Your New Boyfriend: This Terrible Novelist Who Couldn't Get Published Because Sexism Against Men.
Every so often on this here internet, we get a hate read that is so perfect, that so aptly encapsulates a particular form of douchebaggery that we all must collectively gasp at it's awfulness and revel in the general repulsiveness of the arrogant human being so lacking in self-awareness that they actually thought it would be a good idea to write such a thing. Today, I bring you such a hate read -- Matthew Binder's A Glimpse Into the Ideological Monoculture of Literary New York.
And yes, it's actually worse than it sounds, if that is possible.
Matthew Binder is a "novelist." He wrote a novel. And unlike every other aspiring novelist on earth, he did not immediately get published by a fancy publishing house, skyrocketing him to fame and worldwide adoration. Why? Because he is a white man. In an essay for Quillette, the premier online destination for people who are not fun at parties, Binder details the horror of a New York City literary scene filled with liberals and publishers who did not want to publish his book and asked him to leave parties because he was being a jackass.
It is, I think, the worst thing I have ever read in my life. It is transcendently bad. If I were to write a satire of an entitled, Bret Easton Ellis wannabe male writer who is not actually very good at writing but who believes himself to be the second coming of Hemingway, it would be nowhere near this perfect. Every sentence is a gift, gently reminding the reader that Matthew Binder is every obnoxious man they ever shared a creative writing class with.
As Quillette writer Gabriel Scorgie noted recently, it's become difficult for beginning writers to get book contracts. But I dove in, nonetheless.
It has never not been difficult for beginning writers to get book contracts. Getting a book contract is a notoriously hard thing to do! Who gets into writing -- or any art form -- and doesn't expect to have half of their life be rejection? Is the term "starving artist" unknown to him? If anything, it's a hell of a lot easier to publish a book than it ever has been. There are small presses everywhere, not to mention the fact that it is now pretty easy to self-publish a book.
He imagines that in a different time, before the world started being so sexist towards white men, that he would have never had such trouble publishing his novel.
Henry David Thoreau didn't get recognized until decades after he died, and was only able to get two books published in his lifetime. Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive. Emily Dickinson only published seven poems before she died. Neither Kafka nor Poe were celebrated until after they died. But Matthew Binder? Matthew Binder is better than all of them and deserves his acclaim for his bad writing right now, please and thank you.
At the time, I was living in Albuquerque, NM, working for a solar energy company where my job prospects didn't seem particularly bright. A day after taking inspiration from a 2015 episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown about Budapest, I tendered my resignation and bought a one-way ticket for Hungary, figuring that this would be a good place to be an author.
HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE THIS GUY ALREADY? Who does this? People who are not that good at writing but have a lot of money and yet have dreams of living that 20th century bohemian writer life, I guess.
So yeah. He goes to Budapest to write a novel. A novel about a futuristic society where robots do all of the work and it is bad. Wow! What an incredibly original idea! Surely, no one has thought of this before.
I wrote my novel, eventually titled The Absolved, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, which I followed from overseas. And so politics naturally seeped into the plot. In the book, a fringe populist candidate campaigns on a Luddite agenda, inciting voters to rise up against "the Divine Rights of Machines." Many of the same issues that troubled supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—including a lack of meaningful employment, and wage stagnation—still plague Americans in 2036. But now, they've gone beyond demagoguing foreigners and immigrants, and are going after machines.
These were not issues that troubled supporters of Donald Trump. Also that is not what demagoguing means?
The main character in this, the Great American Novel, is a white "anti-hero" named Henri -- a doctor on the verge of losing his job to robots, with no idea how to talk like a normal human being.
Considering himself one of "destiny's elect," Henri complains to his wife after she's enrolled their son in Sunday School: "It was a long time ago in this country that we tore God from his pedestal, and replaced him not with Satan and his sword, but with a robot capable of teaching itself new skills, completing tasks perfectly and seamlessly, without ever getting tired or complaining."
Oh yes, it is very hard to see how any publisher would have ever passed this up.
So anyway, dude runs out of money in Budapest and moves to New York City to set the literary world aflame:
And like every other earnest, ambitious young writer, I tried to immerse myself in New York's literary scene. I attended readings, parties and book launches—whatever I could do to make inroads. True, I'd heard warnings about the political correctness that pervades this world. But that didn't trouble me: It's not as if my own politics are particularly right-wing.
BREAKING NEWS: Artists tend to be liberal. Who would have thought?
It was because of this political correctness, you will see, that Matthew Binder did not get the reception he thought he so deserved. Not only did he not big publishing contract, but also the literary scene was filled with people whose political viewpoints he did not agree with.
This story ends with a win. My book is being published—even if, like most other writers, I would have liked a fatter contract with wider distribution. But despite that, there is something about my experience among New York's literati that's left a bad taste in my mouth. For all the predictable speechifying about "diversity" that I heard at cocktail parties and literary events, I became struck by just how politically monolithic this scene really is. It's not just that writers and editors have to be PC when it comes to their books and their public pronouncements: There also seems to be a crushing uniformity in regard to their privately held viewpoints.
He wandered from party to party, telling people that they were wrong, and yet somehow they stubbornly refused to be dazzled. At one such party, he was surrounded by people who agreed that it was nice of Toronto to offer sex-segregated swimming times at pools for observant Muslims who would prefer that -- something which is also done in some areas to accommodate Orthodox Jews who would like to swim.
