Where are new talents bursting on the scene to revolutionize the art? This is the most stagnant period in American literary history, in part because writers have lost any sense of real creativity, are content instead to copy the accepted models, trying to perfect what’s already been done. There’s a stagnant mental attitude which oversees and pervades the entire system of literature. This may be due to where America is right now as a civilization, a nation of bureaucracies and institutions, where competent mediocrity is celebrated, has been institutionalized and turned into high value.
The system’s best, like Jonathan Franzen, are skilled mechanics. Even if one accepts the dubious proposition that David Foster Wallace was a “genius” writer—when was that? When did he first gain strong notice? Twenty years ago? He was a follower, maybe a culmination, of academic trends. He led to more paint-by-the-numbers imitators. The art wasn’t turned on its head. There was no Michael Vick breathtaking shock-the-world breakthrough. DFW signalled the end of a trend, not the nascent beginning of one.
Today’s writers are content to write and exist within comfortable boxes. That’s the problem.