Friday, February 7, 2014

Making It!

Seymour Krim (1922–1989)
From The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground

Seymour Krim sitting on a stoop in the
East Village. Photographer unknown,
image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Before Jack Kerouac’s On the Road appeared in 1957, Seymour Krim had been churning out the occasional essay or book review for such literary journals as the Hudson Review; he later complained that these assignments “made a cramped miniature of my spirit, chorus-lined my self-respect, tidied up my originality, emasculated my real iconoclasm.” But reading Kerouac changed him: immediately he began writing more experimental Beat-influenced pieces for The Village Voice, in 1960 he edited the anthology The Beats, and the following year he published Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer, a collection of his “New Journalism” essays.

His new style did manage to catch the attention of several literary heavyweights: an early essay was included in Saul Bellow’s short-lived literary journal, The Noble Savage, and Cannoneer featured a foreword by Norman Mailer and earned strong praise from James Baldwin. But Krim never quite fit in with the Beats—and his work is rarely included in Beat anthologies. In a recent essay for the Jewish Daily Forward, Joshua Cohen offers this summary of Krim’s career: “Seymour Krim was a book reviewer who wanted to be a literary critic, and then he was a critic who wanted to be ‘an essayist,’ but instead of either, he became a beautifully wretched, snappy hack. He was the Kerouac of Jewish New York journalism. . . .” Similarly, Vivian Gornick in Bookforum reflects, “Krim was a hybrid: Neither poet nor novelist, he yearned, at one and the same time, to be both a maker of dissident literature and a recipient of bourgeois success—and on both scores felt he was a failure.”

The bipolar tendencies in Krim’s writing are on stark display in “Making It!” Cultural critic Mark Cohen writes that in this essay Krim “is in top form as his wise-guy alter ego belittles the high-minded artist.” The piece is “not a short story, not traditional reportage. Instead it is a guided tour of Krim’s book-stuffed mind as he debates his contradictory desires for nobility and the big money,” and it captures “the birth of celebrity culture in the art-tinged and money-mad world of post-war New York.” For Cohen, “Making It!” was a revelation—his first exposure to this nearly forgotten, off-Beat writer—and it motivated him a few years ago to try singlehandedly to launch a Krim revival.

“Making It!” first appeared in the September 9, 1959, issue of The Village Voice; the version below, from the recently published anthology The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground, reprints the text from Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer. It includes a short headnote by the late Glenn O’Brien (1947–2017), who edited The Cool School.

Notes: Krim scatters cultural references, highbrow and low, throughout “Making It!” and part of his narrator’s shtick is a self-mocking, name-dropping banter. Many allusions should still be familiar to readers; among the more obscure or provincial mentions are Hollywood gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky, the liquor company Schenley, the New York City talk radio host Long John Nebel, screenwriter William Rose, and Manhattan real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

*   *   *
When has an inside phrase like “making it” or so-and-so’s “got it made” shot with such reality through the museum of official English?. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection is used by permission.
To photocopy and distribute this selection for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center.