Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Greatest American Literary Generation

Mark Lawson, an Englishman, has written with typical Brit incomprehension about American literature, claiming, absurdly, that the generation of writers represented by the recently deceased Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, and John Updike, may have been "the greatest literary generation the country has ever seen or ever will see."

Lawson wouldn't know it, but this generation always knowingly stood in the shadow of the previous generation represented by the likes of William Faulker, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, et cetera. That generation of writers towered above Mailer and his peers. It's not even close, and Mailer and the others knew it.

And then there are those 19th Century giants--Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, Twain, and James. Is Lawson really so clueless that he thinks Mailer et al were a greater generation than them? And how does Salinger fit in, not having published anything in decades?

I've come to expect nonsense whenever Brits talk America, but this takes the chapbook. Apparently they need to live with their distorted dreams about our country as they still can't face reality. How else to understand so much misunderstanding?

Mailer's generation is the weakest and one must ask why that is, not pretend that it was the best! Can our giants from days gone by never be matched again? Is it all downhill from here?

Surely there are great writers today, but the emphasis creeps inexorably away from "serious" literature and toward the mass appeal "genre" stuff, primarily because economics dictates it, and economics is king of this world.

It's sad that the recently departed writers are no longer here, but let's dry the tears and properly understand their place in the American pantheon of letters.

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