June 11th, 2012 / 8:01 am
Craft Notes & Haut or not

What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 2

"Hi, How Are You?" cover art by Daniel Johnston (1983); "financially desperate tree doing a 'quadruple kickflip' off a cliff into a 5000+ foot gorge to retain its nike, fritos, and redbull sponsorships " by Tao Lin (2010)

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:

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

The point here, I’d claim, is that even the New Sincerity of Massey/Robinson/Mister (2005->) was part of a broader conversation that’s been increasingly bubbling through the culture. Numerous writers since the 90s have been feeling the “used-upedness” of postmodern irony.

Incidentally, there’s been a Wikipedia entry for “New Sincerity” since 8 August 2006. Here’s the original version of that article, written by one Publicradio. I’ll quote it in full, in all its [sic]-wanting and [citation needed] glory, because it provides a substantially different perspective:

The New Sincerity is the name of several loosely related cultural or philosophical movements following Post-Modernism. The most notable grew out of the intermediary movement of Raoul Eshelman and, most notably, Judith Butler, among others, called “performativism.” The New Sincerity takes the basic tenets of perfomativism (that, even when arising from intentionally constructed situations, happiness is experienced as such, not as a false and misleading outcome) and extends the tenets into a transformative way of experiencing life and understanding culture. Privileging human connection and non-ironic expressions of sentiment and concern, instead of disconnection and lofty cynicism, the New Sincerity increasingly returns academic attention from the increasingly deadening emphasis on social construction and the deconstruction of the soul, in cultural studies, to previously-“suspect” topics, such as beauty and aspects of the emotional life.

Current scholarship includes Wendy Steiner’s The Trouble with Beauty, Denis Donahue’s On Beauty, Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just, and Bryn Gribben’s 2005 Bodies that Shatter: Ekphrasis, Beauty, and the Victorian Body as Art, which plays upon Judith Butler’s notion of citationality and the body, in order to consider beauty and intersubjectivity as outcomes of the body’s performance of itself. Gribben is also, some claim, responsible for coining the term the New Sincerity in 2003 (though notable uses of the term predate this), and the term was taken up by avant-garde director and scholar Herbert Blau and designer/film auteur Brady Becker, who implements the tenets laid forth in Eshelmann’s seminal 2001 articles on “performativism” in order to construct spaces in which both design and designer are experienced and felt.


It is generally agreed that the principal impetus towards the creation of these movements was the September 11th attacks, and the ensuing national outpouring of emotion, both of which seemed to run against the generally ironic grain of postmodernism. Rough ideas of New Sincerity began to circulate as early as 2002.

Claim to the name “New Sincerity” is wide ranging, and it may have been coined independently by several parties. “The New Sincerity,” as espoused by Jesse Thorn of the public radio program The Sound of Young America since 2002, is a cultural movement defined by dicta including, “Maximum Fun,” and “Be More Awesome.” This use of the term predates Gribben’s coinage of the term in 2003. It celebrates outsized celebration of joy, and rejects irony, and particularly ironic appreciation of cultural products.

In 2005, poets Joseph Massey, Anthony Robinson and Andrew Mister began using the term to describe trends in contemporary poetry with which they identify. Their aesthetic is characterized largely by the rejection of contemporary post-Language irony.

(Was Publicradio in fact Jesse Thorn? I couldn’t confirm that, though you might forgive me my suspicions. Whoever he was, he wrote at the Wikipedia between 2006 and 2007, contributing to articles on “Andre the Giant Has a Posse,” “Ariel Pink,” and “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”)

We can go even further back. In the 1980s, there existed an Austin, TX music scene called the New Sincerity, consisting of artists like Doctors Mob, Glass Eye—and Daniel Johnston:

It’s not hard, if you want to, to trace out a few connections between the NS of literature and the older NS of alternative rock and indie pop. Miranda July was the nexus!

Massey/Robinson/Mister devised their own iteration of the term “the New Sincerity,” focusing it and making it mean something specific in US poetry c. 2005. But, taking a broader view, we can see how the New Sincerity is at the same time much bigger than just the M/R/M scene—part of a phenomenon far beyond their ability to control it.

