Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Day, Bloom Shall Know My Wrath

I'm not feeling so happy today - more stressed and insecure. This does not lend itself to insights about my writing life. Which is a shame, because my friend DeAnna wrote this really interesting post about literature that I'd love to respond to. But I can't be arsed. So instead of writing something new, I'm going to cannibalize an e-mail to my mother that's partially about literature, partially about why I write, and on the side explains exactly why I have such a big beef with Harold Bloom. Then I'm going to make myself a hot pastrami sandwich and listen to all the most depressing songs on the Twilight soundtracks. Happy Tuesday.

A seminal moment for me was when Stephen King was awarded a fancy commendation for his contributions to American letters. Harold Bloom came out in protest, calling King a writer of penny dreadfuls without a cell of literary merit in his entire body. This infuriated me even as it perplexed me; I realized after thinking it over that it wasn't my instinct to defend King only because I personally enjoyed his work. Because, frankly, he does write penny dreadfuls, for the most part.

The thing that bothered me was that Bloom wasn't seeing the American canon (which I realize he helped define) in the whole spectrum in which it exists, or in a bigger cultural context. He was decrying and dismissing work that was important to a very, very large population of Americans with minds and hearts, and trying instead to perpetuate novels that are Important but that only a small slice of people will ever read, enjoy, and learn from.

By the same token of this rejection of King: to say that pulp and genre novels, science fiction and fantasy, have no place in the Important pile of books is quite closed-minded, to me, and worse, it does a disservice to the melting-pot attitude that has been America's philosophy nearly from the word go (much as we kick and scream against it today). To eliminate whole categories, whole bodies of work, because they're not one person's idea of good literature is to miss the point of what makes America the society it is. Some people only read romance novels. Are romance novels to be kicked aside as unimportant because they're not "good literature", even though they comprise something like 30% of the money in the book market? I'm not saying they have to be read in college courses, but to insist that they are not a part of American letters is just foolish. They may not be a part of the canon, and they may not individually be Important (or even good, or worth reading), but I consider them a part of the spectrum that should not, not, not be tossed aside.

Plus, there's the problem that yesterday's penny dreadfuls are tomorrow's great literature. Dickens. Poe. Raymond Chandler. Even Shakespeare, if I'm not too mistaken. Wake up, Bloom.

So, aside from making me a permanent archenemy of Harold Bloom's, this moment showed me that I want to write (mostly) on the border between genre fiction and lit-fic. Because genre fiction always needs better writers (especially lady ones), and because lit critics badly need their minds opened as to what "American letters" means. I want to contribute to that open-mindedness by writing damn good fiction that's literary and genreiffic, just like Atwood and Vonnegut and Brockmeier and a ton of others.

Maybe that means it'll take me until I'm nearly 70 to be acknowledged as a good writer. But if I end up making as much money as Stephen King has, I think I can live with it.

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