THE TRUTH ABOUT DAVE EGGERS?
After looking at the literary machine and a few of its players, we come to the question: What’s the truth about Dave Eggers? Is he in fact the image he portrays? Or is there a more ruthless side to him, a la the character Fake Face in my ebook novella Crime City USA?
Saint or Cynical Operator?
I’ll say up front that as a past leader of the now mothballed Underground Literary Alliance (ULA), I’m not objective about the matter. But, unlike almost anyone else, I have nothing to lose, and so I’m free to speculate.
The answer to the question comes down to whether Eggers believes his own presentation. Has he swallowed his own bullshit? If he has, it would explain his anger at critics. It’d be natural that he’d become hostile toward anyone who gets in the way of his sainthood.
On the other hand, the way he sets up and manipulates charities, and thereby his flawless image, could indicate the other possibility. His famed “Heartbreaking” “Staggering Genius” memoir for example was psychologically manipulative; hugely effective with those naive bourgie writers immediately younger than himself. Anyone older than Eggers was immune to the narcissistic presentation—unless they lived in a bubble all their life.
Was the manipulation—which continues to this day, obviously—instinctive, or part of a conscious plan? This is important in knowing how shrewd he is. Maybe he really is a naive good guy who out of pure instincts has accidentally fallen into his empire. If true, this would be limiting. It would show him to be as strictly limited in intelligence and smarts as his narrowly focused acolytes.
Whether Dave Eggers is innocent good guy, evil bad guy, or a jammed-together psychotic hybrid of both possibilities, determines his attitude toward both colleagues and congregants. The Saint would feed on their worship and adulation. The Operator would have nothing but contempt for their gullibility and sheep-like behavior. I’d have to think that even the Saint would begin to question their unquestioning obedience. Who could possibly respect the stream of blindly sycophantic reviews—see Pico Iyer—which compare The Dave, marginalized but powerful cult leader, with the likes of Hemingway?
What do we make of the title of the gang’s current flagship, The Believer? Is that how the cult leaders see the magazine’s standard reader? Is it a tongue-in-cheek and very cynical mocking of the cult; the game?
While it’d be difficult for anyone who can see the world clearly to respect those who believe the p.r., Eggers’s colleagues are a different matter. Let’s take them in stages.
Jonathan Lethem and Ben Marcus. The gang’s front men “intellectuals,” a notion which, for anyone who’s actually read them and tried to decipher their “ideas,” is comical. They’re stooges propped up by today’s cronyistic literary system. They survive strictly on cronyism and a manipulated media. Moreover, the largesse, unlike that given to Eggers, is not of their own making. Do you think Eggers respects these guys? Really? I think Eggers knows that in a debate, say, with myself, the two stooges would be ripped into pieces. He’d have to know it, if he has the sense he appears to have.
Daniel Handler. Lemony Snicket’s attacks upon myself and this blog, using the name “Jimmy Grace,” including his crank emails and phony mail, were ridiculously childish. There’s a reason his friends recommended he become a children’s author. It’s clearly the way his mind operates. Despite how much money Handler has accumulated—no doubt more than Eggers—he remains secondary in any relationship with The Dave. Thuggish, simplistic, not very bright but with childlike malice, a one-dimensional thinker: Handler is easily manipulated. One sees him as an overgrown kid. “Hey guys! Let’s torture some cats! Let’s get our magnifying glasses and burn up some bees! Let’s throw rocks at Mr. Parker’s dog! No?” Handler frowns because the gang won’t go along with his own ideas. But Dave can certainly think of one or two things which will make his half-witted friend happy.
Hiram F. “Rick” Moody III. Moody is a different matter. Before Eggers came along, Rick Moody was the coming young establishment writer. He’s proved his adeptness at gaming the literary system. It took Eggers to take such machinations and shell games to another level. Eggers has to respect Moody, without seeing him as his equal. Dave Eggers has done things bigger and better. He also knows that Rick, who comes from Big Money on both sides of the family, has had an easier path. Moody doesn’t have Eggers’s will or energy. Like Handler, Rick Moody has fit naturally into a secondary position in the McSweeney’s operation. He offers, due to his passive personality, not a shred of a threat. Don’t think for a moment that people aren’t like animals—like a pack of dogs. Within his gang, Dave is the Big Dog and can only be the Big Dog. His associates are instinctively accommodating.
Vendela Vida. The Dave’s wife and closest colleague. I can’t say I know much about her. Only what I’ve heard. She seems to be ambitious, with a powerful ego. Whether or not The Dave is in fact very ruthless, she’s said to be. Perhaps Vendela is the “bad guy” side to his personality?
As I stated in the post previous to this one, only one literary figure has faced up to Dave Eggers and gotten away with it. (We in the ULA didn’t.) Eggers has since done nothing to remedy the situation, which is telling.
This causes us to wonder about his ultimate survival in the literary game.
I believe his prospects are better than those of many. With his emphasis on nonprofits, Eggers has built his empire to survive the loss of Big Publishing and Big Media. The future is bright, if he survives long enough to see it. It’s within the present shaky literary system that one questions his prospects, based on his old-fashioned gang leader personality. The system draws ever more toward consensus and integration, in reaction to the ebook chaos outside the establishment castle. Witness the Commisar-like arguments of Insider lit figures such as Leon Wieseltier issuing panicked screeds against individual economic behavior and the liberating freedom of ebooks.
Despite the stage scenery which justifies the fundraising, Dave Eggers appears to be apolitical and non-ideological. His recent actions bolster this viewpoint—including the Gunter Grass controversy. Particularly in his Saint side, he’s more interested in the cult of self—while other powerful figures on the literary scene are interested in power for the sake of power. Like him, they may want a benevolent “liberal” dictatorship overseeing literature, but they want a dictatorship of the machine. Could Eggers blend in as a low-profile cog in the larger operation? Not likely.
In temperament, Dave Eggers is Dutch Schultz, not Lucky Luciano. The consolidating, paranoid machine allows him his territory—for now.