Sept. 18, 2016
Gideon Lewis-Kraus wrote for the Bookforum about Mark Greif's new book, The Age of the Crisis of Man:
In a 2005 essay for the New York Times Magazine, the critic A. O. Scott considered two recent and rather quixotic decisions, made in parallel by rival camps of young writers, to devise print magazines. One was The Believer, inaugurated in 2003 by Dave Eggers’s independent San Francisco publishing house McSweeney’s, and the other was n+1. Where The Believer gave itself over to historical whimsy, n+1 self-consciously styled itself the heir, in its mandarin ambition, to the little politics-and-culture magazines of midcentury. Its founders’ model was the later Partisan Review, a magazine they admired for its droll, caustic attitude, and for the flexible liberal intelligence exemplified by its successful reconstitution after its break with Stalinism. The editors of n+1 looked backward, as Scott put it, to “organize a generational struggle against laziness and cynicism, to raise once again the banners of creative enthusiasm and intellectual engagement.” Keith Gessen, one of n+1’s founders, proposed to Scott his own origin myth with deliberate understatement: “Here I am with all this fiction no one would want to publish, and here’s Mark with these essays no one’s going to publish, and after a while we felt like we had this critical mass of stuff that nobody would want to publish.”
Mark is Gessen’s colleague and friend Mark Greif, and those strange, uncategorizable essays “nobody would want to publish” remain, along with the early writing of Elif Batuman, the most distinguished, original, and consequential body of work to have come out of n+1’s first decade. They have now been collected in a volume called Against Everything. The individual pieces have been grouped into five sections: one on the basic necessities of food, sex, and exercise; another on varieties of pop music; a third on reality television, YouTube, and the evolution of the epithet hipster; a fourth on police and war; and one loose, interpolated sequence on Stanley Cavell and Thoreau and the “Meaning of Life.” Most of the essays appeared in n+1 and reflect the journal’s general complexion—academically current but free of jargon; discontented but free of resignation; gladiatorial but free of truculence; sincere but free of gentility.