Friday, December 08, 2006

Book club porn?


Gentle reader, I assure you I shall indeed return soon, after I complete my end-of-term duties. I've got a backlog -- a backblog? -- of topics to cover.

One of them concerns the recent steamy "Book Club" exchange over at Slate, between prickly erstwhile New Yorker contributor Daphne Merkin and "adultery is cool, therefore I am" Laura Kipnis. Check it out for yourselves and tell me, sincerely: is this to be believed?

Some context here. Here's how Slate's Book Club, an e-mail exchange between a critic and an author, usually goes:

Critic: Oooh, love the book. Talk more about this bit.

Author: That bit? There? Happy to oblige. You like?

Critic: Oh yes, I really enjoyed that. Have I mentioned I love the book?

Author: Not sure, but now that you mention it, I could use some stroking just. . . *there. . .

In other words: yawn. Often wincing. But no more intellectually titillating than the false exaggerations of dust-jacket ad copy.

With Merkin and Kipnis, however, we have fur being thrown.

The Fray at Slate is all in a lather -- ooh chick fight -- but I have to wonder whether the dialogue has been manufactured to stimulate such predictable responses . . . which suggests what about the "discourse" of post (whatever you want to call it) feminism?

Or rather: which is worse -- or better? -- that Merkin and Kipnis may have colluded on this "club" -- or that they didn't, and that this is the striking result?

More soon. Check it out.

6:43 EST: The exchange just concluded with a winsome shrug on Kipnis' behalf. Given the bruised feelings and egos in evidence on both sides, it would appear as though my hypothesis has not only not been borne out, but also reflected some wishful thinking on my part. That is, I wanted to believe that we were being played, and that what seemed at first like a touchy, if not prurient, tete-a-tete, might be redeemed by the revelation that they were so much smarter than we are (i.e., silly us). One look at the Fray -- sadly? (though I want to avoid emotionally charged language here) -- shows that neither combatant emerges seeming wise (to quote Hamlet, yet again).

The exchange matters to me, or to this blog, because their debate turned on uses of language. So, before I comment any further on the exchange, I do want to *think about it some more -- to rise above the Fray, as it were.

Once again: more soon. And next on the docket: Sir Philip Sidney on the current travails of Ian McEwan.

2 comments:

robt said...

I found your blog by searching "merkin kipnis" because I wanted to see what other people thought. I too found it more interesting than the usual-- one I kept up with daily just to see what would happen next. (On the subject of author's mutual appreciation, check the NYTimes piece today on Helen Vendler's tenure at the Book Review and why John Leonard hired her and why Harvey Shapiro let her go.) Anyway, I have to say I was struck by-- and this could be because I am finishing my dissertation in Composition in my early forties and have seen how the inside/outside academic worlds simply clash when they try to talk to each other-- is how Kipnis' idea that what would be recognizable as parody/intellectual play would be recognizable outside of the academic world. She seemed earnest about it-- it's not bad faith-- but naive on her part.
Anyway, I intend to keep reading-- kids, almost forty (though I'm forty already), finishing dissertation, english-- sounds like my demographic.

Euonymous said...

Hi robt--

Funny, a "close reading" fanatic (and a poetry prof), I'm really into that Book review piece on Vendler (it's may replace Ian McEwan next on the docket). Look it up online and listen to Vendler read "To Autumn"! (winderful) More soon, as I"m working up my post on the Slate debate right now, and just getting to the matter of Kipnis' "naivete."

Thanks for checking in -- and hang in there on the diss, kids, 40. . . Mind you, this weekend I could barely stand my kids. Something about finishing the diss. No Mommy doesn't "HAVE TO" do ANYTHING! (i.e. put up the Xmas lights, get chocolate milk, etc.)

I need a vacation.

(in other words: definitely your demographic!)