There is something of a counter-movement in literature, of which I am part, that is turning back from the brink post-modernism had led us to. We - and I am in the good company of Harold Bloom, Francine Prose, Tom Wolfe and others - have recognized that the trashing of all tradition in writing, along with the evaluating of books and their authors by forcing them through a strainer of political, ethnic and gender screens, has not necessarily produced a finer or greater body of literature. At some point in history, at about the time I began to try unsuccessfully to publish my work, a growing concensus of academics decided that literature must be intellectual, high-brow, written by someone other than the white anglo-saxon protestant male, and in a way which breaks down all the previous wisdom about the craft of writing. A solid storyline, for instance, became taboo. Strong characters - especially those who stood for certain values - were ousted. A clear theme - again, especially when it conveyed anything other than post-modern values - was cast out. And what are post-modern values?
Anything goes. There is no single truth. Truth is, rather, relative to the one seeking that truth. To push an extreme example: Hitler had his own truth, and his truth can neither be considered to be better or worse than any other truth.
This post-modern approach, I will be the first to admit, has made for some interesting reading. It has released a tidal wave of exuberance in the creative realm, which has found a natural home on the free expression 'pages' of the internet. This has reached the point, now, of an almost complete meltdown; where every person can shout "look at my creation" and any other person may look upon that creation, without any sense of 'value' at all. 'Reviewers' of any stripe can review books using almost any criteria (or lack of criteria) to pronounce their judgments. 'Don Quiote' may be seen as "boring", and Charles Dickens as "too old fashioned".
Further, there are books being written instructing the writer on how to be a better writer; that is, more successful, like Stephen King and 'Harry Potter'. It is small wonder that readers are confused about what is good to read and what is trash. Writers are just as confused. It is small wonder, too, that more and more readers have given up all together - deciding that reading is just not that much fun any more.
In her excellent book 'Reading Like a Writer' Francine Prose says, "There, (in graduate school), I soon realized that my love for books was unshared by many of my classmates and professors. I found it hard to understand what they did love, exactly, and this gave me an anxious shiver that would later seem like a warning about what would happen to the teaching of literature over the decade or so after I dropped out of my Ph.D. program. That was when literary acedemia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists, and so forth, all battling for the right to tell students that they were reading "texts" in which ideas and olitics trumped what the writer had actually written."
Then, later, "You can assum that if a writer's work has survived for centuries, there are reasons why this is so, explanations that have nothing to do with a conspiracy of academics plotting to resusicate a zombie army of dead white males."
This is very close to my own experience and outlook. (Though I did not go to graduate school - I left college to swim in the deep waters of experience.) My fellow readers, there is a reason some books are considered classics and others have been allowed to die a natural death in the waters of time. The classics are worth a look because they will outlive us.
The other day I found Harold Bloom's 'The Western Canon' on the shelf at a thrift shop for $3. I bought it, of course, and was glad to get it at that price. But how did it come to be there? Are readers so little interested in the classics that a monumental book such as this is simply one more thing to throw into the bag destined for the thrift shop? I shudder to think.
I'll pick this up again next week with Tom Wolfe's 'Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast' and more.
See you then, Jim