What’s more, it’s a term still in the making. The term “New Wave” provides a wonderful analogous example. Originally it meant some young French folks making films in the late 1950s/early 60s (“the Nouvelle Vague”). Then it meant other, similar film movements (“the Czech New Wave”). Then, in the mid-to-late 70s, Malcolm McLaren tried to brand his band the Sex Pistols with the term, because he thought it sounded sexier than “punk” (plus he was being retro/nostalgic). It didn’t stick, but a journalist, Caroline Coon, liked the term and applied it to some UK punk bands who weren’t entirely punk—The Stranglers, the Only Ones, the Boomtown Rats. And then US record executives took it and applied it to the CBGB scene—Talking Heads, Blondie, Television—because “punk” was still a stigmatized term. And then it came to mean “any punk-inspired band that uses alternative instrumentation”—Devo, the B-52s, Gary Numan. And then, in the early 80s, it came to mean “softer, synth-based pop bands” like the Human League and Tears for Fears and Flock of Seagulls, as well as punk-influenced rockers like the Pretenders and Duran Duran. Quite a distance traveled! (Not to mention, google “Nouvelle Vague” now, and the top hits are for the French retro band.)

The New Sincerity has hardly gone that far—yet. Indeed, “Joseph Massey to Steve Roggenbuck” looks like spitting distance, by way of comparison.

So what is the New Sincerity? Is it everyone I’ve mentioned and no one else? … I think that’s all very open to debate—we’re debating it right now!—and, in the end, no single one of us will decide that. Honestly, it depends on whether people find the term useful for collectively referring to some or all or none of these writers. Me, I think there’s something to it, and the term’s worth having around. But maybe there’s some better name or names? Or maybe it doesn’t make sense to lasso such disparate folks together?

Or maybe some major press will, next summer, commandeer the term, and in 5–10 year’s time, “the New Sincerity” will refer to Jonathan Safran Foer and the anthology of his imitators that he edits. (Christ, now that I’ve typed that, I know that’s precisely what’s going to happen.)

Meanwhile, there will be plenty of people who are called it who are going to insist they never were it, and many who won’t be called it but wish that they had been. It’s always been thus; my beloved Degas insisted until his bitter, dying breath that he wasn’t and had never been an Impressionist. (As he’d tell anyone who would listen, he, unlike them, could actually draw. So what was he? He maintained that he was “a realist.”)

In summary and conclusion, here’s what I think is at stake in all of this (besides the cred/embarrassment of belonging to a group):

  1. The NS is one major current literary focal point in the debate over what in writing counts as “ironic,” and what counts as “sincere.” (See this post and this post for more on my thoughts on those dominants.) Mind me well: this is not a debate over what is “genuinely” ironic or sincere (although some will mistake it for that), but rather a debate over how those effects can be generated right now in literature.
  2. The NS also serves as a focal point in another long-running debate, between those who want to find some way to make the writing feel less mediated (“writing about something”), vs. those who would rather foreground their writing’s artificiality (“writing about itself”).
  3. The NS tends to be a formally-derived style, and its effects are achieved by means of devices/rhetoric/style.
  4. That said, one may use the devices and styles of the NS to achieve a wide variety of effects—including irony! (Devices and styles can be used in near-infinite ways.)

OK, once again, I’ll be eager to read your responses. Perhaps later I’ll try responding with a more coherent definition of the movement, and an attempt at cataloging its moves? Also, as promised, next Monday I’ll return to Shklovsky and Theory of Prose; I want to try applying some of his special rules of plot formation to analyzing and producing some actual writing. Until then—

—keep making it new.

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  1. Nicholas Williard

      I wonder if NS was included on Carles’ genre shirt

  2. Nicholas Grider

      I think there’s a false distinction in summary point two, though, because all writing is mediated (about itself and something at the same time, inescapably), so any move by anyone Newly Sincere is a formal pose of ironic distance away from mediation, and claims by the NS that it can be “more” sincere are bizarre because there aren’t really degrees of sincerity, just different ways that the lie of apparent sincerity can be mediated.  

      NS work is like Jeff Koons’ work.  There’s no apparent lack of sincerity there but that apparent lack is the real work, along with the heavy dose of kitsch.  Despite my claims last week I don’t think there’s anything inherently suspect about the artificial deskilling of NS writing, but it’s no less “about writing” than a piece of metafiction.

  3. More on “Sincerity”: Old, New, Noisy and Perverted - Montevidayo

      […] One more thing: Clearly I am in these posts not arguing against AD Jameson, as much as following up on his posts and the terrain that the notion of “sincerity” […]

  4. drew kalbach

      the first person i thought of when i thought of ‘the new sincerity’ was jonathan safran foer, so i’m with you on that aside.

