attitude that needs to be identified hasnmade its way from the hterary arena tongrant-giving foundations to the media,nand from the best universities and collegesninto every branch of public education:nit is the attitude that says I mustnagree with the prevailing view, or adherento its theories and politics and agenda,nin order to be properly acceptable, if acceptablenat all. This attitude is, in substance,nintolerant; it is prejudicial, andnsuggests the beginning of a new era ofncultural imperialism. What is takingnplace in literary and academic circles asna matter of course is exactly what DosnPassos warned against and feared. Itnwould not be prudent of me to acceptnan award that bears his name, I feel,nwithout a reminder of what he stood for,non behalf of those disenfranchised othersnwho have no forum, due to the present-day,nexclusionary trend that is underminingnAmerican letters.nNovelist Larry Woiwode writes fromnMott, North Dakota.nThe Yearnin thenNovelnDavid R. Slavittn1991nWhat we have here—not even thenPresident has had the effronterynto deny it—is an intellectual recession. I.ncannot think of a year in which more;nbad books received more serious attention.nThese weren’t just lapses but a pattern,nand one need not be paranoid tonlook for explanations. What people donis, mostly, what they want to do and intendnto have done. And if the nonbooknhas been promoted to a new eminence,nthere must be some significant intention,nhowever malign.nWhat we’re talking about are the bignbooks of the season—Norman Mailer’snHarlot’s Ghost (Random House), HaroldnBrodkey’s The Runaway Soul (Farrar,nStraus & Giroux), and, in a slightlyndifferent and more traditional vein,nAlexandra Ripley’s Scarlett (Warner). Infind myself in the bizarre position ofnhaving not only to admit but having tonboast that I haven’t read them. Anyonendopey enough to slog all the waynthrough these novels isn’t smart enoughnto write intelligently about them. I’vendipped and skimmed, browsed andnsniffed, and held my not-so-delicatennose (in my needier years, I committednsome best-sellers myself in order to keepnmy children’s rapacious bursars at bay).nIt was ridiculous, not just a matter ofnthree random disasters but a conspiracynof discontented, misanthropic, dyspepticncrazies in New York who are trying tonget back at literature itself for having betrayednthem. These are English majors,nmost of them, who know nothing aboutnliterature or business and who findnthemselves working for much less thannthey would be making in any other industryn(if, indeed, they were employablenin any other industry). And they hate it,nhate the books, and hate the readers,nand want to get even, which they contrivento do by forcing down the gullets ofna retching public these scabrous libroidnmonstrosities.nThese volumes are printed in largennumbers, shipped, reviewed, sold, displayednon shelves and coffee tables, butnnever (one supposes, or one hopes) actuallynread. My guess is the breakthroughntitle was Umberto Eco’s ThenName of the Rose, which proved, almostnten years ago, that one could sell vastnquantities of a volume nobody wouldnread—because nobody could. This wasna text about 10 percent in Latin, andnmost readers in this Jacobin society havenonly the loosest grip on English. But thenconcept was enticing—the display book,nthe unreadable book, the book as a purenpiece of merchandising rather than literature.nIndeed the worse a book is asnliterature, the better and purer it is as annact of merchandising.nThis perversity is not new but seemsnto have reached a new intensity last year.nAnd Mailer and Brodkey are the appropriatenheroes of this antiliterary ecstasy.nMailer for years has been doing ankind of Mexican hat dance on the broadnbrim of his talent, as if to invite us tonshare the joke he has learned to benamused by—that it is absurd to be giftednin a time when nobody notices gifts,nand quality counts for nothing or can’tnbe distinguished from arrant fakery andntrumpery. He will then, sometimes ruefullynand sometimes with ebullience, devotenhis talent to foolishness and fatuousness,nthus reclaiming the initiativenfrom his operating editor, Jason Epstein,nand making the game his own.nnnBrodkey, meanwhile, seems to be anninvention of the New Yorker on the onenhand and Gordon Lish on the other, andnhas been running an amazing seam,nclaiming to have been working on thisnbook for 27 years! (Wonderful! Excellent!nSuperb! One more year, and he’dnhave doubled Flaubert’s stint onnMadame Bovaryl) Just think what itnwould mean for the literary wodd if allnauthors took this long to spin out theirnsentences. There’d be so much less onnthe table. John Updike, Joyce CarolnGates, and their like just don’t get it—nthat people don’t like to read, find it angood deal of work to get through onenbook, let alone a slew of them, andnrather resent it when they are put in thendreadful position of turning pages as fastnas they possibly can and neverthelessnfalling perceptibly behind.nThe New York Times Book Review hasnfigured this out and proclaims the messagenin a not-so-subtle way almost everynSunday with a bottom-half-of-the-firstpagenessay, which is not a book reviewnand which therefore doesn’t even put usnat risk of having to read yet anothernthick, fat, square book. The subjects ofnthese essays are often revealing: “BooksnI’ve Never Finished” or “Writer’s Block.”nIf there were more writer’s block, thinknhow much less time we’d have to spendnreading those books, after all.nBrodkey is probably the championnblocked writer. Past 60 now, he hasnmade a career—and a living—with thisnbook in progress, which is of course thenbest place for a book to be, for once it isndown on paper, the editors’ dreams fornany literary work begin to come undone.nIt isn’t a piece of high art that will sell anjillion copies and then move to the backlistnand do well in university surveyncourses forever, but merely another title,na commodity like any other that onenmust pitch to the sales force, send out tonunappreciative reviewers, and then try tonsell to a fickle and anyway dense public.nThe dream book is the “supreme fiction”nof Wallace Stevens’ title. It is notnembarrassed by any advance orders fromnwhich to figure a first print run, andnthere isn’t an advertising and publicitynbudget that seems not only un-dreamlikenbut actually constrained. Unwrittennbooks are the ones the industry lives on,nby, and for.nBut after 27 years of throat clearing,neven a Brodkey must turn in somethingnto someone, because there are only sonmany excuses, postures, and dodges withnAUGUST 1992/45n