This is an email from a Castalia House author who shall go unnamed, but obviously isn’t John C. Wright.
Well, now you’ve done it.
One of your strongest points in your discussion with Stefan on Crime and Punishment was how Dostoyevsky focused on the moral decay caused by material naturalism and did not and likely could not possibly have seen its system-wide effects.
Now, today’s post about bad writing makes a similar case that Modernism, and in particular its virulent Boomer strain – Postmodernism – is culture cancer.
Many people could see that Modernist literature was, at base and overall, simply not as deep or interesting as those books which had not gottenn caught up in Modernism’s well-crafted, insubstantial mopefests.
The clue that Modernism was a dead-end can be found in its best products: As I Lay Dying, The Wasteland, Invisible Man, Heart of Darkness and The Aspern Papers are ALL, at heart, about how writing from a Modernist perspective is a pointless, disjointed exercise that renders a man insignificant. Wait for death, write or don’t…in the end Material Man is a Hollow Man. If even Modernist novels don’t like Modernist novels, you know you’ve chanced on a Very Bad Idea.
When the reactionary Post-Modernism came along, the self-defeating problem became clear. There were plenty of sane readers who said, “Okay, that way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, PM could lead to the end of literature!”
It is no coincidence that the era of the blockbuster genre novel exploded in a major response to academic Post-Modernism. Everybody read Dr. Zhivago or Sidney Sheldon. No one read Alphabetical Africa.
BUT…Post-Modernism clearly was not contained to academic literature. Sidney Sheldon’s soap operas were not merely pop-classic melodramas, but were materialist ones. The casting couch ultimately made starlets powerful, taboo relationships were taboo because of society’s evil, not personal sin. Ursula Le Guin’s adventure stories became feminist meditations. Stephen King’s pulp adventure horror veered badly into religious ignorance. John Updike was…Updikian.
Now, these books and hundreds more were still, in form, traditional, popular novels. They just had some spots of odd, discolored PostModern crust on them.
The spots showed up in movies and television: Laugh-In, All in the Family, the Brady Bunch, Planet of the Apes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Heck, the massive blockbuster Jaws opened up with a nude girl being bitten, dragged, mauled and eaten by the literary aquatic symbol for Death incarnate, a “Great White” no less. That’s Post-modern action: no heroes, no villains, just young, bare, feminine annihilation.
But those spots are hardly noticed in the work by most people at the time, whether it is a bit of King’s “tornado-faced” lady (bad writing) or the now iconic but originally “ironic” “Episode IV” scroll in Star Wars.
But they got everywhere, and, while it occasionally worked (the unvarnished, unapologetic racism in The Godfather I and II was possible under a sort of Post-Modern “honesty” at the time), most of the time, these spots show up as an anachronism, a ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ or just bad dialogue.
We don’t even have personal pronouns anymore.
Our culture adopted a literature that had, at its core, an anti-communication ethic. The more obscure, the more personal, the more disconnected a “text” was from its meaning, the more “authentic” it was. The more “identity” it had.
Post-Modernism didn’t just end literature. It ended communication.
I think that’s why there are so many landmines of bad writing today. I think that’s why you can emerge from a writing program or college less literate than when you came in, even if you were borderline literate to begin with!
Bad writing is cancer.