  5. deadgod

      Wallace presented the case-against (unsurprisingly) well – and, I think, (unsurprisingly) ironically:  sentimentality, melodrama, overcredulity, softness.  (I mean, by ‘ironically’, that Wallace writes his description of “real rebels” – “backward, quaint, naive” – to be attractively defiant of “fear”.)

      A “sincere” literary artist of any vintage might insist that none of those unhappy predicates is coterminous with sincere and that each of them might be accurately said of clumsily-handled irony.

      We’ll always have Paris.

      In its context, I don’t think that assertion, while ‘romantic’, is either sentimental, melodramatic, overly credulous, or soft (though it’s sometimes called at least the first two).  (There sure isn’t anything cooly ironic or angrily sarcastic about it.)

      Is there a danger that all playfulness, all humor, is called ‘ironic’ and set against ‘sincerity’? and that “sincere” is not just humorless, but stupidly humorless?

      It sounds like a plainly “sincere” writer – Austen? Cormac McCarthy? you pick someone – has to, what, drop their sincerity in order, once in a while, to be funny.  That dropping-one-to-be-the-other isn’t how sincerity and irony often coexist, eh?

      I think the dissatisfaction many felt (and feel) with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E wasn’t that it wasn’t “sincere”, but rather, that it wasn’t appropriate to the emotional lives – however linguistically mediated – that those people live.

  6. deadgod

      Wallace presented the case-against (unsurprisingly) well – and, I think, (unsurprisingly) ironically:  sentimentality, melodrama, overcredulity, softness.  (I mean, by ‘ironically’, that Wallace writes his description of “real rebels” – “backward, quaint, naive” – to be attractively defiant of “fear”.)

      A “sincere” literary artist of any vintage might insist that none of those unhappy predicates is coterminous with sincere and that each of them might be accurately said of clumsily-handled irony.

      We’ll always have Paris.

      In its context, I don’t think that assertion, while ‘romantic’, is either sentimental, melodramatic, overly credulous, or soft (though it’s sometimes called at least the first two).  (There sure isn’t anything cooly ironic or angrily sarcastic about it.)

      Is there a danger that all playfulness, all humor, is called ‘ironic’ and set against ‘sincerity’? and that “sincere” is not just humorless, but stupidly humorless?

      It sounds like a plainly “sincere” writer – Austen? Cormac McCarthy? you pick someone – has to, what, drop their sincerity in order, once in a while, to be funny.  That dropping-one-to-be-the-other isn’t how sincerity and irony often coexist, eh?

      I think the dissatisfaction many felt (and feel) with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E wasn’t that it wasn’t “sincere”, but rather, that it wasn’t appropriate to the emotional lives – however linguistically mediated – that those people live.

  7. J Lorene Sun

      Salinger has stated that it took him at least an hour to
      take off all of his disguises before he sat down to write. To me, this is what
      writing sincerely is. His novel Franny and Zooey has also had a tremendous
      impact on me as a writer in terms of why I write. I’m also concerned with how literature can improve the soul. I’m spiritual and writing and reading is all wrapped up into that. I understand that none of this can be measured but I can’t help how
      I feel about it.

      My interpretation of the DFW quote is kind of like this: we
      spent a good amount of time exposing and poking fun at what’s wrong with the
      world so now let’s try to fix it because it’s worth saving and here’s why…

      I’m not sure if the artists mentioned as TNS are doing this.
      Some are a little too hip at times for my taste. And it’s just unpleasant to me
      to read work that totally forsakes craft which I think a few of TNS do. I also
      can’t help but think about the artist and if they in fact did take off their
      disguises when they sat done to work but who knows.

  8. Noah Cicero

      I have a question:
      In the past people who analyzed literature did a lot of in terms of economic class, using words like bourgeoisie and proletariat. Where has that gone? I feel like this analysis is pretty cool, but it is lacking any mention of social class. In America there is a lot of discussion of class but no one in the literary world even mentions it.

      No one mentions that the DFW irony writers, Eggers, Franzen, Easton Ellis, basically all the 80s and 90s writers were from a distinct economic and social class. That the whole McSweeney’s gang were basically the children of upper middle class parents, who were raised in nice cute suburbs and went to private colleges. 

      AD Jameson: I think if you went deeper into what is going on in terms of the internet, Roggenbuck, Elizabeth Ellen, Sam Pink, XtX,  Ofelia Hunt and Scott Mcclanahan are all not of the stereotype “nice middle class kid from the suburbs.” Some are from the country and some grew up proletariat. 

      I think Tao Lin is more of a link between the old group and the new group, which is why a lot of people like it, or feel comfortable in it. He is from a suburb and went to NYU and lived in New York City and Asian. So he is by default a little suburban mixed with Murakami. Middle class people can find a place in that.  But I think at the same time there is something very proletarian about Tao, in EEE there are dennys workers and he is a pizza boy, in Richard Yates Dakota is proletariat, the guy shoplifts in shoplifting, but he shoplifts from american apparel and not wal mart. 

      The idea of a pizza worker in a novel that should be taken serious is not something that would have even occurred to the likes DFW or any 90s writer.

      But then you got further than Tao, which I hope you do one day and read Scott Mcclanahan and he has stories about sad dogs and one fucked up low down person after another. 

      To use Marxism, where the technology supplies the means and defines the possibilities: the internet gave a way for writers not from top schools to get their writing out. Instead of having to get published by the Paris or Kenyon Review, they could use the internet, and if not get money, get attention for it. Which leads to incentives, humans operate off of incentives. So random people from the proletariat class kept writing because they were at least getting some attention and praise for it. Which has led to a new style of writing or way of seeing writing.

      Concerning irony: the proletariat on average does not see the world ironically. But through the gaze of “Life’s a bitch, then you die.” A common phrase I heard growing up. When reading Sam Pink the “life’s a bitch, then you die” philosophy dominates. Humans are handed a fate they must deal with, and they have to deal with it the best way they can, the proletariat must go to work, because they don’t own the means of production. They really don’t like their jobs, they have found a job they can stand, but they don’t really enjoy it. So they find things in life to make it worthwhile, getting funny shirts, drinking, doing drugs, listening to music, playing an instrument, having a hobby. And they deal with it. 

      I do not have the working education to write about such things at great length. But I think it would be worthwhile for someone who did to gaze at the new proletariat authors and at least wonder where they came from and what they are trying to say.

  9. What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 1 | HTMLGIANT

      […] Monday, I’ll put up Part 2, addressing what I think has happened since 2008. Until then, I’ll be curious to read what […]

  10. Justin Ross Morris

      Image Of Marie Calloway’s Vagina Being Licked By A Doberman Pinscher Overlaid By Text That Is Not Very Interesting And Really Cannot Compete With The Phenomenological Oomph Of The Aforementioned Dog-Pussy-Licking-Scenario says, “Cum, mouth, tits, cock, comments and repeat.”

  11. Anonymous

      I like the poor writers.

  12. Anonymous

      I think a good essay to base some of these ideas Noah’s talking about in is Lukács “Narrate or Describe?” where a similar contrast is drawn between sincere proletariat writing and bourgeois specialist writing that doesn’t deal with real-world problems.

  13. alan

      This has nothing to do with Marxism.

      “Proletariat” is not an adjective.

      Being “Asian” does not define anyone’s perspective.

      “a little suburban mixed with Murakami” is ignorant and offensive.

  14. wackomet

       all this talk about keeping sincerity fun and being conscious of one’s disguises makes me think of brandon mccartney

  15. kimberly southwick

      discussions like this are interesting and important, but also it’s essential to remember that it’s hard to pin something’s definition down when it’s still alive– as in, until there is no more “”the New Sincerity”, the definition of it will always be shifting around– and that’s good, in that it means it’s alive. what kills something like this, though, is another question. in installment one, it was pointed out that some of the ideas behind NS seems to have been raised by 9/11/01 & perhaps “death of irony” talks became “omg r we stil tlkin bout that?” ‘officially’ on 9/11/11– that’s a place to start digging for an answer of the “life” and “death” of a “movement”. too many quotation marks.

      so yeah, this: “A culture can never be reduced to its artifacts while it is being lived” -Raymond Williams 

  16. Repetition as rule, repetition as defamiliarization,and repetition as deceleration | HTMLGIANT

      […] context and history deepen what defamiliarization means. (That’s what led us to take our New Sincerist detour.) Now, in this third part, let’s return to Chapter 2 of Theory of Prose, where Viktor […]

  17. J. Y. Hopkins

      I’m really late, but hope to get a response anyway: 

      How can “sincerity” (in art) be more important than what is being expressed? 

      I feel strange asking that question because, in everyday reality, I hate hypocrisy.  Yes, being sincere is important.  But is it fundamentally important in the arts?  Only if people look to art before reality in order to make sense of the world.  And if you look to art BEFORE reality in order to make sense of the world, you wouldn’t have a clue what sincerity is anyway, because you haven’t been looking at reality.

      [Maybe that’s it: people feel like there should a “sincerity movement” because thus far in their lives they’ve come to know more about pretense than truth.]

      If it’s fiction, we don’t really know whether or not it’s sincere; if it’s non-fiction, we must assume it is sincere (at least on some level) because there is no point otherwise, or it becomes fiction (see above;) if it’s poetry, well, I doubt anybody is going to rationally argue that all poetry has anything in common, so any question as to its sincerity is ultimately, absolutely moot (ie, you’d have to define poetry before evaluating its sincerity, and nobody wants to do that.)

      I fear I’m being a bit reductive, and possibly reactionary towards something which doesn’t really have a clear definition, which is not sacred even to its practicioners, but hey, it’s the internet.

  18. Mutable Sound » How the New Sincerity led me to Yangshuo, China

      […] to AD Jameson, who is a friend, an author for this press, and aligns himself with the New Sincerity, the movement […]

  19. A D Jameson

      I don’t think it’s a false distinction. All writing is artifice, yes, but some people call more attention to that than others, while others craft their work to appear “illusionistic.” Mimetic work often strives to hide its artifice, in favor of “imitating reality.” There’s a lot of room between the two, as well as plenty of room for hybrids.

      Craig Dworkin’s Parse isn’t mimetic in the slightest. It’s not about conveying anything other than a concept, or perhaps a way of thinking about writing and how it can be done. It also heavily foregrounds its own mediation—it announces, “I am words on the page!”

      Tao Lin’s poem “7:30 AM” is no less “artificial” than Parse, but it’s also trying to communicate a different kind of thought in a different way. It may not look spontaneous or entirely unmediated, but it is communicative of particular emotions and sensations that I think we’re supposed to associate with Lin, or with someone much like him. It reads as at least partially autobiographical and, I think, sincere. There’s a certain artful creation of the effect of artlessness, of letting one’s guard down for a minute.

      Raymond Carver’s story “Vitamins” is also artifice, but it’s “illusionistic” in that we’re meant to pretend it’s being told by someone other than Carver, who’s describing his life experiences. But this is also an older story and we understand well today how it works—we even have MFA programs that will teach you precisely how to construct this artful illusionism. So while it might be realist or illusionist, I don’t think it looks “artless” in the slightest. It looks very crafted.

      … I don’t think any of this is really all that controversial, at least in a broad sense. And my basic argument is that the NS is invested in discovering what kind of artifice currently allows a writer to appear to be communicating sincerely, or artlessly, or without mediation (or with less mediation).

      Sorry to necro this post, but I was rereading it and realized I never replied to any of the comments. As always, it’s a pleasure talking with you, Nicholas :)


  20. A D Jameson

      Hi Noah,

      I do think class plays a large role in all of this, but that’s an argument I’m still working on. But bear with me!

      Cheers, Adam

  21. A D Jameson

      Oh, certainly :)

  22. A D Jameson

      I’m late, too :)

      > How can “sincerity” (in art) be more important than what is being expressed?

      I don’t know if I’d put it this way. Rather, I think the sincerity is what’s being expressed.

      Whether that’s fundamentally important—that, I think, is up to the artist, or the audience.

      It’s one of the things art can do (feel or appear sincere), and I think you’ll always have artists and audiences who desire that art do it. But it’s no more important than anything else art can do.

      > we don’t really know whether or not it’s sincere

      I don’t think the “really” part matters as much as the appearance part.I hope that clarifies? (At least what I think.)

      Cheers, Adam

  23. Ivan Sabljak

      I just wanted to chime in here with a foreign perspective. If I’ve understood you correctly, you think that New Sincerity’s seminal event was the September 11 attacks; or that they at least kickstarted the idea.

      I see NS in my country’s collective culture here in South Africa. We all know exactly what makes the country bad, but the govt’ have promoted a viewpoint of rejecting the negative aspects of life here and instead focusing on the positive aspects. More and more often in mass media, one can see positive messages about South Africans are good, and intelligent. This probably arose not out of a single event, but a collective dissatisfaction with life in the country.

      My point is, that NS is not necessarily an American thing. I think it can be found anywhere after a negative event or viewpoint, which makes the experiencers ‘sick and tired’ of clever irony and it’s associated tricks.

      The US has a huge influence on global culture, so it makes sense that NS will be associated with the country, instead of a human reaction to negative events and surroundings.

      Forgive me if I wasn’t too clear. I’m a physics student, not a ‘creative’.

  24. J. Y. Hopkins

      [This disqus thing is new to me, so I just now saw this] I think I get you. The “sincerity” of the work in question may be either genuine or constructed; the idea is that the reader/listener feels as though it’s sincere rather than feels as though they’re experiencing a “smashing good yarn” or a “sweeping masterpiece” or whatever.
      Is that a fair way to put it?

  25. Michael O'Brien

      Well, I’m really, really late, but–

      I love this question of ‘How can “sincerity” (in art) be more important than what is being expressed?’

      I don’t agree with Adam that sincerity is the thing being expressed. Or are you saying that sincerity-as-mode is the thing being expressed? I’m not sure that makes sense or that I’m even on topic.

      Regardless, I think that art, deep down, is about communication, and deeper than that it’s an attempt at loving your fellow man / an attempt at intimacy with a specific person/persons who are not known to you. And that that act of love/attempted intimacy is the deep-down thing that art is and is about. If you’re somehow able to honor that (instead of, say, demonstrating how smart you are, or how funny you are, or how current you are, or [fill in your own personal vanity]) then the mode of expression, whether it be irony, sincerity, or whatever’s up next, is largely irrelevant. As writers and artists we’re here to figure out what’s true and vital and then make it sing.

      Also, it seems to me that this sincerity issue has cleared the way for some writing that is openly taking on the issues of morality and ethics and God, and very generally how we choose to treat one another. As someone who’s ok with irony, I struggle with what this says about their less visible presence under the mode of irony.

  26. Jeremy Hopkins

      [People actually read 8-month-old comments? I should be more careful.] I think art can be about whatever people want. I disagree that its origin lies in the desire to be intimate with others. It could, I guess, but I don’t believe it does. Or maybe my idea of ‘intimacy’ is more specific than yours.

  27. A D Jameson

      I sometimes comment on old threads as well. Is it a bad habit?

      Michael, I wouldn’t say that irony is the thing being expressed. I would say more that what the New Sincerity is concerned with is finding rhetorical forms, and/or aesthetic devices, that give the impression that the work itself is not rhetorical or aesthetic, and is therefore unmediated / sincere. But that effect is in fact the production of rhetoric / an aesthetic. It’s a tricky thought, to be sure.

      In any case, it has nothing to do per se with actual sincerity, but rather with the appearance of sincerity. Once one has that rhetoric/aesthetic, one can use it for whatever aims one wishes, including to write ironically. Indeed, satire consists of the ironic use of forms that in the hands of others count as sincere.

      Cheers, Adam

  28. A D Jameson

      Hi Jeremy, See my comment right above this (I think it’s right above this), which I hope clarifies things. See also the work of Jennifer Ashton and Jennifer Moore—they’re the ones who figured it out, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just following in their wake. Cheers, Adam

  29. Jeremy Hopkins

      I appreciate your dedication, sir.

  30. A D Jameson

      It’s really all I have. Besides a love of fantasy.

  31. Jeremy Hopkins

      haha [I was going to make a Mariah Carey joke, but decided to just mention that fact instead. The joke would have been fewer words.]

  32. A D Jameson
  33. Jeremy Hopkins

      How does one determine that he’s not just a guy covering a song he likes? What makes it a new-sincere rendition instead of plain pop? The fact he seems shy? The fact his performance is unpolished? If he had been dancing (or had dancers who danced) professionally-choreographed routines to the same music, would it be an actual pop music performance rather than new-sincere? If I interviewed him and he said, “I was just trying to cover the song and I fucked up the ending because I’m not as good a singer as Mariah Carey,” would it seem less like he was working in an alternate ‘mode’ from pop musicians?

  34. Michael O'Brien

      I’ve just read your ’23 points’ group response post and wish I had done so before commenting! It makes your above point abundantly clear.

      I should add that I’m coming to this from the world of visual art – I’m not a writer. I do, however, find learning about literary theory to be instructive in my art practice. It so often reads like bizarro-world art theory (thinking here of your point or Shklovsky’s point about new art’s relation to the old – that the slight shifts from the old to the new are what make the new come so alive).

