Let the Mothers and Fathers Speak

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I’m afraid I’ve become jaded.

Rarely do the newest of fiction and nonfiction books, and even poetry, speak to me as they once have. Lately I’ve had to force myself to read them, something you might glean from the rare reviews I’ve been posting. What’s wrong? Is it me? Have I simply read too many books with recurring structures, the same-old character types, the obvious conflicts and resolutions?

Or is there something lacking in these recent, highly publicized books? Is this why reading them doesn’t excite me as they once did?

As a writer I’ve been on a crusade to adopt what I deem the most workable of the postmodern structures, but I will forever maintain that the story is paramount, whatever other tinkering I allow myself to do. We should realize that the term postmodern signifies a belief that modernity is ending, as far as literature goes, but that it says nothing about what replaces modernity in the society that literature reflects.

So am I being a curmudgeon when I diss a lot of the latest acclaimed writing? I don’t think so, really. I read other reviewers reactions to these novels, memoirs, short story collections, etc. What has been slowly emerging is a respect for the technicality of these literary efforts. Along with that, however, is a palpable dissatisfaction with some perhaps intangible thing in the books they try so hard to like and rave about.

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So, what to do?

My answer is to go back to the masters of the past century. Mine is not a sentimental desire for what once was – although there’s a lot of that in the sensibilities that surround us these days. But I don’t think Twain, James, Cather, Hemingway, Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, et al, would have us dwell too long on the past. They didn’t, for the most part. But in reading those early works of modernity, you get a feel for the energy of their time, the way that energy affected lives. That’s what’s missing, I think; the passion of the moment in which we live.We writers need to be able to translate that energy, that passion, into characters and structures that all but dictate the story of our time.

And so what you’ll see of me here will for a time be my consultations with the mothers and fathers of twentieth century literature. I’ll write about their stories, but I’ll also try to speak to their underlying energy, the things that propelled those magnificent stories.

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2 thoughts on “Let the Mothers and Fathers Speak

  1. Why the Dark Ages? Did the invaders really want to destroy the at-the-time modern society? Are we entering a modern version of coming Dark Ages where science and knowledge are taken for granted and not nurtured? Will society enter the rut of ordinary, comfortable and as a result slowly devolve, unnoticed to drab?

    1. I’ll probably catch hell for this, but there are filters in society now that make it extremely hard for talent’s cream to rise to its due recognition. A f’rinstance: James Jones’ The Thin Red Line was published immediately and rose to prominence with equal haste. Karl Marlantes wrote perhaps the defining novel of the Vietnam war, Matterhorn, and it took 30 years to even see it in print. Why? The plethora of MFA programs for one thing. The emergence of writing by ethnic and cultural groups that, not always the best of the litter in order not to have literature dominated by white males. (Not a bad thing in the big picture – TS Eliot once said something along these lines: literature won’t reach the next level until every group has its fair shot – and that could mean a drop to the bottom first.) There are other salient reasons, but these will get you started.

      Now let’s turn to your first two questions. There were problems with the Enlightenment too complex to get into here, resulting in a mistrust of reason. As I implied in my post, we’re returning to an emotion based world in which power rules.
      It’s increasingly said we are a post-literate society, leading us to alternative facts and yours-and-mine truth.
      While we don’t know where we’re headed, modernity is waning.

      To end on a promising note, we must embrace emotion, intuition, because their time is upon us. But we must also rework reason to accommodate these things. If we can, the world – and literature – will go forward.

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