Starting a Writer Collection
For instance, via a long train of Internet exploration, I discovered a couple of articles by one Roger Kimball. What absolutely won me over to add him to the collection was this article, "The Great American Novel: will there ever be another?" It's an absolutely wonderful essay, discussing the "changes in our culture [that] have precipitated changes in the novel or, more to the point, changes in the reception and spiritual significance of the novel." Here are a few quotes from the essay.
But there was a moment, an extended moment that lasted many decades, in which some fiction consciously performed a patently moral role quite apart from its value as entertainment. I should stress that by “moral” I do not necessarily mean moralistic or even didactic. Some fiction was indeed patently didactic, but much of the best fiction was moral in a broader, more insinuating sense. Its designs upon the reader—and the reader’s designs upon it—were often laced with equivocation and ambiguity, but were no less imperative for that. It was in this context, perhaps, that we should understand James’s observation (in that same essay) that the novel was “the most immediate and . . . admirably treacherous picture of actual manners.” I feel sure that, could we but fully unpack the union of those words “admirably” and “treacherous” in James’s understanding, we would understand a great deal. If we understood also what he meant by “manners” we would be in very good shape indeed.
The advent of television, the ubiquity of mass media, the eruption of the Internet and ebooks with their glorification of instantaneity—all this has done an extraordinary amount to alter the relationship between life and literature. Television lulled us into acquiescence, the Internet with its vaunted search engines and promise of the world at your fingertips made further inroads in seducing us to reduce wisdom to information: to believe that ready access to information was somehow tantamount to knowledge.
My point is that even if a new Melville or Twain, Faulkner or Fitzgerald were to appear in our midst, his work would fail to achieve the critical traction and existential weight of those earlier masters. We lack the requisite community of readers, and the ambient shared cultural assumptions, to provide what we might call the responsorial friction that underwrites the traction of publicly acknowledged significance. The novel in its highest forms requires a certain level of cultural definiteness and identity against which it can perform its magic. The diffusion or dispersion of culture brings with it a diffusion of manners and erosion of shared moral assumptions. Whatever we think of that process—love it as a sign of social liberation or loathe it as a token of cultural breakdown—it has robbed the novel, and the novel’s audience, of a primary resource: an authoritative tradition to react against. Affirm it; subvert it; praise it; criticize it: The chief virtue of a well-defined cultural tradition for a novelist (for any artist) is not that it be beneficent but that it be widely acknowledged and authoritative.
The entire article is well worth a read. Roger Kimball joins my (somewhat short as of now) writer collection; another member is Anthony Esolen. I'll have to remember all the others and create an actual list, as well as be on the lookout for more good ones!