Thursday, August 12, 2010

Famous still ...

... we hope: Is This Book Invisible?

This ignorance is part of a general myth, aided by programs like "Mad Men" and such twisted accounts as Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. According to these shows and books, the 1950's was a decade of American rapacity, sexism, war-mongering, profiteering and mindlessness. In fact, that decade saw a flowering of literary talents that has not been equaled since. J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, John Updike published important books in the 1950's, and in 1952 Ellison put himself on the map with his own Invisible Man, a powerful narrative delivered by a black man who calls himself invisible because he walks unnoticed through the white world.


  1. "How many high school seniors---or for that matter college undergraduates---can identify Ralph Ellison's novel? True, the author was an African-American, but he was a male African-American, hence of lesser importance than, say, Maya Angelou or Alice Walker in the PC world of American education."

    That is a concise statement of the despicable problem in literary studies in universities. PC rules the day.

    BTW, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker may have merits as writers (though not many), but much better male writers (white and black) have been pushed aside and ignored in favor of feminizing, coloring, and queering (yes, that is the accepted term in literary studies) the curricula. Sad, sad, sad.

  2. Not to mention the beginnings of the counter-culture seeded in the 50s by Kerouac, Snyder, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and many others.

    On the other hand, I think that it's become so fashionable to blame PC for all the ills of the educational system that people completely overlook that PC is only one factor. Blaming PC became fashionable about 15 years ago, started chiefly by the right-wing pundits of moral education (not excluding Harold Bloom, in his attempts to sanctify the literary canon), and it has become so knee-jerk a trope that in fact it means absolutely nothing.

    The idiotic and unfunded mandate of No Child Left Behind is equally to blame for the lack of general teaching beyond what kids HAVE to know to pass their tests.

    As for queering the curricula, too bad. That's just more fashionable anti-diversity rhetoric, and it really doesn't help sort out who's worth reading and who isn't. Sour grapes about who has been "pushed aside" means absolutely nothing, when in 100 years we'll all be dead and the view of who was actually worth reading will be completely different.

    As for who HAS been "pushed aside," I don't see it. Literary fashion comes into play here, and literary opinion. We can argue about specific names, but one reason some dead white males have been "pushed aside" in the teaching curriculum is because they don't speak as relevantly to life nowadays as they might have 100 years ago. Cultural fashion is certainly part of that. And the Great Books argument (cf. Bloom again) is all about eternal human experiences expressed as literary verities. But what we call eternal literary verities have ALSO changed from century to century. The novel as a form is much younger than poetry, for example.