Reading, Writing, and Publishing

Adrift

On Amit Chaudhuri

Chaudhuri’s attachment to a middle-class cultural moment limits his novels’ social scope; but it also suggests a certain feeling for collective life, famously foreign to modernism. For, as his early novels make clear, Chaudhuri’s writing emerged out of a modernist world; the sense of shared imaginative space in the middle-class Calcutta of his childhood allowed Chaudhuri early on to lose patience with modernism’s asocial obsessions, replacing alienation with affirmation, atomized angst with a troubled but real impression of community.

We Had a Shakespeare

People called her Toni

But people do such horrifying things in the name of love and in such violent contexts in her novels. The Bluest Eye is the source of the quote that’s been circulating since she passed: “Love is never any better than the lover.” In a novel in which intimate partner violence and child abuse take center stage, it’s hard not to read this sentence as a claim about love’s uselessness. Because of her dedication to chronicling the fallibilities of lovers under assault by the state and by their communities, her work seems quite ambivalent about love.

Smorgasbords Don’t Have Bottoms

Publishing in the 2010s

No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!

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.