Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

The editorial content of McSweeney’s 28

The way McSweeney’s frame their issues is where a lot of my ideas come from, because it’s how they articulate their direction, what they are trying to do. There are other places this can be found, such as the website (though the information on issues there is usually a stripped-down version of what is already in the text itself, more commercially oriented, focused on giving buyers a basic idea of what the issue is about), interviews with the creators, and anthology introductions.

The editorial content for Issue 28 is printed on the inlay of the box that the 8 fable books are contained in.

The narrative of Issue 28 is provided by Jess Benjamin, an intern who proposed the fable idea at an editorial meeting. A quick blurb introduces her idea, and then she describes why she thinks the fable is relevant for contemporary readers.

[That McSweeney’s 28 was basically produced from an intern’s idea is fascinating. This happened in a previous issue, collaboration and inclusiveness, participation from people not long-term staff. Explore this idea more, in relation to how connect with audience.]

Jess Benjamin argues that the fable as a form of fiction is useful for moral instruction, suggesting ambiguity shouldn’t be the dominant mode. McSweeney’s (like in other issues, the Chabon one e.g.) reject their own dominant mode? Though perhaps this is less important than with the Chabon, because they are more ‘normal’ now.

The idea of McSweeney’s ‘rescuing’ a lost art is significant, that they represent themselves as nonmainstream, the protectors of a certain culture. Or as introducing new ways of looking at narrative forms.

More to be written.

Filed under: Uncategorized

The Thousands

I’ve done some writing today based on The Book and The Girl, and it’s proving quite useful. Teaching obligations meant I didn’t get to spend the full day on it as I would’ve liked, but feel like it’s something worth pursuing.

Just to test the waters, am picking another fable from McSweeney’s 28 and seeing if it can give me anything.

The Thousands, by Daniel Alarc√≥n, has a collective third-person narrative voice, apparently standing for ‘The Thousands’. Immediately, this is like McSweeney’s. Their editorial pages use a collective ‘we’, though the effect of this is probably different. The fable seems to actually be narrated by a collective, to represent everyone, whereas the McSweeney’s voice is more of a pretense at collectiveness, and is more masking an individual voice with a personification of the journal, of its McSweeney’sness.

There is some analogue with the McSweeney’s project in the narrative, in the thousands of people putting together a new city from the scraps of the old. McSweeney’s was originally a journal of orphaned literature. Things that were rejected elsewhere. And though that soon changed, when people started to write specifically for them, it is still a home for things that don’t fit elsewhere. The message of The Thousands seems to be on this line, too.

What else? The defiance of the thousands, their rejection by the city, but then eventually the city/government give in and let them live in peace. Reading McSweeney’s subculturally, as representing a minority but in such a way that it becomes powerful, while still retaining its characteristics that made it special as a minority.


Filed under: fables, mcsweeneys, ,

The Book and the Girl

Story by Brian Evenson.

Summary: Girl has a book. Nuclear holocaust happens. Girl takes book with her when escaping. Girl remakes book as various practical items she needs on journey: shoes, food, blanket. Book becomes so fragmented it cannot help when something bad happens at the end.

How can I use this for a narrative about McSweeney’s?

There’s an obvious possibility in the recycling of the book as objects. McSweeney’s does a lot with finding new uses for the book, or giving the book a new form. The girl as the ideal reader of McSweeney’s, it is her desire that shapes the form of the book.

McSweeney’s/The Book as embodying a two-way relationship, responding to the demands/need of its reader(s). By analysing McSweeney’s we could therefore see what its readers want. Or a representation of what the creators of McSweeney’s think its readers want. The Book in the fable as a perfected version of this relationship, anticipating the desires of The Girl, though The Book has no way of articulating these, communicating these to The Girl. McSweeney’s does have the facility, the capacity, to communicate with their reader.

The Girl as a suffering reader. Minority, subcultural.

The ending as pessimistic for the fate of McSweeney’s?

This bird’s got legs! Try the exercise with more fables tomorrow, but like this one.

