No doubt this post will catch grief because it breaks an unspoken rule: speak no ill of a former Gawker writer. But it's a good yarn, of the romantic and professional entanglement of New York's literary and media networks, so fuck it. Enfant terrible of the city's literary set, Keith Gessen of n+1 magazine, has lost one of his acolytes. The desperately highbrow writer's former intern, Leon Neyfakh of the New York Observer, was commissioned to write a piece about his mentor's new work, All the Sad Young Literary Men. Neyfakh's thesis, that galleys of Gessen's first novel have been snapped up by other young writers searching for themselves in the characters, may yet make it into print. But the Observer reporter is unlikely to remain so devoted a promoter. Gessen's novel, which is published in April, is a black comedy centering around the romantic and literary ambitions of three young writers. Fact mirrors fiction: in an improbable twist that could have jumped out of the pages of his novel, the n+1 editor has stolen his devoted follower's girlfriend. And she's a familiar figure.
One of Gessen's protagonists in All the Sad Young Literary Men, studying for a doctorate in Russian history, discovers that erudition counts for little in his erotic life. But the author himself, with the soulful looks of a Greenwich Village bohemian and the oh-so-erotic arrogance of a Russian-Jewish intellectual, has had greater romantic success. Says one peripheral observer: "I don't really get it, honestly, the Gessen mystique; why these n+1 groupie girls love him so much." Nevertheless, they do; currently, one in particular, a former blogger with this site. Emily Gould, who used to date Neyfakh until a few weeks ago, has transferred her affection to Gessen.
It's been a long seduction. Emily wrote many of the items on n+1 in Gawker, last year, and even quit her blogging gig in a post about the literary magazine. After a party for the Winter 2008 issue, at which contributors and other guests were expected to offload copies from the back of a truck, Emily read Carla Blumenkranz's anemic review, 'In Search of Gawker'. "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," wrote Blumenkranz-and Emily agreed. The post (A long dark early evening of the soul with Keith Gessen) began as a report on the n+1 party; it ended as a public resignation.
After quitting Gawker, and breaking up with Josh Stein, one of the site's crowd-pleasing bloggers, Emily Gould sought increasingly refined company. Leon Neyfakh's Observer may have a circulation of just 50,000, but it retains some of the patina from when it was a must-read weekly for Manhattan's business and cultural elites. In Gessen, she has found a boyfriend so high-minded that his publication has no measured readership whatsoever. "We think of ourselves as a research institute that has taken on the form of a literary magazine," Gessen once told an interviewer.
To be sure, Gessen's magazine adheres to the model of the Russian intelligentsia: women, as a friend of Choire Sicha's once said, are "mere accessories" in the world of n+1. But even the most feminist of writers can be drawn to the myth of the literary salon, however faded, in which the muse calls forth the genius in her lover, and shines in his reflected brilliance. Says a former friend: "Emily wants everyone-or at least a small sliver of New York's male media world-to think she's smart. And they want to fuck her. Both sides, thus far and pretty much, have gotten what they want." And Gessen, who now has a book to sell, will get so much more than merely private adoration.
The n+1 editor used to disdain the marketing machinery of the literary world. In his novel, the self-identifying immigrant rails against the nepotistic New York establishment in which, if a surname sounds familiar, that's because the person is a relation. And he used to have nothing but contempt for bloggers. "Wait 'til Gawker gets its filthy mitts on you," he said in a round table for the Harvard Crimson. "It's just strange, you know we live in a time when people can say whatever they want about you on the Internet and take no responsibility for it."
Of course, he didn't complain when n+1 began to receive blog attention, last year. I count 25 mentions on Gawker alone, last year, most of them gently mocking, but each reinforcing the semi-ironic message: "n+1 is the most important literary magazine of our time." One of the first reviews of his book is on one of Emily Gould's blogs. And now he's abandoned all pretense of detachment from irresponsible blogdom. Gawker has indeed gotten its filthy mitts on Gessen: he's dating one of the most untrammeled writers the site has ever had.
Emily rather famously rubbished her former boyfriend, Josh Stein, as "emotionally manipulative" though the assumption that she also dismissed him as a premature ejaculator is apparently a misunderstanding. The slanging match continues, months later. After a warning by her ex in the New York Post's Page Six Magazine against dating a blogger, she responded: "Josh is busy altering his odd sweaters with the $2K he got for his article and probably doesn't give a shit about anything but that money, and the fact that the whole little scandal gave Gawker commenters another opportunity to marvel at the musculature of his torso."
For the moment, Emily is still revealing only with a six-month lag: she has been commissioned to write her own personal account of her experience as a blogger for the New York Times Magazine-where Gessen, despite his image as an outsider, has several connections. (I assume it will focus on manipulative capitalists rather than manipulative boyfriends.) But eventually she'll move on to the literary milieu. I can't wait for the too-much-information blog posts. Word is she's already honing a pitch for New York Magazine on her new area of expertise, the most important writer of his generation, Keith Gessen. That's synergy!
There's nothing that scandalous about any of this. Bed-hopping is an honored literary tradition. The only victims in this story are the more naive among the dreamy writer's groupies, who may have believed that he was a pure soul, or at least a potential soulmate. Oh, and the Observer's poor Leon Neyfakh-though he had plenty of evidence that Emily Gould's a heartbreaker. Both Gessen and Gould are, despite their self-involvement, talented writers: maybe the self-involvement is an integral part of the talent. Hypocrisy? Well, duh! Radical writers have always tilted against the publishing establishment-until the moment the doors open a little. Today's penniless bomb-throwers are tomorrow's self-satisfied rulers: that holds as much for New York's literary scene as for the Russian revolution with which one of Gessen's characters is so obsessed.
And that brings us to the closing anecdote, which is slightly unfair, because the author may have simply been looking after his father's dog. In Emily's account of the arrival of n+1's winter issue, Gessen in the style of a literary revolutionary drove the delivery truck himself from the Ingram warehouse in Pennsylvania. Now he leaves such menial work to the foot soldiers. n+1's great leader spent last weekend in Cape Cod, with his new muse, leaving one of his unfortunate underlings to make the following plea, complete with compromisingly bloglike links at the end, to their groupies.