Apr 14, 2009

The Literary Cafeterias

I enjoyed a recent article on church shopping on Slate, which can be found at:


The short piece brought to my mind the idea that people are also doing a lot of literary shopping in our culture. What people read and appreciate and admire is all up for grabs (as in a cafeteria, I suppose) -- and it seems that that will be so for a long time to come, if not to the very end of our civilization, which is becoming ever more of a mishmash with every passing year. This is one of the stumbling blocks to the favorable reception of Yvor Winters and his ideas, who seems so cocksure and dogmatic, so narrow ("Your choices here are boiled potatoes, a wedge of lettuce, and a slab of seared red meat!"), to those who first encounter him. As much of we like cafeteria-style religion, as described in the Slate essay, we also appear to like the plentiful and varied offerings at our literary cafeterias. Do we not often read nowadays about High-Cult writers and critics and artists who like Low-Cult artworks, popular entertainments, of all sorts? It has become some sort of badge of honor to think both Shakespeare and, say, Elmore Leonard are great writers, or that both Bach and the Grateful Dead are supreme artists. We need a new Dwight MacDonald to study again this growing, mutating phenomenon of literary "cults."

There have been suggestions, particularly by James Howard Kuntzler (in his novel World Made by Hand and his environmental study The Long Emergency), that we will soon return to a land of villages. And then in what will our culture lie? But that seems a ways off yet. Americans and Europeans are simply deadset agsinst putting all their literary likes and needs and dislikes into one movement or organization or style or purpose. Literary classicism, let alone Winters's austere, demanding brand of it, won’t fulfill all the needs of all (or even many of many it seems), just as Catholicism or Dutch Calvinism or Eastern Orthodoxy or Southern Baptism do not any longer satisfy everyone or often even any single person, in whole or in part, or all the time. We shop around. We love shopping. We slum around, too (as the saying goes) -- and we love our slumming unabashedly.

My merest hope is that artists will start or keep writing and people will keep reading and judge highly good classical poetry, fiction, and criticism, as they "slum" with the Rolling Stones or Merle Haggard or "The Dark Knight." That’s one of the overarching purposes of this blog: to draw enough classical “converts” for us to be able to offer a few classical entrĂ©es or tidbits -- maybe even a main course or two -- in the literary cafeterias.

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