It made me very happy to read the various responses to Part 1, posted last Monday. Today I want to continue this brief digression into asking what, if anything, the New Sincerity was, as well as what, if anything, it currently is. (Next Monday I’ll return to reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose and applying it to contemporary writing.)
Last time I talked about 2005–8, but what was the New Sincerity before Massey/Robinson/Mister? (And does that matter?) Others have pointed out that something much like the movement can be traced back to David Foster Wallace’s 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (here’s a PDF copy). I can recall conversations, 2000–3, with classmates at ISU (where DFW taught and a number of us worked for RCF/Dalkey) about “the death of irony” and “the death of Postmodernism” and a possible “return to sincerity.” Today, even the Wikipedia article on the NS also makes that connection:
I wasn’t surprised that my Monday post, which was ultimately about reading & applying some ideas from Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose, mostly generated conversation about Tao Lin and the New Sincerity. I knew that would happen even as I wrote it. So I thought I should take a post to clarify my thoughts on “the whole NS thing.” What follows will be a mix of fact and personal reflection.
My first Mean Week post is totally cheating because I’m not going to be mean and, instead, shall direct you to my favorite Mean Poet: Joseph Massey. Joe lives in the woods in Northern California where he is like a gentle Swiss bear. He drinks taco beer and sculpts word machines of fern-smelling delicacy. But on the internet! O Lord. On his LiveJournal blog, Mr. Massey is a cranky son-of-a-bitch and not afraid to take it to your ass with a whip made of questionable meat products. Witness this gristle he dropped recently into a favorable review of Peter O’Leary’s memoir:
It’s an antidote to so much of the bullshit that counts as what it seemingly must mean to be a poet these days, thanks in huge part to the MFA android machine. It’s a palate cleanser after spending too many hours — shame on us! — reading blogs where you come away disgusted, as if you had just eaten a pillowcase full of cotton-candy washed down with generic cola, as if poetry can be reduced to the ego-bloated emptiness of notices of acceptance and rejection by journals and magazines that are mostly amorphous blobs of visionless shit, mirroring the very system that supports them, and the endless crowing over the scramble to get books published that no one will read because their only audience is a CV.
Joe’s even got a poem coming out in The Nation, so you know his agenda is like political and shit. That’s right, Blake, political.