Jon Baskin on Ben Lerner and the Novel of Detachment


Ben Lerner

In his recent review of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (“Always Already Alienated,” The Nation) Jon Baskin explores themes of bad faith, fraudulence, and misanthropy in contemporary American fiction. Baskin’s prose is as precise as ever and his insights shine out. I dare say his review does the rare work of ‘raising and cheering’ us (à la Emerson’s American Scholar). Of course I encourage you to read the essay in full. At the risk of spoiling your dinner, I include the punchline below.

. . . Though they measure success by different criteria, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to adjudicate between the novel of detachment and other trends in contemporary literary fiction. I’m sure my preference is clear. “A wise and hardy physician will say,” wrote Emerson in his great essay “Experience,” “Come out of that, as the first condition of advice.” What Lerner calls “fraudulence” does not indicate the failure of modern society but the condition of its possibility. We show different parts of ourselves to different people; there is a gap between our inner lives and our public “performance”; at times, it is incumbent upon us to assume roles that may feel artificial to us, or to hide what we are feeling from those closest to us. So what? We have been acknowledging such facts for some time now; perhaps we are ready for an art that will accept them, and keep walking.

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