It's hard to argue that we're living in an era of anti-intellectualism; to catalog the evidence of this would be a depressing voyage into superficial mediocrity. One needs only a sidelong glance at our commander in chief to be reminded of our national celebration of faux-populist Philistinism.
This collective suspension of critical thinking is an issue close to the heart of n+1, a meaty, biannual magazine based out of New York. The debut issue of n+1, published in the fall of '04, opened with a now-famous takedown of America's leading cultural magazines; their critiques provided readers with a negative definition of n+1's mission. Among the charges: The New Republic "lets authority fill the place of thinking"; McSweeney's created a "regressive avant-garde" with a "juvenile, faux-naïf" tone; and the Weekly Standard hawks a confusing but "determined sense of aggrieved entitlement."
But far from settling into the role of cultural sniper, n+1 rises to its own challenges: The magazine isn't one for celebrity gossip or fluffy CD reviews, but neither is it a stuffy, joyless journal. With a decidedly anti-academic tone, n+1 raises the banner, as the New York Times put it, "of creative enthusiasm and intellectual engagement."
(Speaking of anti-academic, one of n+1's recent projects is a pocket-sized publication called What We Should Have Known, an engaging critique of the adverse effects that collegiate influence can have on impressionable minds. N+1 is making WWSHK free to all college freshmen and 18-year-olds.)
This weekend, n+1 Editors Keith Gessen and Chad Harbach will be in Portland for two events, including a launch party for n+1 #6. Highlights from the new issue include a sharp editorial about the rapidly tightening artistic hype cycle; the first English translation of a Russian poet who promises that "Literature Will Be Tested"; and a piercing essay by Wesley Yang about race, social competition, and school shooters.
People singularly devoted to the lowbrow, snarky, and flippant should look elsewhere. In its stead, n+1 provides a provocative antidote to those cultural symptoms—one that is resoundingly more nourishing (and palatable) than the frivolity it sets itself against.