The first (print) issue of n + 1 contains a fascinating article about Gary Baum, a high school boy (now in college) so obsessed with Dave Eggers from fall, 1998, through summer, 2001, that he maintained a log of all press and gossip focused on the author.
Keith Gessen originally wrote the piece, “Eggers, Teen Idol,” for The Atlantic, but it was pulled at the last minute, in November, 2001, after Eggers’ troubled sister, Beth, committed suicide. (Ms. Eggers had sent a note critical of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to Baum for publication on his log and then repudiated the note’s contents. Although they agreed that Baum could not and should not be blamed for the tragedy, Gessen and his Atlantic editor felt the piece should be pulled in deference to the family.)
Now, nearly three years later, it becomes clear that the piece is not really about Dave Eggers. Its true focus is Baum, its true aim to explore the extreme and bizarre manifestations of celebrity-worship on the Internet. In this later, faster-paced, blog-infested world — where a Paris Hilton sex video is mentioned one day, online the next, and the most popular spam header for weeks, if not months, afterward, and where a scuffle between a critic and author takes up ten full pages on Google — the article seems naive and prophetic at once. This is not a criticism. It’s as though the Gessen of 2001 sees where things are headed but isn’t quite ready to accept his own grave forecast.
Toward the end of the article, Gessen says, Baum’s log
was about fame: the fame that Eggers had and the fame that Gary wanted. It was about the wages of such fame, its conditions, its uses. There were occasional literary quotations in the Log, but they were not from Eggers’s book; there were references to literary figures, but only insofar as their careers were concerned. Larger questions were being dealt with here. How does one take the enormous apparatus of celebrity-creation and force it to do one’s bidding? How does one, to put it more succinctly, conquer the world?
It was a good question, a Balzacian question. And one was struck by the optimism of it, the innocence. I kept asking Gary whether he’d become disenchanted by the dirty secrets of the literary world, whether he still thought it a world worth conquering. He wasn’t, and he did. Because though Gary proved beyond the doubt of any reasonable reader that literary fame, and literature itself, is a vast and intricate conspiracy, the trick of the Log was that it wasn’t a conspiracy he abhorred. He wanted in, he merely wanted in.
But no one escapes unharmed.