God keep you safe from fire and steel and contemporarynliterature. …n— Leon BloynThe old aphorism that one picture is worth a thousandnwords sometimes reaches a level of startling profundity. Anphotographer at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Rauschenbergnretrospective in 1963 captured a scene that transforms thenaphorism into manifest truth. An elegantly coiffured womannin an exquisite mink coat peers intently at Rauschenberg’snMonogram, obviously determined to force the work to disgorgenits deepest meaning. Not an unusual sight in an artnmuseum, but for one small matter: Monogram is composednof a stuffed Angora goat with an automobile tire around itsnmiddle. Has the art fancier discovered the 20th century’snanswer to Michelangelo’s Pieta? She may not be sure, butnone thing is certain: if the cognoscenti say this is art, thennart it is. No one wants to be left on the platform when thenAvant-Garde Express rolls out of the station.n• THE MONUMENTAL LITERATURE OF DWARFS .nC OMMENTnNo ot to be outdone, American novelists have producedntheir own Monograms; an embarrassment of riches exists,nhere: Mailer, Vonnegut, Updike, Heller, Brautigan, Vidal,nDoctorow, Irving—everyone can supply his own candidates.nWhat these gentlemen write may not be great literature—nor even literature, for that matter—but if it bears the imprimaturnof the New York Times or Time magazine, thennthe philistines in mink will clamor to read it. Hawthorne,nMelville, Twain, James, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulknernmight as well step aside gracefully, for the era of dwarfsnhas emerged with a simper and a smirk. In this day of aestheticndemocracy anyone with a typewriter and a carefully exploitednglandular disorder can call himself a novelist, in the processnacquiring a bank account that the president of General Motorsnwould envy.nHow is it that writers whom Faulkner would have made gonaround to the back door have won positions of honor in thencontemporary republic of letters.” Eschewing the temptingnexplanation of mass idiocy, we must lay the blame at the feet •”nof the high priests of the Liberal Culture. These literaryntaste-makers—ensconced in the pages of Time, The Nation,nVillage Voice, The New Yorker and the New York Reviewnof Books—have formulated the criteria with which to judgencontemporary literary achievement. They beat the drumsnfor those writers who play the game according to their rules.nThese rules are not very esoteric; it requires no arcanenknowledge to discern the secrets of literary success. One bengins with a modicum of writing talent; this requirementnbars few candidates from admission, for does anyone believenthat Kurt Vonnegut actually brings anything new or commandingninto the contertiporary art of writing.’ Style mattersnlittle; what counts is correctness of content. Chief amongnChronicles of Culturennnthese key elements is a well-chiseled rejection, or even anthoroughgoing hatred, of all things American, especiallynanything that bears the stigma of the despised middle-classnethos, cultural values, normative principles. From Book ofnDaniel to Loon Lake, Edgar Doctorow has worked this veinnwith a crazed singlemindedness. It helps enormously if thenwriter exhibits a flagrant contempt for such grotesque, ornjust laughable, concepts as honor, duty, patriotism andnvirtue. But he need not attack these attributes directly; ifnhe prefers, he can ignore them and crawl into his own navel,nthere to celebrate his special solipsistic vision, free fromnthe trammeling concerns of real people in a real world. Whiningnself-pity goes a long way as well, for how else can onenexplain the critics’ insatiable hunger for feminist abuse ofnempirical knowledge and rudimentary common sense disguisednas novels.” Last—but certainly not least—sexual acrobaticsnhave become de rigueur. Incest, pederasty, bestialitynand the solitary vice as exemplifications of self-realizedn”humanness” command the highest prices, but, if one isnold-fashioned, random heterosexual coupling will do. Mixnthese elements together in the proper proportion, and thenwriter may find himself part of a Big Literary Event; if thengods bestow their full bounty upon him he will grace thencover of Time.nAlthough a novelist ignores this formula at great risknto his career, this does not mean that a writer who goes hisn’—-‘-y”–^^Ss«!^fc^a3,,aa^^n