Cultural Arbitrage

In terms of D. Eggers ripping into S. Soudavar, let it just be said that the former knows the latter, quite arguably, less well than any of us know Eggers. If all you knew about Eggers was that he was associated -- in some sort of important way -- with this magazine you know something about, and you had some random page-long fragment of Eggers' writing to work with -- oh, say, the "finally, finally, finally, you bastards" passage from his book -- what might you come up with? Tone is a very difficult thing to judge (and I don't think the typesetting of the interview as a pine session helps formulate accurate judgments, either).

Besides, which, Saadi was asking for something with that last question. Eggers' response may not have been the best -- largely because it turns into a diatribe against critics in general and the selling-out-police more specifically, rather than a reply to the moral attitudes encoded in the question -- but that question was just crying out for some kind of slapdown. Eggers made it a bit personal, an issue of being a certain age and thinking a certain way, which and that disappointed me a bit, because I think the assumptions behind the question really deserve to be tackled and shot down and otherwise dealt with on a more, well, reasoned level.

In terms of content, that whole rant annoys me because, other than discussing his personal experience a bit (and thereby supplying a little more raw data), Eggers says nothing new. People have been saying what he says ever since other people first started accusing them of selling out. Eggers' whole "what someone has done and if they meant it" deal isn't very useful, because it completely ignores all of the wholly-legitimate points about complicity and cultural forces and the complexities of the context in which people write books and publish "unprofitable" literary journals financed with the six-figure advances on their books and go on national book tours encouraging subversion (with five-star reviews) of web sites selling their books and get interviewed by literary magazines that ask them about their literary journals and inquire whether they're selling out, which asking, of course, helps move copies of the literary magazines, and so on and so forth. It's a call for a wholly impossible and sentimentalized kind of innocence, and if that innocence actually were to hold, then McSweeney's (and all the things Eggers loves about it and loves to say using it) could not even exist in the first place. Eggers' work amounts to cultural arbitrage, spotting strange and quirky fluctuations in the literary and social landscape and making a quick profit trading on those strange imbalances. And a culture that lived by rules as simple as those Eggers claims to hold dear now wouldn't really offer very much for him to work with.