Notes: know yourself, fool

My writer husband and I got into a literary conversation a few weeks ago. His position as an educational program coordinator/editor for a small publisher gives him access to several erudite literary journals. A co-worker of his recommended he take home n+1, a hipster-y semi-annual publication of essays. We both read “The Intellectual Situation Against Email,” a humorous jab on human behavior and email relationships in the Winter 2007 issue. At first, we both thought it was great, till my husband started reading Richard Rodriguez’s Days of Obligation:An Argument With My Mexican Father. He read me a few of Rodriguez’s heady, evocative sentences and compared it the writing of n+1. Following are some notes from our ensuing discussion about knowing, presenting yourself, and living as an artist.

n+1 is like something you’d read on a blog, compared to Days of Obligation. Yet the editor of The Elegant Variation is all pissed off at the editor of n+1 for asking him to promote their print publication on his website, then totally slamming blogs in his journal as not being real literature.”

“I took the email piece as amusement. It was well, er, cleverly-written, and I thought a lot of it was good observation. But I wouldn’t go so far to take it as literature. It was mocking, funny.” I said.

“Yeah, but that kind of writing will not stand the test of time. Not like Richard Rodriguez’s writing.”

“Maybe that’s not the point? I don’t know. It was like reading Misprint. You laugh because it’s so true… at this moment. Yet there is something disturbing about it. This… alienation…”

“Well, yesterday The New Republic came out with this big exposé that David Sedaris is a fake. He made all that stuff up about his childhood and whatnot. But they don’t get it. Non-fiction can be creative.”

I said, “They’re probably just trying to re-establish creditiblity after the whole Glass debacle.”

“I think they just don’t like him because his writing is good and he’s popularly successful. But you know what? It’s all these white guys in their hoity-toity ivory towers. They think they have to be all abstract and ironic and shit for it to be good writing. I don’t buy that. Writing should connect with people, not shut them out.”

“Maybe Sedaris’ was writing about himself up here,” I said, pointing at my head, “Not out here,” I finished, waving my arms about. “He wrote about himself as a character, how he imagined things as a child. We all do that. We all live up here. And maybe the difference with these snobs, hmm… I want to say this right… is that they imagine themselves as characters. OK. But they also live as these characters out here in the real world. They are so caught up in this world that they don’t experience things as real people. They are too busy being these characters who are supposed to do things a certain way.”

“And that’s why their writing doesn’t connect. Can you imagine the writing of n+1 being around in 50 years? Or the writing of Richard Rodriguez? They have to make up this Dave Eggers shit, where the white guy has to go to some foreign land to find himself.” He grimaces. “Jesus, if you’d live your life writing about what you know, you wouldn’t have to invent shit like that. And that’s what I really liked about Joel‘s stuff. He set out to describe life as a ‘suburban American’ as he calls it. That’s awesome. That’s what he knows.”

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