April 18, 2005

Sign you take this writing thing just a little too seriously

The New York Times article on the Paul Maliszewski/Michael Chabon scuffle says that Maliszewski was fired from McSweeney's after sending "an anonymous e-mail newsletter full of invented gossip about other writers. 'Hundreds of people around New York were getting some incredibly blasphemous e-mail full of incredible fabrications,' said Dave Eggers, McSweeney's editor."

Um, OK, I'm sure Jonathan Lethem is very special to you, but blasphemy? You do know that word is more or less reserved for God, right?

Without having heard Chabon's lecture or read Maliszewski's article, I'm taking Chabon's side. That said, here's a very legit criticism of the Times story. And here's the cruelest thing you can say to a McSweeney's guy: "On second though, I won't fuck you."

Posted by Daniel Radosh


The Ada Calhoun piece you link to is pretty funny, Daniel. (In a previous life, I resembled some of those remarks.)

One problem: I am pretty darned sure that McSweeney's didn't exist in 1995.

And if Calhoun had heard of Chumbawamba in '95, she was one hip 19-year-old. (Tubthumping was what, '97?)

isn't this literary sniping ludicrous? the fact is the number of people who read michael chabon, or have even heard of michael chabon...then subtract from that number from the people who couldn't care less about him giving a lecture...then subtract from that the number of people who care whether he is being entirely accurate in a lecture he gives in synagogues...

the point is, the state of the literary novel is in sad, tough shape, and people like chabon need to be supported. it's disgusting how someone could make news by merely attacking a LECTURE another writer gives, and it's even more disgusting for the times to do a story on it, in some faux-nostalgia for the "literary feud."

Ada does couch it by saying it was the Might crowd back then in '95 and I don't think there is anything unusual about hipsters knowing who Chumbawamba was in '95 considering the band had been around since '84.

Those blasphemous e-mails were hilarious.

where can we read them?

OK, r, just remember you requested it. Here's a random one out of at least a dozen. Personally I find it more tedious than hilarious -- McSweeney's walks such a fine line doesn't it? -- but as you'll see, the idea that anyone would not get that they were a joke is preposterous. Sorry, Dave.


Pearl Files
Volume 1, Number 3
"Attempting to serve the entertainment and publishing communities."

Hello, subscribers. It's Allen Pearl again, writing you this time from London, England. Thanks very much for returning to me. I received some very favorable responses from subscribers to my last issue, which included that Insiders' Guide to Seinfeld, so thanks for the encouragement. I do need it, I really do. I really do appreciate your kind words. Pearl's over here in London on a fellowship from COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY. Heartfelt thanks go to Columbia's BOARD OF TRUSTEES for seeing fit to bestow upon Pearl this fellowship. Thank you, board. Pearl will not let you down.

Pearl has, while being in London, learned a great deal about London and the British. Pearl has been to some museums, rode on a double-decker bus, taken a photograph of BIG BEN, bought a postcard featuring Big Ben in the foreground, visited WESTMINSTER ABBEY, and much else. While touring London and looking for someplace to eat dinner, Pearl met a guy by the name of WILLIAM R. WORTHINGTON III. This was in a pub the other night. Pearl can't remember the name of it. He thinks the name had two animals in it. Fox? Hound? Wolf? Goose? Some combination of a pair of those, he thinks. Anyway, Worthington, whose temples are as gray as his words are full of gray wisdom, agreed, after some verbal sparring at a back table in the pub last night, to take Pearl to see his tailor. Worthington wore a very nice suit, made out of velvet, and Pearl, who dresses like he did in high school, in the same clothes he wore in high school, was, much to his surprise, very taken by the realization that velvet can be made into suits. Here's a sample:

Pearl: What's your suit made out of?

Worthington: That's velvet, my little friend.

Pearl: May I touch it, sir?

Worthington: Why, uh, sure, I suppose you may.

Pearl [touching the velvet]: Hmm, nice. Very nice.

[Long pause as both sip from their beers, looking over the tops of their glasses at each other as they drink.]

Worthington: What is that curious coat you're wearing?

Pearl: This? Oh, I've had this since high school.

Worthington: What are those, um, snaps and straps on the shoulder?

Pearl: These? Oh, they're epaulets. They put them on every Members Only jacket.

Worthington: Good lord! That settles it, I'm taking you to my tailor!

Pearl: Wha?

Pearl was, it must be said, almost hypnotized by the feel of the velvet sliding between his fingers like silk and mesmerized by the striking appearance of velvet in certain lighting conditions that may only exist in pubs at certain hours but who cares, finally? P.S. Worthington wasn't so bad himself. ;) Hello, Bill. This is what I was telling you all about!!! My files!!!

