Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Club

PEN American Center, behind the progressive window-dressing, is like a private club, to which a select group of members have the special key to gain entrance to a small room, very poshly decorated, with a large table at the center of it. The members have place settings at the table, from Toni Morrison at the head, to others like Jonathan Lethem further down the line. Being able to enter the room is the point.

We watch a series of scribblers walk in with grins-- the Elect-- each holding in his or her hand the special gold key which says, in more ways than one, they've arrived. Yes, the relevance of the key has lessened, as the quality of American literature has declined, and as literature and the Club itself have lost standing-- new structures labelled "Movies," "Music," and "Sports" towering over the three-story brownstone-- but for those who carry the rare gold key none of this matters. The key itself is the prize.

The Club is a metaphor for this country, and how it's been run in recent decades.

The Petition to PEN is a metaphor for changes in American literature, from collapsing conglomerates to vanishing newspaper book review sections-- which nobody reads anyway-- to print-on-demand books, blogs, and zeens bringing new kinds of writers, unscreened and unapproved, to the forefront-- changes which will make the Club a memory of bygone days before literature took exciting new paths toward relevance and revival.

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