Reading the newest The Believer I came across reference to post-Great Depression literature and the debate surrouding it. There was a rich debate about the role of literature after the crash and whether or not literature was morally constrained to behave a certain way. This same debate took place after the Holocaust, after Vietnam and after Septermber 11. But there is not a debate about how literature ought to behave now, after our crash. Why is this? I can think of a couple of reasons.
The first difference is that we are too in it. I do not like this explanation. The same piece mentioned above was about Thorton Wilder and they were in it and yet actively debating their role in it. Not to mention being too in it only explains the lack of perspicuous pieces and not the lack of opinion.
The other difference and the one I am partial to is the suposed violence quotient. The Great Depression did not involve violence, but that preceded the other events. Maybe in this world we are now inundated with violence (our crash is happening at the same time as two wars, after all) that anything lacking violence does not register as an artistic crisis. Even though it has explnatory power, I do not like this answer because our crash is violent.
We are fighting two wars, a fact which is not co-incidental. The state is now leveraging a massive outlay of expenditures which will come at the cost of health services, education and other services. People’s lives will be affected negatively as a result of choices not made by them – that smacks of the definition of violence.
It says something about us that the most erudite explanation at the moment lies at the hands of a writer that writes, albeit well, mainly about sports and new statistical methods used on sports (Michael Lewis’ new book here is garnering all kinds of praise for its clear-sighted explanations). I am annoyed. I am angry that this is not being spun to be an issue of violence and forced bad choices. There is plenty of anger. There is plenty of gravitas, but the refusal to acknowledge this for what it is only makes it all the more likely for this to not create a break from what is really broken (regardless of the different theories of what it is that is broken).