Sad Old Literary Man Angry About His Decline (and Jonathan Franzen)

Gordon Lish, for those of you who do not follow literary gossip, was a famous editor in the 1970s and 1980s. Nowadays, he is primarily remembered as Raymond Carver's editor, whose short stories he shaved down to knife-edge minimalism. For no apparent reason at all, Newsweek just profiled Lish. He's a bit of a hater, it turns out.

To be fair, the article charts Lish's decline, which perhaps accounts for his cranky attitude. Here are the things Lish hates:

Lish dismisses Philip Roth's assertion that literature has been eclipsed by a "voraciously consumed popular culture": "Roth is full of shit," he says without hesitation. Jonathan Franzen is undeserving of his reputation, as is Jonathan Lethem. The postmodernist Lydia Davis is "ridiculously overrated." Paul Auster, too: "I can't read him anymore." The subtle redesign of The New Yorker has been a "dreadful error." The upstart Brooklyn lit mag n+1 is a "crock of shit."

Lish also believes, according to this article, that Raymond Carver himself was "a fraud. I don't think he was a writer of any consequence."

Well, then.

I sometimes find this genre of profile, the old-man-yells-at-cloud type, to be entertaining. But this one is depressing in frame. The writing is nostalgic — the opening line is "Gordon Lish is a traveler from a country no longer extant, a country where editors were princes and writers kings" — and that's the wrong way to look at this. James Wolcott at Vanity Fair calls it "a Twilight of the Gods frame on the glory that was once publishing and the preeminence of print," which about covers the tone-deafness of it.

Maybe there was indeed a time when literary men were Men, Capitalized. But if this guy is some signal of what that was like personality-wise, well, I for one won't miss it terribly.

[Image via Getty.]