“Is our discussion purely literary? I think not. I do not believe that any conflict between literary trends and their theoretical justification would have had such reverberations or provoked such discussion were it not for the fact that, in its ultimate consequences, it was felt to involve a political problem that concerns us all and influences us all in equal measure…”—Georg Lukács, “Realism in the Balance”
Yes. There was, a month back, a panel discussion on whether the hipster had lost his historical moment and too soon, and then somewhat peacably came the realization that the hipster may well be here to stay, that the borders between yourself and a hipster have become permeable and inconsequent, and that the nation may be infected by hipsterism and that our culture will suffer because of this. The discussion was facilitated (conceived?) by the nascent suprematist at n+1 and carried out in the schmaltzy interior of New School’s Arnhold Hall.
What rubs me wrong about Lanham’s summation/dismissal of the event, of which he was a part, is a totally joyless prescription of the American malaise he witnessed there. Even his heart-aching about truthfully perceiving the avant-garde (my interpretation of his end remarks), seem facile and stoogey: Either you can sniff out authenticity, or you can keep your pants on until the bleeding edge has congealed, and then look on with everyone else at what miracles have come to pass. (To put it in purple.) An angry doctor! Then, and worser, he settles on “suspiciously hip” to describe n+1 magazine, insinuating the enterprise’s collusion in perpetuating the spread of hipsterdom.
Is n+1 hipster? I’ve wondered this for two years now—since my senior year at uni, when I passed over the magazine twice before realizing it wasn’t a science journal. (Issue Five’s cover highlighted a story called “Dr. Atomic,” and I wanted book reviews, not a critique on the legacy of Oppenheimer. Turns out, the tale is about a rowdy night in South Korea and is short-ficition.) When I read the editor’s critique of e-mailing, I was hooked. And that’s page four or so. Later in the magazine is Nancy Bauer’s delicious essay “Pornutopia,” then Keith Gessen’s crisp “Torture and the Known Unknowns,” passages of whose essences cropped up in some poems I wrote last year regarding black sites. I’ve read every issue since and purchased the back catalog (fuck knows where I kept that kind of cash), and now follow editors and contributing writers wherever they post—from Elif Batuman in the London Review of Books, to Caleb Crain in the New Yorker, to Molly Young at This Recording. Had I been contaminated? Well, had I? Am I now?
Does it matter if n+1 is hip? Then perhaps its circulation would increase. That’d be nice.
“The symposium was called “What Was the Hipster?”…The audience could have found the answer by gazing sullenly at their own reflections as they chanted, in unison, with a manic self-loathing, “Die, hipster, die.” For try as they might to instill the event with an air of academia, the organizers were confronted with a roomful of delusional art students, enraged by the banality of hipsterdom, but unwilling to be honest enough to admit that they were the very subject of their own derision.”—See above.
Villains: duplicity and the novelization of feeling
This has been my on-going masochism.
I wrote my boyfriend a letter just four days ago describing the chief villains of most British women’s fiction of the 19th century: duplicity, and the novelization of feelings. (I described these, because I suffer them now that he is in Houston doing institute work for Teach for America. I am moving to Mississippi September 1 to be near my beloved’s warm bosom! So a lot of terrors have been running in my mind about commitment, jealousy, money, articulation—usual relationship sniping when distance gets thrown into the mix.) What is Northanger Abbey but a sustained critique on the petty fogeries we indulge when we want love to resemble the love in books? And what is the love in these books, but sustained by double-speak, false-starts, balking, fortuitous missteps and ill-received gallantry; or, all those elements that create sparkling romantic commedies of manners, gothic fictions, and sensationalism? If Robert in Lady Audley’s Secret got out alive, it’s only because he desperately loved his friend George Talboys in such a ghastly way, that to embellish that delighting, he marries George’s sister, evincing a plot.
So the telephone is my only sense-organ just yet to my beloved, and by Christ have I nattered a god-eating disgust on its woes, but it’s what I’ve got. The phone and the internet accumulate sense energy, approximating warmth and weight. And the novels of Jane Austen unconditionally rebuke this perversion.
Celia long thought the human condition a topographic endeavor (her graduate thesis examined the psychology of place—perhaps to circumvent examining the psychology of herself); and, her present condition resolved the latitudes of her crimes, for she believed them to be crimes and reveled in them so. On the seventeenth floor she worked with a victims rights agency, “in the advocacy division”—a term that endeared her friends to say, “Celia advocates victimhood.” On a seventh floor two blocks over she read books in a deco solarium, and next to her coveted bench a hideously out-of-place satyr pissed into an urn. The sound of the water soothed her. A train-ride away (three stories below, sliding diagonal on blue sparks) and then nine floors up, with hand wringing and encoded messages did she ascend to her lover. A thorough-going borough away, practically an extra dimension, did she sleep alone in a humid box whose windows were level with stop-lights, green than yellow than red soaking her face at night. The city was a series of emotional escalations and cerebral declensions; her body was freight, hauling along thoroughfares this bogus new passion, crossing carefully defined boundaries (this parking lot and then this restaurant), venturing through the rigorously calibrated terrain of dark, wet pleasures.
