Monday, October 22, 2012

Can They Defend the Essay?


Essayist Tom Bissell and the folks at The Believer are like manufacturers who put out a product, and after the product is discovered to be defective they’re nowhere to be found. No response to criticism. Survey Believer headquarters—lights off, nobody home.

If they have knowledge of the Tylenol strategy they don’t show it. No readiness to withdraw the product from shelves or make amends to the consumer. (In this case, though, the consumers are elitist literary people who may enjoy seeing underground writers unfairly kicked around. See Maria Bustillos and others.)

The questions are: The integrity of Tom Bissell as a writer, and the credibility of McSweeney’s as an organization. McSweeney’s and Dave Eggers have invested a great deal of energy in establishing themselves as advocates for the downtrodden. Everything in Tom Bissell’s Believer essay runs counter to this carefully manufactured image. One would think they’d be eager to resolve the dispute.

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