Anyway, so last night, Worthington took Pearl to see his tailor and, right now, today, that tailor and his staff of solicitous Indian helpmeets are busily making Pearl three (count them, three) suits, all of one-hundred-percent velvet. On the advice of Bill and after consulting with the tailor, Pearl opted for the Kelly green velvet, the midnight blue velvet, and the maroon velvet. The maroon velvet may prove to be a too-bold choice and Pearl may think differently of it once he's back in the States, but for now, Pearl is feeling very happy, with himself, with his suit choices, with London, and, most of all, with Bill.

This afternoon Bill and I went to visit APPLE RECORDS, where the rock group THE BEATLES recorded many of their greatest record albums. While conversing engagedly outside, Pearl accidentally let slip that he had no idea who the President of England was. Set the scene, set the scene. It happened like this:

Pearl: Who's your president again?

Worthington: President? My little friend, we don't have a president in England.

Pearl: Wha?

Worthington: Allen, we have a prime minister. His name is John Major.

Considering the total level of Pearl's ignorance (which is vast to the point of being bottomless, like a dark, bottomless lake filled with neon-colored fish and nude swimmers swimming with the fish), Pearl's friend Bill has been very good to Pearl. Last night, he and Pearl went to another tavern (this one had a Royal in it, the Royal Purple? Jeez! Pearl doesn't know!) where he introduced Pearl to the clear spirits.

"Two whiskeys," he said to the bartender, a nice, tall, shy type with pale skin and dark hair. (Hi, Katie!)

"But, Bill," Pearl said, "I don't drink whiskey."

"What if we dilute it with some soda and chase it with a beer," Bill said. He was already calling Katie over.

"Still," Pearl said.

"Okay," Bill said, "you can have a vodka tonic. That's not whiskey."

I have to admit, I got pretty drunk. I don't want to give you the wrong idea -- I have had a drink before, I'm no white lily -- the parties in the Deustches Haus back up at Columbia are notorious for the sheer amounts of Concho y Toro and cheese consumed. No -- I've been drunk before -- but being in England, with this strange man, jet-lagged, not having eaten -- something strange happened and I sort of lost control. Bill and I drank for hours. Bill taught me how to "shoot" a vodka. I ordered the tavern's special seafood bowl for us to split without first checking with Bill. I was so drunk my hands weren't working, and I had a little bit of struggle peeling the friggin things. I knocked over my tonic and Katie refilled it. Bill took all the crab while I tried to make sense of the crawfish. I would pull off the head, and then there'd just be a little nickel of brownish meat attached to some legs. Finally I gave in and just ate the thing whole, legs, meat, and black stuff. It wasn't too bad, and the way I figure, whatever my body can't use will just come out the other end, right? Bill had his hand on my leg in the friendly way of the English. As I mangled another crawfish and stuffed it in my mouth, Bill leaned in -- The Royal Whatever It Was was a loud place -- and told me about the history of England and its people, most of all he told me about Margaret Thatcher, to whom I took an immediate liking. I think I like powerful, forbidding women who seem like they have no time for little trifles like me. I also like unicorns, but that's a story for another time. Bill told me about how Margaret Thatcher whipped up on Argentina in the Falklands War, which war I had never heard a thing about, but which sounded very grand. Then he told me about how Margaret Thatcher told President Bush to be a man and get some backbone. Margaret Thatcher is so awesome! Bill talked like this for close to an hour. The crowd thinned out. Katie was showing a patron how to balance quarters on their edges. Bill's grip on my leg slackened. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. I paid the bill, put him over my shoulders, and carried him to a cab. In the cab he put my entire ear in his mouth and said something I couldn't understand, because his lips couldn't close because my ear was in the way, so it just sounded like this:

Worthington: Ar ar ar ar ar ar arh?

Pearl: Bill, stop it, my ear's in your mouth.

Worthington: Ar ar! Aar ar arr argh?

Pearl: I'm afraid, I can't understand a word you're saying.


Pearl: I don't think I'll be able to understand anything you're saying until you take my ear out of your mouth.

When the cab arrived at Bill's residence, I paid the fare, tossed him back over my shoulder, climbed the steps to his front door, opened his door, and took him upstairs, careful to close the door behind me, with my foot.


All right, enough of that. You see now how Margaret Thatcher came into the life of Allen Pearl. Now come with, come with me back to 2002. There.

As it turns out, the preceding excerpt was a bit of what both hookers and KIRK VARNEDOE like to call a romanticized portrait of London. You got to love how little Pearl closes the door on the sex. 2002 Pearl would deliver the sex, and that's something to feel good about it, right? All these years later, as I reflect back on my early Files, and the whole trip to London, what I recall is running out of money and going hungry for the last week. By the time I got back to the U.S. my suits hung on me like a scarecrow's clothing. It took several months of eating nothing but protein shakes and SLIM JIM beef jerky for me to bulk back up.



That's right, it's time for another Poet Laureate Round-Up.

