WRITERS are afraid to acknowledge that the literary empire we live under is decrepit, like a rotted old structure falling apart; stray bricks and chunks of masonry crashing to the sidewalk.
What keeps the stagnation going is the apparatus of the System itself, a large machine whose wheels continue to turn, producing and promoting obedient writers then vomiting forth their carbon-copy books, with a sameness to all of it. The System supports mediocrity and turns writers mediocre. It produces not writers, but bureaucrats, those who've put in their time and paid their dues, conformed to the rules and upset no one while doing it. The stagnation of bureaucracy.
And so the content of Jonathan Franzen's novel, its oppressive relentless mediocrity, along with its word-clotted prose, didn't matter. What mattered was that it was produced, a hefty product of many pages containing the rough semblance of a novel, no matter how dead. And like functionaries in the Soviet Union in its last days, those part of the System and dependent on it heard the word and got in line, dutifully praising it. It was the "big novel" they needed to give credibility and justification for the entire expensive show.
Where are the great writers? What we're given from the machine-grinding schools and bureaucracies are pretenders. They pretend to be great novelists or poets and the apparatchiks pretend along with them. It's the machine which matters. The writers are the necessary evil to keep the machine operating.
(The dramatic days of literature are over. Instead we're given bureaucrats.)
The dead machine books are reviewed in the NY TIMES or elsewhere by lifeless obedient machine reviewers and critics. Readers glance sleepily at the machine review-- ho hum, another unexciting book-- a few dutiful readers dutifully run out to buy it, like last believers in the Soviet system with the walls of Communism crashing around them.
Saddest of all are the apparatchik authors themselves: Jonathan Franzen blinking stupidly behind his eyeglasses while being questioned on a talk show; pretending to play the role of a Fitzgerald or Hemingway but out of his depth, just a pretender: a bureaucrat; the culmination and epitome of a rusted corrupt machine slowly grinding to a halt, call him Brezhnev, Andropov, or Chernenko.