"BAD PAPER: The Bursting of the Fiction Bubble"

read it here.

August 9, 2010

Fiction Ain't All The New Yorker Domesticates

From the blog "Have a Good Time," an insightful post entitled "What the New Yorker doesn't publish":

For starters, this letter:

To the Editor,

While I was glad to see praising reviews of poets Rae Armantrout and Anne Carson in recent issues, I was somewhat disturbed by their contents. Dan Chiasson says that Armantrout is the “best poet of the [Language] group” because she “takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go.” This ideological attack on experimental writing is repeated in Meghan O’Rourke’s review of Carson’s “Nox,” when O’Rourke says that Carson’s “singular gift” is complicated by “a postmodern habit of pastiche and fragmentation,” which O’Rourke calls “so much formal detritus.” Not all critics have to be behind Language poetry or formal experimentation, but to praise a Language poet and a formal experimenter for all they do that isn’t subsumed by those categories is a shockingly brazen party-line statement of what is and is not acceptable in poetry.

It’s no surprise that a reviewer unsympathetic to Language poetry would only find praiseworthy the least Language-like elements in Armantrout’s work, nor is it surprising that a reviewer unsympathetic to formal experimentation would only care for Carson as a traditional lyric poet. What is surprising, and troubling, is that the New Yorker would print what amount to polemics against Language poetry and experimental writing in the form of reviews that pick out their outliers for praise. And in drawing the line where they do, excluding most Language poetry and experimental writing, the New Yorker obviously also excludes (for example) explicitly political poetry or poetry by people of color, which receive even less critical attention.

This is obviously not as important as the New Yorker failing to cover, say, Gaza* (nothing in the print edition since a shocking Lawrence Wright article in November 2009–which might be worse than not covering it at all–and very little before then); and that in turn is obviously less important than the actual situation in Gaza. But the very rare and selective eye towards poetry reflects the same deep ideological biases as the Gaza coverage. Similarly, the New Yorker‘s poetry predilections are mere instances of the broader biases of Official Verse Culture, which themselves only reflect more pernicious forces of reaction and white supremacy. Perhaps I am overstating, but for me at least, the New Yorker has a profound role as an arbiter and definer of culture and politics. Presenting the ideological as neutral, even as it is of course ideology’s oldest trick, must be resisted!

* Nothing on Oscar Grant. Nothing on SB 1070. Two brief stories on Sean Bell, one making fun of how black people speak, and one round-up of musicians’ responses. These kinds of stories on Sean Bell are emblematic: the New Yorker casts attention away from police violence making language and political music the real story.


Frances Madeson said...

Excuse me, 50!!! bullets were just fired in an NYPD police shootout in Harlem. Covert Operation HELTER SKELTER is on! Watch the coverage on that in The New Yorker; it was probably written weeks ago, locked in David Remnick's desk drawer in a manila file folder labeled: "Harlem Real Estate Final Solution."

Jacob Russell said...

The New Yorker is a little like Obama. Maybe more than a little. You can find a lot to like. Seymour Hersh. One or two innovative fiction pieces in the course of a year--which is more than you get in any other MS pub. But over time what they leave out, what they don't do or say, is telling.

If you ask 'em, "Whose yer Daddy?" ... you know the answer. And that they'll never tell ya.

Jacob Russell said...

It's that old old story of 'normalization,' where pathological class conflicts are assimilated and lobotomized into electoral politics--a process even deeper than money. That need, that irresistible impulse to power up the hologram and patch its leaks--to become a servant--and this is important--not of the Corporate Masters, not directly at least--but of the reigning narrative, the myth that only those who don't believe in it are free to freely manipulate. Liberals and the liberal intelligentsia are dupes--because they're addicted to this Redemptive Myth where Justice really does have power--like magic--to raise up saviors and martyrs to get the pendulum to swing back in the right direction just in time.

Nothing to suggest that it might not work this time, or the next, will ever find a place in their stories. Addicted to a false notion of 'hope' ... like crack addicts.

Meg said...

Wonderful post and yes, Free Mumia...love that you have his photo right up there.

Keep your fingers crossed for me would you? I've submitted a piece and it centers around the Mumia tragedy of 'this' (not our or mine anymore) country...the racism and the blindness to such a thing.

So few people probably recall the BlackoWaco fire bombing in Philly which followed Mumia's incident.

Another item that they don't cover in the mainstream NYC press.


Edmond Caldwell said...

My fingers are crossed, Meg. Ona Move!

Steven Augustine said...

It's astonishing to me that I was in Philly (just back from college) when all this (Mumia) first happened... this has been one of the backdrops of my entire adult life! Only the name "Leonard Peltier" has been there longer...

At least they released the Lockerbie "Bomber" patsy.