The affair kept the city inside Celia, and Ethan envied her this vaulting capacity. His own unwieldy map with its abstract events would not fold neatly into the trunk of a car, let alone a glove box. He really didn’t know the names of parks in New York City. Originally from the Middle West, he piously refused the urban nomenclature of street names, squares, most neighborhoods and their finer eateries, with a Congregationalist zest for simplicity. He consolidated the bustling avenues into a mental grid of wrought iron spray-painted white, atop doughy white linoleum. His imagination secured this heavy furniture in the basement of his brain, where in the dark some knolls and hollows occaisioned to light up and stay lit—and the lights were Christmas twinkles, and every twinkle was someone who sexed him, paid him, or otherwise delighted him. He always found his way home because Cole glowed the brightest of them all, and he told Cole this was so.
“You understand I’d not cheat on you, not even for thousands and thousands of dollars.” He smiled with all the mirth the Cole-knoll inspired, his smile a shell of light.
“So not ten-thousand? But what about six-figures?”
“If I fetch that much, I’ll ask your permission first.”
Cole could not tell if Ethan was joking, and a small pang sliced across Ethan’s crowing mirth as he realized this was so. How difficult to express fidelity in city metaphors!
“I am a simpleton,” said Ethan, a desperate lack of guile prompting Cole to take his hand.
They both bristled a little, hating to look so faggy in this part of the city, eating over charred remains, drinking Grolsh.
“But anyway,” finished Ethan, assuming an air of disenchantment with what had previously been a well-studied and benevolently executed monologue.
Cole piqued his shoulders: Go on.
“Anyway, anyway,” said Ethan. He braided a lemon peel through the tines of his fork. “I don’t want to talk about love anymore. How was your day at work?”
—Well, yes. After reading (yes, I even bought and devoured his academic book American Sympathy) whatever google-trolling produced of Mr. Crain’s published work, I’m now buying his blog compendium, scintillatingly titled The Wreck of the Henry Clay. This handsome book-thing will gladly fit into the cargo pockets of khaki shorts, or you can store it in a backpack or just hold it. Also it doesn’t have to be charged or plugged in, though it does require lighting. Let us remember that I have no money, no prospects, my boyfriend is far away in the fair state of Texas doing Teach for America work (though we’re meeting up in September—and also late July-ish?), my brothers are fleeing to their careers or educations, my cat is thinning, and my budget doesn’t allow for the extravagent expenditures. My parents are room and boarding me. And I got my first gallery check last week, and of that money I’ve only paid on postage, anti-fungal cream and AA batteries. So it was time to buy a book, folks. Perhaps the only one all summer long. Ah.
If I can trick a librarian into giving me earbuds, I can now watch the season 2 opener of True Blood.
Notice: After plowing through works by Jim Grimsley, Andre Aciman, Alan Hollinghurst, Andrew Holleran, Edmund White, James Baldwin, Christopher Isherwood, and Daniel Mendhelson, I’ve been questing after the literary gay lingua franca that opens up the robust and petty tendencies of a genre that maintains dignity even whilst describing such cumbersom and homely activities as lubricating the anus before penetration. Butt sex, unless you’re D. H. Lawrence, is hard to make sexy, evocative, or even provocative; and homosexual relationships depicted evenly and thoughtfully turn lumpen and mean with all the hand-wringing/hand-holding of male-male romance. Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was the best at negotiating the scruples of erotic desire between men without the camp flavoring of guys going gaga for cock or the sinister, self-hating bathos of the confused boys’-first-time scenario. Grimsley’s Dream Boy is the most obnoxious, although his occupations are not, perhaps, with crafting high-end fiction, but slumming in the southern gothic. The Line of Beauty and the other novels by Hollinghurst are deeply cynical but incredibly moving none-the-less, and their aesthetic loftiness make them very different beasts of an entirely otherly harmonic order. So writing a campus romp with gays is a very overdetermined activity, non? Efforts:
In late August Ethan drove himself back to school. The green of the university grounds lapped at his tires, the branches of summer-sagging leaves caressed the trunk, and in imagining this welcome the young man understood the embarrassing and instantaneous desire this final year provoked deep within him.
His head was on tonguing, on the supple mound sloping into the campus chapel, a holy site very much in keeping with Ethan’s own idea of a holy site—the ass. A light pole and a concrete trash receptacle opposed one another on a nexus of macadam footpaths, suggesting the nipples of a broad-shouldered quad that tapered into a lushly flowering navel with benches for picnicking. Such masculine nudes and casual lewdness invigorated him after the long drive. Had Ethan’s parents made the trek with him, his blush would have given his palpitations away.
He parked alone and breathed deeply, eyeing this new face and that, other young men, athletes, academes, salaciously. A hideous excremental stink of crushed ginko nuts mingled evocatively with the over-application of designer cologne; O, how the undergraduates negotiated these first lamentable days, where every t-shirt slogan exposed a hidden initiative and every open pore engendered a secret drive. This was his darkling perch, he was a jaguar, and in the vines and mists of the jungle clearly wafted the delicious scents of prey. Ethan smelled sex. Again.