Stay in School

Dear Editors,

The spectacle of a clique of Ivy League alumni loudly renouncing the conditions of their own success — a familiar enough piece of bourgeois psychodrama — might pass without comment. But “Death by Degrees” betrays a deeper state of political disorientation. While there can be no doubt that institutions of higher education reflect and reproduce existing class divisions, they do not create them. The overrepresentation of Ivy League graduates in the higher spheres of government and finance is a symptom, not a cause, of larger inequities. To argue otherwise is to indulge the inflationary attitude being criticized.

The fact is that the best American universities really do educate students and accredit skills, even as they abet class triage, and this is what makes inequality of access to them so cruel. The piece admits as much. If degrees are merely simulacra, signs with no connection to their purported referents, then a correspondingly irreal politics seems to be called for: licentia docendi ablaze, valedictorians on strike. If we acknowledge rather that universities provide a real social good, then the remedy to existing disparities between those who gain entry and those who do not must be the opposite of what n+1 advocates: to demand the provision of excellent post-secondary instruction to all those who want it.

This is a political position. In its place, n+1 peddles an unwholesome mélange of maximalist rhetoric and bathetic prescription, “commit suicide as a class” or “ask the Democratic Party to refrain from running any candidate for national office who holds a degree from an Ivy League school.” One wonders what to make of the story of Hong Xiuquan, the hapless young man who despaired over his failure to join the ranks of the credentialed Chinese bureaucracy. Is this meant as a cautionary tale? However far-fetched its millennial inspiration and disastrous its finale, the Taiping Rebellion undertook a program of land reform, sexual equality, and the redistribution of private property. The historical example only underscores the feebleness of a critique of “meritocracy” that envisions political action in the form of abnegation.

Students have not remained silent in the face of spending cuts and fee increases. In Davis, in Santiago, in Montreal, young people fighting to defend high-quality, affordable education for all have risked imprisonment and brutalization by police. Provocations like “Death by Degrees” risk nothing but the reputation of those who see fit to publish them.

—Grey Anderson and Danilo Scholz


Against Ageism

Dear Editors,

I am surprised by the ageism of “Big Babies,” in a magazine that otherwise seems conscious of social injustice and the power of language.

The authors adopt old age as a metaphor for the stupid and repugnant, as women long were used as a metaphor for evil. Adjectives such as “old” and “retired” are thrown around as insults; “senilely” is meant to ridicule. The image of old people with “suit sleeves flopping” (yes, many of our wrists become skinny and bony, as the authors’ may, should they live to old age) is taken to be patently repellent. I thought that was the worst until I came upon the sneering depiction of the “Autocrat of the Senior Center” in a “second childhood” in which “someone wipes his spills.” The disabilities often associated with old age, “confusion and impotence” and being “forgetful,” are invoked to demean, while “Napoleon in Depends” is presented as the ultimate insult.

It’s not the old who are disgusting but this rhetoric. The authors condemn misogyny and the war on women but happily enlist in the war on the old and disabled.

I wish on those who wrote that section a long old age in which they — without, I hope, confusion, impotence, or Depends, but don’t bet on it — will have to slowly chew, swallow, and expel their indigestible words.

—Alix Kates Shulman

For the Birds

Dear Editors,

I’m the internet. You might have heard of me.

I often take a shallow, fleeting interest in what your magazine posts. But since nothing interests me as much as the subject of myself, I was particularly fascinated by “Please RT.” Twitter is more and more one of the main ways I express my multitudinous self, and I’ve never retweeted an n+1 article more than this one about Twitter. I assume that as a self-interested creature like me you might want to know some of what I said about you. In a word, your article conveying mixed feelings about Twitter inspired some mixed feelings itself.

OccupyRhetoric: What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed! Fenneke: You had me at “this scrolling suicide note of Western civilization.” Kasadarko: This @nplusonemag piece is the best thing I’ve ever read about Twitter. Lovely writing, and lovely about writing. Erika Arroyo: Fav your favs, eat your own shit. Bon appetit. Ricky Sprague: I actually didn’t read this article all the way through. Casey Walker: First tweet! Happy to have joined this “scrolling suicide note of Western Civilization.” Pavel Hardos: n+1 has the lay of the land on Twitter, writing, and the culture it wrought. Culturetrap: A revival of “terseness and impersonality” on Twitter? This is smart stuff. Bert Archer: Difference of opinion is one thing; cluelessness something else entirely. No excuse for this. Diego Sorbara: Want to read something hilariously overwritten about Twitter? sky frostenson: It’s like, how can I not RT this. David Hayes: Infinite loop defined. Article on Twitter tweeted. Steve shaner: Thought-provoking sanity about Twitter. You will think twice before your next tweet. Me too. cinnamon_carter: The worst overview of twitter ever LOL. Q. Le: The displayed narcissism on twitter; in layman terms, why I don’t give a shit about your lunch or full time job whines. Edgar Alan Gatica: I like this just for the term “blogorrheic.”

In the person of another avatar I referred to “Please RT” as representing the “event-horizon of jagoff intellectualism.” But now I can’t find that tweet. My memory is really good but in another way it’s not. Thanks for the read, in any case. Or fuck you. Whatever,

—The Internet

Having a Moment

Dear Editors,

I want to weigh in on Molly Fischer’s latest piece (“On Ladyblogs”), which uses Edith Zimmerman’s interview with me on the Hairpin as a case study in her continuing thesis about what she sees as the forced and oozy camaraderie on ladyblogs. I think Fischer has me in her argument until she writes about the interview, which I feel she did not read with much context or nuance. The conversation, however, is an important one, perhaps at the heart of online feminism, in its messy, ambivalent, and nascent state.

