Morally Impoverished American Literature

“Everything is contained in the American novel except ideas,” Philip Rahv wrote exasperatedly in 1940, just as the European novel achieved, in the hands of Musil and Mann, its intellectual apotheosis. Obsessed with private experience, American writers, Rahv charged, were uniquely indifferent “to ideas generally, to theories of value, to the wit of the speculative and problematical.”

Why was it, he wondered, that Dostoyevsky “appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction and engagement with deep moral issues that we — here, today — cannot or do not permit ourselves”? Compared with the Russians, Wallace lamented, “the novelists of our own place and time look so thematically shallow and lightweight, so morally impoverished.”

We must grant Wallace at least part of his complaint. America’s postwar creative-writing industry hindered literature from its customary reckoning with the acute problems of the modern epoch. It boosted instead a cult of private experience and what Nietzsche identified as the style of “literary decadence,” in which “the word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, and the page comes to life at the expense of the whole.”

From: nytimes.com/2015/09/20/books/review/whatever-happened-to-the-novel-of-ideas.html?_r=0&referrer=

More on Reading, Writing, Spying: http://www.spywriter.comhttp://www.facebook.com/spywriterhttp://www.twitter.com/spywriter

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s