No Common Vocabulary
Topic: Must Read
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Robert Kimball wonders if there will ever be another Great American Novel. His answer, more or less, is no.
Most of the supposedly serious literary novels being published today, Kimball opines, simply aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Of course, as he goes on to note, this situation is nothing new. Of the countless thousands of American novels published in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries how many are remembered, much less read, today? Competent journeymen and plain old hacks always outnumber writers of genius. And certainly today there are some fine American writers at work.
But not even the finest contemporary writer is likely to produce a Great American Novel. Kimball suggests, and I agree with him, that thanks to the atomization of American culture, that’s now a practical impossibility. Without a common culture, without a common vocabulary if you will, how can there be such a thing as a characteristically American novel? For progressives who revile American exceptionalism, the very idea of a Great American Novel must seem quaint if not subversives. And progressives dominate what passes nowadays for literary culture.
In place of American exceptionalism we have multiculturalism, a doctrine whose practical effect has been to promote group identification: female, gay, black, Hispanic, even white. The designation “American” is tacked on almost as an afterthought. No wonder that genre fiction—romance, SF, mysteries, vampires, etc.—with its mutually exclusive fan bases is flourishing, while literary fiction languishes on life support.
Posted by tmg110
at 12:53 PM EST