IN A MEETING with a foreign ambassador just before the start of World War II, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin analyzed the British Empire, marvelling at how a small island had established a world empire on bluff. He gave as example the few hundred Englishmen dominating the vast subcontinent of India.
A similar situation holds sway today in the established U.S. literary world. That world is built on, and sustained by, bluff.
Jonathan Lethem can write virtually anything, no matter how ridiculous, and unquestioning legions of readers and writers accept it, because it comes from a designated star.
The truth is that the clubby members of lit's power clique, even at intellectual journals like The Believer and n+1-- especially at journals like The Believer and n+1-- aren't very bright. Possible exception made for Eggers. Some are methodical plodders. Others are less than that, get by on pedigree or the certification of degrees. They all exist behind a flimsy facade of bluff which no ambitious writer dares question.
Why is this?
What today's name Insider writers are truly good at is gaming the system. They've been doing it their entire lives. It's how they slid into elite hierarchical slots at spots like Harvard, and prevailed at such places.
Occupy Writers, a latch-on to the Occupy movement by Insiders, was a good example of how this crowd of careerist opportunists were able to quickly spot a no-risk way to make themselves look good, and jump at it. Their win-lose risk radar is first class. In this instance, they ensured that if revolution ever takes place, the same people-- at least in the literary game-- will be in charge.
Character? Principles? Integrity? Honesty? For them, irrelevant concepts. As of course is the concept of democracy, which is not AT ALL what they're about. The pose is what counts-- being on the right side of the crowd.
But what about their writing?
At their best, their writing is competent. See Jonathan Franzen. Many of these people learned well through their many training programs how to be unspectacularly competent.
At its worst, with writers whose self-importance gets ahead of their meager talents, as with Jonathan Lethem and Miranda July, the writing is execrable, the childish thought behind it an embarrassment.
The shakiness of their world is compounded by the fact that most of them subscribe to a philosophy, postmodernism, which is intellectually bankrupt.
I wish more outside-the-clique writers would awake from their stupors, lose their timidity and begin to expose the In crowd for the emperors-without-clothes that they are.
Just my two cents worth. Take it for what you will.