Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Hate Brooklyn Lit: A Dissent

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 5:51 AM

Page 2 of 3

Yes, well, “hate” is such an ugly word, isn’t it? So maybe we could go with "despise." As in: I despise Brooklyn literature, because it’s phony, pretentious, insular, coy, smug, and fundamentally dishonest. Now, sure, there are exceptions. Some of the writers I would exempt from this attack include… er… well, there must be someone? Little help, here? Okay, we’ll come back to that one. Anyway, of course one ought not to generalize about a whole borough and the thousands of writers who live and write there, because that would be unfair and contrary to, um... ah, fuck it. Enough of these half-hearted qualifications. The place should be forcibly depopulated, its residents remanded to work camps and forbidden to write, or publish, or blog, or tweet, or otherwise further foul the air with their gibberish. Either that, or they should have to work the customer service desk at a Barnes & Noble in Peoria, Illinois, just to give them a sense of how the other 90 percent of the country works and thinks and lives.

Because that’s the heart of it, isn’t it? Most of the literature that comes out of Brooklyn has this… scent… of privilege to it… this fey, self-absorbed myopia that could only be produced by a community that badly needs to let a little air and light into its psychic rooms. A test: Name one piece of Brooklyn literature from the past ten years that features non-satiric depictions of any of the following: a) manual labor; b) churchgoing; c) the military; d) sports. You see, out there in actual America, that vast plain stretching away, Steinberg-like, beyond the towers of New York, there are a lot of people whose whole lives, believe it or not, exist within those four categories of experience, categories that are almost completely absent from the concerns of those whose ZIP codes begin with “112.” The late John Updike, he of Harvard and the New Yorker, nevertheless understood this; he envisioned himself “as a literary spy within average, public-school, supermarket America” because “it was there I felt the real news was.” Brooklyn literature has lost touch with the real news, with the savage beating heart of the country. It produces no coolly analytic Joan Didions, moving like wraiths through the chaos of the Haight-Ashbury; no poets of working-class despair, like Joyce Carol Oates; no Richard Fords peering into the dark heart of the male soul; no Cormac McCarthys conjuring visions of blood, mud, death, and violence. “I am an American, Chicago-born,” begins Saul Bellow’s Augie March, with cheerful swagger; “I am an American, not from anywhere really, but I live in Greenpoint, where I have a cat and an Italian-made coffee maker and a blog” just doesn’t cut it.

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