Since 2017, n+1 has published three essays I’ve written. The shortest is seven thousand words, which is ridiculously long. The essays are about masculinity, violence, and the epistemology of masculinity and violence, subjects in which I had no previous track record. The pieces don’t really fit into any category of nonfiction and are replete with things most people don’t enjoy reading about, such as sexual assault, torture, war crimes, dog sacrifices, and poststructuralism. In short, they are unpublishable. But n+1 published them anyway. They took a risk.
Partly because its readership knows it takes risks, when n+1 publishes something, it’s a powerful vote of confidence. I’m now at a point I’ve been struggling toward almost my whole life, where I can say “I’m a writer” and feel that it’s an accurate statement, rather than a weird self-help-y exercise in the power of positive thinking. I don’t think I’d have gotten to this point had Dayna Tortorici not patiently read my original proposal, which was itself essay-length, and edited the pieces so brilliantly, with invaluable input from Nausicaa Renner and others on the editorial staff, and with the expert production skills of managing editor Rachel Ossip; and had n+1 co-editor-in-chief Nikil Saval, publisher Mark Krotov, and the magazine’s editorial board not supported the enormous investment of resources—of eye, ear, mind, and body—that it took to put these pieces out into the world.
Having been an editor myself my whole career, I know that there are not many publications that still see value in the labor of deeply engaged editing and rigorous fact-checking—I’m fortunate to work at one that does, and to have published these essays in another. So, I find it difficult to fully express the gratitude I feel toward n+1, and I’m equally hard-pressed to convey how honored I am to receive a fellowship whose previous recipients, Kristin Dombek, Philip Connors, Bela Shayevich, and A. S. Hamrah, are all such hard acts to follow.
But I can at least try to articulate what I think makes this magazine so unique and important. In the interest of succinctness I’ll cut somewhat abruptly to what might seem a random historical reference, but one that I think might be useful in establishing the stakes of n+1’s project.
Some of you might remember that time the Texas Republican party made opposition to critical thinking an official plank in its platform. That was in 2012, when it was still considered bizarre for high-ranking officials of a major political party to express open hostility toward cognition. Now, obviously, things have further deteriorated. When Mick Mulvaney blandly insists that he did not confirm a quid pro quo one second after Chris Wallace has shown him a clip in which Mulvaney confirms a quid pro quo, what’s at stake is not just truth, it’s the very possibility of words to mean things, the possibility of communicating, the possibility of thinking. It’s depressing and scary to live in a society where thought is a partisan issue, but that’s where we are.
All authoritarian regimes try to suppress thought, and n+1’s publishing genealogy places it within an anti-authoritarian tradition. This genealogy includes magazines that are for the general reader, but that dare to posit a general reader who wants to be challenged, who has political commitments but is not looking for ideological marching orders, who is seeking new forms and new ideas, who wants to see received wisdom skeptically scrutinized, not soothingly affirmed—and anyone who regularly reads n+1’s “Intellectual Situation” essays can attest that there is very little soothing affirmation to be found there. If, as Benedict Anderson suggested, newspapers can create nations, then certainly magazines can shape a public sphere. It is so, so important to support magazines and media that help sustain the kind of public sphere in which in which totalitarian assaults on language, fact, and thought can be resisted.
Hannah Arendt said “a word is a frozen thought that thinking must unfreeze.” I think that’s a beautiful description of the kind of interplay between rigor and irreverence that is crucial to the work of thinking—imaginative as well as analytical thinking, the kind of thinking that produces criticism and literature, polemic and lyric, and that militates against dogmatism by putting mobility and action in tension with anything static. n+1 is a magazine of literature, culture, and politics that demonstrates in each issue that those three things are not separate categories, that such rigid divisions must themselves be unfrozen, so that the imaginative and the analytic and all modes of thought can influence one another and collectively resist those political forces that may fairly be called totalitarian, even if they have not yet managed to establish a totalitarian state. That is how I understand the meta-politics of this magazine’s blend of literature, culture, and politics, of which I’m so proud to be a part, and why I think it is so crucial to support it. Thanks for listening, and thanks so much again for this honor.