What I’ve Been Reading – McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 31

Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old forms, unearthed.

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 31The title page of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 31, promises a lot. Don’t worry. It delivers. Offering a peek into the past, and serving as both a historical overview and a retelling through parody and mimicry, Issue 31 takes long lost literary styles – the Socratic Dialogue, the Whore Dialogue, the Pantoum, the Biji, etc. – and compiles both a classic example and a modern retelling.

What I’ve read:

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 31 – Dave Eggers (editor)

It’s this pairing of old and new – and, in turn, the differences and similarities therein – that makes Issue 31 so wonderful. I wouldn’t know a Socratic dialogue from a Shakespeare play if it wasn’t for the example (in this case, THE example: Plato’s Republic). The red text in the margins shows historical references while being unobtrusive enough to ignore in cases of rapt attention.

That so many authors (the list includes McSweeney’s regulars like Douglas Coupland, Dan Liebert and Joel Brouwer, and newcomers like Okkervil River’s Will Sheff) can tackle so many lost texts – and do it in a way that’s both true to the form while still holding strong to the McSweeney’s style – is a testament to the writers the series brings in.

But let’s face it: that anyone could spend time mastering the art of these lost texts (Douglas Coupland’s biji of a videographer’s disastrous work trip shooting for Survivor is fantastic, as is David Thomson’s Socratic dialogue on the #1 movie of all time between Charlie Chaplin, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Susan Sontag and Ernest Hemingway) while I struggle to master the more banal acts of language is both inspiring and a little dispiriting.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe I’m supposed to be writing in haiku, and I never realized it.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 22nd, 2009