McSweeney's postirony

Granta v. McSweeney’s

I received a link to this Times article today. A few interesting quotes:

The McSweeney’s author is not above playing language games or creating work that is aware of its artificiality, although he is also careful not to let this playfulness detract from the work’s emotional impact. There is by no means a house style, but there is something that might be called the McSweeney’s tone: a buzzing, mischievous hipness, wrapped around a core of sentiment and hopefulness.

This seems to me pretty much the definition of postirony, although the question of “house style” is interesting and ambiguous. It seems clear enough that there is no official style among McSweeney’s-affiliated writers. Their writers have a variety of perspectives and literary commitments, but there does seem to be some family resemblance born of self-selection and, possibly, social-network effects. Writer and publishing venue often converge subtly, in ways that are hard to document.

Another quote:

Anyone familiar with the publishing world understands that it is in the process of being irrevocably damaged by corporate owners who are crowding out the merely excellent in favour of the readily saleable; who are glad to put respected “mid-list” authors out to pasture so they can focus on publishing meretricious, photogenic newcomers.

I wonder about this claim. McSweeney’s publishes and supports some excellent so-called mid-list authors, but the big names associated with the network are very successful. Eggers, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, among others, have done quite well. They’re readily saleable, not to mention photogenic.

Which isn’t to condemn their success–who wouldn’t want to be successful?–but rather to suggest that the dividing line between what Amidon calls McSweeney’s “opposition to the corporate model” and corporate publishing is very thin indeed. In fact, we might think of McSweeney’s as doing something like nonprofit R&D for the big corporate publishers. They identify talent and, on the strength of their brand, corporate publishers will often publish that talent. If McSweeney’s disappeared tomorrow, a new venue would have to be found–or invented–to serve exactly the same function.