So it looks like I am coming really late to this latest piece of juicy gossip concerning Malcolm Harris and Rachel Rosenfelt of The New Inquiry, appearing largely on Doug Henwood‘s wall. I have no idea whether there is any truth to these claims, or whether this is a fabrication (with Harris, you never know, it might just be a publicity stunt). Mark Ames of the eXile wrote up a scathing, albeit rambling, indictment of Harris on the Not Safe for Work Corporation — preserved in its entirety here.
Certainly I don’t want to perpetuate a baseless rumor. I’m all too familiar with the kind of deliberate distortions, smears, and empty insinuations that go on amongst knitting circles on the Left.
Still, the original write-up Rachel did promoting the talents of her young writer friend (I always thought he was her boyfriend?) is pretty shocking to read through, in terms of the ridiculous hyperbole with which she inflates his meager abilities and accomplishments:
From: Rachel Rosenfelt Date: October 25, 2011 1:04:42 PM PDT
Subject: Malcolm Harris
It was great chatting with you yesterday! Here’s the write up on Malcolm Harris:
Malcolm Harris is one of the most talked about young writers today. He has been on the vanguard of the #occupywallstreet movement well before day one of the Zuccotti part encampment began. His social media savvy and tactics flips the equation when it comes to the so-called influence of media on the youth. With Malcolm Harris at the helm, we are witnessing a new media movement where it’s the youth that’s influencing — and manipulating — the mainstream media to enact what has become a global uprising of youth demanding the change that was promised to them in 2008.
As an editor at Sharable.net, Harris brought politically savvy coverage of the protest movements in Spain and Greece to the attention of the young digerati who would eventually work alongside Harris in New York City to facilitate the first planning meeting for #occupywallstreet. In the intervening months, Harris has earned the reputation he has today as the Naomi Klein of the 21st century, with his instant-classic article, “Bad Education,” which went viral in April of 2011 and remains the most cited article on the student debt crisis today (listen to Harris debate the issue on NPR here).
Once the occupation was underway, Harris’ article in the Jacobin Magazine, “Occupied Wall Street: Some Tactical Thoughts” spelled out a strategy that has since helped to give the movement the force and coherence it needed to self-sustain, even without the benefit of mainstream media attention. The turning point, however, was when Harris and a group of his collaborators posed as Radiohead’s manager, notified the media the band would play Zuccotti park, and caused tens of thousands of youths — as well as news cameras and big media attention — to turn out. Read Harris’ reflections on the tactic here.
Harris’ forthcoming book, (title TBD) is about the student debt crisis, global uprising, new media and #occupywallstreet (title TBD) and he acted as editor of the book, Share or Die: Youth in Recession.
He speaks for $5,000, not including travel and accommodations. Let me know if you have any futher questions. :)
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Now I have nothing against Rachel, who I barely know, but about this breathtaking bit of exaggeration (or delusion), Anthony Galluzzo hit the nail on the head: “That piece of fiction was the funniest thing I’ve read in years. She [Rachel] should drop the saloniste act and go into PR. Harris single-handedly fulfillled the dashed expectations of 2008: anarcho-Obama.”
Bhaskar neatly summarized the incident in a blog post that appeared over at In These Times, while also providing something in the way of a critique of the “pseudo-celebrity” status some activists and commentators have attained through their involvement in recent political movements. The activist/analytic pseudo-celebrity, a term introduced in this context by Doug Henwood and then taken up by Bhaskar, finds its apotheosis in a figure like Malcolm. I have nothing really to add to their comments besides what Bhaskar already wrote about the significance of Harris’ insignificant but highly-publicized political persona to radical movements today. While I agree that this is whole affair is hardly a legitimate argument against Malcolm Harris’ politics or thought (does he have either?), I must admit I found all this is pretty funny.
Rather than try to ascertain the political content of this overblown hullabaloo, which I am convinced is zilch, all I have to add is a personal anecdote recounting one encounter (it feels more like a “run-in”) I had with “the Naomi Klein of the 21st century.” This may be a little gossipy, but oh what the hell:
I remember at one of The New Inquiry‘s posh, super-exclusive literary salons on the Upper East Side (shortlist and all) that Pam managed to finagle us into, I made some throwaway, offhand remark that so enraged Malcolm that he physically threatened me. Which becomes much funnier once you consider the height and size differential between us. I had criticized the idea of purely local agricultural production as a viable alternative to global networks of food distribution, to which he raised some ill-informed objection about what was to be done with the “kulaks” (rather pronouncedly mispronouncing the word), assuming with smug condescension that Soviet history would be something I was utterly ignorant about.
He was wrong.
In what was admittedly a pretty childish move, I calmly corrected his pronunciation of the word and jokingly assured him that there was no kulak problem at all: Obviously (obviously!), they’d be sent East and we’d just let the GULag sort them out. This bit of pedantry and black humor on my part — which, it’s true, was probably in poor taste — pissed him off to the point that he advised me to “insurrect” my “ivy league education.” Not that I hold it against him, but coming from Malcolm, who graduated from an expensive private school, this all seemed a bit “rich.” For some reason it was just really funny to me, and I burst out laughing at his suggestion.
This didn’t improve his mood. He then told me that if I did not voluntarily leave the party, he would “make me.” I was unimpressed, and so we ended up staying another half-hour or so while he fumed and paced back and forth in the corner. Needless to say, my name was removed from the VIP list of approved invitees, so this was the last of the two literary salons they held that I was able to attend.
Now obviously anecdote and hearsay are no substitutes for the serious work of criticism, and perhaps my account of things may seem unverifiable. There were plenty of other people there that night, though, so I’m not sure if anyone else who was there shares my recollection, or if they remember things differently.
CORRECTION: Malcolm rightly protested my suggestion that he went to a private school. I was in the wrong: Malcolm went to the University of Maryland, which is not a private school. But seeing as he made a similar mistake some months back, suggesting that I belonged to an “ivy grad program,” when I went to UChicago (not an Ivy School). As you can see: