I used to work for an alt-weekly in Chicago, and man, alt-weeklies fucking love lists, I wrote so many lists. Top 5 margaritas, Top 5 Books, Top 5 Lays, etc. etc. I have grown an extreme aversion to listmaking. Although perhaps I'm not being honest because I make lists all the time! I make lists to myself what are my favorite books, and sometimes it changes. And when I'm going out of town for even a day I need to make a list of everything I have to do what toiletries I have to pack what T-shirts I'm bringing or I go mental. I think of Louise Bourgeois, who wrote that whenever she travels she dresses strange. And I'm like that too. Even though I'm only going to Pittsburgh! Two hours away!
Anyway, this New Yorker list of the Top 20 Writers Who Are Still In Their 20s-30s really boggles me in its insidiousness. It makes me feel that most of the popular press, even the pseudo-literary bourgeois popular press, is so incredibly out of touch, it's like when I told my father I was teaching a course on Women and Creativity, long ago, and he said, "Like Maggie Thatcher?" True story.
First of all, I hate any sort of designation, anthologies, lists, that are about age. Now perhaps that makes me a huge fucking hypocrite, as I'm interested in women's writing, queer writing, postcolonial writing, writing of the margins, writing that in a way segregates. But I don't think our fetishizing of the young writer is highlighting those on the margins. It's shining a spotlight on the shiny waxy pieces of fruit, it's commercial, it's celebrity, and it has nothing to me to do with serious writing. Telling that the NYT article about the list says "Writers worth Watching." Shiny pieces of fruit ripened and dripping young juice. Like porn. That made sense in my head before I wrote it.
Okay, this is not me being bitter, it really isn't (and I am 32, even though spiritually I have taken up the role of the senile pregnant hag). But I just feel, sometimes, that the type of writing the popular press writes about, and the type of writing I read, that I find to be important, is like on completely different fucking planets. And all of this list does is feed into capitalism and commercialism but it does so by attempting to talk about interesting writing but it's really just talking about market forms that are semi-literary and tend heavily towards realism, quirky or straight. Every single author on this fucking list appears to have gotten their MFA at Iowa or Columbia or some other $$$$ shiny program and has a major New York agent and is published by a shiny New York publisher who jab their manicured fingers into their Blackberries (more fruit). Their agents have dinners with editors and talk about "numbers." Numbers and Nobels. It's all about the paperback, it's all about the airport bookstore, it's all about Boreders Barnes & Ignoble it's all about the monkeys in the fucking Amazon jungle it's all about the prize it's all about the paycheck.
The monkeys in the Amazon jungle. Rattling in their institutionalized cages.
I look at this list, and are there a few interesting writers on there? Well, no, I don't really think so, but some people might think so, and that's fine. And there are a few names on the list that I don't recognize. But what I want to say is that the popular literary press is completely banal and completely bankrupt. And every year people get so fucking worked up because these fine young Americans or their professors or their heroes don't win the Nobel Prize. But that's because we live in a literary culture where books have to move, where books are product, where it's about the bottomline. And that is antithetical to exciting, interesting, transgressive literature. So that is why Herta Muller wins the Nobel and Elfriede Jelinek and Pinter. They live in cultures (yes, the UK is much better, having lived there and worked in a bookstore there) where there are readers where there's still bourgeois bestsellers that are glossed and "literary" and the damn prizes but there's still room for actual writing.
Did anyone think it's strange that there doesn't appear to be a poet on the list? No I think it's all "fiction" writers. God I hate the term fiction. It's a useless, banal, bankrupt term that is about selling narratives to people in airports.
(I probably shouldn't write this the day before I'm scheduled to be interviewed to teach a graduate fiction workshop, I who have never taken a fiction workshop)
Chris Kraus emailed me and asked me if she could publish one of my rants for a journal. I said yes, of course, she's my editor! but I didn't realize until today I wrote rants. Not much self-awareness, I guess.
Okay, has the New Yorker writers and editors in their suits with their wingtips and their manolos with their blackberries with their ipads with their business class with their berlin book fair even fucking heard of small presses? Heard of Les Figues FC2 Dalkey Chiasmus Semiotext(e) Graywolf Coffee House Akashic Soft Skull Book Thug Nightboat and so so so so so many more too many more?
A friend of mine is in a band called Obvious Books, or was in a band, don't know if it's still a band, but I thought it was a brilliant name. For all the popular press writes about is the obvious books. The first level. The gateway books. The ZZzzzzzz (sorry I just fell asleep). The Jonathan Safran Foers who ripped off Sebald in an uninteresting way in his last novel.
I am quoting here:
The process began in January, when editors in the fiction department started brainstorming. By e-mail they asked literary agents, publishers and other writers to suggest potential candidates.
The editors eventually whittled the possibilities down to a shortlist of roughly 40 eligible writers. A few prominent fiction writers, including Colson Whitehead and Dave Eggers, were slightly too old to make the cut, Ms. Treisman said.“It’s a little agonizing,” said Willing Davidson, associate fiction editor at The New Yorker. “We’re trying to think of what has this person already done, but also, what are they doing right now that we can put in the magazine?”
I'm doing something right now Willy that you can put in the magazine. It's however completely unprintable and not safe for work.
Thinking of not safe for work. EVERYTHING we write should be not safe for work. EVERYTHING. NOTHING we write should be appropriate for the New Yorker, because if it is, then we are DEAD.