Filed under: fables, mcsweeneys, , ,

New approaches

To spark new and better writing, thinking of different ways to get into McSweeney’s.

Just finished reading McSweeney’s 28, did it fully of one evening. It’s eight short fables, so not surprising I managed it, but significant nonetheless. Can I use any of the fables as allegories for something about McSweeney’s?

The fables:

  • The Book and the Girl
  • LaKeisha and the Dirty Girl
  • The Guy Who Kept Meeting Himself
  • Poor Little Egg-Boy Hatched in a Shul
  • The Thousands
  • Two Free Men
  • The Box
  • Virgil Walker

Will return to this idea, there is definitely something possible, anything is possible with language, it’s just seeing if I’m capable of it and if it takes me somewhere interesting.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Three days missed already; brief website thoughts

Thinking about how McSweeney’s uses the space on their website. When you first open the page, you get:

  • Title header (with varying ‘Timothy McSweeney is…’ text)
  • Line illustration of a ‘quirky’ (need better language for this) object
  • A link to the newest content on the site
  • Links to the 826 McSweeney’s literacy foundations
  • Two political links related to Eggers’ novel What is the What
  • Two links to other McSweeney’s ventures and a link to a human rights foundation
  • Link to McSweeney’s store
  • Link to news feed source
  • Topical item usually relating to items on sale in the McSweeney’s store

Interesting that just making a list makes it easier for me to think about the McSweeney’s website. How I represent McSweeney’s is crucial, it can put ideas into a different shape, but then that’s a perhaps unhelpful way of representing my thought processes. I like to talk about ‘pushing ideas around in my head’, but I think the metaphors I use should involve more friction, because it often feels like it’s when I’m working with the same subject, it’s when I move things around that suddenly new ways of thinking emerge. Or sometimes I feel like it’s more like a tumble drier, and things get shoved around erratically until they make sense, without me realising that this was necessarily what I wanted to arrive at. Hm, but the analogy with tumble drying doesn’t really make sense, then.

Anyway, there is a stability, a consistency about the McSweeney’s website. There’s the danger that this gets mistaken for staidness, for being unchanging, but they don’t need to do anything fancy with their aesthetic to attract readers. (Dave Eggers said he wanted a website that worked with his computer when it was set up just before the turn of the century, one he could just update in half an hour. This principle has remained the governing policy of the website.) The content does all the work for them, and I should explore digg/delicious/etc to see how this works in reality. People come to the site from being emailed or sent facebook links to a particularly funny article. It’s unlikely they get a lot of random traffic from Google, but I’m sure a lot of people hear ‘McSweeney’s’ and just Google it, so have to consider how accommodating the website is for these visitors? There is a concession to helping people navigate in red/black dots for new/kind-of-new content, but it’s not like there is a easy-to-navigate map of what content has been produced when.

What else? The commercial stuff is interesting, but not incredibly so. The emails McSweeney’s send out involve a lot of repetition of shilling their products, might get into the language of this at some point. How there is a good style behind it, a rhetoric that doesn’t suffer from the same artificiality of typical marketing language, but by not varying their style, it ends up making the same mistake? The website usually directs people to sale products and new offers, so there is a case for them being helpful and directing people to things they want to buy, don’t overdo the anticapitalist schtick, there are positives in capitalism.

For now, moving to my laptop to write about zines for my ‘proper’ work.

Filed under: mcsweeneys, , ,

About Me:

My name is Kevin O'Neill and I am in the fifth year of a part-time PhD in the English Department of Goldsmiths, London, UK. I used to teach undergrad classes there (now: not, because there are other PhD students who need teaching experience). I work (most of the time) in the Oxfam shop in Dalston because few people get paid to do humanities PhDs.

My research centres around the literary journal McSweeney's. My interest is developing into what McSweeney's tells us about two separate (but I guess related) fields: 1) literary institutions 2) American cultural production, more broadly. This blog was initially about my PhD but is now a more general thinking space.

See right for my flickr/twitter/delicious feeds, then below for other versions of me.

Email is looceefir on gmail.


October 2008
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