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Leading a contemplative literary life isn’t dead…

From the Los Angeles Times

BOOKS

Young authors embrace the thought process

Leading a contemplative literary life isn’t dead even in these hectic times. Just ask Nathaniel Rich, left, Keith Gessen and Ed Park.

 

By Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

 

All The Sad Young Literary Men by Keith GessenNEW YORK — Is it possible to lead a dedicated literary life in the billionaire-filled, media-crazed New York of today? To be heedless of the material world as you burrow into novels and ideas the way the old Partisan Review gang did in the ’40s and ’50s, to come up with notions that rock the intellectual landscape? And if so, who exactly is still paying attention?

Those are questions three reasonably young men are asking now in much-awaited first novels that emerge over the next few weeks. Each novelist takes a very different position toward rendering literary life in a city where bohemian writers have been forced out by hedge-fund guys. And each co-edits a journal that is proud, almost defiant about its print status — in a nation where the image has been replacing the word for at least half a century now, and even some well-funded publications are in free-fall.The Mayor's Tongue by Nathaniel Rich

Outside of a few college towns, perhaps, it’s hard now to embrace the cerebral unapologetically without a sense of irony, of operating a bit out of time. But that didn’t stop Keith Gessen and some Ivy League-educated friends from launching, in 2004, the ambitious and pugilistic journal n+1, which was greeted by some as a kind of knowing, intellectual stunt. “Oh, no,” Gessen, who has heavy brows and a wide Russian mouth, said one recent evening. “It wasn’t a joke.”

That first issue was dedicated mostly to outlining what it opposed. “We were against the New Republic, we were against McSweeney’s, we were against the war, we were against exercise,” Gessen continued, sitting in a dive bar on the Upper West Side, where he once lived in an illegal sublet before decamping for Brooklyn, like most of the city’s other literati. ” And to this day we’re against many things.”

Personal Days by Ed ParkAt this point he’s kidding, but he’s a serious guy: His journal is dedicated first and foremost, he said, to bringing “a fighting spirit” back to a conflict-averse literary culture.

The Moscow-born Gessen, 33, may be the end of the line, the last of the bold, hungry, text-based thinkers, a throwback to the heyday of Dissent, the quarterly at which he once toiled. His semi-autobiographical novel, “All the Sad Young Literary Men,” came out last week to mostly strong reviews. His journal, meanwhile, takes what might be called the hard-line position on intellectual life: We don’t need more creativity, it says, we need more rigorous argument and political commitment. With Nathaniel Rich, a Paris Review editor whose surreal novel, “The Mayor’s Tongue,” came out last week, and Ed Park, the Believer co-founder and author of the upcoming “Personal Days,” which takes the glamour entirely out of the world of literary journalism, Gessen shows the pleasures and perils of taking ideas seriously in a city attuned more to Dow Jones than Irving Howe.

click to read full article at the LA Times ]

Posted on April 20, 2008 by Editor

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