There’s a fascinating dialogue starting to unfold about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay on herself (as a single woman, writer, and sometimes-lawyer facing down her mid-40s) appearing in the upcoming Jan. 14 of the New Yorker. The title’s a wee bit unfortunate — “Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life.” But that’s not nearly as harsh as the rejoinder in today’s Salon, “Elizabeth Wurtzel Writes About Herself Again. Memoir Finally Hits Bottom.”
The debate in Salon centers on Gawker’s pugilistically-titled “Journalism Is Not Narcissism,” which decries the ever-expanding world of the first-person memoir that the Internet (and the continuing wind-whipping effects of the Internet age on our collective sense of the public/private divide).
But the New Yorker readers, in commenting on the article, bring in some decidedly prescient commentary. Wurtzel is so apparently unaware of her own obnoxiousness that, despite an opening scene that could be a more sympathy-generating account of an episode with a female stalker in a more deft writer’s hands, she dooms her essay to a blanket dismissal of the “First World Problems” variety, even before she even recounts highlights of a good relationship by including the detail, “We would laugh about whether Buddhism could rightly be called a religion or a phase people go through.”
Reader comments range from the simple, one-line character assassination, like “A great writer without anything great to write about” and “I say this with pure sincerity: It must really suck to be her,” to more detailed discourses like this:
Except for the schoolkid grammar, the muppie self-help jingo lingo and the bellybutton p.o.v., this Oprah-fried travelogue of some middlewit sybarite’s maundering is really funny as hell. Nothing like the gurgles of someone drowning in their own bathos to perk things up. Thanks, NYMag. 315,000,000 Americans — this is the one you think we want to hear 5,500 words from, eh? Brilliant.
Though her prose feels very purposeful and deliberate, it seems specifically engineered to cause the reader to simultaneously feel pity and envy — not too far really the adolescent’s lament that no one will ever love like me or feel pain like me. It also opens up a new well of questions — for instance, is it more repugnant and pathetic to brag about a heroin addiction of 20 years ago, or to brag that the heroin addiction in question, as she frames it, “showed my good sense, because the rest of the time I was completely out of control?”
Could a James Frey revival be far behind?
Amanda Palmer Writes A Poem, And The Internet Explodes
In what is apparently the Making It All About You Department, the not-always-social-media-savvy Amanda Palmer has written a poem titled “A Poem For Dzhokhar” on her blog over the weekend. Although the work does venture into what Suspect #2 (and his brother, Suspect #1, aka the Tsarnaev Brothers of last week’s horrific Boston marathon bombings) might be thinking, the references to iPhone battery life, Vietnamese soft rolls, and the Oh-my-Godiest line of all: “you don’t know how to tell the girl in the chair next to you that you’ve been peeking at her dissertation draft and there’s a grammatical typo in the actual file name” indicates that this poem is more about Amanda calling attention to Amanda. (We’ll let the crime of all lower-casing rest for now.)
So, the Internets noticed. Spin called it “a new low” (and paired it with an engineered-to-scare photo of Amanda enjoying a ball pit more maniacally than she might have intended), Gawker called it “the worst poem ever written,” and one blogger wrote biting parodies. And, predictably, the greatest handwringing on the Internets was of the “Neil Gaiman has to stay married to her?” variety.
It’s really not, to be fair, the worst poem ever written — it has all the hallmarks of being quickly dashed off, in an attempt to enter the dialogue in a way that’s clearly marked with her own voice and her own worldview. She has adoring fans, to be sure, and when you raise over a million dollars on Kickstarter and create a fantastic album in response, it maybe makes you feel like you can do no wrong, even after last year’s Unpaidmusiciangate — a pretty definitive indication that the Internets will not always love you.
Here’s the problem — we’re all watching from a distance right now as the FBI, CIA, and whoever else is questioning Dzhokhar right now trying to get into his head. We’re pretty sure that he wasn’t bleeding to death hiding in a boat thinking about Vietnamese soft rolls, and if he was, we’re not concerned about that. We want to know more important things, like why did they try to kill people, was he and his brother working with other terrorists to kill people, and are there plans to kill anymore people, including any additional bombs hidden in Boston. Right now, getting into the mind of the bomber isn’t a journey to the land of aesthetic ennui and artists-who-made-it problems for those of us who feel compelled together. We want to see the blueprint imprinted in that mind — namely, a plan to hurt and kill innocents, a plan that worked, a plan that took an eight-year-old boy and two young women from the world. We collectively want to know the extent of the plan so we can begin to heal and fight the fear and bewilderment that terrorism means. There’s a time and place for navel-gazing art. The galvanic response to Amanda’s thoughts on Amanda as filtered through Dzhokhar is the audience saying that this is not quite the time and place.
(Update: The title was arbitrary, and it only took her nine minutes to write the poem. We suspected as much.)