Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Behind the Curtain


A nation’s literature should primarily be about telling the truth. Yet we’re stuck with an established literary scene incapable of telling the most basic truth about itself, and which blackballs those who do speak the truth. Why is that?

The New York Review of Books is a case study in that regard. They’ve been busy the past weeks patting themselves on the back—for fifty years of remaining stagnant—while presenting a strictly mythicized version of their history and founding.

The New York Review of Books was created as, and has always been, an extension of and front for the publishing industry. As is well known, the journal was founded during a New York Times newspaper strike. No one mentions why.

With the famed New York Times Book Review not being published, the major publishing houses were not getting ads out about their products; their new releases. So they created what in effect was a dummy substitute, a similarly named stand-in. Co-founder Barbara Epstein was the wife of Random House big Jason Epstein. Paid ads from the big houses paid for the journal’s existence. Back in the 1970’s, long outcast essayist Richard Kostelanetz did an examination of the publication, discussing the incestuous relationship between the already large Random House book empire and The New York Review of Books. Kostelanetz showed a relationship between ad space bought and company books reviewed.

That’s it, kids. A front journal. Creature of a monopolistic book business. The much-lauded “intellectuals” writing for them, the fairly unexciting Joan Didions and Susan Sontags, for all their ability and intelligence, were likewise always products of the big houses. As is someone like Lorrie Moore now. Puppets, to the extent that they were and are allowed to be esteemed “intellectuals” as long as their intellectualizing remains within certain parameters. Criticize Capitalism, by all means—but never criticize the Capitalism of the publishing industry! Don’t even look at it.

(The New York Review of Books’ much lauded Leftist posture in this sense has been like a magician’s misdirection. Look over here, audience, but don’t see what’s really going on.)

This includes not looking at all the many ancillary pieces of that publishing industry, like nonprofit foundations handing out grants and awards at swanky black tie dinners attended by the publishing industry’s managers and high-level soldiers; the purpose of the awards to further hype and legitimize the same products being hyped and reviewed and legitimized in New York Review of Books. A cozy environment, albeit one which has always remained fairly static, while the outside world—while other cultural entities like sports and music—moved swiftly on all sides around it; mutating and growing and expanding many times over. The nation’s culture as a whole expanding—while the New York Review of Books and its sponsors remained stuck in their careful elitist niche. They’re still there now.

No comments: