Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Truth About the Lit Scene


The truth about the American literary scene is that it’s a tiny and insular world permeated with self-congratulation and snobbery. They represent a small fraction of American writers and an even smaller fraction of American society. The core of their number reside in the highest levels of that society. Think about this: Bissell is one of the poorer of their number, to the extent that he’s been a gun-for-hire—yet his apparently troubled father has still managed a living as senior vice-president of a bank. Son Tom, in the high levels of the established lit realm, is one of the poor guys.

What keeps this little world atop the heap is their control of the print media. The flagship publications are staffed mainly by Ivy Leaguers sympathetic to the artistic ideas of the herd.

They’re ideas designed to feed into the pack’s snobbery. Who’s their most lauded writer; their highest standard of literary value? David Foster Wallace. Yet the truth about Wallace is that he wasn’t a very good fiction writer. Most of his fiction, in fact, is terrible. Nearly unreadable for the vast bulk of the American population. That’s its appeal to the elite literary herd. Snob appeal. Its very opaqueness and confusion, its solipsism, its lack of clarity and light, make it suitable as the proper model for a crowd of Insiders whose most fervent wish is to stand apart from the common mass. Wallace drew inspiration not from the earthy sound of the American land and people, but from his own overstimulated brain. Talent, sure. But he presented intellectualism instead of intelligence, and had absolutely no control over his material.

Because of the way DFW is valued by the literati, to criticize him in any way is a virtual death sentence for a writer—but I’m already blackballed, so I’m one writer in this country who can be honest about all things literary.

Here’s the key thing to know. Something absolutely true. No one will correct me on it. The core of the literati are a group of prep school bullies—a la Mr. Romney—used to being indulged and having their own way. Society’s spoiled children. When someone stands up to them they’re at a loss. Behind the chic facade and the uptight snobbery they’re not too brave and they’re not very bright.