Pearl Files insider and recently reinstated Golden Circle subscriber THOMAS BELLER contributes this item to Poet Laureate Round-Up:

"Hey Allen! MONA VAN DUYN is a big-time devil worshipper. Check it out, bro. TB."

ROBERT PINSKY has agreed to accept a small part in his own bio-pic. The movie, called "Jughead Poet from New Jersey" (a working title only), is being produced by the Oscar-winning team of RON HOWARD and BRIAN GRAZER. The translator of DANTE ALIGHIERI's Inferno and the on-again-off-again-still-off-yea-still-off-on-again-off-again-boyfriend of supermodel CHRISTY TURLINGTON will reportedly play his father in the movie, opposite either TOM HANKS or TOBY MAGUIRE in the lead. Pinsky will also serve as the chief on-set poetry adviser to the production.

Congratulate MARK STRAND the next time you see him. He's the conquistador of his sex addiction demons, having recently checked himself out of the wife-swapper rehabilitation treatment program. This publication previously reported (in Volume 3, Number 22) that the program was located "at an undisclosed location." Sources now say the program is thought to be located "somewhere outside of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, like in the Valley or Burbank or something." Quel surprise. Several sources close to Strand say the author of Blizzard of One has not swapped wives with someone, or "even thought of swapping wives with someone" in over six weeks. Kudos, kudos. While Strand's at times very public battle with his addiction had a noticeably chilling effect on his career, resulting, at one of six or seven really low points, in his removal as script-doctor on the as-yet-unnamed ROBERT ALTMAN feature film, Strand's agent BINKY URBAN says the author of that book with the word "chicken" in the title is now considering new projects and that an announcement is forthcoming. Says Urban, "I have a husband, not a wife, so I always felt safe with Mark, but I know people who have wives and not husbands, and even those people feel safe with Mark now. Everybody feels safe with Mark now. He's feeling much, much better." Pearl Files hopes so.

This just in, MONA VAN DUYN has something to say, so listen up, people. The author of If It Be Not I, a title that has always given Pearl Files librarian Allen Pearl something of a splitting headache whenever he tries to parse it, strenuously objects to a report that she is currently worshipping the devil.

THOMAS BELLER points out that the operative word in MONA VAN DUYN's denial is "currently." "Maybe," Beller writes, "she used to worship the devil, and now she worships something (or someone) else. I'm just saying, her denial does leave that possibility wide-open. Check it out, bro."

BILLY COLLINS will wed CANDIE APPLE in the first-ever wedding held at the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. Ex-librarian and professional blowhard DANIEL BOORSTEIN will perform the service. One source close to Collins who asked to remain anonymous but who works at RANDOM HOUSE, in publicity, says the service will take place "sometime this summer" and it will be "under that big dome thing that you see sometimes in pictures." In February, after teaching a workshop for MFA students at the UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON and reading before a rapt audience at THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, the author of Sailing around the Room and Other Poems repaired to RICK'S, a gentleman's club, where he pounded shots and watched his future wife strip for a rapt audience of a couple dozen men pounding shots. A spokesperson for Rick's says, "Rick's has always been one of Collins's favorite places to party." Asked if the gentleman's club often entertains poets, the spokesperson said, "Rick's entertains clients from every walk of life. Poets generally like Rick's, and Rick's generally likes most poets." Asked if the spokesperson has had a chance to read Collins's book Picnic, Lightning, the spokesperson said, "No, I haven't, but I heard it's supposed to be pretty good, right?"

MONA VAN DUYN says she is not now and has never been a devil worshipper. Van Duyn also says she has "no fucking idea" who THOMAS BELLER is. If that be not a categorical denial, I don't know what it is.

THOMAS BELLER, the author of The Sleepover Artist and Seducation Theory, both available in paperback, from VINTAGE BOOKS, has once again been stripped of his distinction as a Golden Circle subscriber. Beller, looks like you're back in the penalty box. Sorry. I really like you, TB, but you can't keep crossing Pearl Files this way without there being some consequences. Didn't anyone ever teach you not to tell lies?


Do you have a tip for Pearl Files? Do you have a hot news item? Do you have a lead on a very juicy story? If so, why not write it down and send it to the Pearl Files today? Don't wait. Send all that good stuff to the Pearl Files, at pearl_files@hotmail.com. Put the word "tip" in the subject line. And then follow that (still on the subject line) with some brief description of what your tip is all about. That way Pearl Files can separate the good mail (the tips) from the usual complaints. Be sure to direct all tips to the attention of Allen Pearl.


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Maliszewski's piece looks like part of an ongoing (before, during, and after McSweeney's) investigation into the differences among fiction, journalism, opinion, and lies. The Times piece is a hatchet-job worthy of Fox News.

