Tim Carmody has a PhD in Comparative Literature

An open letter to The Globe and Mail’s Russell Smith, who really ought to use Google every now and then. This is going to be relevant to, like, four people.

Hi Russell,

Your latest column on writing? It is not the best thing you’ve ever written.

I’m talking about this one, where you say that criticism of Eggers and Franzen is “lining up on predictable sides”.

You say this right after you lead in with the idea that “the kind of writer one might have expected to revere Eggers is appearing before the people’s tribunals to denounce him” so already, we’re on kind of shaky ground, picking-sides-wise. Are these denouncements predictable or completely surprising? Who knows! Bring on the traffic from both Gladwellian counterintuitivity and comfortable “kids off my lawn” curmudgeonliness, am I right? Gotta get those page views up, especially as they lead to subscriptions. Gotta make that money.

Sorry, I got off track and may have made some unwarranted claims about your desires and motivations. Not that you’d object, surely. You’re able to discern a man’s taste based on a misreading of a single brazen article. “It’s pretty clear which kind of writing Carmody himself would choose,” you write. “Enough with the fanciful tales, back to facts and figures!”

Not to introduce complicating factors into the narrative you’ve nicely spun for yourself about predictable lines in a culture war, but I thought you’d appreciate this link to Tim’s work as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. I found it on the first page of Google search results for “Tim Carmody”. In it, he describes a love for such noted factnfigure-smiths as Borges, Pound, Proust, & Duchamp.

Why am I picking on you about this?

Because if we’re going to have intelligent adult discussions about literature, they need to be had with room for nuance and complication.

And while it is perhaps laudable that Eggers would take up the task of satirizing start-up culture having “done no research on any actual technology companies — the arrogance, for a novelist, to make things up”—it is pretty fucking weaksauce to mischaracterize another columnist by suggesting they are are the opposite of who they are.

You, sir, are not a novelist so you don’t get to just make stuff up about the people you are writing about. (In this context, I mean—I see from Wikipedia that you are indeed a novelist and congratulations to you on your success in that arena.) In your rush to draw tired old battle lines between straw figures, you gave up a chance to engage with a much more interesting discussion about the moral place of literature in a time when business self-help manuals are ascendant.

It is pretty clear which kind of writing Carmody prefers, and you got it wrong. Go back and read his column with that in mind. You might learn a thing. Then, should your curiosity get the better of you, take a look at his Bookfuturist Manifesto (if you lose the link it’s also on the first page of “Tim Carmody” results in Google).

‘Bookfuturism’ was coined by Joanne McNeil, another critic of Eggers’ book who is (amazingly!) also a lover of literature. Tim and Joanne and a galaxy of other deeply networked humans are thinking very hard about the form and content of books and stories. Those collisions of “innovative social thinking and innovative technique” that you seek? They’re seeking them too.

They could be your allies if you’d stop for a minute and pay attention.

Yours very truly,

Tim Maly

cc photo by gfairchild

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