June 22nd, 2013 / 4:26 pmImpossible Mike
literary manifesto of the abyss
What caused this great decline? We can point to the disappearances of older class and power structures. The decline of the church, the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie—those great foils of Modernist energies—have dissolved. Like Kant’s dove in free flight cutting through the air, the writer needs to feel a kind of resistance on the part of Literature, needs to work against something even as it struggles for something. And what is there to work against when there’s no one left to antagonise? We could speak of globalisation, of the incorporation of the whole planet into the world market, which has the effect of weakening of past cultural forms and national literatures. We notice the ascension of the individual to a place where idiosyncrasy itself becomes commonplace, where the self, the soul, the heart, and the mind are demographic jargon. There is little sense of a tradition to wrestle with—no agon of authorship that we associate with the writers of the past. We could point to the populism of contemporary culture, to the dissolution of older boundaries between high and low art, and to a weakening of our suspicions about the market. Writers now work in concert with capitalism, rather than setting themselves against it. You’re nothing unless you sell, unless your name is known, unless scores of admirers turn up at your book signings. We could also point to the banality of liberal democracies: by tolerating everything, by incorporating everything, our political system licenses nothing. Art was once oppositional, but now it is consumed by the cultural apparatus, and seriousness itself reduces itself into a kind of kitsch for generations X, Y and Z. We have not run out of things to be serious about—our atmosphere boils, our reservoirs of water go dry, our political dynamic dares our ingenuity to permit catastrophe—but the literary means to register tragedy have exhausted themselves. Globalisation has flattened Literature into a million niche markets, and prose has become another product: pleasurable, notable, exquisite, laborious, respected, but always small. No poem will ferment revolution, no novel challenges reality, not anymore.