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6.05.2010

Everything That Is Wrong With Contemporary Literature Is Wrapped Up In The New Yorker

I wasn't going to say anything until the New Yorker issue, the one with the 20 best writers under 40, came out. I was looking through the list (via NY Times, MobyLives, and HTML Giant [which has some very great commentary, look at the comments!]), and was going to say that these people aren't young. They're in their 30s, and to me if you're past 25, you're ancient. But looking at the list, researching the histories of these people, it occured to me that there is a problem with contemporary literature. That problem is reflected in the New Yorker.

The list are as follows:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32
Chris Adrian, 39
Daniel Alarcón, 33
David Bezmozgis, 37
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38
Joshua Ferris, 35
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33
Nell Freudenberger, 35
Rivka Galchen, 34
Nicole Krauss, 35
Yiyun Li, 37
Dinaw Mengestu, 31
Philipp Meyer, 36
C. E. Morgan, 33
Téa Obreht, 24
Z Z Packer, 37
Karen Russell, 28
Salvatore Scibona, 35
Gary Shteyngart, 37
Wells Tower, 37

The problem I have with this list, among other problems, is that it is all very instituionalized and as art--writing is art, isn't it?--there's no point in being institutionalized. Institutionalized art is fake art, it doesn't deserve the name art. It's the equilvant, in my view, of propaganda art. Think Communist Russia and think those posters. Likewise, these 20 writers do nothing radical. They're safe writers from big publishers and they did all the right stuff: all but three or four have MFAs (two words: Iowa, Workshop); all have higher education; two are actually doctors; no one is innovative in form (no poets? no playwrights? no genre writers? no poet-prosists?), style (I was hoping to see someone who plays with style like Dennis Cooper perhaps, or Chuck Palahnuik; Jonathan Safran Foer is fake and gimmicky), or content (where are the transgressive artists, the ones that start their stories with "Fuck?"). They're not risky or dangerous writers.They're all mediocre writers at best.

Overall, the list is not that diverse, despite the tokens. Adichie is the token African lady. Dinaw Mengestu the token African guy. Z.Z. Packer (still milking the same 8 stories since 2003) is the token African American. Yiyun Li the token Asian. Mostly, the list is a lot of white people. Again as art, there must not be social structure, otherwise, it's just propaganda, not necessarily political, but content, style, and as always discourse. If the most honored writers are White Men, speaking about their experiences, the discourse will always be a White Discourse, thereby, eliminating the voices of those on the margins: working class folk, queer folks, folks that were once heroine addicts, but since has taken up poetry and only does coke on Fridays...

I am severely disappointed. But I don't see what else could have happened. The New Yorker is a big press magazine: what else could have happened?

There's nothing to see here. Just more new products from the MFA market line.

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