VITAL SIGNSnsome reflections on the writer afternwhom the Dos Passos Prize is namednand oh this dark time in American let-;nters.nWhatever our feelings about the-fic-n•; acronym for that political congregationnof poets, essayists, and novelists. Dosn; Passos did not become crystallized in hisn: thought, however, or isolated within ann.”artistic” community. He began to;ntional techniques of Dos Passos, we have; – .write his way toward an alternate outtonview them as elements of a larger, in- :• .look that offered, as he saw it, the mostndividual vision rather than novelties. humane and reasonable solutions to thenMere novelty, Samuel Johnson says; social problems confronting Americans.nsomewhere, thumping the table to wake; -:Henhad not found such solutions in thenBoswell up, is ignorance. Dos Passos’ socialism he once espoused, as the East­ntechniques by now have been absorbed ern bloc of the world lately has not.nmto the mainstream of American writ- It takes not only intellectual vigor butnmg and their effects can be seen in writ- courage to alter one’s views, particular-n~ers as diverse as Brooks, Capote, Doc-‘ ;ly when it means going against the grain,ntorow, Isherwood, Oates, and both Tom;:.; ; and this Dos Passos did, putting up withnWolfes. What the “newsreel” or “head-‘ : dismissal by critics and the academyline”ntechnique or “I am a camera”;;; :even the loss of old friends, such asn~mode brought to modern writing was ac; -; Hemingway. He was scorned in the’nsense of immediate engagement with’; same way and for the same reasons thatnPblitics innthe existing world.none of the most courageous and pro­nThere is the imperial trend in mod-; – found figures of the last half of the 20thni American Lettersnernism, present in Joyce, Pound, Stein, century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wasnby Larry WoiwodenWoolf, and others, that threatens to re- scorned in America during its liberaln. fine away the dirty world and its work­ .70’s—for his politically incorrect views.nings into artful constructs of language.? •. It doesn’t matter that the words ofnRemembering Dos Passes nThe jolt of Dos Passos’ work, arriving at-“; ;;both have proven prophetic; their viewsnTn;the time that it did, served as a correc–” -|did not and do not mesh with the viewsnhe following was presented in ac­ !tive to that, and had the effect of keep-” : in ascendance within America’s literaryceptancenof the John Dos Passos. .’ ing modern fiction, as well as other gen-. : publishing complex, the academy, or then’•]Prize for Literature, presented at Long–:resnof modern writing, more earthbound- • -extended media. If the humane arts;n•..wood College, Farmville, Virginia,’ and mundane, and thus more honest. (rather than the military or martial orn^September 20, J99J. The Dos Passos. Honesty, along with the intellectual vig-. . other arts) have less and less governancen•}, Prize is awarded to a writer in mid-career,: or necessary to sustain it, is indeed the,/ J over our attitudes, as they do, it is be-;n’] for a distinguished body of work; previous hallmark of Dos Passos’ writing and lived’ ‘.cause those arts are more and more gov-‘n:j recipients include Graham Greene, Paule hfe. ;:: jerned by internal politics. ;n:j Marshall, Robert Stone, and Tom Wolfe. He observed that in the United’ This was what Dos Passos’ warningsnStates, in the latter part of the 20th cen- were about.nWhen a writer accepts a literary prize, : tury, it is the art of politics, not the hu-. The quality or relevance of literaryn;| the writer should not, like Lear’s daugh- manities or the arts, that governs every-.. work nowadays can be less importantn:Uers, be insufficiently grateful, nor so :day life. This seems on the surface a:.- -;than the views expressed in it or the;n[‘: enamored of accolade that, like the te-indark conclusion, and it is no secret that • ‘people you know. And just as bad orn’•[ trarch Herod, he’s immediately con-; ;; Dos Passos is at least as well-known fori.-:.; ; worse (it’s difficult to judge with thenisumed by worms. Nor should a writer • his sociopolitical views as for his literary”- • dark growing darker) is the academy’s re­nI on these occasions forget friends and techniques. In proper publishing circles, fusal to carry on discourse with ideolo­n:; colleagues who have labored without in fact, it is possible to hear his views; gies or views alien to its entrenchedn: notice over the years, or who have re- dismissed in one word: conservative. ‘” Marxist-humanism (no oxymoron that),n: ceived a good degree of notice but re- Dos Passos’ brand of conservatism is and the reluctance of the literary-pub­n mained unlaureled, at least partly for identical to the conservatism of the writlishing complex to take note of, muchn; reasons I hope to address. And so, since ers of the U. S. Constitution and Bill of less put into print or support, the workni it would be redundant and unmannerly ; Rights. He did not want individual lib­ . of anyone whose views are not quite cor­ni to present a case for my own work on erties to be infringed upon, and he be-; rect.n,• this occasion, I would like to speak fori: •gan his career cherishing the views’;!.-. If anyone is unsure of what I’m say­ni those disenfranchised others as I offer ;we now find enshrined at PEN—the.; ing, I’ll say it more openly, because then; 44/CHRONICLESnnn