The most hilarious part of n+1's refusal to debate Stefan Beck was when Keith Gessen pointed out that Beck was merely "Associate Editor" at New Criterion, while they were "Editors" with a capital E-- all four of them.
Well! Clearly inappropriate to put them on the same playing field. The proposed debate would not have been doable simply on matters of protocol.
(The Four n+1 Editors arrive at the theater to discover that Beck has already entered. Improper! Not done! They refuse to walk into the theater until Beck comes back OUTside the theater and waits until THEY-- the "Four"-- have gone in. After all. Social position, you know.)
After they imposed their "No Beck" condition on the event, I scouted around to see who I could recruit to represent the Criterion team instead. No, not the figureheads on the masthead. Truth is that Beck and another obscure guy run the entire operation. Kimball, Kramer, et.al. died eons ago-- were stuffed and mummified and are now kept in a closet at the New Criterion office, in a back room; carted out solely for black-tie fundraising events.
Then who else? Who has a name big enough in n+1 eyes to prod them into a public exchange?
Only one person: Jonathan Franzen.
Yes, the ultimate hermetically-sealed writer himself. A safe opponent. We could've slapped a "New Criterion" t-shirt on Franzen and no one would've noticed the difference. In fact there's little difference between any of these clowns. "Right"; "Left": they come from the same backgrounds and schools, follow the same rules, and all suffer from the same aesthetic lethargy and artistic constipation.
Frank Walsh would've done intros. The n+1 "Four" wait pompously on stage, having taken their chairs first. Smugly they preen and pose. Franzen steps out, overwhelmed by the setting, blinking in the glare of lights behind huge eyeglasses.
"Oprah?" he says.