at midnight; now I'm all riled up from skimming through the latest issue of n+1. I did not renew my subscription before I left New York, in part because I don't think I've ever read another publication that seemed so roundly to remind me of the fact that I do not have a Y chromosome, but my friend S. has loaned me hers (we are in agreement that the editorial piece on dating that's currently excerpted on the website is distasteful, though I can see that if I try to explain why I think so, I will sound like a fretful and humorless feminist; perhaps I will instead just express my dislike for that editorial "we," on the grounds that it rarely leads to sharp and appealing writing).
I've been dying to read the Walter Benn Michaels essay on class (well, "dying" is a terrible exaggeration, but it's been nagging at me, not least because some paragraphs by Benn Michaels about the idea of "breeding" in his book Our America helped me realize that Breeding was the title for my new academic book). It's excellent, combative and sly in its framing of arguments that we on the whole do not want to hear about neoliberalism and Ivy League schools and the disingenuous American obsession with meritocracy. I must read Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep, too, I tried to get it at the library the other day but it was not where it was supposed to be (predictably stolen from the stacks?). The piece is very nicely paired with a great essay--story?--by J. D. Daniels. This is the magazine at its best, as far as I am concerned: intellectual but accessible, challenging, controversial--even slightly disagreeable, which gives it a nice edge--while still appealing enough to keep me reading.
My other two favorite pieces were Emily Votruba on women's boxing and an absolutely charming essay by Elif Batuman on Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees, another book I must get and read at once. (I also enjoyed Siddartha Deb's devastating review of Rushdie's latest--which I have here but am relatively unlikely to read, unless snowbound & fiction-deprived; I don't say that in the spirit of snark, just as a truthful observation--and two likeable essays, one by Pankaj Mishra and the other by my friend Marco Roth.)
It's the other stuff that gives me the feeling of guy-ness that I don't like. I don't want to read high-falutin philosophizing about pop music and reality TV; it seems to me that the ideal of crashing together the academic and the journalistic should take you altogether the other way, with a more accessible and down-to-earth prose style but a high level of intellectual acuity about important things. (It's not that I don't like Radiohead or think their music is important and interesting. I do. I just don't like this kind of cultural criticism, which seems to me to trumpet its superiority over the material it cannibalizes and to speak only to a tiny circle of insiders. It's a matter of taste, but it runs pretty deep. And I don't really like DeLillo and so I also don't like what seemed to me a vaguely DeLilloesque--what's up with that comma use, anyway?--story by Benjamin Kunkel that is also included in the issue. Sorry, guys. It is awkward blogging negatively about people I am reasonably likely to see at future parties in NY, isn't it? Take this in the spirit of rational dissent.)
Finally, I found James Wood's reply to the attack on his criticism in the magazine's first issue alternately engaging and maddening: there I am thinking "oh, how reasonable he sounds, and I don't at all disagree with his judgments of these individual authors" and then I come up against a sentence that completely alienates me in its anti-intellectualism and its deliberate refusal to entertain the rules of argument rather than masking its opinion-ness in an infuriating cloak of elegant phraseology. An example: Wood uses Henry James' phrase "'the present palpable-intimate'" as a rubric to describe his own credo for fiction, then glosses the term "present": "I think the novel should deal with current reality; I have no time for historical fiction, seeing it as merely science fiction facing backwards." Since when did cleverly and unexpectedly saying that thing X inverts thing Y count as an explanation for why thing X is bad, unless you cheaply invoke a set of unfair stereotypes about both kinds of novel, particularly disparaging about science fiction? "Merely science fiction facing backwards": that dandyish contemptuousness, that thoughtless sweep.... We all have our tastes, but there's no point kidding ourselves they're moral virtues. (I don't think that quite counts as an editorial "we," just an irritable generalization in the first-person plural, but perhaps it's a sign that I had better retire for the evening....) In any case, it's clearly contradicted by lots of his preferences: you would have to call Jonathan Lethem (whose writing Wood admires) a writer of historical fiction, wouldn't you, and probably of science fiction as well?