Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Great American Novel

A precious ideal of academics, the "great American novel" presumes a book, published, fictional, and pertinent to American experience prior to any final determination of what that experience has been. On whose shelves reside Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, the recherche pantheon of intellectuals whose ability to savor the linear word has proven to provide few if any vehicles from the bound page to the unboundedly fervent tempo of 21st Century American experience?

Modern commercial fiction, like ragtime, has achieved more lasting value than the self-conscious elites. Hemingway is just so much tuxedoed academic jazz, reified in improvisations as unexpected as a cheeseburger while Thelonious Monk flies away from American culture, scaling unmusical abstractions that murder lyricism, like Jack Kerouac, lyrical but banal, intensely separated from the American moment. Gangsta Bebop, jaywalking across the norms of American groupthink, glad you haven't got a clue, but clueless and alone.

My refuges are Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, J. R. R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman. When I want to know about now, America is Black, Asian, Latin and unknowable. This makes me old, I know. Beat is so last century. Time to wonder about MTV some more, I guess. Unlock that pup.



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