Two of the biggest heavyweights of the literary world are taking well-aimed blows at each other.
In the red corner is Jonathan Franzen, bestselling author of novels such as The Corrections and Freedom and, along with the late David Foster Wallace and Jeffrey Eugenides, seen to be one of the most influential of his generation of American writers.
In the blue corner is midnight’s child Salman Rushdie, novelist, public intellectual, winner of the Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers, and author, most recently, of the memoir, Joseph Anton, which chronicles his life under the fatwa.
At the time of writing, the bout is in the first round. And there is no referee in sight.
In a vituperative essay from his forthcoming collection, The Kraus Project, (extracted by The Guardian), Franzen rips apart “tweeters”, “yakkers”, “braggers”, “technoconsumers”, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs and the company he left behind — and Salman Rushdie. The book is due to be published by HarperCollins in the UK next month.
Bemoaning many things about our “media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment”, Franzen decries the contemporary culture of taking to Twitter (he had previously called the social networking site “dumb” in public) to voice opinion: “I confess to feeling some version of [Austrian satirist Karl Kraus’] disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter.”
Rushdie, not one to let this go without a suitable riposte, took to Twitter on Monday to say, “Dear #Franzen: @MargaretAtwood, @JoyceCarolOates, @nycnovel, @NathanEnglander, @Shteyngart and I are fine with Twitter. Enjoy your ivory tower,” thereby co-opting on his side five literary titans, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, AM Holmes, Nathan Englander and Gary Shteyngart.
Rushdie has most recently had a long-running spat with Indian writer Pankaj Mishra about their stances on the Nobel-winning Chinese writer Mo Yan. Franzen, not being on Twitter, will be unable to respond on that platform.