A select bit from Norman, and my thoughts:
…To acknowledge such a limitation is to accept a reduced role for the writer. I do not believe that what I write can change the world or the people in it. I don’t believe that anything written by a contemporary literary artist has that power over a mass audience. There are some who believe they can restructure consciousness using language and narratives that defy convention. But their visionary writing will scarcely be read by the people most in need of a transformed consciousness. The only work that has power to engage a mass audience is sentimental (which is a lie) or pornographic (which is also a lie, though perhaps a more entertaining one). We can rue this. We can set down the causes to mainstream publishing or to a degeneration in popular taste and appreciation that have little to do with literacy. But we can and should seek out our own margin and make our literature there.
Really provocative stuff, here. I’ll disagree with Norman. I do believe that literature can change the cultural world and change people, and that a book can reach a mass audience. I think the nature of things is emergent, and although the powerful pieces of literature haven’t really been showing up lately, that they are indeed somewhere, and that writers shouldn’t have to thrive within constraint in their ambition. Also, to say that the only writing able to reach a mass audience can only be sentimental/pornographic rubs me the wrong way… the notion is just too damned cynical.
Go read the rest, and let’s talk.