How to Be Authentic, and Other News


On the Shelf

Paul Nash, We Are Making a New World, 1918.


  • With Obama’s last presidential speech behind him—and with churlish inarticulacy personified prepared to take his place—Christian Lorentzen wonders how the literature of the past eight years will be remembered: “What will we mean when someday we refer to Obama Lit? I think we’ll be discussing novels about authenticity, or about ‘problems of authenticity.’ What does that mean? After the Bush years, sheer knowingness and artifice that called attention to itself had come to seem flimsy foundations for the novel. Authenticity succeeded storytelling abundance as the prime value of fiction, which meant that artifice now required plausible deniability. The new problems for the novelist became, therefore, how to be authentic (or how to create an authentic character) and how to achieve ‘authenticity effects’ (or how to make artifice seem as true or truer than the real).”
  • And looking forward, Alexandra Alter asks what the Trump era portends for conservative book imprints, those most maligned redheaded stepchildren of the publishing industry: “Without conservatives filling the role as the voice of opposition, the urgency and potency of right-wing books will almost certainly be diminished. And with the political principles that conservative writers have advocated—the repeal of Obamacare, a crackdown on immigration and the dismantling of environmental regulations—set to become the policy goals of a Republican-led government, the commercial future of conservative publishing looks far more unsettled … Will books that hold Mr. Trump accountable to his campaign pledges alienate his supporters, and will mainstream Republican politicians and pundits appeal to or repel his base? Will voices from more extreme wings of the Republican Party find a bigger foothold in publishing, further cementing their place in mainstream political discourse?”

  • In a new interview, the photographer Renée Cox casts a cold eye on Beyoncé’s embrace of Black Power aesthetics: “Before speaking with you, I said to my assistant, ‘Let me try to be politically correct here. I don’t want the “Bey-hive” coming after me.’ She’s talented and has a good team around her to make her look good. I give her that. But … [‘Formation’] it’s not coming from any real place. I didn’t hear her say ‘Stop killing black young men’ and see her put her fists 
up in the air. No, she didn’t do that. I’m sorry, but to me that was pure nothingness. How did that performance represent the Black Panthers? The Black Panthers were trying to get breakfast for kids and trying to protect their communities, before they were destroyed by Hoover and the FBI. You’re just talking about the sensational part of the Panthers: the guns, the black leather jacket, and the black beret … ‘I’m a feminist.’ ‘Put a ring on it.’ Oh, okay, great. Come on! I don’t even call myself a feminist. I just believe that women should have the same rights as men, and be treated and paid accordingly. Simple. I hate to say it, but the whole feminist movement was for white women who lived in the suburbs, and in some ways they killed it for themselves. Men have been treating women badly for centuries. So continue with the chivalry.”
  • The philosopher Richard Rorty has enjoyed a posthumous celebrity since a prescient passage from his 1998 book Achieving Our Country made the rounds after the election. (You know, the one that predicted Trump’s rise with almost painful specificity?) Stephen Metcalf says that anyone who picks up the book, which is now being reprinted, will be surprised to find that it’s about “the left’s tragic loss of national pride”: “The principal object of Rorty’s derision was neither identity politics nor the rise of an ignoble free-market right but a peculiar form of decadence, which his larger intellectual project aimed to counter … The ‘Foucauldian’ left, he writes in Achieving Our Country, ‘represents an unfortunate regression to the Marxist obsession with scientific rigor.’ In the specific case of Foucault, this involved locating the ‘ubiquitous specter’ known as ‘power’ everywhere, and conceding that we are without agency in its presence. ‘To step into the intellectual world which some of these leftists inhabit is to move out of a world in which citizens of a democracy can join forces to resist sadism and selfishness into a Gothic world in which democratic politics has become a farce,’ he writes.”