Last month, Ben Marcus published a 10,000-word essay titled “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It: A Correction,” in Harper’s Magazine. Now Sherman Alexie has written a letter to the editor that quite rightly points out that:
Does Ben Marcus, educated at NYU and Brown, employed by Columbia, and published by Anchor, Vintage, and Harper’s, truly believe that he is an excluded experimentalist? Does he honestly believe that Jonathan Franzen, educated at Swarthmore, once employed by Harvard, and published by FSG and Harper’s, is somehow more elitist? Or is Franzen the populist? Or is a populist elitist? Is there really much difference between Marcus and Franzen? This East Coast – East Coast Literary Rap War reminds me of the Far Side cartoon in which a lone penguin, suffering in a crowd of millions of exactly similar penguins, rises and shouts, “I just have to be me!”
Very well put. On a related note, Jess Row recently wrote a piece in Slate in which he argued that:
[Marcus] can’t resist the urge to re-enact the great prizefights of the past–Kerouac vs. Capote, Barth vs. Gardner–as if what we really need, in 2005, is two white male writers fighting over something that can’t be circumscribed, much less owned. Isn’t it time we allowed the scorched-earth rhetoric of avant-gardes and ancien regimes to drift, like the tissue-thin sheets of an old aerogramme, into the dustbin of history?