Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Censorship and Self-Censorship

I WONDER what the effect will be of the Jeanette Winterston screed about Henry Miller in the most recent New York Times Book Review. Will it have a chilling effect on already too-careful male writers? How many aspiring young men are right now going over their manuscripts, ensuring that they don't come on too strong?

American literature is already too politically correct, too feminized. Old fashioned authors like Norman Mailer if starting out today would never get in the door. It's one reason of many for the inferior condition of our literature.

Who are our top male writers right now? Jonathan Franzen and Stephen King, in the literary and popular realms respectively. Franzen's confessional Freedom is Oprah fare, a feminized novel through and through, as I'll explain in an upcoming essay at another blog. Stephen King's nonsensical and childish fantasy represents infantilism, a retreat from the adult world into the mindset of a twelve year-old. The old fashioned Tolstoyan novelist patriarch can't be approached.

What distinguishes the male novel is a need to dominate and control the world, and those who inhabit it. An expression of male ego. This is shown blatantly with Mailer characters like Rojack. More subtly, it's demonstrated by the lead characters of James Gould Cozzens's Guard of Honor, in which the generals have put together a complex authoritarian machine for training those pilots then sent out to dominate the world. The creation of American empire. A depiction of the here and now. It's the essence of maleness-- the very assertiveness and aggression that Winterston complains about. The need to dominate. To be, well, male. Nature's programming. To know the world and how it works. Literary critics and academics can't handle that, so Cozzens is excluded from their canon. He's replaced by irrelevance.

When I read Winterston's essay, I thought of F. Scott Fitzgerald's remark, when he said something to the effect of, "They complained about my subject, my material, but my God, that material was all I had!"

Jeanette Winterston objects to Henry Miller being Henry Miller. Miller was blackballed once. There's no doubt if he was a new writer, today, he'd be censored again. CAN ANYONE DOUBT THAT?

Part of the problem with the ULA's (Underground Literary Alliance) Bill Blackolive and Jack Saunders wasn't just their unfamiliar-looking writing, but that they came across to today's well-regulated literary world as too male.

In 1994 I wrote two long essays for North American Review. Why is it that they've posted on-line only the weaker, more inocuous essay-- about baseball!-- and not the other, stronger, vital one, about Detroit, which does contain un-p.c. moments because it tells the truth? (I realize now how fortunate I was it was ever published.)

The biggest lie going is that there is free expression in American literature. It'd be better if editors and publishers were upfront with their rules and biases from the get-go, so we know where the boundaries are. Otherwise it's guesswork.

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