Thursday, August 15, 2013

being cool versus being readable

My impression of American literature since the 1960s -- since the plague of hip ironizers -- is that it knows something instead of questioning everything. Instead of being artistic and perplexed, the novels are annoying and omniscient (they tell us, with arms akimbo and winking smirks, the way it is with time and being).

Literature before the beatniks, especially in Europe and Eastern Europe between 1900 and 1940, generates in me a different impression: the works are interesting and worth reading.

Why did American writers become cool rather than readable?

Americans are too far from the spiritual geography of Beethoven, Schubert, and Mahler. Instead of looking out toward the mystery of time and being, Americans became obsessed with the in of themselves, became egoistic: the Blues, jazz, rock and roll. A constricting of world therefore a lack of imagination. The cultural condition here is cheap, disposable spectacle. No wonder that worthwhile, elegant prose is so rare. Instead, writers today utter clipped, hepcat sentences exuding psychological hubris and spiritual shabbiness.

Americans are too noisy, self-persuaded, and non-melancholic to produce works that approach the condition of deep music -- in other words, readable literature.

And don't get me started on American poetry, which is either self-absorbed or preachy -- both forms of egoism that induce an excruciating boredom in the reader.

The great living poet Adam Zagajewski, from Poland, loves the music of Schubert and Mahler. That's telling.

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