Looking through the shelves of our big bookstores and reading our major newspapers’ Book Sections, one cannot help but notice that the strength of American literature largely derives from our writers’ keen opposition to or enthusiastic support of our country’s political and economical life. Many of America’s best known authors appear to be either active protesters or ardent supporters of whatever political wind happens to be blowing. What has happened here? Many a fiction writer complains that this pragmatic outlook causes non-fiction books to rank higher on publishers’ lists than fictional literature. Is it possible that the cause of this can be found in the way our society developed over the years? More often than not the American novelist creates his or her work in isolation, in a large city or small town, in a towering skyscraper or on a pastoral farm. Our writers live in a country devoid of a café culture that enables social gatherings and cultural exchanges like those found in Paris, Madrid, or Buenos Aires, where writers meet other writers and share a spiritual home.
As of late, American literature is handicapped by publishers, often controlled by foreigners, who only pursue financial success, who publish their books guided solely by the aim of promoting them to become bestsellers. The writer’s artistic output, therefore, is subject to commercialization—it is only a product that “has to be sold,” and that’s all. Unfortunately this trend is detrimental to the reader, and oftentimes fatal to the writer. In our new globalized order, it can be said that this persistent diminishing of our writers’ artistic endeavors vis-a-vis the publisher’s practical considerations and financial successes may be limiting the penetration that our American literature should be enjoying in the world.
How likely is it that we will soon reach a new stage where literary merits are based on originality or boldness of style rather than the pragmatism of the idea or the commercial or political value of the covered subject?
Unfortunately, American literature, like most other forms of our artistic output, is falling victim to the subtle but inexorable descend into mediocrity provoked by a relentless market-oriented economy.