Tuesday, November 24, 2009

n+1 + McNally Jackson Books + Recap + Video With Keith Gessen

Holy crappy video quality! Sorry!
I arrived at McNally Jackson Books on Prince St last Friday at 6:45pm to attend a reading by editors and contributors of n+1 reading from their latest issue. There were approximately 12 people there at that time, though moments later there were 30, and shortly after 7pm, well over 50 people were in attendance. I sat in front, off to the side, and waited for the n+1 crew to arrive. Keith Gessen, Mark Greif, Chad Harbach, Allison Lorentzen, David Noriega, Marco Roth, and Katherine Sharpe.

"I don't know any graffiti crews other than IRAK, but it seems rather unpleasant to make a joke about that now that he died," someone two seats over exclaimed. I didn't hear the whole conversation, but it started with a comment about a "graffiti crew from DUMBO." The conversation segued into talk of the graffiti fan's ipod skin, a Keith Haring painting.

In attendance now were a few noticeable faces from the world wide web of bloggers in New York City, milling about here and there. In fact, it felt a little like sitting in the internet. "You're taking very passionate notes," remarked my seated neighbor. "But don't worry," he reassured me, "I'm not going to ask you what you are writing."

The editors and contributors of n+1 arrived and began to take their seats. What had been boisterous conversation by the growing crowd, turned into almost complete silence as n+1 founding editor Keith Gessen began to make his way to his seat in front of the crowd. For a good 12 seconds, it was eerily quiet as everyone took notice of Keith. Then just like that, boisterous conversation resumed, as if everyone in the room simultaneously noticed they were all guilty of being in awe, and snapped themselves out of it.

After McNally Jackson staff welcomed everyone, the reading began. Mark Greif was first to read from his essay, On Repressive Sentimentalism:
Gays are our utopian heroes," he began. "Many things changed in the twentieth century. No change was more momentous and utopian than that men could choose men for love objects, and women choose women, to remake the sexual household."
In his piece, which you can read in full at n+1 online, Mark attacks the institution of marriage and argues for abortion:
In a nutshell: Abortion is for freedom first—freedom rather than choice. It’s about the freedom of women from having to alter their lives irrevocably for children they don’t want.
n+1 contributor David Noriega read next from Among Friends by Mexico City's prolific and admired Juan Villoro—work Noriega himself translated for the current issue of n+1. After ther reading, he spoke with me on camera about a new project by n+1, Magazines of the Americas.

Chad Harbock read from an n+1 editorial, Growth Outgrown "...thereby outing myself as the author of this particular part." It sounds like a science fiction novel, Vonnegut style, but infact he is discussing current events, global warming, Marx, Obama, and the GDP.

Katherin and Mark each have their turn, reading from, respectively, R WE GOING TO DAI ALONE? a very lovely, personal and first hand review of online dating sites, and The Rise of the Neuronovel.

When Keith left his seat to read last, I expected some sort of cheer from the crowd, a "Wooo!" perhaps, or maybe some clapping, but everyone was contained. Perhaps remembering the shame they felt when he first walked in and silence befell the crowd. Inexplicably, I took no notes from his reading. He's wearing blue jeans with a stripped blue button down, under a blue plaid blazer, and looks just as I imagined he would. Tall, dark and handsome. Though tall is an estimation, as he is not short, but I am not sure at what height tall begins.

The Q&A begins after Keith's reading, and a staff member of the bookstores cafe explains that the essays in n+1 appear to blur the line between fiction and non-fiction. What might appear to be fiction is non-fiction, and vice versa. "Are you trying to skirt the lines between the genres on purpose?" he asks.

"Yes," Keith responded simply. He mentions The New Yorker in contrast, and how challenging it is to read the work published within. How boring it is. "You get lost in it." The work in n+1 differs from that of what you will find in Harper's or The New Yorker, he explained. After the reading, we asked Keith on camera (seen at top) if he would expound on that assertion.

A women screams outside. It borders on blood curling, and I wonder if someone just died. Everyone around takes a moment, and then the Q&A continues.

But what about the intellectual discussion of Marxism, an audience member wants to know. "It seems if there is a sense of resignation in the possibilities of continuing a discussion on Marxism. "

"We are not resigned," Mark tells him.

"Well," Keith interjected. "We are a little bit resigned, right? I mean, we live in America." "It seems that Marxists in America appear crazy and isolated," he continued, "those guys screaming about off-topic issues from the back of a meeting." In contrast to Russia for example, where "the ideas are expressed in a more reasonable, interesting way."

A man sitting behind me scoffed, and let out a laugh. "Ha! In Russia?!"

"What, what?" Keith asked. "Why are you laughing, what do you mean? Because it failed there?"

"That's like believing in FDR!" the scoffer asserted. I began to lose interest, and began to stare at people around the room. When the conversation settled down again, Keith again proclaimed his belief in Marxism. "It was a beautiful idea, it was a lovely idea, and there hasn't been a better idea yet."
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