Just when I'd begun getting used to all the chic, self-deprecating humor that fills Heeb magazine, along comes another young editor named Mireille Silcoff with a new Jewish magazine to offer, called - not to put too fine a Jewish point on it - Guilt & Pleasure. And the first thing to be said about the finished product - at least Volume 1, Winter 2006 - is that it makes Heeb look quaint.
G&P, as it will be known from now on, is different in look and feel to Heeb. The latter has the size of a mass-market magazine that aims to hit the middlebrow audience where it lives, while alternately giving Jewish hipsters a few laughs at the expense of their more staid co-religionists. G&P, on the other hand, has the heft of the old Jewish-run literary quarterlies, like Partisan Review, but the mood in its pages, from the cover on down, is far from intellectual in the old sense of that word.
The first cover draws right from the Surrealists. A black, long-haired dog is shown in profile, a cigarette plugged into the corner of its mouth. It looks both stoic and chic, as if it were a canine Jean-Paul Belmondo.
The stab at subtle literary humor links the new endeavor to its bold predecessor. But Heeb has roots in the 1950s and '60s of Lenny Bruce and the cool, detached irony of the beats, not the rarefied air of Partisan Review politics. Heeb's philosophy - if one can use such a word in relation to such a phenomenon - has more to do with attitude. Heeb's editors definitely aren't out to make any of their readers more Jewish, in the traditional sense of getting them to go to synagogue more regularly or to learn Hebrew or keep kosher. The people at the helm identify as Jews - there's no denying that - but they apply a healthy dose of sarcasm and irony to the subject at hand.
G&P seems to be after something altogether different, something more substantial - which would explain the echoing of the older intellectual tradition - but what that something might be is difficult to pinpoint. If you simply look at the first roster of writers, it might even get more difficult.
There are the requisite number of young, with-it, Lower East Side types. But mixed in with novelist Gary Shteyngart of The Russian Debutante's Handbook fame and comic-book king Ben Katchor are heavy-hitting scholars like Jeffrey Shandler, whose next book is Adventures in Yiddishland, and Nathaniel Deutsch, who's written The Tribe of Ishmael: Orientalism, Eugenics and the Invention of America's First 'Muslim' Community.
This is a kind of schizoid massing of forces, and editor Silcoff appears to love every inch of it. She calls the magazine "a quarterly scrapbook of ideas in all shapes and sizes. In every issue you will find … everything from fiction and memoirs to reported features, comics, jokes, and dropped-in portfolios of photography and art, not to mention VERY LARGE PICTURES of those contributing to the issue's exchange. You will find little white space; there's no room for that when, clearly, there is so much to say."