that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts for desperate members of the city’s literary underclass barred from the publishing establishment. Fueled by B.Y.O.B. bourbon, impressive degrees and the angst that comes with being young and unmoored, members spend their hours filling the air with talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism.
Lately, they have been catching the eye of the literary elite, earning praise that sounds as extravagantly brainy as the thesis-like articles that The New Inquiry uploads every few days.
What is happening now is the revenge of the market. A high literary culture, utterly divorced from economic realities, was artificially propped up for fifty years. In rather more technical terms, American literary culture is an inefficient market; its products are overpriced, and there aren’t many buyers for them at any rate. As the air goes out of the higher education bubble, the literary life as fantasized by the New York Times’s attractive young literary cubs is deflating along with it.
Which is not to say that literature will disappear. Young writers’ expectations of a good-paying job (with benefits) fiddling all day on overwritten and unsaleable manuscripts — that will disappear. Most everything else will remain the same. Toil, envy, and want will still be the writer’s lot in life. The old economic conditions will be new again. And writers (and maybe even critics) will have to pay attention to them. That’s the only real change. Deal with it, clubbers.
While I like bright young people—I even know a few—I think Commentary has the more realistic perspective.