January 3, 2011
Sam Anderson moves to New York Times to battle "iPocalypse"
by Melville House
Sam Anderson has left his position as New York Magazine book critic to join the staff at The New York Times Magazine. In 2009, in an interview with The Rumpus, he described his job at NYMag as “an ideal, awesome job,” but apparently things just got idealer and awesomer.
I don’t care where Anderson works, as long as he continues to write reviews with as much spirit, gusto, and playful intelligence as in his 2009 review of William T. Vollmann’s Imperial:
Imperial is like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee’s cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote séance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau’s great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac. With photographs by Dorothea Lange.
On December 31st, Anderson kicked off his new gig at The Times with a call-t0-arms for critics to prove their worth and value in a culture “addicted on the dopamine-receptor level, to a moment-by-moment experience of life that’s defined by a behavior sometimes referred to as ‘time slicing'” In the face of this “iPocalypse, whatever” Anderson argues that critics…
…have to work harder to justify our presence on the page, our consumption of readers’ increasingly precious attentional units. This means writing with more energy, more art, more conviction, more excitement and a deeper sense of personal investment. It means returning to fundamental questions: What is literature? Why do we read it at all? What happens if we don’t? The contemporary critic has to be an evangelist — implicitly or explicitly — not just for a particular book or author, but for literary experience itself.
Anderson concludes by arguing that, with their ability to “amplify” “translate” and “change” texts and textual meaning, critics have an opportunity to be some of the most significant players in our new media-saturated reality: “In the grand game of intertextuality — which is, after all, the dominant and defining game of the Internet era — critics are not just referees: they’re equal players.”