Friday, February 14, 2014

More About the Great Literary Change

FROM POPULISM TO ELITISM

Has the Eric Bennett article in Chronicle of Higher Education opened a debate about the nature of American literature? Don’t count on it. This is a debate which I’m sure even Bennett’s backers at n+1 would not want to have—because inevitably they’d be caught on the wrong side of it.

Here’s a post I made on another blog about the matter:

http://happyamericaliterature.blogspot.com/2008/12/great-reaction.html

And another post I made here:

http://kingwenclas.blogspot.com/2007/01/plimpton-background.html

There are many connect-the-dots leads to be followed, for those with the time or interest. This includes others in George Plimpton’s generation like William Phillips and Robert Silvers. It includes other publications, and important literary conferences of the 1950’s and 60’s whose intent was to direct the course of American literature into acceptable channels.

Keep in mind that American populism is a style of literature, probably best embodied in the Frank Norris novel The Octopus. The style can be characterized by large themes, characters caught up in sweeping historical currents and changes, and polemical speeches. It represented a large land and broad voice. Also with a trace of old-fashioned American romanticism. The viewpoint is usually against monopoly and/or centralized control. Organic, from the people, not tops-down. It’s a style which once defined American literature and its difference from the European variety. Sadly, that difference now is gone.

In his Chronicle essay, Eric Bennett posits Jonathan Franzen as a novelist of ideas. Maybe—but his recent anti-freedom novel Freedom is more anti-populist than populist. It has more in common with By Love Possessed than The Octopus.

2 comments:

anolen.com said...

Your Plimpton Background post is exceptional. Especially this part:

One can't be considered an "intellectual" in America today without believing the vision: a dominant ideology [liberal imperialism] far more strongly rooted in our society than Communism ever was in the Soviet Union.

American 'intellectuals' are into universalism. Their religion is the 'progressive' unification and negation of all other religions. ('All intelligent people have always thought like us.') Their ethics are 'might makes right'; but they protect themselves by hiding behind the underdog. I could go on a while listing these contradictions, but I think it suffices to say they revel in saying one thing and doing another. Liberal imperialism is a type of religious extremism. Quite fitting that its nemesis should be Al Qaeda. Great theater.

King Wenclas said...

I've never seen such intellectual orthodoxy as now. You're right-- it has a religious feeling to it. No one questions the approved beliefs. It's worst on the east coast, among those who've attended elite colleges and universities. Our nation's intellectual class, and not one of them tries to look at both sides of an issue. I was at a few parties in Philly where every single person on every issue-- except myself-- thought exactly alike. It's scary. You feel like you stumbled into one of the movie versions of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Tell people you're skeptical of global warming, for instance (skepticism should be the default position) and people look at you like you dropped in from another planet. There are other issues where if you're on the wrong side, you're liable to be ripped limb from limb. (Abortion, for instance.)
Many issues have arguments on more than one side, are not easily resolved, but you'd never guess that when you listen to the intelligentsia.
Language, of course, as Orwell predicted, is twisted to shut out incorrect opinions. "-phobic": a catch-all term that can be added at will. Or, "denier." Question something and you're equated with Holocaust deniers. The intent, to shut down debate. But you know all this, as anyone does who dares adopt on any issue a contrary thought.