Tuesday, October 19, 2004

HARPER'S Letters 2000: What Was Sent

"Franny Prose will just simply have to face the fact she's a boring writer who no one outside a propped-up group of elitist cadavers cares to read. How many folks did her latest essay put to sleep? How many people does your magazine put to sleep? Oh, I forgot, it has ad democraphics, it's aimed at that elect group of top 5% overeducated liberal affluent time-on-their-hands leisure class who can dawdle over each word of "literature." You know. "Literature." With a big L. How 'bout "LITERATURE." "IMPORTANT." "SLOW." "CAREFUL." "DEAD." "MUMMIFIED." "ALICE MUNRO." I call it the Museum Conception of Literature, perfectly articulated in prose's dry tome. Or maybe the Medicine Conception. One should read LITERATURE because it's good for you. LITERATURE does not adapt to humans. It's a god far above us. We must strain to adapt to it. All honor high holy most unknowable great god LITERATURE. And so the Prose Conception of LITERATURE will someday (soon) be dug up like a time capsule in buried sands to be analyzed like indecipherable hieroglyphics.

Ms. Prose does not realize this of course, in her affluent Manhattan time-capsule world teaching children of the comfortable who all want to pose as complicated "writers" and "artists" to find themselves to fill up the ample hours of their leisure time, but most of the rest of us are in a fast-paced struggle to survive. What do we want from literature? We want a reflection of a corrupt world that very much is made up of good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, good and evil. We want an escape from that world: clear writing that entertains us, moves us, frees us from the pain violence speed stress noise anger violence we live with everyday around us. Great writers like Dickens, Frank Norris, and yes, at his best, John Steinbeck understood this. That's why they were popular, why they were relevant, why they were cherished and read, not dry, difficult, and dead."


Adam Hardin said...

It reminds me of the bullshit Steinbeck received from critics and academics when he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

He was not "Literary" enough for them. He did not write "Obscure" works that only highly trained academics could decipher. He wrote about the Common Man, but made the mortal sin of writing in the "Common Man's Language."

Jeff Potter said...

Great before and after service!

This is a great way in which blogs and websites can trump the slicks. Read the whitewash...then get the rest of the story...then laugh at the slow dorks.

It's not that mags have to be bad or that letters can't be edited for length---it's that these poser mags don't know how to spark up their own readership, don't know that fiesty candor is what's needed. They choose to smooth things down rather than to go for the spark. And so they keep losing readers and relevance.

So it's not that blogs are going to replace mags. It's that hands-on, street-smart editors are going to sweep out the stuffy posers. And we'll see mags worth reading once again.