Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Time" in Trouble

Has anyone noted the air of panic at Time magazine? It's evident throughout their August 23 print issue.

We have Joel Stein writing a piece titled "Bring on the Elites!" Stein thinks America should be an aristocracy run by grads of Harvard and Yale, as it pretty much is now. He coyly admits this is how the intelligentsia sees the world. The admission and defense of elitism is in reaction to current populist noise. Elsewhere in the issue, James Poniewozik admits he's a liberal and hysterically feigns to be under hysterical attack. Last and least, in the issue's cover story, Lev Grossman proclaims novelist Jonathan Franzen, he of an ill-gotten NEA grant the same time he was making a million bucks, a populist. Franzen as populist is absurd. Well, he may be one within the tiny and very narrow world of establishment letters, but nowhere else. Jonathan Franzen is from, and writes exclusively about, the upper class. Though he's a self-designated Marxist, he knows nothing about working people. What he knows about America at all could be put into a thimble. If he's ever had a job in his life, it was decades ago. A populist! Say it as loud as you want, it doesn't work. The world of Time is on its way out.

20 comments:

Wred Fright said...

My Newsweek subscription's running out and I decided not to renew. I was thinking about Time until they put Franzen on the cover. Looks like I'm down to U.S. News & World Report. Too bad Asshole Weekly isn't published anymore.

Anonymous said...

Would love to see a citation of when Franzen called himself a Marxist...

King said...

I'd love to see you use your name. Do you happen to catch any of my posts about character?
*********************
I believe I first saw Mr. Franzen refer to himself as a Marxist in a long ago profile in Contemporary Authors. (As did his friend David Foster Wallace.) I've seen it elsewhere. Franzen even did an article once about traveling with a group of socialists or communists to some activist event.
Remember also that in the mid-90's Franzen was a subscriber to my newsletter, New Philistine, which contained the most honest kickass lit criticism on the planet, had quite an extensive and impressive mailing list, yet despite this, has been shoved down the memory hole. I exchanged letters with Mr. Franzen a couple times, in which we argued over the meaning of populism. In one, he stated his preference for big box stores a la Barnes and Noble or Walmart over indy bookstores. Had a bad experience in an indy once I guess. He didn't seem to grasp the meaning of monopoly, how exploitive it is, and detrimental to the spread of new ideas. Not to mention that all those affordable goods from China are created by slave labor. I'm not making this up.
How can the "Great American Novelist" blah blah have no understanding of how the civilization in which he lives works?
The Time profile is simply one more example of would-be monopoly.It's an attempted exhibition of power. Franzen is a media creation. The Time empire, one of a handful of megagiants, has decided they need to promote SOMEONE, anyone, as G.A.N. What candidates are out there? As inadequate for the role as Mr. Franzen is, the alternatives are worse. Voila! Cover story on every edition of Time throughout the world. Franzen's writing has little relevance to the average American. Much less to readers in Mexico, or Hungary, or Bangladesh. But such are the workings of monopoly and empire.

King said...

DIRTY TRICKS DEPT.
Meanwhile, some unknown person has been trying to discover my "legal nationality." ?? Good luck with that.
I'm banished, but apparently not quite banished enough. The system is ruthless.

Anonymous said...

I've read just about all there is to read on Franzen and I can assure you he's never once referred to himself as a Marxist. Claiming David Foster Wallace called himself a Marxist is even more ludicrous. Until you find the exact citation, I will assume you're misremembering--or, more likely, lying.

The piece you're referring to concerned going to an anti-war rally. It was in the New Yorker. It's not Franzen's finest hour.

As for your letter exchanges with him, you want to quote from one explicitly? Because I can't believe you're fairly representing his views. Oh, I bet you don't have them anymore, do you? Threw 'em away years ago. Convenient for your argument. Quote one. I dare you to.

I know you've never read Franzen's books beyond their flap-copy summaries or first chapters (if that), but if you did, you'd find someone pretty deeply engaged with how the world and his civilization works. You might not agree with his findings or insights, but to say he's not attempting to do the very thing you're criticizing him for might be a better explanation for your so-called banishment. You simply don't have any idea what the fuck you're talking about. That goes even for when you're sometimes sort of right.

