014 12 26 nplusone Happiness

Happiness, Ten years of n+1.

/noise/books | Link

... as selected by the (nameless) editors of n+1 magazine, or so they say. I somehow heard about this lit crit rag aroundabout when it started, but never dug into it before now. Having skipped perhaps a third of this lot, I'm sure they ran more pieces to my liking than what's here. Some casual googling suggests a revolving-door with New York magazine.

Let's get some nits out of the way. The intro is horribly incestuous and lit-crit, presumably written by a prof who shepherded some of the editors through their lit-crit courses at college. The lit-crit pieces are similar: uniformly horrible. What's best here is the small-scale journalism and rants, roughly as follows:

  • Marco Roth: Torture and Parenting.
  • Mark Greif: Afternoon of the Sex Children, about the narrow spread of ages between sex-in-ads and pedophilia. A tad too tendentious.
  • Mark Greif: Gut-Level Legislation, or, Redistribution, about mincomes, unsullied by empiricals. Think of it as Quantity Theory for writers who haven't heard of Will Self.
  • The Editors: The intellectual situation (death is not the end). Starts promising a critique of the analytic tradition that has colonised American philosophy departments, but soon flails about uninterestingly. This proves that it takes someone in the tradition to properly roast it. Is lit-crit / theory good for much? I think we all agree that it should be.
  • Chad Harbach: An Interruption, on climate change. He observes that the Pentagon has a policy for it, which is to draw the obvious conclusion about those who do, those who talk, those who need to get re-elected, etc.
  • Emily Witt: What do you desire? is a New Yorker sex-touring San Francisco. It's a car crash.
  • Wesley Yang: The Face of Seung-Hui Cho. Incendiary observations about (gay) Asian men in the U.S.A. or mere self-aggrandizement? The critics are split. Certainly the most provocative piece in the ensemble.
  • Lawrence Jackson's Slickheads was opaque to this foreigner. Slang city.
  • Keith Gessen (and not Martin Amis's): Money. He wrings his hands while teaching writing at an expensive college. Formulaic. Write what you know, people want specifics and not generalities. Perhaps that's why these types loathe mathematics / empiricism: it just doesn't feel real.
  • Kristin Dombek: How to Quit took Gessen's advice and stuck to the winning formula: what she knows, enough colour to make it real, not so much that you can stalk her in the present tense. Trainspotting for Gen X-Y, for those who are too cool to cite Irvine Welsh.

I don't think I'm going to chase up any of these New Yorkers.

Review at the New York Times.