Dartmouth Sigma Delta sorority girl and Believer editor Heidi Julavits' plan to keep the literary world clean and polite is a big sloppy mess. Her Snarkwatch campaign — sort of the suburban Neighborhood Watch program of the literary world — is attracting submissions, but, well, they suck. Fabulously ironically, original snark victim Rick Moody was one of the first to submit to Snarkwatch, in an elegantly worded but bizarre criticism of a James Fenton review.
This week, Brooklyn's Rick Schleisser writes in to Moby Lives about Snarkwatch: "The new Snarkwatch feature on The Believer website is truly disturbing. Great. Just what we need. An online army of McSycophant tattletales, scouring for some supposed rudeness, maybe getting necessary blunt opinions and hard truths confused with snark. Attuned to the possibility of a hint of some off putting tone, rather than the real content of the review or intent of the reviewer." Exactly. Whenever snark is written, opponents claim the snarker did it for the notoriety, or for jealousy, not because he might actually believe what he has written. Mr. Schleisser goes on to refer to Neal Pollack as Dave Eggers' hatchet man; Pollack's letter of today in response is, of course, prime snark — and therefore entertaining.
That's exactly the problem: Snarkwatch is boring, and often poorly written. At the very least snark could be attacked on grounds that it constitutes fallacious argument. Comments could be made about the death of manners — disingenuous and ahistorical comments, but never mind. That would all be easy, yet no one has the smarts to bother to do so. Furthermore, the Eggers/Julavits crew is pissing away their most important contribution, and it's actually a radical development: an inventive way to self-publish. They had created a new sort of publishing mini-empire — but now consider today's Dave Eggers, with his story in the recent New Yorker and his status as star attraction of next weekend's New Yorker Festival. He seems more and more like a demented 80s Larry Flynt, all coked up in his palace, getting the news of the world mediated through his spies and his TVs, unable to control or make sense of his empire. Perhaps, like Flynt, he will rebound.
Letters: Rick Scheissler and Neal Pollack [Moby Lives]