The literary contest at the Morning News in which Zimmerman wrote about my novel Green Girl is called the Tournament of Books. Zimmerman’s piece was not simply a review, as Fischer describes it. Rather, the idea of the ToB is to mimic March Madness, and so it has a competitive, sometimes bloodthirsty vibe, encourages gleeful reader participation, and really isn’t a careful conversation about books (although that can happen as well). Zimmerman’s take on Green Girl was at times funny, but it wasn’t a thorough review. Among other things, it didn’t mention that there is a narrator observing the main character, with whom Zimmerman took issue in her evaluation.

The ToB definitely created a coliseum atmosphere, especially when it came to my little deer of a character and novel, which commentators mostly viscerally hated. So I felt pretty wounded from that experience. And then I saw that a few commentators also tore into Zimmerman’s review. I realized after reading some of the comments that both of us were feeling “intimate and exposed,” as Fischer writes in her essay, and as opposed to just dismissing Zimmerman and her review, I wanted to reach out to her, and so I emailed her, and she quite graciously replied, “hey! this is totally weird! but let’s talk about things and do an interview!”

How can Molly Fischer consider this anything less than a feminist moment? I don’t think of what Zimmerman and I were doing as creating a “space for disagreement” so much as acknowledging that perhaps that previous space wasn’t the thoughtful, careful one we would have preferred, where the other’s feelings were taken into consideration. I think moving that conversation to the Hairpin ultimately was cathartic, and that really was the goal of our conversation, as we talked about how strange it is to be talked about on the internet and I think mostly recognized each other’s vulnerability.

I honestly don’t see Zimmerman as backing down or muting dissent in our conversation. She acknowledged that perhaps she didn’t read Green Girl super thoughtfully, but nowhere did she recant and say she liked the book. Zimmerman mostly asked me about my experience of having a book out, and her tone was humbled, as Fischer points out (“you wrote a novel, I only wrote a review”), but I think that was because she was trying to acknowledge that she was appreciative of the work that goes into a novel, even one she didn’t dig, personally.

I really wish that Molly Fischer’s first essay on ladyblogs had been treated with such respect and openness. I thought she made some interesting points about the dividedness and complexity of online feminism, which point to the dividedness and complexity of current feminism in general. We are living through an interesting, vibrant, crazy time to be a girl or woman, after the second or maybe even third wave of feminism, and I feel the ladyblogs reflect that. I don’t think we can read them on the same level as the women’s magazines Betty Friedan and later Naomi Wolf decried. Not only do I find the ladyblogs on the whole more democratic and anticorporate, I also think it’s possible now to be an oppositional consumer — and not to accept the current critical model of looking at girls as victims of capitalism. And as Helen McClory has pointed out, in both essays Fischer doesn’t take into consideration the playfulness of these websites — they play at being girly, and this is reflected in their language and rhythms. And yes, there is a niceness involved in this, which I often think of as an awareness of others’ vulnerability. I don’t think it’s a bad thing — I think it’s actually a flawed yet positive outcome of online feminist discourse.

I do understand what Fischer means when says she couldn’t imagine inhabiting a chatty (girlish?) tone and writing for the Hairpin. A lot of writing online, or anywhere, is about inhabiting voices. For example, the contentious tone that Fischer inhabits in her piece, which seems very debate club to me, is in a way more of a masculine rhetorical mode, and I think it can often shut down discourse, unless you’re willing to play that argumentative game. I like how online we can counter it with our feelings and our experiences. I think there’s something really wonderful about refusing to use a more patriarchal language, and recognizing the validity of feelings in criticism.

Part of the discomfort I have with the authoritative stance is its pretense of knowing, of already having known from the start. What about a feminist epistemology? Or even an epistemology of the girl? Isn’t a mode of not knowing, of doubt, of openness, of play, a more potentially generative and generous one? Why can’t this girlish epistemology also be a feminist one? Why do these two ideas have to be absolutely opposed?

—Kate Zambreno

Ad Education

Dear Editors,

I recently purchased your new ebook, “Bad Education.” I have not read it yet, but I have noticed that there are several embedded ads. When I read a magazine, I have no qualms about ads accompanying the text — it is even something that I expect from the medium. However, when one designates a product as an ebook, there are certain expectations that accompany such a designation, one of them being that advertising, if there is any, should be at the end of the text — not embedded. The only time that ads are embedded in ebooks is when such products are free. Charging $4 and having embedded ads, however, is a betrayal of the ebook designation. What’s done is done, but perhaps in your future ebooks you could place any ads — whether they refer to your own publications or those of a third party — at the end of the book.

—Ian King

More from Issue 15

Issue 15 Amnesty

The internet, we mean women, never pays for its content—or for their drinks!

Issue 15 Amnesty

Even as newsstand sales and ad revenues declined, MacArthur refused to consider any online strategies.

Issue 15 Amnesty

Cashing in on stereotypes about female readers, and female nature, is the foundation on which the Atlantic was built.

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Really, what the New Yorker has done online is remain totally unembarrassed by everything they have done online.

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Issue 15 Amnesty
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Issue 15 Amnesty
Letters from Oslo
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The Long Eighties
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How to Quit
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Time for rest.

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“True individual freedom,” FDR said, “cannot exist without economic security and independence.”

Issue 15 Amnesty
On Jeanette Winterson
Issue 15 Amnesty

No Indian city has seen collective action on the scale that Mumbai has. Few cities anywhere in the world have.

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