The elitist viewpoint was displayed in a recent N.Y. Times article by Charles McGrath. McGrath said that a literary magazine "almost by definition is one that operates on a shoestring and is read by just a few."
Part of McGrath's statement is misleading, as The Paris Review, the main topic of his piece, has from its beginning been backed by one billionaire or other. But, "read by just a few" shows the true mind of the literary establishment.
In the article, McGrath says that many litsters are upset at the Paris Review changes.
Elizabeth Gaffney: "I don't know anyone who actually does read it who was dissatisfied." (What: all five of them?) Referring to the critics, she says, "I don't think they understand the literary world today."
Maybe they understand it too well. But the aristocrats wish to keep literature in their perfumed clutches. McGrath mentions Rick Moody, "who like so many important writers of his generation, got his start under Plimpton." Remarks Moody, "George and I used to talk about this all the time, and he knew exactly who his audience was. Three thousand people in the creative writing programs-- the teachers and the students-- and then those odd persons on the outside who actually take an interest in literary culture."
Moody, an important figure in the literary establishment, with the kind of behind-the-scenes clout George Plimpton had, truly believes that literature, in a nation of 300 million people, belongs to a select 3,000 or so who "understand" literary culture. (Note he's not talking about all writing programs, but the upper level of them.) People like Moody don't WANT literature to reach the mass public. They're content with the way things are now, with lit's role in the world becoming smaller and smaller.
Aristocrats younger than Rick Moody are also fighting hard to dominate the literary art, as shown in a Feb 13th New York Post article by Tom Sykes about the 107-year-old "tradition-steeped" National Arts Club. The Accompanied Library, a new literary tax sheltered private club located at the N.A.C., held an "intimate reading" by poet Saul Williams for Accompanied Library's well-screened chi-chi members. Quite disappointing to see someone with Williams's street cred so used by "young, fashionable New Yorkers." Fifty years ago in the movie "High Society" Louis Armstrong shuffled and grinned for an "intimate" crowd of very rich white people at one of their mansion hangouts. I don't see that we've much progressed.
The article quotes young rich bitch Accompanied Library co-founder Iris Brooks as asking, "Where is the cafe society, the salons?"
Where indeed? The salons! Give us more literary salons! More aristocrats in ruffles and powdered wigs! Bring on Marie Antoinette! The Scarlet Pimpernel! Return to 1788; turn back the clock. Present to us the ever-lovable "beau monde."
But outside the walls of the well-guarded literary mansions in the snow and cold stand as always the grubby "gutter press" pamphleteers of the Underground Literary Alliance, a growing mob with quite a different take on literature.
(From inside the pillared stone walls of the National Arts Club in Manhattan's Gramercy Park floats the sound of the young aristocrats clinking crystal wine glasses and singing "The Blandsters" anthem.)