In “Literature Is Dead (According to Straight, White Guys, At Least)“, Joel Breuklander (born in Orange County, CA, currently residing in… NYC) bemoans the bemoaning.
Take The New York Times‘ Verlyn Klinkenborg, who recently wrote that a “technical narrowness” is responsible for the “decline and fall of the English major.” A few months prior, J. Robert Lennon derided contemporary literary fiction as “fucking boring” in Salon. Before that, Lee Siegel informed us that today’s fiction is “irrelevant” because it’s too professionalized, and because nonfiction got quite good. Before him, former up-and-coming author Ted Genoways warned against the “death of literary fiction” in Mother Jones a year before he was accused in national media (perhaps unfairly) of having bullied a former employee at the Virginia Quarterly Review into committing suicide. No less a luminary than Philip Roth made a splash when he said in 2009 that it was “optimistic” to think that anybody would be left reading novels in 25 years; in 2003, David Foster Wallace claimed that “every year the culture gets more and more hostile . . . it gets more and more difficult to ask people to read,” which he blamed on the speed of Internet culture, lagging educational standards, and weak demand for “serious books” relative to Europe. Before all of these it was Jonathan Franzen, a novelist known for riffing on the theme of literature’s failings—its inability to change anything, its over-intellectualization, and its experimentalism. Then there are creative optimists like David Shields, who expressed the belief in Reality Hunger that novelistic fiction was dead or dying and could usefully be abandoned for new frontiers. John Barth felt similarly about literary realism in 1967 when he wrote “The Literature of Exhaustion.”…
Breuklander sees a pattern:
Without exception, the writers listed above are white men. They are also at least putatively straight, having married women. (Crain, who is gay, is the single exception.)
Surely there are a decent number of straight white men in the world of literature who aren’t doom-and-gloom pessimists about its future. But despite wracking my brain and looking through online media and academic archives, I could find no female or non-white writers who have made comparable statements, none who have similarly contributed to this literary despair. Why?
Breuklander proceeds to provide stock, ‘multiculturalism is wonderful’ explanations (“Women and minorities don’t have a proportionally fair number of opportunities to speak for themselves in the literary world”, etc.), ending with the essay’s most telling paragraph:
Let’s acknowledge that straight, white males’ stranglehold on American culture really is loosening. They are no longer expected to speak for everyone else. That’s a good thing—but you can’t expect them not to complain about it.
A country founded and created by white males have (or had) a “stranglehold” on America.
And, according to the likes of Breuklander, this same demographic are expected to applaud their own cultural and demographic eclipse.
Maybe the cold obviousness of this fundamental sociological reality — and the colder obviousness of it’s suicidal inaction (from an evolutionary group-identity POV) — lies behind some of the straight white male angst, even when such angst is coming from (in all likelihood) politically-liberal, straight, white, male litterateurs.