Monday, July 28, 2014

More Responses to Deresiewicz

As noted in a comment on the previous post, Jim Sleeper reviews the Deresiewicz book in Book Forum. The review is well worth reading. Jim has some further thoughts about Excellent Sheep in Salon. Two other good short notes posted recently are by Chris Lehmann and by Jim Marino (an English professor at Cleveland State).

5 comments:

  1. Good stuff. Here's a Harvard student's rebuttal of Deresiewicz.

    http://harvardpolitics.com/harvard/missed-opportunity/

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  2. I'm a bit surprised than nobody seems to have observed the Chris Hughes aspect of this story. In March 2012, Chris Hughes became TNR's owner, editor-in-chief, and publisher. In other words, TNR has been Hughes mouthpiece for several years, and there is every reason to believe that both of the articles under discussion here that have appeared in TNR bear Hughes' imprimatur. These articles did not appear in TNR without Hughes approving them to be published in TNR.

    Hughes co-founded Facebook with Harvard roommates Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, and Eduardo Saverin. In 2006, Hughes graduated magna cum laude from Harvard,where he had substantial contact with Harvard's then-president Larry Summers, a known master manipulator of the media. Hughes then relocated to Palo Alto to rejoin Zuckerberg and Moskovitz and become again involved in Facebook. In 2007, he left Facebook to become the director of the Obama internet campaign, where he demonstrated his own talent as a media manipulator and again had extensive contact with Larry Summers.

    So a central question in all this becomes: Why did Chris Hughes, a Harvard graduate, gifted media manipulator and crony of both Larry Summers and President Obama, have his magazine (TNR) run an essentially incoherent hit piece written by an ex-Yale faculty member but whose sharpest barbs are directed at Harvard? That's an odd one. Why did he have TNR then run a largely contradictory article?

    Whatever else may be going on, these articles certainly aren't the kind of attention Harvard wants during its capital campaign? (Yale is not running a capital drive.) Has Hughes or, for that matter any of his Facebook co-founders, given any substantial amount of money to the Harvard Campaign? For that matter, has either Obama or Summers given anything?

    Strange it all is. Passing strange.

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    Replies
    1. Posted on behalf of Jim Sleeper, who is still having identity management problems.
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      I don't imagine that Chris Hughes approves every article in The New Republic, and in my view the only ideology or political stance he wants to impress upon the magazine is the predictable neoliberal, LGBT-friendly pablum that does little to identify or challenge swift market and technological currents that are eviscerating liberal democratic civil societies and, with them, liberal education. Occasional pieces in the magazine do try to do better, but the magazine as a whole is surfing the currents I mentioned, not challenging them intellectually or politically. It presents itself as a "big tent" with its faux-contrarian, click-bait headlines, but most of the stories under those headlines disappoint, subtly but depressingly, in ways the writers don't understand.

      The post-World War II American understandings of personal identity and of the civic-republican premises and practices in which many of us were raised and to which most people still pay lip service are being "Blown to Bits" by massive shifts in technology and marketing, if I may use here the title of a book co-authored by Harry Lewis that I assign in a seminar I teach at Yale. Hughes and other Facebook entrepreneurs, and many writers drawn to magazines such as The New Republic and The Atlantic, have hopped on the civic wrecking ball that global capitalism has become. Perhaps, in buying The New Republic, Hughes hoped to make moral and intellectual sense of what he, Marc Zuckerberg, and others had been doing. Beyond that good intention, as far as I can see, he hasn't a clue.

      William Deresiewicz has been trying to pierce or dispel this miasma in his book Excellent Sheep, a chapter of which The New Republic published a couple of weeks ago. But he, too, has hopped onto the wrecking ball even while denouncing its effects. Like the magazine, and like the students and young writers he advises to slow down, step back, and think deeply, Deresiewicz needs to do more as a critic or a writer of literature to stir depths he complains remain un-plumbed. Then, we can hope, he'll find editors and publishers willing to take risks that others feared to take with George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, and Animal Farm, as I described in the first five pages of this essay: www.jimsleeper.com/.../Orwell's%20Orthodoxies,%20and%20Ours, %20(book%20chapter%202004).pdf

      Technology and markets aren't the villains here, but they do need to be challenged and transcended by writers who aren't just marketing themselves or a "product" for sale.

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    2. It is difficult to take seriously, or even fully believe that one has read, an astonishing insinuation that Chris Hughes probably did not approve these articles based on the person advancing that argument not being able to "imagine that Chris Hughes approves every article in The New Republic." Is "proof by lack of imagination" now an accepted form of deduction or evidentiary implication?

      This is not "every article in The New Republic." Note to Mr. Sleeper: If one edits a magazine one is ill-advised to run articles in it that savagely disparage and dismiss a class of people that includes the owner, editor-in-chief, and publisher of one's employer, at least if one intends to hold onto one's job for the rest of the week. For that matter, TNR is published only 20 times a year, with each edition containing a relative handful of articles. Why would anyone think that a man who has seen fit (and spent a fair amount of money) to make himself it's owner, editor-in-chief, and publisher doesn't know what major articles the next edition is to contain? The article at issue savagely criticizes "today’s young people," even those who "harbor creative or entrepreneurial impulses" (which I think for these purposes we can assume includes Chris Hughes), because "at least at the most selective schools" (which I think for these purposes we can assume includes Harvard) those aspirations either don't make it out of college or "tend to be played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige." Do we really need to be reminded that Chris Hughes is "affluent," has garnered "credentials" and enjoys "prestige?" He is also alone among the Facebook founders who elected to return to Harvard and submit himself again to that odious "system of elite education [that] manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it." Really? Nobody thought to ask Mr Hughes if he was jake to publish this kind of stuff?

      And there's lots more where that came from. One might also note that at the moment the presidents of Harvard and the United States are at verbal loggerheads over the federal government's announced intention of rating the value of university educations. Indeed, just days ago Drew Faust explained in public and in detail how she considered the methodology proposed by the administration of Mr Obama, one of Chris Hughes' cronies, to be seriously flawed. This article has a direct bearing on that dispute. But, according to Mr Sleeper, we are to believe that nobody at TNR sought the input of its owner, editor-in-chief, and publisher ... who happened to attend the school headed by one person in the dispute and who also happened to head a good part of the presidential campaign of the other? Really? Are they that stupid at TNR?

      In the absence of any supporting argument for Mr Sleepers attempted proof by lack of imagination I cannot accept it. There is much more about Mr Sleeper's comments that I find astonishing, even jaw dropping. But I'm going to end by repeating myself:

      "So a central question in all this becomes: Why did Chris Hughes, a Harvard graduate, gifted media manipulator and crony of both Larry Summers and President Obama, have his magazine (TNR) run an essentially incoherent hit piece written by an ex-Yale faculty member but whose sharpest barbs are directed at Harvard? That's an odd one. Why did he have TNR then run a largely contradictory article?"

      I wonder if anyone has any light to shed on this central question.







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    3. And it would still be interesting to know if Hughes, any of his Facebook co-founders, Obama or Summers has pledged or given any substantial amount of money to the Harvard Campaign.

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