Fall, 1982. A new freshman class arrives at arty, louche, and expensive Bennington College. Among the druggies, rebels, heirs, and posers: future Gen X literary stars Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jonathan Lethem. What happened over the next four years would spark scandal, myth, and some of the authors' greatest novels. Return to a campus and an era like no other.I'll admit I've read very little from the three listed here, familiar most with Brixton Smith (and only then when she was bass player and songwriter with The Fall). I guess there's been a mythology built up about this time at Bennington, by and due to the principles, and the article does nothing to undermine such myth-building. Lili Anolik lets the principles tell their stories, then pieces it together into chronological order. While letting the history unveil itself through the various interviews, a story of complicated relationships and compositions. The college seemed to go out of its way to make sure artistic anarchy would rule. From Jonathan Lethem:
What Café du Dôme was to the Lost Generation, the dining hall at Bennington College was to Generation X—i.e., the Lost Generation Revisited. The Moveable Feast had moved ahead six decades and across the Atlantic, and while, of course, southwestern Vermont wasn’t Paris, somehow, in the early-to-mid eighties, it was, was just as sly, louche, low-down, and darkly perdu. And speaking of sly, louche, low-down, and darkly perdu, check out the habitués. Seated around the table, ready to gorge on the conversation if not the food (cocaine, the Pernod of its era, is a notorious appetite suppressant), berets swapped for sunglasses, were the neo F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Djuna Barnes: Bret Easton Ellis, future writer of American Psycho and charter member of the literary Brat Pack; Jonathan Lethem, future writer of The Fortress of Solitude and MacArthur genius; and Donna Tartt, future writer of The Secret History and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Goldfinch. All three were in the class of 1986. All three were a long way from home—Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Grenada, Mississippi, respectively. All three were, at various times, infatuated and disappointed with one another, their friendships stimulated and fueled by rivalry. And all three would mythologize Bennington—the baroque wickedness, the malignant glamour, the corruption so profound as to be exactly what is meant by the word decadence—in their fiction that, as it turns out, wasn’t quite, and thereby become myths themselves.
JONATHAN LETHEM: When I got to Bennington, I had a starry-eyed feeling. People were developing in such eccentric ways, and so many professors were encouraging that so strongly—this kind of willful self-formation. It almost felt like a finishing school for people who wanted to forge an identity so that after graduation they could move to New York and knock the world dead in some artistic venue or other.
The article reads like the worst of the self-absorbed college movie genre, which may be why I enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm passing it on in case others might enjoy it, too.