Dorothy Rabinowitz advances an interesting (if highly contentious) proposition in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Namely: the growing disenchantment with President Obama—in the Gallup Daily poll, more Americans now disapprove of his performance in office than approve of it—has its source in his failure to identify with “the nation and to all that binds its people together in pride and allegiance”:
And it strikes me that Rabinowitz’s explanation fits the decline of the “serious novel” or “literary fiction” (two terms that make my feet itch) like a missing piece of the puzzle. It is a better explanation, because more comprehensive, that my own claim that a “nationalized bureaucracy of writers [that] stretches from coast to coast” accounts for American fiction’s loss of interest in American places.
It is hard to imagine a living American novelist writing a passage like the last four paragraphs of The Great Gatsby, summoning up the “fresh, green breast of the new world.” American novelists by and large do not identify with ordinary Americans any longer, nor with the American dream (“the last and greatest of all human dreams”), but with their intellectual class—the people with whom they went to school, whose minds are furnished with the same authorities and assumptions, who share a similar understanding of the world. The American continent no longer compels them into an aesthetic contemplation they neither understand nor desire. What moves them are the envies and ambitions, the disdains and irritations, of their class.
Thus all their characters sound like literary intellectuals. Thus they cannot even imagine what their own non-writing spouses, nor anyone else for that matter, do every day at work. Thus the world outside literature and academe is a vague blur, if not entirely invisible. Thus human decency is identified with the correct (and partisan) political opinions. Thus fiction becomes little more than an occasion for ventilating anti-American grievances.
And thus the American novel, once a lively voice in the national debate to specify the American idea, has devolved into the voice of a homogeneous intellectual class. It is just another means, like similar work, training, and lifestyle, for promoting class solidarity.