King said...

Kinda bizarre, isn't it, for someone who posts without an identity to call another person a liar?
NOTE: The fact that I post under a real identity leaves me accountable for the things I say. Can you understand that? It obligates me to see if I have misremembered, and if so, to publicly apologize.
But what about you?
What if I turn out to be correct?
How are "you" held accountable?
Believe it or not, there was once a day before the internet. At that time, the major resource tool regarding writers was the Contemporary Authors series. When I'm able I'll see if I can find a library which still stocks them.
But what then? How do I reach you, chump?
Unilke you, my integrity and character are important to me.
I've researched every topic about every protest and claim I've made. If I hadn't, during the course of 18 years of writing about the literary establishment, I'd have been destroyed many times over.
Not that attempts haven't been made.
There's a stark difference between how I operate and the workings of pawns of the literary machine such as yourself. You skulk in the shadows. Lies and false accusations are your stock-in-trade. Please don't project your behavior upon me!

King said...

Two additional points.
1.) It's amazing to me how defensive the machine remains. If I stick my head out for a moment, the demi-puppets are waiting to jump on me. What does this tell us about the shakiness of their viewpoint?
2.) Re the point that I don't know what I'm talking about. Oh, but you see, i know too well about how this civilization works. I've worked in its very bowels, in the toughest places in industrial America. I've worked in the import/freight-forwarding business, helping to keep the flow of goods moving through the throbbing machine-beast of American commerce. I'm still licesned as a customshouse broker, as a matter of fact. As they say, you could look it up. I should try to get back into the field, which I left in '99 to found the ULA, but I'm ten years behind on current government regulations which are ever multiplying; behind on knowing how to maneuver clients goods through layers of red tape.
I've dealt with every kind of working person, from government inspectors wearing badges and guns, to truckdrivers, dispatchers, and the like. Even "lot lizards."
In my life I've even worked on occasion as a flunkie for rich people, and sold to them also, so I've seen them up close as well.
(You know, to survive in this country, one ends up doing many things. Bartender; salesman; substitute teacher. One of my most educational experiences was when I worked for and with a commodity trader, which was a very wild ride.)
I didn't start writing in any serious way until I was past thirty. I began working when I was fourteen.I've had many years of hands-on American experience.
What does this mean?
It means I enjoy writers who take the time to understand the machine.
I assure you Mr. Franzen does not.
I made it fully halfway through "The Corrections," even though the people and situations, so narrow, didn't at all interest me. His style, his use of "detail disease," is particularly off-putting.
He's written other novels of course, but with them he was basically talking out of his ass. What he knows about America is what Lethem, Moody, DFW, et.al., know about it: What they see on TV and read from the media.
Otherwise they live bubble lives.
Not a good position for a "great" novelist, is it?
You know, I don't want to beat up on Franzen too much. The fact is that he's the best of a bad lot.
I mean, at least he's not insane. He more or less lives in the real world. He's not immersed himself so far in the world of his own mind and his input of media that he's lost connection with reality.
So, again, among the literary Insiders, there was no other choice for Time to make.

Anonymous said...

I'm a west coast academic who is writing a book on Franzen and has written a lot on Wallace. I admire both of them, though not everything they've written. That's who I am. There's no way in hell I'm telling you my Christian name, because I don't want it coming up in future Google searches alongside whatever misunderstandings or misapprehensions you're able to formulate from the ten seconds' worth of research you'd inevitably do on me if I did tell you. For instance: I went to an Ivy (not Princeton, Yale, or Harvard), teach at a private college, have published a lot of somewhat old-fashioned literary criticism (which does not endear me to my department--tenure hearing in two years!). What your Google searches won't tell you about me is that I grew up in small-town Texas, that my mother killed herself when I was 24, or that my brother is a McCain-voting Navy pilot, etc.