You should read Maliszewski's article or listen to Chabon's lecture (or both) before deciding to take Chabon's side. What the Times neglected to mention is that Chabon has been going around the country saying, as part of what he calls a memoir, that a real person named CB Colby - a children's book author - was actually a Nazi propagandist in disguise, which Chabon admitted to Maliszewski was a complete lie. When Maliszewski asks Chabon why he did it, Chabon has nothing to say except that telling lies was the best way of telling a greater truth about his own life. Chabon seems to think telling a good story - a story about the life of Michael Chabon - is a complete justification for what would otherwise be morally unacceptable, and if Colby were still alive, defamation.

Just to be clear, I specifically pointed out that I'm woefully ill informed about all this so that my decision to choose sides based on a gut feeling wouldn't carry much weight.

Still, that gut feeling still tells me that there's a similar purpose to PM's emails and MC's lecture -- and that both can probably justified on literary/creative grounds.

I will definitely agree that the Times article is a piece of crap. I hope somebody's alerted Okrent.

I think there is an important distinction. Maliszewski offered an articulate, coherant explanation in the Baffler for his faking at the newspaper, and I suspect he could do the same for the email newsletter, which was clearly a piece of satire. Chabon's fake memoir was not so obviously a fake - even a Nextbook fellow who talked to Maliszewski was surprised to hear the Holocaust story wasn't true. And, most importantly, Chabon was completely unable - or unwilling - to offer any kind of explanation to justify what he did. Either he just wouldn't talk to Maliszewski or he's just didn't think this through before he did it. I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Having only read the excerpt of Maliszewski's article I am inclined also to think they are both justified. Although it may be one thing to be Allen Pearl, the thinking man's dipsomaniacal gay Jackie Harvey, and yet another to implicate a man with complicity in the holocaust.

Can someone write an article that would prevent anyone from ever writing another novel about little boys and comic books?

Seriously, Chabon should just get his underoos out of a little wad and defend himself against the criticism that's actually in the essay - that his fabrications made for bad art - rather than calling in his pal Eggers to make distracting personal attacks on his behalf. Especially since Eggers has made it perfectly clear that he believes the new definition of good literary criticism is sucking up to Dave Eggers.

To complicate the narrative even more, a source tells me that commenter Beth Gerwe above is actually the pseudonym of Paul M's girlfriend Hadley Ross. My source, I should note for those wishing to judge her reliability, also identifies herself as Beth Gerwe. It's like a third-rate Nabokov imitation all up in here.

From the "mini-lexicon" "Fighting Words," by Matt Gross, New York magazine, 12/24/01. Now I think I understand what DE means by "blasphemous."

born-again Muslim \ noun: a person newly preoccupied with all things Islam. "On the subway, a kid had Cat Stevens blaring out of his headphones, a woman was buried in a history of the Taliban, and a guy was reading the Koran," says Allen Pearl, editor of The Pearl Files, a gossip newsletter. "I was surrounded by born-again Muslims!"

This stuff has been going on for years. Writers at other writers, writers at film directors, writers at orchestra leaders, writers at academics, writers at ballet dancers, writers at the President(s)+politicians, writers at business people bad and good, writers at rockers, writers at actors.

Only people other than writers who are at writers, are editors. And maybe their families.
So now, in some cases, professional writers are accountable to everyone else too--in writing or the news or whatever you call it, not just for what they write, which is how it's been--a la Friedman this week--but for what they say, what they do, what they lecture at, even offhand comments, soon maybe what and where they eat, just like those they write about.

so what. why care. to the rest of us, it's still the books that matter, or the music, or the dance, or the policies, or, um, well, here's the problem isn't it, the so-called lectures.

There is no conceivable scenario in which anyone who has ever read a McSweeney's story -- least of all Eggers himself -- would ever take that email for being in any way serious.

Eggers didn't fire Maliszewski because of those emails, and the suggestion that he did in that New York Times piece is a bald-faced lie, period.

This notion that writers all deserve to be "supported" simply because they write books is pernicious hogwash that hastens the marginalization of writing and writers you intend to slow. If writers act like what other writers do doesn't matter or threaten anyone, then it follows that others will take them at their word. The huddle-together-for-support model is dominant in the world of poetry festivals, seminars, and the world of "Creative Writing"; a similar mentality wants to make the rest of writing toothless, credulous, and uncritical.

It does not follow that because millions of idiots care about Hillary Duff and the Olsen Twins that what they say or do is important. Similarly, because "many people don't care about Chabon" doesn't mean a real issue isn't at stake here. Slandering a real person to make yourself look more interestingly ethnic is an artistic device that we are entitled to subject to critical scrutiny. Chabon was given his opportunity in the piece itself to come to the defense of his artistic methods and declined to do so. It is appropriate and even necessary that we judge this behavior for what it is. Anything less shows an attitude of condescension toward what writers do. By affecting to honor writers and writing with these craven shows of indiscriminate "support", you do them the gravest disrespect possible.

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