3/18/21 — The Gnashing of Teeth and the Smashing of Keyboards

Do you like incendiary openings? Sadly, I cannot supply you with one. Christian Lorentzen, on the other hand, certainly can:

“More than realism or its rivals, the dominant literary style in America is careerism. This is neither a judgment nor a slur. For decades it has simply been the case that novelists, story writers, even poets have had to devote themselves to managing their careers as much as to writing their books. Institutional jockeying, posturing in profiles and Q&As, roving in-person readership cultivation, social-media fan-mongering, coming off as a good literary citizen among one’s peers — some balance of these elements is now part of every young author’s life. It’s a matter of necessity and survival, above and beyond the usual dealings with editors, agents, and Hollywood big shots. The ways writers used to mythologize themselves have either expired or been discarded as toxic. [….] In the end there is only the careerist, the professional writer who is first, last, and only a professional writer. The original and so far ultimate careerist in American literature was Philip Roth.”

So begins his review of Blake Bailey’s new biography on Philip Roth. Despite reassuring us that he means no inherent criticism by his opening salvo, this is a polemic. To be sure, the review deflects criticism by indulging in a coy performance of the charge lobbed at Roth. When Lorentzen mentions that a friend of his made it into the biography, when he winks at the reader by confessing to his disappointment in not finding his review of a Roth novel quoted in the novel — surely, we are meant to ask ourselves who exactly this fellow is? And surely this is exactly his point: the careerism is inescapable even for the critic. Psychoanalysis may never resolve the subject into an unproblematic individual — indeed, reality does not seem to allow non-neurotics to exist at the moment — but it may let them eventually face the world without narcissism being the only experience. In other words, just write the fucking review in a way that does not turn it into a self-portrait of a man behind a mask. Because I can assure you, we certainly do not care enough to rip that mask away.

A unique article from the past few weeks that I enjoyed is Jan Dutkiewicz’s and Gabriel N. Rosenberg’s article in The New Republic, entitled “The Sadism of Eating Real Meat Over Lab Meat.” The article concerns the seemingly inexorable rise of what once seemed like the stuff of science fiction alone: meatless meat. While we are all by now familiar with the Beyond Burger, Aleph Farms has recently announced the successful production of lab-grown steak. As the number of meat products available without animal death expands, the writers say, it also “raises the possibility that eating animals may soon boil down to sadism, in its classical definition: deriving pleasure from inflicting suffering when other options exist.” The article is compelling, not in the least because it avoids the conventional stereotypes of rhetoric in favor of slaughter-free eating. The article centers pleasure, asking practically what the prospects are for this ethical alternative.

Until tomorrow,

Michael Ducker


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