Monday, November 29, 2004

About Tom Bissell

Two points about Bissell's essay in Harper's magazine.

1.) It shows again the establishment rewarding one of their writer's misdeeds. Bissell was caught engaging in plagiarism in a previous Harper's essay. The magazine, in a sign of arrogance, without apology or explanation makes sure to quickly present another essay of his (a bizarre one at that) to show they're beyond public accountability.

It's no different from corrupt Rick Moody appearing as a judge on awards panel after awards panel, or Jonathan Franzen being rewarded for his own questionable grants behavior by being published continually in The New Yorker.

2.) Bissell's memoir follows the pattern of mentor Dave Eggers in exploiting, for personal benefit, his family. (Bissell's essay is a one-sided hatchet job on his own father.) At least write it as fiction! His father is presented as a crazed cartoon-- this laudable, I guess, under the guise of presenting "everything" about oneself to the world: the Exhibition of Self explaining why Tom Bissell is an establishment suck-up.

In Dave Eggers's case his memoir of highly questionable accuracy led to the death of his sister-- one of those topics polite literary folk won't talk about. It would be bad manners. (In the old days writers presented truth disguised as fiction and called it a novel. Today's writers present fiction disguised as truth and call it a memoir.)

The established literary scene is as rotten as a brown squishy apple containing nothing salvageable. One can only look on in horror at the spreading decay mess on the table of culture.

MY QUESTION is why writers take the System and the individuals inhabiting it at all seriously. Can't they see they're either hapless bureaucrats (Augenbraum), mendacious opportunists (Eggers), or feckless clowns (Franzen)-- all lacking the talent and character needed from mainstays of literature?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder, based on this commentary, whether you even read the Bissell essay. The piece is clearly a tribute to his father. Are you so biased that you can't see that?

As far as castigating an author for probing their own family histories for artistic materials, grow up, for christ's sake. What writer doesn't do this? Jonathan Lethem, in the same Harper's issue as this putatively horrifying Bissell essay, talks about his own past, his own upbringing in relation to a particular subway stop in Brooklyn. How horrible. Somebody call the ULA.

Stop whining, or at the very least learn to pick your battles with a shred of forethought. Otherwise it's difficult to take anything you say seriously.