A Long, Dark Early Evening Of The Soul With Keith Gessen

Early in the evening of the day I became Facebook friends with James Frey, Choire and I found ourselves standing on Chrystie Street, unloading boxes of n+1's Winter 2008 issue ("Mainstream") from a very large Budget rental truck. We did this in a fit of perversity. n+1 editor Keith Gessen had driven the truck from the Ingram warehouse in Pennsylvania earlier in the day, accompanied by an n+1 intern that he'd been "mentoring." There were six pallets. As usual, the issue's contributors had been invited to the box-unloading party, and so we staggered, box-laden, past the likes of little Ben Kunkel, wearing his noticeably-heeled boots even for this athletic activity. Probably more people came later for the beer-drinking part of the evening. But we missed that part because, when the truck was fully unloaded, we hopped into it with Keith to return it to the Budget lot in Brooklyn. On the way there, Keith turned up a narrow street and smashed a taillight and a bit of the back end of a minivan that would turn out to belong to an Orthodox Jewish lawyer.

Keith handled himself remarkably well in this crisis, though he did later blame the accident on me: "You make me nervous," he said, his voice getting high-pitched and muppety for a second.

At the time of the accident we'd been talking about Keith's book "All The Sad Young Literary Men," which Viking will publish in April. Jonathan Franzen had said that reading Keith's book made him wish to be a young man again. And last night, Choire quoted a friend of his who's reading a galley of the book as saying that the book was a cautionary tale. [The friend had written: "I just started reading Keith Gessen's novel — irritating of course, it's the n+1 world, where women are mere accessories, but not bad! But SUCH a cautionary tale.... To me it's screaming *Get out of NY before it's too late*!!! Or, shrink your life in NY... stop going to all those lame competitive parties. Look, I always liked Sloane Crosley too, but when the fact that she is *nice* is the subject of an Observer article, that is a culture in deep, deep decline."]

Keith didn't understand how the book could be a cautionary tale.

Not having read the book, it's impossible to say with any certainty whether it would make me want to be a young man or whether it would make me want to leave New York.

While Keith was writing a note for the minivan's owner, I had time to flip through n+1 issue 8. In it, Wesley Yang writes about Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, and of other "essentially unlovable" people, including himself:

Jasper once told me that I was "essentially unloveable." I've always held that observation close to my heart, turning to it often. It's true of some people—that there's no reason anyone should love or care about them, because they aren't appealing on the outside, and that once you dig into the real person beneath the shell (if, for some obscure if not actively perverse reason, you bother), you find the real inner ugliness.

Identifying with a serial killer is uncomfortable, maybe as uncomfortable as identifying with the pretty girls who rejected his advances. The essay puts its reader in both roles. Wesley's refusal to shy away from the kind of "rude question" that "affects to inquire into what everyone gets to know at the cost of forever leaving it unspoken" makes 'The Face of Seung-Hui Cho' an exercise in revolutionary honesty.

In the Budget truck, I also had time to read most of Carla Blumenkranz's review, 'In Search of Gawker.' Carla went back into the Gawker archives to trace the site's evolution from Elizabeth Spiers' first post in 2002 to the decadent Gawker of today. "Reading through the early Gawker archives means watching Spiers receive and record her New York education," Carla writes, also observing that "her persona was part of her appeal," while the site's next editor Choire Sicha's appeal was that he was "almost impersonally sharp and cruel and correct."

"Sicha's persona did not change much during his time at Gawker, but he did reveal himself to be invested, in a strange way, in the integrity of Gawker as an institution," Carla goes on to say. It's hard not to be invested in the integrity of an institution that you are, to some extent, the public face of. Yes, also it's just a job, it's just a business. Right now, it's a business that is fairly hell-bent on increasing pageviews in light of the allegedly coming internet advertising downturn—whether that means that content is a tertiary concern after pageview-boosting commenter-friending features and sponsored contests. And still when you work here, Gawker is, to some extent, you. Carla also wrote:

No one ever said Nick Denton was an altruist. But it's important to note that Gawker Media was designed to compete with the corporations that Gawker abused from the sidelines, because this is what created the dissonance of the site's later years....It was the writers, from Elizabeth Spiers to Emily Gould, who sold Denton's cynical project to his cynical audience, on the strength of their authentic interest in the material....

The old (and also accurately self-parodied) idea of Gawker as a necessary corrective to the reams of fawning, vapid, toothless celebrity profiles and trend pieces published every day has faded also as many of the media outlets Gawker used to mock have adopted its jaded style, if not its substance.

"The status of Gawker rose as the overall status of its subjects declined, and it was this that made Gawker appear at times a reprehensible bully," she wrote.

And finally:

In early 2007, Choire Sicha—the outsider, the non-careerist, the one who had known restraint, whose parody of journalism had retained some memory of journalism's ethics—returned from the Observer to save Gawker. But it was too late.

That is, at least, overblown. Didn't he do it for the money, actually? Yes. Yes he did.

Keith finished his note to the minivan-owner and, with Choire behind the truck waving his arms in an impersonation of usefulness, backed the truck out of the too-narrow street.

Later Keith asked me what I thought about Carla's essay and I said that I didn't really think she was wrong about anything, except that Jessica Coen had not "grown up in Los Angeles." By then we were standing high on the F train elevated platform at Smith and 9th Streets. The Statue of Liberty looked like a little dashboard adornment beyond the B.Q.E.

I took a phone call and when I got back, Choire had told Keith he was quitting Gawker.

"Yup, we're quitting!" I said.

"Because of this?" Keith asked.

"Sort of. Well, not because it was written. But because it's not untrue."