Mark Greif

Mark Greif is an editor of n+1 and teaches at the New School in New York.

Still Superior: Sex and Susan Sontag

Mark Greif, 12 February 2009

One of the most appealing things about Susan Sontag was that she didn’t ask to be liked. Other postwar American writers who cut the same sort of public figure pleaded with you to love their outsized faults, embrace their dumb enthusiasms, and cast in your lot with theirs through recounted divorces, nervous breakdowns, lusts. Sontag’s persona was not personal. It was superior....

Mad Men is an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better. We watch and know better about male chauvinism, homophobia, anti-semitism, workplace harassment, housewives’ depression, nutrition and smoking. We wait for the show’s advertising men or their secretaries and wives to make another gaffe for us to snigger over. ‘Have we ever hired any Jews?’ – ‘Not on my watch.’

Black and White Life: Ralph Ellison

Mark Greif, 1 November 2007

In 1955, Ralph Ellison took part in a roundtable discussion on the subject ‘What’s Wrong with the American Novel?’ I came across the transcript recently and it opened my eyes. The first speakers twitter along, blaming readers for the novel’s decline. Then Ellison speaks up, and blames one party only: ‘There has been a failure of writers.’ He indicts himself, along with the novelists and publishers sitting beside him. The others try to continue with their original lines of thought, but end up answering him instead. They lack the wit to prove him wrong. You feel Ellison’s tremendous intelligence; a certain haughtiness; and even, maybe, an undercurrent of anger, to which so many observers testified: ‘a continuous effort . . . to keep a lid on the volcanic parts of his personality’, as the writer Jervis Anderson once put it. ‘Don’t do violence to what I am saying,’ he warns one of the participants, a bit violently.

Don DeLillo’s new novel makes a direct but counterintuitive approach to the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. It is anti-sentimental: constructed in short episodes, it prohibits sympathy or tears. It is anti-grandiose: it retreats from the big pronouncements its peripheral characters try to make about terrorism, America, the West, the Middle East. It is...

Tinkering: Walt Disney

Mark Greif, 7 June 2007

At an early point in his career, probably no later than 1930, Walt Disney lost the ability to draw what he wanted his cartoon characters to look like or his animations to do. So he began to act his cartoons out. In story meetings with his growing staff of animators – some of whom he had trained in Los Angeles at his studio on Hyperion Avenue, others whom he’d poached from the great New York studios – Disney would get up, according to Neal Gabler’s new biography, enter his trance, and suddenly transform himself uninhibitedly into Mickey or Donald or an owl or an old hunting dog.

How to Be Ourselves: Mark Greif

Stefan Collini, 20 October 2016

When​ the American journal n+1 was launched in 2004, an editorial in the first number lamented the state of contemporary culture. We are living, it said, at ‘a time when serious writing...

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Mark Greif’s​ book is a bracingly ambitious attempt at a ‘philosophical history’ of the American mid-century, a chronological account of writers and their ideas. It begins in...

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