Monday, June 20, 2005
Two cheers for Ross Douthat and the effort to make sure the literary life remains unspeakably horrible.
One cheer for a blow struck against the tyranny of nice.
A second for taking Foer seriously, which is far more damning (and fair) than treating him as a cynic.
Why not three cheers?
Well, because agon isn't everything. Pace Harold Bloom, not every writer is engaged in a titanic struggle to assert himself against his forebears. For one thing, some are just in it for the money. Shakespeare certainly was. For another, some are struggling against something else, something other than a place in the canon. Jane Austen is certainly asserting herself, as is Emily Dickinson (their work was in no wise analogous to quilting), but they read rather differently, on this metric, from Dante or Milton or Tolstoy or Joyce.
And then, what does one do with writers who are simply delightful? With Ovid, with Moliere, with Cervantes, with Beckett? (Yes, Beckett is delightful.) I don't say these writers did not reckon with forebears, that they did not want fame and recognition and immortality, even. But there is a difference nonetheless. Ovid doesn't strut so.
The sad fact, the fact that the Eggerses and Foerses and the rest of the hobbitses have to grapple with, is that the social function of the novel (or at least the literary novel) is going the way of verse, or so it sometimes seems, and that is what has made them huddle closer 'round the campfire and sing each other comforting songs. Ernest Hemmingway, more a legend than a writer at the best of times, is no answer to that.