I don’t think GC’s a good forum for blogger wars, but Beatrice’s most recent criticism of GC has finally roused my interest in some self-defense.
Responding to a recent GC post, B’s Ron Hogan writes,
I’m not sure which is creepier: the idea that Foer was pulling an Eddie Haskell on Deborah Solomon or the loose connection GC makes between the pseudosexual Eddie-style suckup technique’s of Foer’s fictional character and the way Foer’s mother doted on him as a child, which is then linked up to the alleged googly-eyed treatment in Solomon’s reporting.
I mean, Lord knows I’m hard on certain “bad, bad writers,” but I hope that the emphasis here is on the bad writing–unless, of course, somebody happens to be both a bad prose stylist and the sort of guy who slaps his reviewers around or totally lies his way through a journalistic career and then tries to cash in with a tell-all memoir. But if I ever get to the point where I’m just dumping on some poor author the way GC does on JSF, feel free to stage an intervention before I totally embarrass myself.
Attempt at intervention, acknowledged. Maybe even appreciated(?). But I would like to make some things clear about this blog, its subjects and its purpose. This isn’t a blog about writing and how bad—or good—writers like JSF are. This is an industry blog, meant to keep up with publishing news while keeping track of the changing ways book culture gets parsed and delivered. GC isn’t likely to include personal responses to a newly released book, but it will most likely include thoughts about that book’s packaging and the media’s handling of its author.
Occasionally, it also tries to be funny — as in the post B. wrongly depicts as an elaborate and poorly constructed psychological conjecture. Most blogs discussing Solomon’s profile jokingly implied a pseudo-sexual dynamic between Solomon and Foer. My Kakutani quote was a wink in those blogs’ direction. If Ron mistook it for a serious-minded explanation of the profile, I’m not sure how or why.
On the other hand, Ron’s post makse me wonder along with him why I reference JSF so consistently, intent—it seems—on turning Solomon’s profile into a brand-name happening, a cultural reference point worth recalling.
The Elegant Variation’s Mark Sarvas—in a post I’m trying hard not to find personally antagonizing—wonders if bloggers’ hatred of JSF can’t be reduced to one of two things: 1) “the jealousy factor” or 2) Foer’s earnest (aka, un-post-modern-ized) self-presentation, anethema to bleakly hip MFA-ers. Neither, Mark argues, are legitimate reasons for hating Foer:
…Why should he be punished for having either (a) a good agent, (b) a spendthrift publisher or (c) a combination of both?
These critics say it has nothing to do with his earnings but it’s rather that they find his persona obnoxious, too eager to please, self-absorbed. (In keeping with the best of fatwa traditions, many of these critics admit to having read little more than excerpts of his work.) More obnoxious than the likes of Chuck Palahniuk? Neal Pollack? The great grandaddy of obnoxious, Tom Wolfe? Or perhaps the most self-absorbed writer working today, Steve Almond? I’m sure you could think of four of your own for this list. But do any of these writers receive a fraction of the same enmity? No. Most distasteful is that even among his fiercest critics, there’s no shortage of earnest self-absorption.
First off, calling someone (in this case me) a hypocrite doesn’t preclude the validity of the hypocrite’s argument. (See “Logical Fallacies”: “Attacking the Person”.) Secondly, Mark’s question-cum-list almost answers itself: What the writers on Mark’s list have in common is that none of them belong to my generation. Their public personas don’t make use of the cultural references I understand best. I’m not sure I can place the personas in their correct context. But JSF’s, I can, and it seems very likely that this sense of (over-?)familiarity made Solomon’s profile both more memorable and funny.
Moving backwards through Mark’s quote to its parenthetical, I’d like to restate, I never meant my posts as critiques of Foer’s prose. Ron says that’s part of the problem, but Mark, bizarrely, suggests critics of Foer’s personality should read (and reference) Foer’s books—as if critiques of an author’s media persona should be based on the author’s writing, rather than… his media persona. (Do I really think Mark meant that? No. Do I think he really liked using the word “Fatwa”? Yes.)
The worst thing I can say about Foer is he sometimes comes off a bit earnestly, and I think he is being punished excessively for that. He hasn’t succumbed to the glib post-modernism or cheap, kitschy irony that seems to be the most favored weapon in the MFA arsenal these days (and here I should note that I’ve never met a single MFA who has anything nice to say about him, buttressing the jealousy argument).
Unlike Mark, I’ve met MFA students who like him. And, unlike Mark once again, I think most MFA students have the same knee-jerk distrust of post-modernism (or, more precisely, whatever they mistakenly define as “postmodernism”) as most Americans. Either way, I don’t see why bloggers’ Foer-bashing must be attributed to the “lamentable coolness” Mark happens to hate most about contemporary culture. I do think Mark’s characterization of Foer as “overly sincere” is right, but only half-right; we’re talking about someone who “saves” the first mention of a childhood trauma for his NYT Magazine interviewer rather than his wife, as well as someone who comes to interviews prepared with albums of childhood pics. We’re talking about someone, in other words, whose media presence is worth observing and investigating, whether it be with humor or sympathy or horror.