Voice of a Generation

by on Feb.20, 2010, under Books

The Millions proposes that Dave Eggers take over the editorship of the Paris Review from Phillip Gourevitch. My first thought was “what’s in it for Dave?” My guess, uninformed (McSweeney’s “doesn’t do numbers”) is that Eggers’s current gig has to have a wider circulation than the Review. The Millions has an answer, although it’s a kind a spinach prescription: they think that the editorship would force Eggers to finally get past his experiments in cute and forever side with the kinds of empathetic ventriloquism that runs through books like What is the What and Zeitoun.

This reportorial interest in the wider world is one that The Paris Review could nourish, even as it exposed Eggers to an even wider audience – one that might be less satisfied with his tics, and more demanding of writing in proportion with his enormous gifts.

I agree that this would be good spinach. A longer version of my abbreviated post Great Daves of the 90s would have had a similar hope for him.

Eggers’s innovation was a seemingly paradoxical blend of self-consciousness with generosity. At its best it uses a kind of non-corrosive irony to create a space for empathy. At its worst it becomes twee narcissism. N+1’s first Intellectual Situation called out the “Eggersards” for forming a “regressive avant-garde,” one which valued childhood above all other values. When Eggers’s valorization of children informs his literary good-citizen side, you get magic like 826 Valencia, a tutoring program that has spread from San Francisco across the country and trades on the cultish adoration for Eggers among the urban literate to produce an army of volunteers helping underprivileged youth with their writing homework and encouraging their creativity.

Helping actual children is a less exhaustible project than adopting childhood as an intellectual stance. An Eggers editorship of The Paris Review might reconcile the imagination and experimentation of the McSweeney’s empire with adulthood.

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