Wednesday, July 31, 2019

i think this magazine ... is bad

Hello Dear Readers,

This is erica, writing in the first person lowercase.

i used to love the Harper's cryptic and like Harper's magazine. i now think the magazine is bad. According to my records my paid issues have long since run out, but by virtue of having won the cryptic contest twice i seem to have a nebulous lifetime subscription.

Each month a new issue arrives and i grimace at what fresh hell awaits.

This month: a piece by Garris/n Keill/r. The guy who got fired for doing outercourse with his lady co-workers.

Wow. Bold to put his byline on the cover, i thought. Ok. Let's see what Mister Aw Shucks Prairie has to say.

i didn't get very far. The fourth paragraph was so excruciatingly "male novelist" that even in the context of detached speculative "this is what I might say if I were a novelist" it becomes parody:

The woman with auburn hair is writing what appears to be a poem on her iPad, and she looks like she’s new in town. If this were a novel, I’d say she’s waiting for an interview about a job she dreads being hired for, writing content for an electronics website for $700 a week, perhaps, and the poem is about the guy she lived with for too long who assumed the two of them would marry, but marriage is not an assumption, it’s an assertion, and she asserted herself one day and packed up and left him, though he was okay to her and she’s thirty-­five and all her friends have married, some of them twice, so here she is, thinking about the time she wasted waiting for the music to start, but still she feels a lyrical urge: I sit in the midst of the city and think, Thank you for cheap plane tickets and for my aunt’s college classmate’s apartment on Columbus Avenue and the cat who needs my care while the classmate is away on sabbatical. Thank you that nobody is asking me, “What’s wrong?” I have a right to be sad but all I can say is, Thank you, thank you that I am on the brink of something. Make it good. Surprise me. A person who begins a poem has her eye on the future. It’s not a good poem, but its existence is sufficient.
Was he actually reading over her shoulder? Ugh that's terrible. Mind your business, old man! But probably he was just inventing her bad poetry. Also bad.

Here is a much better characterization of male novelists:

"Garrison" isn't even his real name. It's Gary. What a dweeb.

If a person commits a pattern of sexual misconduct, do i believe that person should be shunned for life?

No. i do not believe that person should be shunned for life.

But i also believe that such misconduct disqualifies a person from going back to being a regular famous guy, a regular man of letters in a respected nationally syndicated publication. Make room for someone else.

Here are some other examples of why i think Harper's magazine is bad — not bad at being a magazine, but bad for the world:

July 2019 - William Vollman's cover story Keep Going North rhapsodized about the glittering beauty of razor wire — not once, but four times in the first couple paragraphs. He also wrote, "I told them that the razor wire disgusted me." No it didn't! i said out loud. The razor wire "glistened," the razor wire "preened like the fronds of a lordly palm tree," the razor wire shone "beautifully," such characterizations straight out of a class i took in college called Fascist Aesthetics. Some Leni Riefenstahl shit. Razor wire is designed to cut people apart. Razor wire is designed to destroy humans. Razor wire is not beautiful.

June 2019 - Another cover story: Is Poverty Necessary? by Marilynn Robinson. i didn't even read this one. Much like Edgar Cayce, the Sleeping Prophet, i could lay my hand on the coated paper and know that the answer would be, "yes. Yes [sigh] poverty is necessary for the greater good!" Any Dear Readers who actually read the piece are welcome to comment. Dear Reader Justin, who did read the piece, says the answer is “no.” And if so i withdraw this example as one of the reasons i think this magazine is bad!

February 2018 - Katie Roiphe was commissioned to write a contrarian piece on [hashtag] metoo. For those unfamiliar, Katie Roiphe made a name for herself in the 1990s by claiming, like Ann Coulter did, that campus date rape did not happen, at least not nearly at the rate that "Take Back the Night" feminism would have the public believe. So you can imagine what Roiphe'd have to say about entertainment industry-wide sexual harassment and abuse. Already the piece was set up to be bad. A Harper's fact-checker called Moira Donegan, the then-anonymous originator of the "Shitty Men in Media" spreadsheet. The fact-checker said the reason for the call was, "Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List." Thus, Donegan and others reasonably concluded that Roiphe's piece would have outed Donegan as the originator of the list. In response, Donegan bravely outed herself. Katie Roiphe insisted her piece would never have outed anyone. i read the piece as published and remember thinking it was very bad in terms of ideas. It didn't even have to expose a civilian to death threats, it was just bad on its own merits.

October 2015 - Randall Kennedy's cover piece, Lifting as We Climb: A progressive defense of respectability politics ... apparently with Cosby facing a prison sentence, Kennedy wanted to take up the mantle of elder community statesman telling young black men to pull their pants up. Most of the piece is Kennedy quoting very smart people and then unconvincingly responding, "no. That's wrong."

Anyway those are the examples i remember offa top. It's gotten to be where every new issue of Harper's i can expect there to be an article that makes the world worse.

So i don't do the puzzle anymore and i only read the magazine when i need to feel irritated so that i'm properly worked up before a writing session.

If you like the Harper's cryptic or the magazine, i support you in liking what you like. You can read this blog to feel irritated for like an improv scene or writing session or something.

i invite everyone else to unsubscribe from the magazine, or write to the editorial staff, or otherwise align value with action.


  1. Are you on hiatus again? The world needs the humor in these cryptics to come out because I'm pretty sure there are only several dozen who solve it every month. I would do it myself, except that you're wayyyyyyyyyyy better at it. Also, really, how else is someone going to notice that TREASON and SENATOR are anagrams of each other? Or learn cool new words like SYZYGY?

  2. Ugh! I just carefully read that you don’t solve the cryptic anymore. Huge bummer. I’ve had a similar reaction to The Atlantic and cancelled my subscription. Harper’s on the other hand still grabs me and I enjoy bouncing clues off my mom and spouse.

  3. Re “Is Poverty Necessary?” (The answer was no) It was one of the most fully cogent, and historically coherent, critiques of capitalism that I’ve read. Been meaning to go back and reread it.

    1. Ah, thank you!! i let my bias get too great a hold on me. i'll amend up top.

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