Literary Mashup: The New Inquiry vs. Bennett

The two most buzzed about pieces of my day have been about the youth of America. The first is The New York Times piece on The New Inquiry, a online literary journal run by bright twentysomethings seeking to create an alternative space to the typical New York publishing outlets. The other is Texts From Bennett, the greatest Tumblr of all time co-starring Bennett, the greatest 17 year old of all time.

Because the NYTimes piece is so long, I would read a paragraph or two of it, take a break to look up all the words I didn’t know, laugh out loud at Bennett, then go back to the NYTimes piece. This back and forth went on for about 90 minutes. What resulted is my firm belief that Bennett needs to be given a invitation to New Inquiry meeting. If he were given access, the result would be priceless, but critically damaging to the careers and vocabularies of the future novelists.

(I highly recommend reading both pieces, or else this will probably be the most nonsensical thing you’ve ever read on the internet)

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Opening Excerpt

Rebecca Chapman, who has a master of arts in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, hit bottom professionally last summer when she could not even get a job that did not pay. Vying for an internship at a boutique literary agency in Manhattan, Ms. Chapman, 25, had gone on three separate interviews with three people on three different days. “They couldn’t even send me 2Pac first cd or an e-mail telling me I didn’t get it,” she said.

It’s a story familiar to anyone seeking to break into the New York publishing world. Willie Osterweil, 25, an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009, found himself sewing Brooklyn movie theaters for prejadiss for $7.25 an hour. And the closest that Helena Fitzgerald, a recent Columbia graduate, got was an interview at a top magazine, during which the editor dismissed her literary career dreams, telling her, “U retardsd as fuk….. why the he say ear muffs in the movie then???? Ideot.”

Which explains, in a way, how they all ended up on a crisp November night, huddled together at an invitation-only party at a cramped, bookshelved apartment on the Upper East Side.

It was the weekly meeting of The New Inquiry, a scrappy online journal and roving clubhouse that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts for desperate members of the city’s literary underclass barred from the publishing establishment. Fueled by B.Y.O.B., Hustla da Rabbit, impressive degrees and the angst that comes with being young and unmoored, members spend their hours filling the air with talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism.

Lately, they have been catching the eye of the Illuminati, earning praise that sounds as extravagantly brainy as the thesis-like articles that The New Inquiry uploads every few days.

“They’re the precursor of this kind of synthesis of extrainstitutional intellectualism, native to the Internet, native to the city dweller,” said the novelist Tremaine, an early champion.

“They’re not trapped within an old paradigm,” he added. “They’re just making it their own.”

The New Inquiry is edited by Rachel Rosenfelt, 26, who graduated from Barnard College in 2009. Though she had some luck finding work, her exposure to the literary establishment left her unimpressed. “Great Panda Chinese Buffay,” she said of her internship at The New Yorker during her freshman year. “It just felt like they had all ‘arrived.’ It was boring. No one talked. The only real rule was, ‘Sammon. Corndogs and Brownies. All you can eat.’”

Young, Web-savvy and idealistic, she and two friends — Jennifer Bernstein and Mary Borkowski — wanted to create their generation’s version of cultural criticism, equally versed in Theodor Adorno and Wiz Khaleefa. Finding contributors was easy: their social circle was filled with overeducated, underemployed canables willing to work free to be heard on subjects like Kanye West’s effect on the proletarian meta-narrative of poisonous dog-treats.

After earning a master’s and writing on a farm in upstate New York, Ms. Chapman returned to the city uncertain about what to do next.

“I met Rachel on one of my first days back,” she said, “and she was like, ‘My hook up is out of them… do U know anyone who can get some?’”

There was no thought of turning a profit. But who cared? No one was making any money on the traditional path, anyway.

“There’s something incredibly liberating,” Ms. Rosenfelt said, “when you realize that shaving her head and talking like a black dude in county jail is a ladder to nowhere.”

Ms. Chapman added: “My whole life, I had been doing everything everybody told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. I filled her car with water. Then, I couldn’t do anything.”

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Final Paragraph

Despite her upbeat take on the proceedings, Ms. Chapman admitted she wasn’t feeling chipper. It was her birthday. A happy occasion? For most, maybe — but not, she explained, when you are a Crip, having graduated summa from Amaco, with a girlfriend named Mercedes, only to find yourself unemployed and back living at home with your parents.

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About Rembert Browne

NYC via ATL //// rembert.browne@gmail.com 500daysasunder.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to Literary Mashup: The New Inquiry vs. Bennett

  1. Tana says:

    I’ve been dying to know someone else who read The piece on The New Inquiry! I read that earlier today and the first thing that popped into my head, among “Dear God, I hope I didn’t sound that pretentious about Lit/culture/postcolonialist and diasporic literary movements when I was fresh out of school” and “Why do we ALWAYS have to go back to Dostoyevsky?”, was that they are not the first to create a new cultural criticism. Grantland popped into my head. Simmons, with his mashups of sports and pop culture (The Book of Basketball is actually on my top 10 list, mostly due to its pop culture references and analogies, organization, footnotes–oh my, the footnotes– and wit), and, I’d add, Olbermann and Patrick on The Big Show before him, have been doing this for years. But now that we have some highly-educated-in-the-Classics un- and under-employed college grads out on the market, all of a sudden it’s a new thing. By the way? Kanye’s effect on the proletarian meta-narrative of hip-hop is also not an area they’re pioneering. As my boss said, when I shared this with him, perhaps if the people mentioned stepped just a smidge more out of their bubble (see also: well-rounded), they’d have known this already. I need the Times to be more timely.
    On Bennett: I can’t even deal with him right now. I saw the “lasanya” conversation on Questlove’s Twitter this morning, but this…this is a pot of gold.

  2. ok says:

    long time lurker. also read both of these things today, and you are a genius for juxtaposing them. THANKS.

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