The Old World Order at The New Republic

Strange rhetorical twist at The New Republic.  Isaac Chotiner forces himself to admit that new technologies have impacted the arts, particularly coverage of the arts in newspapers, which, like the book publishing industry, have found themselves mostly unable to discern how to adjust their capitalistic ways to continue to bring in sustaining profits.  Apparently longing for the days when people read Proust in front of the fireplace after Jeeves handed them the last glass of port for the night, Chotiner announces a new entity — oops, an old entity — “The Book.”   The Book is a new addition to The New Republic, but one totally uncomfortable on the web, although one would suspect The Book’s ongoing health might rely in some part on web readers.  Why, then, insult them in your manifesto-disguised-as-a-welcome piece?  Below is a sample of Chotiner’s rhetoric.

The first thing to know about The Book is that it is a supplement to our print content–an attempt to apply the new technology to the old and untarnished purposes. While our online book review will certainly be lively, it will not be significantly more relaxed than our magazine itself. We are not slumming here, or surrendering to the carnival of the web. Quite the contrary. We are hoping to offer an example of resistance to it. Many of the writers you will read in The Book are the same writers you will read in the magazine. Their subjects, too, will be the same. Here you will find criticism, not blogging; pieces, not posts. Four or five times a week we will publish a new review of a new book. The length of these reviews will vary, and we will count on our readers sometimes to sustain an attention-span that is not generally required for reading online.

photo of carnival poster

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The reactionary and defensive prose of Chotiner then shifts a bit as readers learn that The Book will include “LitTube,” a blatant bow to the carnival that is YouTube.  If you are experiencing cognitive dissonance, a sense that Chotiner exhibits a love/hate relationship with the web, you are likley not alone.

Some of us out here in the “carnival” also view books and culture generally as having a linkage to politics and to political health.  At least at the moment, you will not find Chotiner and his co-editors acknowledging that linkage. Sample the selection of intial reviews to confirm The Book’s old-fashioned aesthetic, its mainly apolitical approach to culture.  At almost every turn in Chotiner’s so-called welcome message, the rhetoric is nostalgic.  It’s a Frankensteinian project, trying to bring what is dead back to life.  The Book’s editors will launch “TNR Classics,” where, for instance, TNR will reprint old essays, such as “Virginia Woolf on Walter Scott from 1924.”  Chotiner’s description of “LitTube” admits that the life of one part of the project will be brief:  “[LitTube] will consist of videos of writers, historians, philosophers, and other important intellectuals from the past, so that they may briefly come alive [my emphasis]. Finally, the “Lost & Found” department will feature literary remains that have been forgotten, left for dead.

The Book will be worth watching, for it is likely that Chotiner & Company will fail to devitalize literature and the arts to the degree they have planned.  Some animated and subversive bits will slip into the cadaverous parade that they intend as the substitute for the carnival that is the web.

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