Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Gessen Problem

AT A BOOKSTORE I glanced at Keith Gessen's novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, which seems to be based on the ideas of himself and his n+1 colleagues. In the novel they allude to themselves as Marxists, identify with Menshevists, posture as political radicals-- most notably at the end-- but present is the sense that they're playing; that Gessen himself knows they're playing and can't be taken seriously in any way as revolutionaries.

And how could they be? They're the established system's captive pets, existing at the center of New York hierarchy and privilege.

Noteworthy is the group's real-world treatment of the literary underground-- an underground that was spawned from authentic grass roots samizdat. Embarrassed by the genuine article, they've done their best to ignore us. They refused at first even to print a letter from me a couple issues ago-- though they readily print all nonsense from the boozhies-- then relented and printed half of it only after intensive lobbying. In their latest issue they celebrate a Russian underground poet who's not half as lively as the literary activists of the ULA. Any mention of the American literary underground? No place! Amazing.

We don't exist to them. I've yet to find an explanation for this other than pure phoniness. I believe Gessen is smart enough to realize he's a phony-- that in the face of the uncompromising buzzsaw voices across the spectrum of our side of things (I think of George, Frank W., MDG, Nowlan, and other attack dogs) Gessen and his friends would wilt away.

At least, that's the impression I received browsing for several minutes through his book.

(For a fictional look at the n+1 gang, see


Unknown said...

My novel Walking Man had the bad luck to be published the same week as Gessen's novel. Gessen has sucked up all of the oxygen in review spaces and book coverage during the past two weeks. This for a book that's getting middling to poor reviews. My book, about DIY zine culture and published by a new small press, has mostly been ignored, although everyone who's read it loves it. The media would rather publicize a darling of theirs with a mediocre book than a relative unknown with a good one.

Looking back on my life, I guess I did it wrong when I graduated from college years ago. Like Gessen (and Thomas Frank before him) I should've graduated, declared myself a genius, and started a journal of cultural and literary criticism. This seems to be a solid formula for popular success, if not exactly literary success.

BTW, Karl, how do I get you a copy of my book? It's right up your alley.

King Wenclas said...

E-mail me at the e-mail posted at this blog's Profile, and I'll let you know my current snail address.
Your timing is good-- I've been slowly bumping up my audience, and I have a new review blog on the drawing board. (I also have to review a Larry Richette novel, which is actually way better than Gessen's, but hey, if you don't have the connections. . . .)
Keith Gessen is actually a nice guy, but N+1 just keeps getting worse and worse . . . the latest issue is unintentional comedy throughout. Worse than McSweeney's!-- if you can believe it.