Does Ben Marcus, educated at NYU and Brown, employed by Columbia, and published by Anchor, Vintage, and Harper’s, truly believe that he is an excluded experimentalist? Does he honestly believe that Jonathan Franzen, educated at Swarthmore, once employed by Harvard, and published by FSG and Harper’s, is somehow more elitist? Or is Franzen the populist? Or is a populist elitist? Is there really much difference between Marcus and Franzen? This East Coast-East Coast Literary Rap War reminds me of the Far Side cartoon in which a lone penguin, suffering in a crowd of millions of exactly similar penguins, rises and shouts, “I just have to be me!”

Sherman Alexie
Seattle, Wash.

2 thoughts on “Oldie/Goodie”

  1. LOL — where’s that from? I’m writing the same thing about Chas. Bernstein’s new book of criticism right now — poor guy thinks he’s still outre after saying the same thing for 25 years —

  2. It’s from Harper’s letters section, in Dec 2005, a couple months after Marcus’s cover essay, “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life As We Know It” or some such, which was for a while an interesting essay about language and sentences but then turns into a weird pointed complaint of “It’s no fair that JF gets to be on Oprah while no one pays any attention to this other kind of writing I like.”

    I remember being ambivalent in my feelings on the essay for some reason, and then Alexie’s letter got published and I understood why.

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