Wallace understood your underclass a little better than you think. He drove a school bus in rural Illinois, worked as a towel boy in a fancy Boston sporting club AFTER his second book came out, had stints in rehab and booby hatches, and once lived in a trailer and subsisted on canned food. If you'd bother to read Infinite Jest, you'd find one of the most indelible portraits of a struggling-to-hold-on American anywhere in contemporary American literature. I won't tell you the character's name, but he's one of the main focuses of the book. His life is not terribly unlike your described life in your response, and Wallace presents it to his readers without a whiff of condescension.

Franzen writes about the middle class American family. Roughly 60 to 70 percent of Americans fall into this class of people. The family in The Corrections is made up of a struggling, not-rich academic, a rich, temper-tantrum-throwing older brother, a lesbian chef, a beautifully drawn mother who is falling apart, and a father who once worked in a classic middle-American extractive industry but whose mind is now giving way to Alzheimer's. They're not cartoons and they're not narrowly drawn at all. They're complicatedly representative citizens of the United States. How is writing about the middle class, as Franzen does, not, at its heart, a bona fide populist project? Have you ever read Strong Motion? His most indelible portrait there is of a right-wing anti-abortion preacher--again, a character presented to us as a real, moving human being. The work you describe is not the work of a man whose millions (yes, millions) of readers would recognize.

I notice two things in your response: Your noted retreat from confidence in your previously iron-clad description of Franzen's self-described Marxism (which, again, having read deeply on the man and his work, I've never seen mentioned anywhere else), and your dropping completely the matter of the letters you have claimed to possess in which Franzen denigrates independent bookstores in favor of Barnes & Noble. I've never met Franzen and have no wish to, but based on what I've read, that is not the way the man thinks or feels.

And you really must, must, MUST drop this fallacy that the content of my objection has anything to do with whether or not I share with you my name on your blog. Honestly, there is no logical basis for that belief of yours. I'm accountable to you right here, on this blog. I'll continue to post if you continue to answer.

King said...

No: There's no accountability and no responsibility if you don't put your name behind what you say. Otherwise you're just one more anonymous troll. We have no way of knowing who you are or whether what you say is at all true.
keep in mind I've been dealing with anonymous fakes-- Shakespeare's "demi-puppets"-- since I began this blog, and before that when I received a steady stream of anonymous hate mail. Yes. Such is the price of being a stand-up person, which you, Ms. or mr. Academic, are not.
Re Franzen. Please, grow up. I will track down those sources. What will you say then?
I have a very good memory-- was trained to have one when i was in the import business; you have to be a total detail freak to get every dotted i right. I can see DFW's entry in the CA series. "Marxist."
Care to place a bet? Or why don't you look up the various entries for him yourself?
On Franzen I'm a tad fuzzier-- but don't doubt I read it somewhere, possibly in a letter. I may have the letter in which he stood up for WalMart-- but why wait for me to find it? Our discussion over the matter was prodded by a short piece he wrote for a publication. With enough searching, one might find it.
What I don't understand is
A.) Why these guys claiming to be Marxists would at all surprise you. The N+1 guys, for instance, also claim to be Marxists.
B.) Why you care what an obscure blogger says. Am I really a threat to anyone?
**************
Beyond this, it shocks me, Professor, how little you know about America. Franzen is demographically and socially at the upper end of the upper-middle class. Always has been. This demographic comprises at most 20% of the population, and that's being generous. Glad to see that you made it out of the muck, but keep in mind that 25-30% of the adult population have even BA degress. A much smaller percentage have higher education. (25% didn't graduate high school. In detroit proper, the dropout rate is 60-70%.)
Those with degrees include from any kind of college. The Ivy League is a tiny percentage of the U.S. population. Less than 1%? .01% Worth checking. The vast preponderance of those who attend are from affluent backgrounds, though there are a smattering of tokens. I've posted previously on this.
This throws Joel Stein's comments in an interesting light. Since 1988 every President has been a grad of Harvard or Yale, or both. I mean, let's give Princeton a shot!
Should we talk about Franzen's excerpt in the New Yorker from his new book, his description of the characters, and discuss what class he writes about?
60%??!
Not hardly.
You may want to reread that.
I stand by what I've said. (I do it under by own name, Karl Wenclas, though some folks are furiously searching to see if perhaps that's a shortened version of something else. Ya never know.)
The literary establishment exists within a very narrow world, wevery one with the same premises and assumptions, with nary a dissenting voice anywhere to be found-- and much panic when such a voice sticks its head out.
Have a good afternoon.

