Why did you write All The Sad Young Literary Men?

Question: Why did you write All the Sad Young Literary Men?

\r\n

Keith Gessen: Well, partly this is what I know, and I- it’s something, you know, when I was in my early twenties, I was writing all sorts of stories, and I wrote a few of these stories about these sort of guys, and an editor named Josh Glenn, who’s the editor of Hermenaut- and you know, and these stories, they’re not in the book. They didn’t make it into the book- they weren’t very good- and he said, “You know,”- but he read the stories and he didn’t take them for Hermenaut, he didn’t publish them, but he said, “You should keep doing this. This is- I don’t know anyone who knows these people the way you do.” And I was surprised to hear that because I thought everybody knew these people the way I did. And you know- and in a way, everybody does.

And yet, there’s actually surprisingly little writing about them. And one of the really, to me, not terribly surprising, but still disappointing criticism of the book has been, well, why do we need to hear about these guys? We all know guys just like them, right? Which strikes me as an invalid form of literary criticism, but also it strikes me as a refusal of a certain kind of person to admit that they belong to a social class. So, you know, you’re willing- so these are people who- and often this sort of criticism comes from New York- it’s a kind of provincial criticism from people who believe that their own little world is not worthy of depiction in literature, whereas, first of all, you know, it’s not just New York. There are young literary men all over the country and in other countries, and so it’s a mistake, and a provincial mistake, to think that they’re only in New York. But more than that, you know, this is actually something that Medvedev talks about, the intelligentsia, right?

Or, in the U.S., the sad young literary men and women, how they form a social class. And they have to admit that to themselves, because while they’re willing to be a social class in terms of using their privilege, their- if they have money- their class, their money privilege, their access to various media, how this is a form of privilege- and, you know, all the various networks that they have access to, from the colleges that they went to- somehow, they refuse to believe that they’re a social class that ought to be depicted in literature, except, unless it’s totally ironic. Right? And, you know, they do- and this is where hipster culture comes from- right? So, we have a hipster culture that, in a way, acknowledges that it exists as a class, and yet only ironically. Right?

Only- and you know, one of the least- one of the most unattractive things about the hipster phenomenon is its classing down, right? Its insistence on this form of kitsch where they wear trucker hats, you know, trucker hats, right? Where they pretend to be from a different social class, right? This is a very good example of this group of people refusing to acknowledge their class privilege. And, you know, so- to get back to the book- the sad literary young men are a social class- they ought to be written about- they ought to be studied. And I don’t- and, surprisingly, you would think everybody would be writing about them ‘cause we’re all in it, and surprisingly little seems to be written about it. And I think, you know- I also think- I also hope that the book is pretty honest about the way these people behave, and how badly they behave.

I think we have a fair amount of literature that is, that deals with men behaving badly. But the men are often depicted as total cads, total low-lifes, total losers. These guys are more complicated than that, you know? They are capable of being very sweet and sort of supportive and nice, and then also not so nice.

\r\n

Recorded: 3/18/08

\r\n

 

It started as a bunch of stories, Gessen says.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less