Keith Gessen is editor-in-chief of n+1, a twice-yearly magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City.
Gessen graduated from Harvard College and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 2004. Gessen, who was born in Russia, has written about Russia for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books. Gessen has also written about books for magazines including Dissent, Slate, and New York, where he was the regular book critic.
His first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, was published in April 2008.
Question: Does n+1 have beef with Dave Eggers?
Keith Gessen: No. You know, they certainly represent something in the culture, and they’re extremely powerful- incredible organization. They’re an empire. So, we’re very impressed by them. And, yeah, I still think they’re wrong about just about everything, you know, all the way down the line. It’s not necessarily a personal thing.
And you know- and they’ve been, for us, they’ve been a very useful foil, for thinking about some of the- you know, I feel like they express certain other tendencies in the culture- they didn’t invent these things. But they came forward and codified them, put them into the form of a literary journal and then another literary journal, and then the books that they make- this is the expression of a certain sort of thing that’s going on in the culture that already existed before them. But so they make it pretty easy to point at that, and say, well, here’s what’s going on.
Question: What are they expressing?
Keith Gessen: A lot of those things- I mean, you know, one of the things is the, I think, the nichification of literature, right? So, where literature becomes a pretty object that you buy, a pretty object that you have on your table, so there’s, you know, nothing wrong with pretty objects. And yet, the emphasis on the objecthood of the books that they’re making is- well, it’s not what I think literature ought to be. You know, the emphasis on just the goodness of- the niceness of making literature- is, I think, also, you know, something very much latent in the culture and not so latent.
But they’re expressing this and, you know, again, this is something that I think literature ought to be a battle of ideas. You have some idea about the world, and someone else has a different idea, and often those ideas are incompatible- which doesn’t mean that you can’t both live in the world. But the point of literature is to argue about those things, in novels, you know, even in novels. Not just in, you know, the Letters page of the New York Review of Books.