American fiction

A tirade about American culture and literary tastes appears in the Asia Times:

Americans who would not recognize an allegory if it ate them alive by inches, and cannot read a line of Dante Alighieri or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, gush over Herman Melville’s confused and overwrought Moby Dick. American scholars who have not heard of the 16th century Lazarillo de Tormes claim that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a work of originality. Harold Bloom, the defender of the “Western Canon” against the barbarian hordes of deconstructionism, enthuses over Walt Whitman’s onanistic (in the literal sense of the term) excuse for verse. Bloom dismisses the critics of the left as “resentniks”, but is resentment not the other side of the coin of pretension? In any case, these are the embarrassing pretensions of two generations past, the putative classics beloved of American conservatives. University students today are more likely to wade through the works of black and feminist writers as a counterweight to the “elitist” high culture of Melville and Whitman, that is, if they are not occupied with courses on film and comic books.

(Via BookWatch, where Quinn Skylark quoted the same section.)

Meanwhile, Gordon Burn argues that the fifty-year reign of “the fast-talking, high-energy American novel” is over. Burn bemoans the new generation of writers, including Franzen and Eugenides, and lays the blame for the American voice, “so pale, so stale and grating[,]” at the Flaubert’s feet. (Via Moby Lives.)

In early November, Joyce Carol Oates considered the state of American short fiction for the New York Review of Books. She attempted to distinguish the work of current writers like Ann Cummins (whose Red Ant House was, I thought, incisive and disturbing) from past American greats like Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and John Cheever. “In contemporary fiction it’s more likely to be locale that matters, not a region with a specific history. Not where one has come from but where one is going is the issue,” Oates said.


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