Enter the Snark

in believer, Dave Eggers, postirony, The Believer, Wipe That Smirk Off Your Face

What should the critic of postironic fiction (i.e., me) make of this American Scholar article by Melvin Jules Bukiet?

You can see it from Manhattan if you look carefully across the East River. You can even go there if you follow a young couple (he’s got a goatee and she has a ponytail) onto the F train. But if you’re not blessed to reside within walking distance of Prospect Park, you can always read about Brooklyn in the work of the writers who live there or find inspiration there. Brooklyn principles can be found anywhere that young people gather to share their search for love and meaning, a search that they alone are qualified to pursue by virtue of their pristine vision of the deep oneness of things. Whereas physical danger or emotional grief leaves most people lonely or ruined or dead, they triumph over adversity.

To achieve this miracle, certain writers produce Brooklyn Books of Wonder. Take mawkish self-indulgence, add a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia, season with magic realism, stir in a complacency of faith, and you’ve got wondrousness. The only thing that’s more wondrous than the BBoW narratives themselves is the vanity of the authors who deliver their epistles from Fort Greene with mock-naïve astonishment, as if saying: “I can’t really believe I’m writing this. And it’s such an honor that you’re reading it.” Actually, they’re as vain and mercenary as anyone else, but they mask these less endearing traits under the smiley façade of an illusory Eden they’ve recreated in the low-rise borough across the water from corrupt Manhattan.

I can’t say that there is much of substance to agree with or critique here. This is a piece about taste. It is a salvo in a war of taste, of sensibility, of ethos. Bracketing my own tastes, I would point out that Bukiet becomes in his essay precisely the maligned figure the postironists themselves call “The Snark.” Heidi Julavits sought to preemptively foreclose the legitimacy this critical stance in relation to the Brooklynite writers in her inaugural essay of The Believer.

Beyond these preliminary thoughts, I don’t much to say about Bukiet’s article, not yet anyway. I have to reflect some more on it, but it will inevitably find its way into my chapter on the figure of the “the believer,” which as I’ve mentioned before analyzes Eggers’s memoir, the publications he subsequently founded, and the Left Behind evangelical series, among other believer-related things.