gall and gumption

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Voice from the Past

I'm enjoying reading James Wolcott's blog. Imagine he's been writing for Vanity Fair all this time and I never read him. I know that that is because of my aversion to certain aspects of the magazine. I can't get past the celebrity covers, for a start. I know, I'm a snob, I tend to think that no publication with a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow in an evening gown on the cover has anything in it that I want to read. Also it always smells like perfume. I don't mind perfume on people if it's nice perfume, but I don't much like it in magazines or books.

A less superficial reason is my sense of New York magazine culture as the Radioactive Poo capital of the world, with Vanity Fair as the tallest mound with the biggest brightest flag. A course I took at Columbia, the famous magazine course that is supposed to launch people into the industry (ironic laughter here) only served to confirm that impression. It was a course in the hungry pursuit of celebrity publishers, editors and journalists. The big fish that was landed that year was Steve Brill. Who remembers him now? Who cares?

Graydon Carter was always spoken of in hushed tones, as if you would never be cool enough to even wait in the ante room to the ante room of his assistant's assistant. You ranked in class exactly in proportion as you were able to deliver status with your subjects. Well, maybe that was the point. I didn't quite get this. I did a story on a woman who started a writing workshop for homeless people and got some quite well-known (at least to faithful magazine readers) to participate. This pitch impressed no one. The woman turned out to be a complete dink and it was with no small satisfaction, after repeated and unsolicited rudeness on her part (She didn't stand to gain anything from me and apparently thought I wanted her to help make me famous), that I invited the teacher of the class to kill the story I was writing on her for Glossy, the magazine on the magazine industry.

No whoppers to my credit, I sat through week after week of this class, bored to near stupefaction. I was under the impression that there were things one could learn in a class like that, about how to do journalism. That's why I took it, I suppose. But the main business seemed to sharpen your schmoozing talent so you could get a job as an editorial assistant somewhere at less than a living wage, sort of like being a page in an Elizabethan court. What all this had to do with writing or finding things to write about was a mystery to me. No, really, a mystery. I was sure, at the time, that I was missing something. Was I not as clever as the person who wrote the Steve Brill profile? I copy edited his piece. It was unutterably stupid. What talent was it that I lacked, that he had? To this day I do not know.

I continue to feel uneasy about my habit of reading political crap. It just makes me depressed and angry, mostly, and vaguely ashamed of myself. As if I had spent an entire day with two Costo-sized bags of potato chips and a six-pack in front of the TV watching Jerry Springer reruns. But not even Jerry's howling hodads can deliver the kind of gross satisfaction I got (I am not going to use that big old German word that was so popular a few years back because I don't speak German and I hate that sort of affectation) from the fall of that no-neck nonentity they proposed for Homeland Security Chief.

Wolcott (and I did begin this thing with Wolcott for a reason) wrote, as far as I am concerned, the best sendoff. That was a day or two ago. Then in today's entry -- if you are lazy about checking links and haven't checked it yet, go now, Creative Studies friends -- I was surprised by a familiar quotation. I read it and thought the only person who could ever have written this in just this way was Marvin. And in fact I think it was Marvin. By that point I had reached the attribution and it was him and I felt this relief that I used to feel in the recurring dreams I had for years, in which I would find out that he wasn't dead after all.

You know how you could meet someone and they would seem perfectly nice but then you would find out something about them that made it impossible for intimacy to proceed further? I mean literary intimacy, by the way. Like I know that I can't be literarily intimate with someone who doesn't like Jane Austen. Now there are lots of people who don't read and I can have all kinds of relationships with them. Some of them are related to me. It just goes all the way around. I doubt that any science fiction enthusiast would seek or enjoy literay intimacy with me. Well, what is literary intimacy, by the way? Oh for now let's just call it mutual trust in literary judgment and associated matters. Marvin's influence on me has pretty much precluded my forming literary intimacy with whole classes of people, starting, for example, with most English professors, most bookchat people, (magazine people?) most literary critics, etc. This is all based on reading what these people have written.

I don't know James Wolcott. He could be just another horrible magazine person, he definitely lives high up on the Radioactive Poo mountain. But as a writer he is sort of a figment of my imagination and a rare, welcome one. He likes Marvin Mudrick and makes me laugh.

11 Comments:

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At 7:21 PM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thank you for reminding me of his blog, on which, among much else, there is this, apropos of Bernie Kerik:

I could see how this tough-guy shtick--which obviously wasn't entirely shtick, but a tough streak that had been refined into an urban lawman persona--would impress fake swaggarts like, well, George Bush, who likes to play dress-up as a range hand and fighter pilot to show what a Hungry man entree he is.That, and hello!

 
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