My efforts to play contrarian did not meet with success—especially when I suggested that encouraging the segregation of Muslim women might be seen in a very different light if the policy had been championed by, say, Mike Pence or Donald Trump. When I cut to the chase and asked why no one at the table seemed to feel aggrieved for women suffering under Islamic oppression, voices were raised and, well, I may or may not have been asked to leave. There were other experiences like this, and I learned to hold my tongue.
If things were the way they were supposed to be, rather than suggesting to Matthew Binder that perhaps forcing someone to do a thing is different than them voluntarily doing a thing, everyone at the table would have applauded his efforts to play contrarian, and also agreed that they are all hypocrites while hanging their heads in shame. He would have been the toast of the New York lit scene and hailed widely for opening everyone's eyes to new and fascinating ideas that they had surely never considered or thought of before. Probably they had never even met a man like Matthew Binder, except for all the men they had met who were exactly like Matthew Binder. You would think these people, who so love diversity, would be thrilled by the refreshing newness of a white man willing to play devil's advocate.
Instead, he was asked to leave.
Worse though, than not being popular at parties, was the fact that several publishers did not want to publish his novel. Can you imagine? He wrote a book -- with pages and words and everything -- and was rejected by at least four publishers with the gall to tell him that they did not think his book was saleable. Why? Because white men are not allowed to write books anymore, dontcha know.
An agent (who, to his credit, read my manuscript off the slush pile) scolded me for "bigotry" because the imagined world of 2036 has witnessed a successful Muslim insurrection in France. Another accused me of "misogyny" because the self-absorbed Henri has become less attracted to his aging wife. A third told me that The Absolved was a "terrific read," but that she couldn't represent the book because of its "distinctively male voice." She went on to explain that the fiction-buying audience is mostly female (which I will concede is accurate) and that the book wouldn't "resonate" with this demographic. Whether or not that is true, it furthered the sense that my book wasn't being cold-shouldered so much for what it was, as who the author was.
Could it be that people were just trying to let him down easy rather than tell him directly that his book sucked? No, not a chance. I mean, just look at the opening sentences of his novel! Clearly, this man is a literary genius.
I've just suffered an accident while driving to meet Taylor, an entirely lovely woman who's not my wife. It's nothing serious—the accident, that is—just a crumpled fender and a sore elbow from the impact… more of a nuisance than anything else. I am, after all, a busy man on a tight schedule.
Clearly, it is very hard for white men to get published these days.
Look! Only FOUR WHITE DUDES in the top five New York Times bestsellers this week.
Binder has a theory on why every publisher in New York was not fighting over who got the honor of publishing his novel that he wrote. Publishers today are just too poor to appreciate his brilliance:
What accounts for this identity-obsessed approach to publishing? Again, Scorgie's analysis is instructive. Before New York entered its new finance-oriented gilded age, the publishing industry ranked high as a career path among upwardly mobile intellectuals. Working in the industry carried cultural cachet, as tech does today. Some of the best and brightest of past generations made their life's work in New York offices piled high with manuscripts. But as the city evolved and the industry grew more cash-strapped, the type of intellectual who once found gainful employment in publishing left for other fields.
Yes. That's the ticket.
He then goes on and on about how most of the country does not agree with the "progressive activist" views subscribed to by all the writers and editors who thought his book was bad, which surely means that the literature industry is DOOMED. Or something. Which, again, ignores the fact that artists have literally always been more liberal than the rest of the population.
Does Binder's protagonist, Henri, have something to say about this? You bet he does!
In The Absolved, my protagonist, Henri, states: "Sometimes, when I'm made to suffer through someone parroting the drivel that has become the zeitgeist, I wonder if I should disappear into the desert, silence surely being preferable not only to stupidity but unanimity, as well."
I'm not going to take Henri's advice, as I still think the search for truth is a path worth taking. But if you're wondering why so many of the literary books that are now being published cater to just one narrow sliver of the market, I think my experience over the last two years qualifies as instructive.
OR YOUR BOOK WAS JUST VERY, VERY BAD AND YOU ARE NOT FUN AT PARTIES. One of those two things!
The comment section, naturally, is filled with other aggrieved white men who are mad that the world doesn't cater to them as much as they think it ought to -- at least one of whom is blaming George Soros.
Soros and the Rothschilds read Fahrenheit 451 and thought they could do one better, control the literary process from within. Stifle that which would hamper the new social engineering agenda of beta cuckoldry and state subservience.
This is already so long because of the fisking... BUT MY GOD. My god. I truly cannot fathom a world where I feel this goddamned entitled to acclaim. I cannot imagine a world wherein I go around acting like an asshole and then get surprised that people don't like me. I cannot imagine concocting such a strained conspiracy for why people don't like me or my work. I am constantly amazed and grateful and astounded that anyone reads anything I write or tolerates my presence anywhere. I have been rejected myriad times, and I just keep throwing shit up on the wall to see if something sticks, and sometimes it does, and that is what being a writer is.
I shall leave you with the wise words of my dear friend Sarah Hagi, which seem extremely appropriate here:
DAILY PRAYER TO COMBAT IMPOSTOR SYNDROME: God give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude— Sarah Hagi (@Sarah Hagi) 1421864567.0
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse