How to Be Ourselves

Stefan Collini

  • Against Everything: On Dishonest Times by Mark Greif
    Verso, 304 pp, £16.99, September 2016, ISBN 978 1 78478 592 5

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 about culture has become the exclusive province of bullies, reactionaries and Englishmen’. The prominence of a number of male English writers in the leading US organs of opinion had been remarked elsewhere, but here that fact was turned, with an engaging exaggeration that became one of the journal’s hallmarks, into a symptom of wider cultural debility. Examined at all closely, the indictment starts to creak: if the writing is by ‘bullies’ and ‘reactionaries’ can it really be judged ‘serious’? And was n+1 making a nativist plea to nurture home-grown talent, or suggesting that English writers owed their relative success in US periodicals to the same causes that enabled bullies and reactionaries to dominate – did they, for example, appeal to a conservative nostalgia or benefit from an outdated deference? However construed, the claim, and the editorial as a whole, was clearly a declaration of radical intent, handsomely realised since in the new journal’s hard-hitting, stylish cultural criticism.

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[*] Pankaj Mishra reviewed The Age of the Crisis of Man in the LRB of 27 August 2015.