Just throwing this one out there to give you something to feel indignant about this weekend. Joseph Epstein says the good times are gone. (The funniest part of this for me is I know exactly which ones of you will agree with this and which won’t.) My opinion has long been that we don’t suffer from a dearth of talent, but we do suffer from a surfeit of competence. We have lots of competent work that we shower with superlatives for marketing purposes, but we have very little work that actually matches the praise on the covers. And it means we search for actual brilliance much less urgently. But I digress. Back to people freaking out over an article:
When and why they stopped rolling are complex questions. That they have stopped, that we are in a less-than-rich period for literature today, cannot be doubted. Ask yourself whose next novel among living novelists you are eagerly awaiting. Name your three favorite living poets. Which contemporary critics do you most rely upon? If you feel you need more time to answer these questions — a long, slow fiscal quarter, say — not to worry, for I don’t have any impressive answers to these questions either. Recent years have been lean pickings for literature.
Part of the reason for this significant loss is the absence of powerful literary talent. Part may also be explained by the zeitgeist, or spirit of the time. We have for a good while now been living in what Philip Rieff called “the triumph of the therapeutic,” in which the ideas of Freud, Jung, and their successors have been dominant. Literary artists have always been highly suspicious of psychology — Nabokov called Freud “the Viennese quack” — for its narrowing and predeterminate explanations of human behavior, and rightly so.