Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Not That McCoy, The Other One

What is it about literary feuds that fascinates us so much?  Is there something about the high/low dynamic that thrills us, that gives us a frisson of shock in an otherwise staid corner of the world?  Or is it just a chance to see our intellectual heroes from a new and not-necessarily-flattering angle?

Whatever the reason, the explosion of the long-simmering Dave/Sarang feud into public view has captivated the press, with the New York Review of Books calling it "the summer blockbuster for people who don't like summer blockbusters" and the New York Post blaring:  "LIT SNIT PITS WIT AGAINST WIT; CRITS HAVE FITS."  (This is not the duo's first encounter with the tabloid:  after the Post published pictures of Sarang holding court at his new clothing-optional nightclub, Dave suggested the headline "BRAINLESS MAN IN TOPLESS BAR.")

In truth, though, the brawls have been more salacious than edifying.  The latest flare-up started when Sarang ordered a "Dave's literary career" at the Algonquin.  When the bartender admitted he didn't know the recipe, Sarang responded that he didn't either, but he knew it was on the rocks.  Unfortunately, the famous "battle of wits" that resulted was a bit too literal for most people's taste:  Dave threw a wit beer in Sarang's face, and Sarang responded in kind.

It seems to be one of those cases in which the viciousness of the fight is exacerbated by the closeness of the combatants' views.  In fact, if anything Dave and Sarang have been allies in most of the big literary and political debates of the last two decades.  They both defended Ian McEwan against Alice Munro; they were both outraged when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's algorithmic novel This Sun of York was blackballed by the Pulitzer committee; they both wrote novels illustrating the folly of placing the school lunch program within the Department of Agriculture.  Both men signed the St. Louis Manifesto.

Perhaps a rapprochement is on the horizon.  However grudgingly, Dave has admitted that Sarang's latest effort, Actually, Paris Is Significantly Farther North Than Montreal, breaks new ground in experimental "obnoxious fiction."  And when he was recently asked to name the 21st century's "biggest intellectual culprits," Sarang declined to name Dave, instead focusing heavily on the Polish literary establishment.  But the big test will come when this year's Booker shortlist is announced:  both men are eligible under the new, relaxed requirements.  If only one of them is chosen, expect the fireworks to light up again.