Yesterday's New York Times Magazine featured a long profile by James Atlas on author Dale Peck, "The Takedown Artist." Mr. Peck agreed to discuss some important issues with Gawker: Soho House, the criticism of webloggers, Friendster, Stanley Crouch, the importance of not becoming Fleetwood Mac, on giving up writing reviews, and even offers an apology for one of his "hatchet job" reviews. He also invents a few new insults along the way.
[Full disclosure: Dale Peck and I share an Airport network, and before WiFi, a DSL line, and before DSL, a dial-up connection.]
Gawker: The James Atlas profile: Is this the worst profile of our generation? And do you think it'll get you laid?
Dale Peck: Is that a real question?
Gawker: Sure, if you want it to be.
Dale Peck: As far as getting laid, i thought the pic made me look a bit jowly, but i did get hit up on Friendster.
Gawker: Nice! Question: As one blogger put it this morning, "Peck's victims can get a little, 'Listen to her.'" Stanley Crouch, in fact, has called you a bitch twice. Forgive me for lobbing a "Fresh Air with Terry Gross"-style softball atcha, but does that strike you as kind of... weird?
Dale Peck: Stanley Crouch called me a bitch once, I think. He also called me a troubled queen and in the Times interview questioned my masculinity. I don't think it's weird per se. It's just homophobic. What I think is interesting is that the various periodicals let him get away with it without even commenting on it.
Gawker: It does go completely unremarked in the Times piece. "'He's a little guy,' Stanley Crouch said. 'Bitchiness is his version of macho.'" Then, there is a change of topic.
Dale Peck: A friend of mine said that if someone wanted to call him a "money-grubbing kike" he wouldn't reply to it and let the commentator hang himself. But I don't think a reputable paper would print that comment. But they had no problem letting SC in essence call me a fag. I don't give a shit what Crouch thinks of me, homophobic or otherwise, but I do think it interesting that it slips so easily under the radar of these supposedly sensitized places like the Times mag and Salon.
Gawker: Especially since the media is supposedly run by fags. Speaking of name-calling... Jessa Crispin at BookSlut wrote today of you that "his books suck. Not even bad enough to be trashy. I tried to read The Law of Enclosures until I noticed I was using the cover to try to saw through my wrist." (She then goes on to call you a twat.) Question: Do you think James Woods should give her a job at the New Republic?
Dale Peck: huh. i don't know how to answer that. i mean, she would appear not to like what i have to say. that's her perogative, as bobby brown would say, if he weren't smoking crack. is it bizarre for her to say this? i don't know anything about her, so i don't know why she feels the way she does. i didn't exactly expect these reviews to make me popular with the younger generation, since i'm skewering their heroes.
Gawker: Ah yes. Which leads me to the idea of heroes, or products. Your Friendster profile is incredibly anti-corporate and anti-consumer. Is the motivation for your reviews part and parcel of that? Like, it seems to me that you think David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo and the like are these big corporate items, and you have an objection to the commodification of literature into books. Or into the publishing market. I'm not saying that right, but you might know what I mean.
Dale Peck: well, i certainly wouldn't accuse dfw and dd of branding themselves or trying to establish a corporate identity.
Gawker: Ah: so not at their own behest.
Dale Peck: i just think their critiques of same are pretty facile, and in fact do more to bolster the power of consumerism than to tear it down. wasn't it leo bersani who said that parody and satire basically reify the positions of the target and the attacker, reminding everone who's got the power and who doesn't? that seems to me to be pretty self-evident. and my feeling is, if that's the case than why not opt out of the paradigm?
Gawker: Didn't you once tear Leo Bersani a new asshole? So to speak?
Dale Peck: yes, i reviewed lb badly once, but not for that point, but rather for other nihilist aspects of his philosophy which in fact seemed to ignore the more sage parts of his program
Gawker: As a pop culture satirist, I'm afraid I can give no comment but a weary drag on my cigarette to Mr. Bersani.
Dale Peck: but, that said, i do think that the writers i go after represent a marketing schema—or, rather, the transformation of a literary tradition into a marketing idea. the familiarity of their kind of writing makes their books saleable. it also makes them safe, from a political point of view. their arguments have long since been absorbed by the powers that be. it's like trying to give someone hepatitis when they've already been vaccinated—there's just no point. not that i have any idea why someone would try to give someone else hepatitis, but i'm making this up as i go along...
Gawker: Ah. At a blog called TMFTML, the writer describes the Sunday Times thusly: "(it was all pretty 'meh,' especially the shockingly bloodless Dale Peck profile , the only interesting parts of which were direct quotes from Peck's own reviews) but because we're still too upset about the plight of Ivy-educated women whose economic status is secure enough that they can consider leaving work to care for their children. It really is America's greatest shame."
Dale Peck: do you want me to review my own profile?
Gawker: Unless that violates your No Reviews policy, sure!
Dale Peck: i'm not sure how much farther down the slide of unseemliness i can go. i mean, i didn't like it, but no one likes the way they're written about. and of course i'm an interviewer's wet dream, in the sense that i have absolutely no instinct for self-preservation when it comes to talking to reporters—just ask elizabeth manus or or man-slut or whatever her name was at the observer. or mr. atlas, who i'm sure was turning cartwheels when he transcribed me saying that my new book is impossible to review badly. but i will say that his piece reinforces my decision to give up negative reviewing, because if even the times mag can't pay attention to anything but the zingers then there really isn't any point. i mean, i can see that someone who appears to be as ditch-dirty stupid as jessa crispin wouldn't get what i'm doing, but i'd think someone like james atlas could begin to unravel my method, or at least try to see the bigger picture—which isn't, Man i hate these bitches, but rather that it takes some kind of seismic effort to break out of the call-and-response stroke job that characterizes contemporary literature and criticism.
