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An Interview with John Summers of The Baffler

The Baffler‘s editor-in-chief John Summers, with his wife Anna, the journal’s literary editor

OLM: Congratulations on resurrecting The Baffler! Can you tell us a little about your motivation for doing that?

JS: I’m in it for the money and the drugs. In left-wing periodicals the market opportunities for growth are infinite, there’s no accountability, and I can sleep till noon.

OLM: Magazine readership in the U.S. is holding steady but the print industry is changing radically-so would you characterize your new Baffler as a mark of confidence or a leap of faith?

JS: Both, with a nod to the as-if philosophy handed down by our anarchist ancestors, William James and John Dewey, who taught that by acting as if the world we wanted were true, then we help make it so. The as-if philosophy does require a grudging respect for reality, and a capacity to discriminate between hope and fantasy. But it’s no more foolish, and much more fun, than the willed obsolescence peddled by the literati or the glib defeatism on offer from America’s Serious Thinkers.

OLM: In the new issue you write that an economic recovery would not “spur credible visions of the future from a leadership class mired in the overdetermined, under-performing vistas of yesteryear.” The Baffler is famous for its withering critiques of the business world and the shibboleths of neoliberal economics. In the nearly 25 years since it was first published, has the place of business shifted in American culture and politics?

JS: Our business leaders have laid a rotten egg, haven’t they? They’re holding us back. For years they have informed us that there is one, and only one possible economic system for our future. But the crisis of the last four years is not the only occasion in which experience shows American business as a fraud and a failure. Our system does not work. But it’s not finished with us yet, it seems.

OLM: There seem to be fewer and fewer homes in the print world for long-form writing. (One thinks of the shrinking and Time-ification of the Atlantic.) We cherish it here at Open Letters and it seems like you do, too.

JS: Yes, a representative Baffler essay will run from 5,000 to 7,000 words because we suppose all kinds of perspectives can’t be developed in 2,000. In the long form, it is possible both to report new facts and to characterize them, aspects of writerly intelligence often divorced in cutting-edge, information-addled journalism. And, yes, The Atlantic has perfected the banality of the short form, where spin rules. I can’t do better than to recommend Maureen Tkacik’s satire of that strange magazine in our current issue. Moe’s essay will be posted on our fledgling web site, for free, in due time. In the meantime, you can read it by subscribing to the digital or print editions.

(Click here to read a review of The Baffler‘s latest issue.)