Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Here's an e-mail response from Stefan Beck to my 10/14 post, "NEW CRITERION: Relevant or Dead?"

"Mr. Wenclas,

Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. The business of delivering a magazine (one not made with staples and mimeograph machines) to our 'comfortably safe and circumscribed readership' is awfully busy. I hope you'll forgive me. I'll post your essay to the blog as soon as production period is over. (Despite what I'll say, I do appreciate the interest and free publicity.) In the meantime, I think it's only fair to warn you that I'm not impressed. I say that not because you're criticizing our magazine-- I'd rather you read it and criticize than not read it at all-- but because I disagree with your approach to what a critical magazine ought to do.

"I'm a little alarmed by all this vague and tedious language of 'progress,' 'moving forward,' 'rebellion,' 'real change,' etc. I don't doubt that this talk gives a frisson of excitement to some of the hopeful iconoclasts who follow the ULA, but it has nothing to do with . . . well, it's no concern of mine. Culture and literature are not monolithic entities to be changed or destroyed (what is this 'arts castle' of which you speak?). They are, as they always have been, aggregates of everything that people do and make-- some of which are good, in which case I hope to celebrate and preserve them, and some of which are bad, in which case I hope to point out why they are so.

"It seems part of what you want is a literary culture in which anybody can be published and read-- hence your frequent mention of 'zines. But that culture exists. The Internet brings us everything from the demotic meanderings of a teenager girl's LiveJournal to some brilliant daily commentary on the better blogs-- and everything in between.

"These people are self-published; they do it for love of writing, not because they expect to get famous or make money. Sometimes they are read; sometimes they are ignored. The fact is (and I hope I can say this without sounding nasty, as I hope for an ongoing conversation) there are so many of these people out there that they render the ULA redundant. The ULA's blogs and essays are like other people's blogs and essays-- except other people's blogs and essays say what they say without trumpeting, over and over and over, how brave and edgy and 'controversial' (oh really?) they are. (Doesn't it strike you as funny that an 'underground alliance' has a 'publicity director'?)

"Back to us dinosaurs. Look-- to go to one example. I enjoy it when you chip away at dave Eggers. But I've chipped away at Dave Eggers on TNC's blog, too, and so has our fiction chronicler, Max Watman, in the print edition of the magazine. What seems so odd to me is that when you chip away at Eggers, you're attacking an 'arts castle'; when we do it, we're criticizing one guy for the poor quality of his fiction. There's some weird disconnect there. I guess I don't fully get your complaints-- what you think we ought to be doing-- but I'm hoping this note will encourage further clarification.

"P.S. In your essay, among 'elitist,' 'snob,' 'arts castle,' 'hierarchy,' 'crumpets,' 'cocktail parties,' and 'hors d'oeuvres,' I don't see a single mention of TNC's weekly get-together at a dive on the Upper East Side. Anyone is welcome to come and converse with us, whether or not he agrees with a single word we say. (There aren't any hors d'oeuvres, but somebody usually breaks down and buys a pizza.) Some elitists 'we' are!"

Stefan Beck
Assistant Editor
New Criterion

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