Gawker: My. Are you serious — do you SWEAR — you're giving up reviews? And if so, what are you going to do with your time when you're not tossing off 10,000 word pieces on obscure literary folks like Sven Birkerts?
Dale Peck: i only wish i could toss them off. that piece took six months out of my life. i had to read everone of his fucking god-awful books, and quite frankly i'm glad not to have to do that anymore.
Gawker: So it's not like you just breeze through a book and pop something out. You spent a long long time reading writing that you think is, well, the anti-christ.
Dale Peck: i mean, i don't want to turn into fleetwood mac or simon and garfunkel — keep saying "this is the last time" and then show up again for one more reunion tour and album. i might write bad reviews again, but i don't plan on it. i'd like to write about other things—architecture, for one, or movies, which i can't say i like much more than i like contemporary fiction. and i've begun taking notes on an extremely unmarketable book on the use of setting in narrative literature, which includes wildly unfashionable essays on "the shield of achilles" section of the iliad and the ingesting of the world in knut hamsun's hunger. not exactly times magazine stuff.
Gawker: God. that sounds... The Iliad. Hmm. I should read that someday. Everyone says it's like "good."
Dale Peck: i spent as much time on these reviews as i did because even though i knew i didn't like contemporary literature, i didn't know why. in a way, i didn't know what it was that i didn't want to write, and i had to dissect these books in order to figure it out. but i think i've done that—to my satisfaction, if no one else's. the question now is, how can i begin to make people look at my own books in the context i've created. not as another novel or memoir from the queen bitch of the literary universe, but rather as a book by someone who tries incredibly hard not to let his own ambitions and vanity (which are, admititedly, huge) infect my writing. how can i keep my books about their subjects, rather than about my place in the zeitgeist or the canon. i think that people like jessa crisp-tits dislike my books precisely because they like books by the industry favorites—they've had their tastes co-opted, as it were. it seems to me—and this is probably a sisyphean task—that the only way i can get people to realize how good my books are is to question the standards of liteary excellence that go into lionizing a book as bad the black veil or infinite jest. like i said, that's probably a foolish endeavor on my part. certainly it's not something that's going to happen anytime soon. but i think that if a writer is interested in being relevant he or she has to risk that sort of thing—has to be willing to stand up and say no, this isn't working, and what i'm writing is. and honest to god, i don't think that's hubris. i think it's a matter of believing in oneself—believing that if what one has to say is important, then one damn well better try to get that message out there.
Gawker: I have a really serious tri-partite question: Atlas says that old Soho House was "occupied by fashionable, absurdly handsome people who radiated importance." A. Am I going at the wrong times? and B. Wha? and C. Why are you a member of Soho House anyway?
Dale Peck: i'm a member of soho house for two reasons: one is because i lived in london and frequented a friend's club there, which was done on the british model: small smokey rooms with fireplaces and big plates of fatty, carb-laden food. soho house's setup shocked the hell out of me when i first walked through the door. it's not bad or anything—it's a totally fab space. but it is a little grand for the likes of me. the second reason i go is because they have a pool, on a roof, with hammocks. where else in nyc can you get that for $750 a year? as far as atlas' description goes, i think he's describing the Sex and The City version, not the one we go to
Gawker: Okay good. i was feeling left out. Question: Is writing a waste of time?
Dale Peck: that's a not a question. rescind it.
Gawker: Ah. Is publishing books a waste of time?
Dale Peck: i think that depends on who you are. it can certainly be a frustrasting experience.
Gawker: I mean, clearly: we're all going to die.
Dale Peck: and if death is your concern, i mean, isn't that why people claim to write in the first place? all those passages in homer and ovid and shakespeare about bestowing immortality upon oneself or one's subject? i write because i like to, because i'm good at it, because i've got something to say, and because i think that people have some kind of responsibility to be true to themelves, their talent, and their opinion. as fucked up as it may sound, i want to help people. to cite mr. bersani again (this time disagreeing with him): i do think there's something redemptive about the literary experience — about writing it and reading it, if not the thing itself — although it can take all sorts of crazy forms and expressions.
Gawker: Fair enough. Hmm. Is there anything you'd like to add?
Dale Peck: oh, one thing i do want to add: ed white was absolutely right: my review of his book was oedipal. i should have never written it. it was impolite and immature of me, and this can serve as a public apology. if he wants to send me his email address, i'll apologize to him personally.
Gawker: 'Kay. Anything else?
Dale Peck: i'm in a funny place. i feel alienated from the dominant culture, but i'm also out of step with the opposition, as it were. and so i find myself with few or no allies. i think that the world does need changing, but i think that signing on to an impotent or co-opted program just because it's ostensibly against the dominant culture is foolish, if not actually dangerous. and so i find myself screaming a lot. i'd like to not have to scream, but the "quiet, reflective voice" of my fiction doesn't get much attention. so i have to yell a little. i mean, i'm fully aware that there's a hugely self-defeating aspect to what i'm doing: trying to use the media to advance your own criticism of it is an idiot's endeavor, right? but the alternative seems to rolling over and letting stanley crouch fuck me up the ass, and i'm just not ready for that.