How would you feel if I told you that a hack “appropriation artist”—Cory Arcangel, best known for founding a trashy clickbait site (BuzzFeed) notorious for propaganda and plagiarism—landed a book deal with a traditional publisher (Penguin) to reprint other people’s social media activity?
What if I told you that the whole point of this prep-school brat’s essentially plagiarized book was to ridicule working-class writers who included the phrase “working on my novel” in their tweets?
Now, what if I told you that an assistant editor at Harper’s had dedicated nearly 1600 words reviewing this smug lump of crap?
But … hold on, and put down the torches and pitch-forks … what if I told you that his brilliant conclusion was this:
What separates Arcangel, or Penguin, or whoever conceived this thing, from the authors of the tweets that provided the material, is that Arcangel and Penguin are in on a joke whose interpretation depends on class sophistication. The possessive pronoun in the phrase “working on my novel” is not, as the New Yorker’s Mark O’Connell reads it, an admirable expression of the struggle to “bring into fruition a particular opus that is theirs alone.” It’s just how you say it when you don’t know you’re not supposed to say it that way. “I’m working on a novel” is a fine statement to make at a New York literary party. “I’m working on my novel” is too sincere by half.
If these people want to spend their leisure time trying to produce something they probably won’t be able to sell, who can blame them? Arcangel’s leisure, in the case of this book, has failed to produce something meaningful, even if selling it isn’t his problem. But then, anything sells. To make an object worthy of your uncommodified hours, someone, somewhere, has to do some fucking work.
Amen, Jesse Barron.
It’s time our culture, and its business institutions like Penguin, stop indulging obnoxiously unclever, spoiled, bourgeois poseurs like Arcangel.