Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Shaky Empire

WHILE AT ONE TIME the McSweeney’s Gang was an important development in a stagnant literary scene, today the band of clubsters, cronyistas, fellow travelers and hangers-on is sustained by bluff, reputation, and bullying. Though their books, whether published by the Big Six or by McSweeney’s, still receive lavish media attention, their actual impact on the general public has become minimal.

Little girls in Minnesota who self-publish indie ebooks outsell the lot of them.

When you examine the evil empire up close there’s not a lot there.

What are their ideas?

Rehashed postmodernism; pose more than substance. Their overhyped intellectuals, Jonathan Lethem and Ben Marcus, are impressive only on paper. Given a fawning establishment literary world fueled by timidity, their sophistry is seldom challenged. It’s noteworthy that both much-awarded figures are defeatist about their own literary ideology. (See the link to a post about a Jonathan Lethem essay at the left side of this screen.)

Either would be slaughtered in a debate about literature with someone like myself. What’s more, they know it. Not that such debate would ever take place. Sustained by protective nursemaids behind protective barriers, what Lethem and Marcus lack even more than real intellect is intellectual courage.

What of the Emperor himself, Mr. Eggers?

Lately he’s been a one-trick pony, playing the role of Great White Father, savior to the Third World. His latest book, more of the same, is a dud.

The entire McSweeney’s/Believer ouevre, in fact, is growing visibly tired. Cutesy hipster posturing with trademark narcissistic posing by the usual bourgie grandees or their knockoffs, for whom the stunning currents of economic change and devastation the last four years have been no more than a mild puff of wind. They view the hectic tragic world from above, aristocrats in a crumbling castle with walls smelling of mold. In the near distance a tidal wave of readable, low-cost ebooks approaches. Not wishing to see the new wave, they sip more hipster wine or designer beer and move to the other side of the fortress. 

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