Thursday, September 30, 2004

The NEW YORKER Story: A Eulogy

The rigid NEW YORKER style is anachronistic, like Blondie or Nancy comics in the funny pages. Once, this kind of shit was new and exciting. Distant memories of the Algonquin Club in glamorous circles of the 1930s. Tophats and tails; bellhops calling for cigarettes in snappy hotels. Music by Artie Shaw.

It'd be like MCSWEENEY'S 60 years from now-- the same stale humor that was "hip" at the outset but already dated by 2004.

The rituals of a religion-- nobody knows why they're still performing them, they just do. THE NEW YORKER's fiction falls into this category. The only thing keeping it going are the hopeful MFA demi-puppets copying the stories like monks, with their own variations, because they think it's the way toward salvation. And so, as we're still afflicted with Nancy and Sluggo, so also are we stuck with the same sad outdated fiction in the NEW YORKER.

Enough converts are always found-- Canin, Danticat, Lahiri, Eugenides; inferior disciples-- to keep the ritualized charade going; a pretense of life, as meaningful and important as the activity in a seminary or a convent. The goal: preservation. Or, more accurately, embalming.

Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman is the most pathetic kind of acolyte-- a caretaker. She's keeping the candles burning in a church that lost the bulk of its congregation decades ago. Not a visionary; not a revolutionary; not a consolidator-- merely a caretaker; the night custodian in the halls of literature. It's still the tallest and most prestigious church in town, stuffy and gray, of a religion which no longer matters.

And so, in keeping with her role, Ms. Treisman gives us not a glimmer of anything exciting, different, or new, only the same dogma: the same apostles-- Updike, Ozick, Oates, Munro-- in their usual places. There's Johnny Updike in the same familiar niche in the interior wall where he always stands, stony and bland, like a long-ago ancestor, and all is well with the world.

The caretaker lights a candle under the Updike statue, and her face gleams idiotically. Outside moves the bustle of the world, but inside the church is cherished silence, which the caretaker worships. You might think her insane, but she's not at all, despite the irrelevance of the rituals she performs. She's found a place in the world.

The many candles to her Altar of the Dead blaze brilliantly within the dark and empty church-- or at least within her empty head. The caretaker lights a final candle to the Updike statue, the last and most important in a line of dead literary saints. The caretaker shuffles listlessly but happily down the side row of the dusty cathedral to go home, leaving the shrine for the night, to return in the morning. She steps outside and with rusted keys locks the heavy doors.


Anonymous said...

Here's another topic. This Newsday article talks about a major grant for young women writers. But there are NO application criteria. How does she pick them? That's a mystery. And something the story glosses over.

>>Jaffe is celebrating ten years of The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Awards, which now provide six $10,000 grants to female writers at the beginning of their careers. In all, she's awarded $460,000 to 68 writers. This year she says "I put $150,000 into the foundation."

Adam Hardin said...

Academia views the world through the categories of race and sex. Grants for Chinese Writers. Grants for Women Writers. Grants for Latino Women Writers. Grants for Half-Latino/Half-Native American Cross-Gender Writers of Feminist Literature Across Cultures Writers.

How about just grants for writers(Maybe because Certain Rich White Male Writers would take all the money?)

This categorization pervades Literature and produces sterile homogeneous works that do not question and do not challenge and do not reflect but uphold the same world view.

Anonymous said...

Grants...lovely grants...

Writers shouldn't get grants at all. They should work for a living just like normal human beingz.
I think the ULA wastes its time worrying about grants going to rich writers, becuz it's a corrupt system no matter who you give the money to. Evil in the hands of Rick Moody et al, just as evil in the hands of Karl Wenclas et al.


Anonymous said...

Freedom of a private organization or individual to give money to whom they choose and how they choose is where 90% of grant money originates. The MacArthur Grants for example.

Mr. Wenclas has no right to complain about these organizations or individuals. Give some of you own money away if you feel so strongly.

Mr. Wenclas makes his case regarding wealthy writers and public grants, but his case is not a legal, but a moral one. Those writers have received their money legally even though many struggling writers could use it.

Mr. Wenclas wants to take all of the difficulty of being a writer and being rejected, and sweep it into a pile for himself and the ULA and wallow in it. Poor me. I am the only struggling artist in the world. Poor me.

Stop wallowing.

Bill Walton

King said...

You're just upset, Walton, that Updike didn't win the big prize.

You're wrong about grants. Most such foundations are tax shelters for rich people. They are getting benefits-- should their money then go to benefit: other rich people?

While we welcome you bravely coming onto this island to battle us, be sure always to bring with you weapons, armor, and a brain.

chilly charlie said...

Damn demi puppets.

Like Dean Haspiel