I hope this is the last post I ever post on this topic—though I think I’ve said that before.
A few weeks ago, Choire Sicha published a remarkably fatuous article in the Observer, arguing that men can’t write as well as women. His examples were Ursula Le Guin, Marilynne Robinson, Joan Didion, on one side, and on the other side, mostly, me. Also he invoked my sister: Keith has published a book about dudes trying to get laid; Masha has published a book about cancer. QED.
Now this would all be well and good and just in the course of things if Choire were not now going around the internet and valiantly trying to defend Emily from Gawker and the spawn of Gawker, who say unfair and unwarranted and unpleasant things about her.
Which—I’m glad he’s doing this and I applaud him.
But when you find yourself in the comments section of Gawker, arguing with Nick Denton, who claims that the point of Gawker is to “expose” the romantic and collegial affiliations of New York media people, and you agree with him—then you have to wonder whether you have a leg to stand on.
Nick Denton, you fucking ninny: Everyone went to the same six schools. Everyone has dated everyone. Now what? What have you got now? Because once we grant you that, you actually have to start making aesthetic and moral distinctions between actual written texts. And you don’t know how to do that anymore. Because you’re a pissy little gossip. Your brain was once trained to think and write, and you’ve gone and turned it to mush. You don’t even put commas in the right places, much less think straight.
And Choire—I like you, I think you’re a good guy, you have a good written style—and yet I’m afraid the same goes for you. Choire, the trouble is not that Gawker makes insinuations. The trouble is that Gawker doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Just like you, when you write about books you haven’t read.
I know you haven’t read my book because at the center of it is a story about a woman who’s dying of cancer. The story is about three men who are arguing all the time, while she’s dying.
I know you haven’t read my sister’s book because it’s not about “cancer” or about the “BrCa1 gene”—it’s about specific healthy people who are diagnosed with a genetic predisposition to illnesses, and what they decide to do. It opens with a chapter about a woman who died of cancer—our mom—but it then talks about my sister’s diagnosis and her fears of the operations it’s recommended she go through. She doesn’t want to get an ovariectomy (option 1) because she doesn’t want to lose her desire for others; she doesn’t want to get a double mastectomy (option 2) because she doesn’t want others to lose their desire for her.
It’s all pretty superficial stuff, man. But that’s the texture, that’s the content, of things like “cancer.”
You mentioned in the article that I had translated “politically charged material” from Russian. I translated a book of oral histories about Chernobyl. I know you haven’t read that book because it too is about people in relationships, people getting laid—it’s about women whose husbands went to the reactor while it was burning, and, when they returned, started literally falling to pieces. And how, despite this, while they could, they still made love at night.
A while ago, when you were still at Gawker, you mocked a series of memoirs Marco Roth wrote for Nextbook. You thought they revealed Marco to be a rich person who grew up in Manhattan. That’s true—Marco, like the rest of us, and unlike the people you work for, does not pretend to be what he isn’t. But if you’d taken a moment to actually read that memoir, which is honest and painful and beautifully written, you’d have seen it was about his father dying of AIDS. His father died of AIDS, you asshole, you who claim to care about this stuff.
So what am I getting at? You guys went down the slippery slope together. Why did people react as they did to Emily’s article? It wasn’t because it was “narcissistic” or “immature,” as the commenters said—rather, it was those things, a little, but only because of a larger problem. It was a confession that refused to take responsibility for its actions. It refused to admit that there was never any moral justification—while there was plenty of career justification—for media gossip. And that refusal infected the entire thing, because while Emily has a wonderful style, and charm, and a very effective way of dramatizing her inner life, writing is not just style. It’s the application of thought and beliefs to a particular subject. And if your beliefs are off—or if you don’t know what your beliefs are—then you’re in trouble.
You published that Observer article right as Emily and I were breaking up. You would probably call that “integrity.” But actually it was just a sign of your confusion, of your not knowing which end was up. Orwell could have told you that. Actually, I cut off my Orwell quote earlier. Here’s the whole thing:
Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
Even when you’re no longer on their payroll, you continue to repeat the same old garbage. It’s the rhetoric of the right-wing viz the “cultural elite.” You can justify yourself all you want because everyone serves somebody—so you say. But not everyone, Choire. Free your mind, man. Free your mind.
You call us elitist. You think you represent normal people; you think you represent “the internet.” You don’t represent anyone but a tiny slice of the Manhattan media elite who have always been parasitic on the rest of New York publishing. Media gossip existed long ago and it will continue to exist forever.
But it has nothing to do with the internet. It has nothing to do with “everybody.” Remember the old slogan, Choire—my sister had it on the back of her leather jacket when we drove cross-country in 1991—“Queers take back the night”? Well, we’re taking the internet back from you people. You’ve mucked it up something good.
UPDATE: Well, everything I said above is true and I’m not going to amend it. But to be clear: “You people” refers to everyone who uses this technology to traffic in gossip, innuendo, insult, etc etc. It’s a bit of a stretch to equate that with gay people. My sister features prominently in the post—she’s a serious person. As are most people, in fact.
Look: Decide for yourselves what you want to do with your lives. If you want to work for Nick Denton, or if you want to write sub-Gawker stuff while not even working for him—man, that’s your business. But don’t blame it on history, economics, or a conspiracy of the cultural elites. If you are in a position to make fun of the cultural elite in public, well, guess what that makes you.