Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Are You Sincerienced??

Chances are, you are. This thing is spreading like butter that's been on the counter for the optimal one-to-two days.

Call it New Sincerity or don't - personally I wish I'd coined it but you, Tony, deserve to share the cake with Andy Mister - at the very least it is a more wieldy term than Post-postmodernism (which is what I copied and pasted ad nauseum during my too-long Exam).

For further proof, see the NY Times Book Review of August 28th, in which Jay McInerney reviewed Benjamin Kunkel's new bildungsroman "Indecision". I'd link to it, but NY Times articles are famously fickle, lasting for only a few days. Here, however, are the most pertinent excerpts. McInerney sums up the action nicely - read his review online while you can - but to sketch the scene, Dwight, our hero, suffers from abulia, the inability to make decisions. It is easy to see how this not-made-up condition might play into the too-cool, meaning-is-indeterminate shrugging with which certain segments of society and literary production were lousy (hipsters, capital-P Postmodernism). McInerney points out however that Kunkel pulls off something strange:

"While they are playing at Adam and Eve in the Ecuadorian forest, Brigid invites Dwight to envision a fruit which, once eaten, allows you to know the history of every product that comes into your hands -- including the labor and suffering that produced it. Dwight's epiphany plausibly takes place under the influence, but unexpectedly persists and develops into a full-blown social conscience and a budding altruistic vocation. You may ask yourself, as the realization sinks in, Is he kidding? But after two readings I have to say, I don't think he is."

What we have here is a mode of literary pronouncement very different than modernism, very different than Postmodernism. We have a mode that uses the language and rhetoric of Postmodernism's irony in order to show us (or possibly to dupe us into feeling) a definitive message.

Does this technique amount to preaching? It can. McInerney's speculation sounds a bit like my own implicit concern about the Post-Post / NS proclivity to insist.

"...[Kunkel] seems to be trying to do something more ambitious by somewhat abashedly presenting the birth of a social conscience as a genuinely redemptive moment, albeit one finessed through a psychedelic episode and the comic medium of Dwight's voice, which retains its self-deprecating humor, making fun of his fledgling idealism even as he lays it out for us."

Whether insisting on a course of practical action as in Kunkel's novel or on some "sincerity" - whether in some use of popular culture or in some presentation of feeling - as the NS does, this new approach (and I submit, with others, that it is new) risks two things. It risks a) asserting statements that are ultimately unearned but *proclaimed* to be earned (or "felt"). And it risks b) alienating readers for the kind of activity by which it works: McInerney is right to use "finesse" in his description of what PP / NS must do.

Must all literary production of any value "finesse" its own linguistic and stylistic means in order to assert itself? Sure. But PP / NS seems to have an added wobbliness because of the existence - which cannot be denied - of postmodernism. As we live in a world that has been postmodern, even if that world's outgrown it, we need to consider the possibility that sincerity is a quality of being further removed from us than mere assertion will bring us. Thinking, or in this case blogging, doesn't make it so.

This would seem to leave us between two unattractive options. Productions of PP / NS persuasions gamble with either seeming preachy and unearned on the one hand, or remaining resolutely insincere on the other.

Be it known that as I question the New Sincerity, I am its friend. I think it's a fast-growing, clearly-ripe branch of the larger post-ironic, Post-Postmodern tree, which is not only *a* highly prominent literary production but increasingly is *the* mode of literary production.

But both the NS and PP need further theorization.

I have to go shuck peas, possibly shrimp, I'm not sure.

For tonight I'm glad that McInerney, one of the Brat Pack, has heard the call for, and I quote, "...some literary voice in the wilderness, toward a hazy new frontier of hip sincerity, of irony subordinated to a higher calling." That makes me feel anchored, intentioned, and well. And do I mean it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"I wrote the news today

In a tent outside the midway rides." From "The Fake Headlines," from Mass Romantic, from The New Pornographers, from Canada and elsewhere. Full of good feeling this afternoon. Shortly I depart for the Midtown offices of a small nonprofit who could use my services. The chorus of the song above - "Fake headlines / Believe them / Come back" - has been my anthem of choice over the past few weeks of dedicated, dogged jobhunting. It's a catchier "Make your dreams come true and such jazz".

Also, from "Jackie", "Visualize success but don't believe your eyes."

No time to blog re: poetry. Hardly time to write it. And absolutely no time to write the poetry I want to write. What I've been doing recently in the absence of sufficient time has been to write small exercises that rarely amount to much. Well, perhaps they do. It isn't the type of poetry I want to be writing, however, it does seem to keep open the conduits through which the good poetry flows. In discussions with some recently well-met people at Poet's House, I described what I do as "mock mock epics" - btw, the mock epic is, according to the Princeton Review gurus (who know), one of the more popular subjects on the GRE Subject Test in English. For which I'm now studying. This additional "mock" in the self-description of my best and characteristic work seems part and parcel of Post-postmodernity, as well as of the New Sincerity which your hypertexting or Googling may have sent you here to read about.

This connection, between Post-post and the NS, is one that deserves hashing out. But now, off to be hired.