      In visual art, I think one of the main devices used to achieve sincerity is the act (beginning mostly with the abstract expressionists). I haven’t read Tao Lin, but based on the conversation surrounding him I suspect this idea of the act can be translated to his writing. (The act of transcription, the act of putting the real-life-really-lived before an unknown audience (((though I understand the writing is highly constructed — I’m talking only about appearance.)))) I wonder how translatable this idea of the act/action is to others who you put in the New Sincerist camp.

  35. Michael O'Brien


  36. A D Jameson

      Hi Jeremy, I was being only semi-serious, but to try thinking it through more seriously, what makes Twee for me is the way in which Owen Pallett—certainly a technically skilled musician—emphasizes the preciousness of his own performance. That’s an aesthetic effect. Playing something one hasn’t practiced well enough or that exists beyond one’s own ability is another way to produce that effect. It came out jokey, but I think it also comes out the way Pallett wanted it to. Cheers, Adam

  37. A D Jameson

      No problem, MIchael! I’m glad you found the other post useful. I sometimes forget what I’ve said where:)

      It’s interesting you bring up the act, and especially transcription. I’m currently working on a series of posts where I’m thinking through the differences between conceptual art and constraint-based art. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is nearly finished; I had hoped to have it up later this week, but school’s been interfering some.

      Tao Lin’s been on my mind because he just visiting my school last Friday. It’s worth thinking through the differences between him and Kenneth Goldsmith, because in some ways they look like similar artists, but I’d argue they’re ultimately very different, and that those differences count for a lot. Tao writes autobiographically, and is sometimes accused of transcribing his life into novels—say, Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009). But Shoplifting is not a transcript. It is a heavily edited and revised text that uses several devices of conventional narrative form. For one thing, all the g-chat conversations in it are rendered in dialogue. For another, it contains an immense number of elisions, both between sentences and between sections (i.e., there are frequent white space breaks). Tao has selectively edited down events and arranged them to create time gaps and juxtapositions. There is constant editing throughout the text. And there are many other demonstrable literary devices in the novella. And yet the effect of many of them is not the sense that Tao is “conserving tradition” and producing a mediated narrative, but rather that he’s producing something that reads very “sincerely.” I know a great many people who read it that way—as though the novella is unmediated, or unedited. But that effect is in fact the consequence of mediation, of editing, of Tao’s aesthetic decisions. It is a formal effect.

      By way of contrast, Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget is a transcript of everything the man’s body did over the course of 13 hours one day. It is a a conceptual and not formal artwork, and as such it is committed to not editing (although there is some editing—or after-the-fact-revision—toward the end). And I’d argue that this is not a New Sincere work because the NS is ultimately concerned with finding formal devices that create the impression of sincerity (or, at least, that’s my take on it). But it isn’t really about unmediation. I’m not sure any art really is about that, or even can be. Art is mediation.

      Tao Lin is a formalist and is invested in finding ways to refresh familiar tools and forms, a la Shklovsky. In this regard he is following in the (large) tradition of Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Stein, Hemingway, Richard Yates, Joy Williams, Lydia Davis. (Among others.)

      Kenneth Goldsmith is a non-formalist, or even anti-formalist, who is committed to finding new materials for art. He wishes to avoid working with whatever is already recognized as art, and instead is searching for new materials he can work with. In this regard he is following in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth. (Kosuth’s essay “Art After Philosophy” makes enlightening reading, along this line.)


  38. Jeremy Hopkins

      Makes sense to me. Rather than get into a ‘sub-genre’ vs. ‘mode’ terminology debate, I accept your explanation.

  39. Jeremy Hopkins

      I just like writing whole posts of nothing but questions.
      [Wait, I mean “… questions?”]

  40. A D Jameson

      That’s what I’m mainly about: getting others to accept my explanations :)

  41. Jeremy Hopkins

      i.e. ‘criticism’

  42. A D Jameson
  43. Jeremy Hopkins

      Have you read it?

  44. A D Jameson
  45. Jeremy Hopkins
  46. A D Jameson

      He he. . . . I’ve read it in the Bayardian sense, in that I’m familiar with it, and have read some parts closely and skimmed others, and have since then not really thought about it, forgetting much of it.

  47. Narrative Anatomy 2017-18: The New Sincerity – Narrative Anatomy

      […] Jameson, A D. “What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 2.” HTMLGIANT, 11 June 2012, http://htmlgiant.com/haut-or-not/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-the-new-sincerity-part-2/ […]