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Los Angeles Review of Books, or, poetry and finance
Having spent much of the past decade working as a writer and editor on both sides of the print/electronic publishing divide, I’ve heard a lot of questions, but not many real solutions, concerning the eventual gravitation to the web of magazines and newspapers. For a living I edit an online academic reviews journal—caa.reviews—published by the College Art Association, and this journal is supposed to help usher CAA’s two august print journals into the digital age, and yet for the foreseeable future they solidly remain print publications. Newspapers and magazines for which I’ve written regularly, such as the Village Voice and Modern Painters, have drastically sliced staff and page counts while promising more online content, and yet for now they don’t seem to have any desire to pay for this material (at both venues, writing once done by freelance reviewers is doled out in-house, frequently unpaid, and sometimes done by interns). The sale this past February of the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million brought an outcry—and lawsuit—from its legions of unpaid bloggers. The New York Times recently instituted an online subscription program after spending years trying to figure out how to get people to pay for online content. At least the Times will continue paying its writers, but it’s unclear if its subscription plan will work. Personally, I doubt it.
So I’m particularly interested in the launch of the internet-based Los Angeles Review of Books. Featuring a massive roster of contributing editors, it currently—and temporarily—exists in a blog-website format, with a new review posted each day. I admire its ambition and its attempt to compete—even in name—with print publications such as the New York Review of Books. I also like that it seems to be taking poetry seriously. Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Claudia Rankine are listed as poetry editors, although no poems have been published yet. And on the eighth day of the publication’s existence it posted a review by Daniel Tiffany of Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation.
Donnelly’s book has already received attention from the New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, and numerous independents, but in many ways Tiffany’s is the most substantive review so far. This isn’t surprising because Tiffany is a brilliantly inventive and rigorous poetry scholar and cultural critic, and a significant poet in his own right. His review keys into the interlacing of The Cloud Corporation with recent U.S. politics—Abu Ghraib and Osama bin Laden make cameos in Donnelly’s book—and the ongoing financial crisis: “His [Donnelly’s] work implicitly rejects the possibility that American poetry can produce artifacts, events, or safe ‘positions’ that somehow transcend, or enjoy immunity from, the greater cultural and economic malaise of which he writes. The language of our poetry is itself therefore always and inescapably a carrier of the virus of meaninglessness and disaffection, a kind of verbal gadgetry, at once mesmerizing and malefactory.”
The degree of poetry’s complicity with what it critiques is tricky, yet acknowledging one’s complicity with power is a necessary component of any progressive politics. The Cloud Corporation is a poetry of infection; for all its expressions of alienation and flirtations with solipsism, it’s literally meant to get under one’s skin:
the advantage of not knowing is swapped out for the loss
of apartness from what you’d held unknown, meaning
you don’t come to know it so much as become it, wholly
warping into its absorbent field. I can’t let that happen
if it hasn’t already.
That’s itchy. I’m also looking forward to Joshua Clover’s forthcoming Los Angeles Review of Books article “on the financial meltdown, the end of empire, and Giovanni Arrighi” (according to the website). His “Busted: Stories of the Financial Crisis” in the Nation last fall was a smart synthesis of recent theories of financial collapse, and in that sense could be part of a constellation of texts surrounding Donnelly’s book and the larger corporate failing of vibrant intellectual culture.