Anonymous said...

You claim to write about literature. I tried to respond with examples drawn from it. You ignored them. Your loss, Mr. Wenclas. I mean that sincerely.

King said...

Oh, boo hoo. No, ptof, you want me to like YOUR version of literature, which to you is the only lit.
Literature also exists within a context-- within the society Franzen writes about.
You want literature?
Again, let;s discuss his short story in the New Yorker. What people is he writing about?
Do you truly feel this represents America?
Why is it that when I discuss realities-- that the upper-middle class, who dominate literary culture, are not 60% of the population, but more like 16%-- you're unable to answer? Do you give the same performance in the classroom?
Yes, that 16% is still millions of people. But there's a huge mass of people which lit isn't reaching and doesn't know how to reach.
I'm egotistical to believe that I know how to reach them. "American Pop Lit" is only a preview.
What I need before I can kick my own operation into gear is to
A.) find a way to re-raise my profile.
B.) raise some capital.
When I do that, you'll have something tangible to fear.
(Right now I could give a shit about lit; I'm busy with my new blog about: "El Cid"!)

King said...

Hmm, I wonder where our "west coast" professor has vanished to? Not used to being contradicted?
Note the utter condescension of this profile-in-courage plaster intellectual who worships clay literary gods:
"I can assure you," "You really must," "your loss." This is a person used to beating up young students in the classroom but has likely never engaged in a real debate, would get wiped out in a public one, and anyway wouldn't have the backbone to be so incautious as to get involved in one. After all; reputation and career! Those come first, ya know. Intellectual honesty and conflict are secondary considerations.
This intellectual jellyfish has called me a liar, without the wherewithall to make that accusation under a real identity. Now I'm forced, possibly this weekend, to dig up that old letter from a storage facility here in town. I'll devote a couple hours to rummaging through voluminous files-- including much of the history of the ULA, to see if I can find it. Thanks!
If I find it, will it go into your book?
Will an examination of the real Franzen character take place in your pages, I wonder?
Will you cover, as Lev Grossman notably did not, Franzen's acceptance of an NEA grant, given by a friend of his sitting on the panel, which he clearly didn't need and clearly didn't use for the intended purpose?
Why was this story ignored by Mr. Grossman, I wonder?
Curious, isn't it, how for pseudo-intellectuals like Mr. Grossman, MEDIA happenings like the trivial Oprah controversy are the relevant story, but an example of actual lit-world corruption is easily passed over.
I wonder why anyone has any respect at all for this paper thin simulation-of-a-literature world.

Anonymous said...

Well, I know this. Franzen won the NEA the year The Corrections came out. Which means he applied for it the previous year, before The Corrections was a big hit. I know his advance for The Corrections was $80K. I know that it was under contract for ten years. That means he averaged out to $10K a year while writing it. I imagine that, a year before he or anyone else knew that his book would sell millions of copies, he was not wealthy. I know that the NEA submissions process is anonymous, and that no one knows whose work they're reading, so whether his friend was on the board or not is beside the point.

Now back to beat up more on my students.

King said...

