If Andrew Sullivan ever inaugurated a Leon Wieseltier Award, which would be given for writing that takes liberties with the tone of moral-cultural outrage to the point of cheapening the actual experience of moral-cultural outrage or at least confusing lots of people about why get all morally-culturally outraged about this thing that only the award-winning writer seems to have the exquisite delicateness of sensibility and stores of obscure outrage-power to find worthy of anything besides a passing shrug if they even notice it at all, written from the barrage-of-purple-phrases submovement of the perplexing outrage school, I think only Leon Wieseltier would ever win it. He has a Diarist in TNR every two weeks now. Who else could compete?
Wieseltier, responding to Gerald Marzorati’s use of the phrase “Urban Modern” and some PRish gibberish to describe The New York Times Magazine, which Marzorati edits and which Wieseltier comes close to admitting is a lot better than it used to be, lets loose a great sputter of coffee droplets. The outrage is sustained over a whole diarist, which almost makes me want to get outraged about how there has to be something more important to get outraged about, but I’ll pick this bit out.
I understand that The New York Times Magazine is not Mind, and it is certainly less pornographic about luxury than it used to be, though this may have more to do with budgets than with sensibilities; but all this jolly vacuity, this strident insistence upon silliness, this elevation of little things into big things, this insouciant defense of slackening (how else defend it?), gets me down.
There is only so much trivialization that a mind can withstand before it loses its capacity for judgment, its existential competence. Does Marzorati believe that America is suffering from a surfeit of seriousness? Is he fearful about the fate of fun? But it is possible, I swear, to be heavy and hilarious. Urban Modern is neither.
In classic Wieseltier fashion, he pushes his impressive counterexample so hard into impressiveness that it stops being exemplary. Mind? An academic philosophy journal? Professors writing articles about rules of reference would hardly seem to embody the (worthy) ideal of seriousness and striving that Leon is (endangering by so hysterically) defending.
There’s more, like I said, but all I’d like to point out is that Wieseltier isn’t talking about the Magazine itself, which like I said Wieseltier seems to think has undergone some improvements and which I think has undergone lots of improvements, under Marzorati’s editorship, he’s talking about something Marzorati said about the magazine, in response to queries by reader-fans in a fairly obvious marketing mode, in a chat. Existential competence, he sez.