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This odd sense of displacement, of anomie, this unsettling sense of placelessness, is an inevitable by-product of a community that is, essentially, a self-selecting mass bohemia. To be a writer is in some sense to be an outsider, looking skeptically at the world. The problem with Brooklyn is that there’s nothing there to be outside of; in a milieu where the right to self-expression is held sacred, aggressive individuality becomes, paradoxically, the most conformist stance of all. If we’re all hip, then none of us is hip. This is why Brooklyn writers hew to such a finely-honed caste system, always searching, with diminishing returns, for the style, the word choice, the aesthetic philosophy, the intellectual turn of the screw, that will differentiate them from the bearded, bespectacled, flannel-clad horde. As the poet Meghan O’Rourke puts it—writing of Brooklyn ur-noodler Paul Auster, no less—“the postmodern toolbox has grown more elaborate, demanding greater complexity of its users than ever before…” You say your novel has footnotes? Endnotes? A flip-book? Mine had a whole chapter written in PowerPoint! Top that! In a recent Tin House essay Evan Hughes writes cannily, if more generously, of this spiral of tribal judgement, locating it in “an impulse towards self-violence… an expression of self-loathing.” Well, shit. That’s a nice thought… but maybe they could execute their self-violence and self-loathing in private.
These are the noises that an exhausted, in-bred society makes when it’s running out the clock. The tired feeling of late-imperial decadence—decadence in the original sense of the word, not the Rolling-Stones-at-Nellcote variety—clings like a bad smell to Brooklyn literature. And there’s no hope in sight, really; we can wait for the Mongols at the gate to overrun the orgy-jaded centurions and inject some vitality, but it turns out that the Mongols want a Dumbo co-op and a three-book deal and a launch party at BookCourt too. So, maybe it’s me who’s out of place, and wrong, again, and needs to move on. Maybe I’m just too old for this shit. Forget Manhattan; I’ll keep moving west, reversing the reverse-migration that doomed Nick Carraway and his crowd, tracing the footsteps and tire tracks of my younger, hungrier forbears. I might just do that. I’ve heard Peoria’s nice.