Sorry, but by the time the grant was awarded, "The Corrections" was already on its way to becoming a big hit. Cardboard displays were already in chain bookstores. Surely-- surely-- Franzen knew before this that a huge media push was behind the book, with substantive articles already in the pipeline. It doesn't happen instantaneously. I'm sure he knew months beforehand.
Anyway, recall, when i questioned the dude about it, he said he was using the funds on a couple pieces of art!
Amazing. Then he later backtracked a couple times.
Give the taxpayer money back??
Couldn't have thought of that-- even tho he was well aware of the ULA's protest against Mr. Moody's ill-gotten Guggenheim and that giving the funds back was all that we asked in that instance.
***********
You know, of course, that during the time mr. Franzen was existing on ten thou a year, according to your calculation, he was living on the upper east side of manhattan, perhaps the most expensive stretch of residential real estate on the planet. Quite a feat. Maybe I've sold him short. (Never considered is that this privileged butterfly get a job!)
********************
Here's the most curious thing: That you feel this focus of a current giant media push needs your defense against the ultimate outsider; a nobody. The slightest criticism from the most marginalized source can't be absorbed. His reputation must indeed be fragile.

King said...

Regarding the "anonymity" of the grants process: let's grow up, please. Everyone keeping up on things knew that Franzen's long-awaited novel was ready and in the pipeline; even likely what it was about. They knew its style and they knew the book's scope. A good friend, of course, would know much more than that.
What we know about your work-in-progress: that it will be quite the fawning puff piece.
Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...

You do know, of course, that Rick Moody and Franzen are not friends? Never have been? Don't like each other?

I'll await your clarification how this doesn't matter, that they really are friends.

Tell me, Mr. Wenclas: Are you ever wrong? Ever uncertain? Have you ever made a mistake with regard to another person's reputation or work?

King said...

Oh, I don't know. I make mistakes every day. The question is why you treat me as the ultimate judge. Get it through your head: I have no power. Whatsoever. I'm giving here my personal opinion. (Do you see my name in the blog's address?)
Believe me, though, if I made a factual mistake of any size, I'd be crucified. Do you realize who the other side is? What I call "the Billionaire Boys Club" are a few of the most powerful writers in literature. Stupendously powerful. Cross them and you'll find out.
Among them:
Daniel Handler, worth a few hundred million bucks yet posted anonymously on this blog for a couple years under the name "Jimmy Grace." (Outed through use of IP#'s-- which also tell me, ahem, that you're not on the west coast. There are no secrets on the Internet-- which is why I never post anonyedmously.)
The Dave. Like Franzen, but moreso, he wears a facade. See my "False Face" stories at my American Pop Lit blog.
Mr. M. His father is mucho powerful, so I guess that doesn't count.
Why do YOU feel you need to defend these guys? Do they really need it?
Don't you think they can defend themselves?
They've got the entire literary world completely cowed. You want the last dissenter to throw in the towel?
What's your stake?
What advance are you getting for your book?
Or is it the typical academy tome which will sit unread on a dusty library shelf?
What's your stake in the system, which is insular and corrupt?
There's a part of you that knows this, or you wouldn't be here. The 100% conformity you seek isn't in the literary world, but within yourself.

King said...

Jesse Berrett, Village Voice, 9/25/01, about Franzen:
"Half brainiac hipster (like Brown classmates Rick Moody and Donald Antrim, he spins clued-in riffs almost without thinking)"
*********************
The kicker is that Donald Antrim also received a NEA grant the same time Franzen did. I'm sure it was just coincidence.
These are the most connected and affluent writers in America. Hear them at the hog trough, "snort snort."
What a clubby little world!
***********************
(I didn't intend to get into this debate. As I said in a previous post, I'm done with literature. But I'm not going to deny what's true.)

King said...

QUESTION TO THE PROF:
How 'bout giving me and my modest readership an assessment of DFW's story, "A New Examiner," in the September Harper's? Please explain it to us. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It's summer, Mr. Wenclas. No school. I was visiting friends. Good detective work, however. You'll see I'm now back at home.

I'm not sure how a Village Voice reviewer's semi-obscure riff makes Mr. Moody and Mr. Franzen friends, but okay.

The Wallace piece, which I just read, is obviously from the new, posthumous book. Not sure how I felt about it. Harper's is obviously running it out of loyalty to Mr. Wallace and as a publicity nod to the book's upcoming release. It's an appetizer for Wallace fans, I suspect. There are several million of them around the word.

Franzen wasn't on the cover of the international edition. A dog's face was.