Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Remarks by Elizabeth Schambelan

On accepting the 2019 n+1 Writer’s Fellowship

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.

On Harold Bloom

1930–2019

This was one of Bloom’s gifts, to hear in any single work many voices. Poems were not themselves. A voice was not just one voice. And Bloom as Falstaff was not Bloom either, only a mask, a shadow: “I call to the mysterious one who yet / Shall walk the wet sands by the edge of the stream / And look most like me, being indeed my double, / And prove of all imaginable things / The most unlike, being my anti-self, / And standing by these characters disclose / All that I seek”—that’s Yeats, whose theory of antithetical characters was one of the sources to Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence.

Something Imaginary

Something Imaginary

I’m not yet assimilated

I’m falling asleep, dreaming, I can’t remember about what. When I wake, my nose is bleeding. No surprise, since I am a defective and sickly child. Alongside my asthma and vertigo, I have inherited weak blood vessels in my nose. My mother had hers cauterized, a red-hot rod prodded deep into her nostrils so the delicate, veiny frills would flatten and cease to bleed. I was a replicative mistake, the blood gushing out of my nostrils. I’m kicking and screaming.

The Promise

The Promise

There’s more to life than not writing

The truth is, we were all lucky enough to have experienced writer’s block at some point in our young lives. The block was the reason we were at the program in the first place. Selected from a competitive pool of talented writers who nevertheless lacked our special gift, we represented the potential of an entire generation. From the beginning, the strength of our funding, from tuition remissions to stipends, as well as the entire trajectory of our so-called careers, was based on the severity of our blockage, which was taken as a sign of the promise of our ability to create something “new.”

The Painful Sum of Things

The Painful Sum of Things

On V. S. Naipaul

I have admired Naipaul as much as I have found him difficult to admire, a murky admixture that I find difficult to explain or clarify, and which I find with no other writer, to anything like the same degree. (Edward Said referred to his “pained admiration,” and dissonant phrases of that kind are scattered through appreciations of his work.) I know, too, that you knew him, which I did not. I don’t know if that makes him more or less difficult to appraise.

The New Reading Environment

The New Reading Environment

 Each this is not to say or in other words a dull sword wielded against willful misunderstanding

The irony of the op-ed’s depressing reemergence is that everything is an op-ed now. The op-edization of all writing should have rendered its traditional purveyors redundant. Why read a Times columnist when you can read the same opinion delivered with more style and energy almost anywhere else? But even as internet writers refine and defend and reiterate their opinions—an archipelago of converging takes—so-called traditional outlets have consolidated their influence.

Bad Atrocity Writing

Bad Atrocity Writing

“What’s the difference between a baby and an onion? No one cries when you chop up the baby.”

Why does writing well about atrocity matter? Because the history of the world, a history that is morally unimaginable without atrocity, needs to be written, rewritten, well written. To know what really happened, to know what it really felt like, we need more sentences that are capable of opening readers to events so horrible that the senses and the memory close down; sentences that open multiple perspectives on those atrocities, even if they seem to allow for only one perspective — sentences that do all this without losing their hold on logic and grammar and, for that matter, their rhythm

The Distracted State of the Union

The Distracted State of the Union

To live in America today is to sit slackjawed at a helpless recline.

I began writing nonfiction in the wake of September 11—and was published in print, in hard copy, by newspapers and magazines that would go on to cut pages, wages, and staff, if they didn’t fold altogether. Meanwhile, online was busy revising responsibility for the attacks: Bush II ordered them, Cheney let them happen, the American Deep State colluded with the Israelis, the Israelis colluded with the Saudis.

A Pile of Kleenex

A Pile of Kleenex

"You know, everything that we’ve been doing together actually is the plot of ‘Goodbye, Columbus.’ "

But it turns out that I love those books. They have that same quality of being unrepentant. And the idea that you can write a novel that very clearly, unabashedly, unrepentantly has autobiographical elements, a novel that says, “What, fuck you, who even cares? This is what a novel is, and you can like it or you can get off the bus”—I appreciated that.