Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Case of New York Magazine: Does Matthew Arnold Win? And My Love Affair with Sam Anderson

Matthew Arnold said that “Culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world,” and I couldn’t disagree more. Sometimes culture is to know the worst that has been said and thought in the world. My friend E. once told me that Auden had once devised a five-tiered system to describe the different levels of art, and that one cannot judge a work of art accurately unless one has determined the category to which it belongs. For instance, The Girls Next Door or The Da Vinci Code might be the lowest of the low, but within their category of “low art” they reign supreme. E. claimed this system appeared in a lecture Auden once gave, and I asked my friend J. (who is an Auden scholar) to confirm, but he claimed to have never heard of it. Perhaps it’s purely apocryphal.

Living in New York can create a sense of discomfort for those of us who don’t consider ourselves the promoters and protectors of “high art.” Some of these people write for Gawker. Some people of these people write for New York . Some of these people’s names are Sam Anderson.

I first stumbled upon the work of Sam Anderson when he very astutely reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows for New York .

Upon reading the review I was linked to Sam’s previous Potter reading diary, which has to be one of the funniest things I’ve read in years.

And as if all of this weren’t enough, Mr. Anderson recently reviewed Alice Sebold’s sophomore effort, The Almost Moon, with considerable aplomb.

My favorite line from that review: “It’s as if Harper Lee had decided to follow up To Kill a Mockingbird with To Manhandle a Cardinal, the story of a Mississippi lawyer who defends a Hispanic migrant worker from racist accusations.”
This line alone is enough to make a snobber like me fall in love.

After a lengthy web search and e-mail chain here at my place of business, the mystery of Sam Anderson remains. Is he straight? If so, he is most likely married, probably with children. So unfortunately I think a romance between the two of us is unlikely. I think the story with him is that he used to write for New York in the more general sense, and then was promoted to book critic. Dear Sam, if you’re out there, I love you. You represent everything I love about criticism. Your reviews are wonderfully written, funny, AND smart. Is it possible? I sort of want to be you, Sam Anderson. I could maybe be your publicist? Personal assistant? Protégé? Surely we can work something out.

My colleagues here at work tend to roll their eyes at New York mag. Obviously it isn’t the golden standard of “good writing,” necessarily, like The New Yorker . (Personal note: I’m not sure I even agree with that assertion: see my previous entry, “The New York School of Elitism.”)

However, I think New York is great. It’s always an entertaining read. The celebs they profile in the magazine tend to be interesting and most of the time, even if they aren’t, New York interviews them for being somehow out of their element. (Example: the recent piece on Jennifer Garner performing on Broadway). Yes, yes, they write on the length of Agyness Deyn’s hair and Amy Fisher. So what? The article in last week’s magazine about Gawker, “Everybody Sucks,” by Vanessa Grigoriadis, was pretty stunning, and I felt like everyone in publishing was talking about it.

Hell, everyone in New York is effected by Gawker, whether they like to admit to it or not. I find New York’s journalism refreshing and fascinating.

That said, New York will never join the ranks of The New Yorker. But maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, where else can one read about N+1 and Gossip Girl , sometimes even on the same page? I have a dream, dilettantes, that one day we’ll realize the beauty of low art, and all the goodies in between its guilty pleasures and high art’s elitist snobbery. I have to say kudos, though, to New York . You’re almost there.

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