MOVING BEYOND THE PRESENT: A DISTEMPERED ANALYSIS
FEW individuals involved in the creation and packaging of literature would argue there are any failed styles. After all, the Big Five book conglomerates remain in place, authors still receive six-or-seven-figure advances, and several of their books sell millions of copies. The industry chugs along.
HOWEVER, if the goal is to push the art and industry to new levels– to no longer consider “literature” as a separate phenomenon, but to compare it with other cultural happenings such as sports, movies, music– then as a whole literature is failing, because it’s no longer at the center of culture (as it once was), and is not connecting to large segments of the public in any fashion.
What are several of the current alternatives for writers and readers?
This comprises novels and books you’re supposed to read because they’re good for you. They address a cause or societal ill. At times they’re “of the moment” and sell well. Usually though they’re hitting you over the head with a problem you already know about, are poorly written, and deadly dull. They win plaudits and awards, but 999 out 1,000 aren’t going to generate excitement within the culture-at-large, sorry. Life isn’t fair.
This category includes standard big novels written by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, as well as short stories by Oates, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, ad infinitum. The works are distinguished by Detail Disease, aka word clot. Meaning, they’re a slog to get through. Only the most intrepid young person (or adult) will make the effort. For those who do, it’s all the same tepid insights and weak-tea conclusions. Going to save literature, when it’s been the cause of literature’s downfall? Nope.
ADOLESCENT FANTASY LITERATURE
An enormous category with a host of big-selling authors cranking out massive volumes of unending sagas. Behind them await tens of thousands of other wannabe-novelists creating their own interminable tomes. Why are these novels not the answer? After all, they do sell.
They’re not the answer because they’re crap. It’s impossible for any serious person beyond the age of seventeen– or twelve– to take any of it seriously. Yes, many do. You see them dressed in bizarre costumes at fantasy or sci-fi conventions. The books are popular. That’s good. There are lessons to be taken from it. It remains silliness, not great art.
On top of that, none of the famed authors has the requisite charismatic persona to upend the culture. George R.R. Martin is not going to.
DYSTOPIAN AND POST-APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE
Margaret Atwood is the best-known contemporary practitioner of this kind of work. In the Age of Hysteria we’re living through, they add more hysteria. Truth is, there have been two or three, tops, of these kind of authors who’ve been any good, George Orwell among them. Even Brave New World is a terrible novel.
Maybe horror novels can be grouped in this category (though many belong in fantasy with the vampires and werewolves). This category includes sub-Bukowski Lit, where the author becomes as gross and psychotic as possible in constructing the narrative– and likely, in real life, is. (Incel Lit is a new variation.)
This category was popularized by Tom Clancy of Hunt for Red October fame, but might be more typified by spy novelists Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, who each presumably have teams of agents in Langley, Virginia writing their books for them. (They’d have to, because Ludlum and Flynn have moved on from this world.)
My attitude toward these novels might be typified by a review I wrote about one of their number back in 2012 at a now-defunct blog.
My informed conclusion is that nothing coming from one of these categories will rescue the literary game. They’re accepted and known.
What will take the literary art to another level?
THAT is what we’re working on. Stay tuned.
-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS