U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Viva la Baffler!

Superb news. A great little magazine, previously defunct, lives again–The Baffler is back! And even better news for our little corner of the world: American intellectual historian John Summers, author of the excellent collection of essays, Every Fury on Earth, takes over from Thomas Frank as editor. For details, check out this BookForum story. A snapshot:

In January 2010 The Baffler, the influential Chicago-based culture and politics journal cofounded by Thomas Frank in 1988, put out an impressive new issue, its first in three years. George Packer heralded the journal’s return in the New Yorker, writing that it was “a perfect moment for The Baffler’s kind of cultural criticism to be revived.” But the revival was lamentably brief. Despite the issue’s high quality and success—three Pushcart nominations, two book contracts born from pieces in the magazine—no follow-up emerged. By the fall of 2010, Frank was looking for a successor.

Fans of the Baffler style in American politics, rejoice. Frank has selected the bold critic, editor, and fellow history Ph.D. John Summers to head a revamped Baffler. Frank explains the decision: “We chose John Summers because he has a Baffleresque attitude, by which I mean he writes with an impressive ferocity about the cultural issues that have always interested us.” Summers has purchased the journal, moved it to Cambridge, and will employ Frank to continue as an editor and contributor.

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  1. I look forward to seeing what comes of this (and wonder whether they’ll honor what remains of my subscription to THE BAFFLER).

    I don’t know Summers, but can’t say I was very impressed by the article that Marshall Poe linked to in the piece on Every Fury on Earth that Andrew links above. Its thesis–that Harvard suffers from grade inflation and that too many Harvard students are entitled, privileged sons and daughters of the nation’s financial elite–should be news to positively nobody. And Summers’s version of this critique is very long on crude stereotyping and rather short on nuance or larger social analysis. Compare and contrast with, say, Walter Benn Michaels’s “The Neoliberal Imagination” from Issue no. 3 of n+1 (not, unfortunately, available online), which offered a far more fair, and acute, analysis of Harvard’s lack of social diversity. (Full disclosure: my undergraduate degree is in Social Studies from Harvard, though I was a student long before Summers taught in the program).

  2. I wouldn’t count on getting that issue. I was still owed one when the 2010 issue came out. Still haven’t seen it. “Subscriber services” was never the journal’s strong suit.

  3. Ben: I sort of like Summer’s populist criticisms of elite academia, but as someone who earned my BA from a relatively unknown state university out west, I confess to doing so out of a bit of schadenfreude. Certainly I know plenty of good people hailing from Harvard, you being a case in point. Try Summers’s more recent article critical of American higher education and let me know what you think.

    In any case, the intellectual history essays in “Every Fury” were my favorites, especially on Noam Chomsky, James Agee, and C. Wright Mills. I peer reviewed an essay Summers wrote on Mills a few years ago and it was fantastic. He’s been working on a Mills biography for some time and I anxiously anticipate it. The Geary book is excellent, but I think Mills is worthy of a longer, more exploratory biography, which the Summers book promises to be–that is, if he finds time to finish it while editing The Baffler.

    In short, I think The Baffler Redux is in capable hands. Only time will tell if it lives up to my lofty expectations (and manages its subscriptions better!)

  4. Viva la Baffler, indeed! I hope the mails get my issue to Monmouth.

    BTW: How did I miss this organization called “New Books in History”? For shame. I’m now a FB follower.

    Ben: I’m a big fan of Walter Benn Michaels (a history-related essay by him appeared in last year’s Baffler). – TL

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