An Unholy Trinity
Writing, literature, “literature.” Everyone who has print literacy skills can produce writing. The more creative try their hands at crafting literature. The most ambitious and creative agonize to create “literature,” a prime candidate for disdain or praise. At any given time, these acts of representing may diverge, intersect, or overlap.
Many of us are conditioned to worship “literature,” to sneer at literature, to treat writing as a tool beneath the dignity of careful attention. The conditioning is necessary for us to have civilization, a relatively successful repression of the choices and free will we would have to endure in a state of amoral nature. The citizens in the United States who truly worship “literature” are few in number, because worship is a dreadful luxury indivisible from aesthetic constipation, and we tend to be a practical, pragmatic, and anti-intellectual people. The majority of us opt for a more democratic use of writing. Writing serves the ends of “progressive” science and technology and commerce. It gets things done. It produces less stress than either “literature” or literature. It demands less use of cognition and critical thought. As manufacturers of propaganda know only too well, writing or its oral equivalent is a most powerful tool for achieving motives of all kinds. Few of us have the courage to acknowledge that writing, literature, and “literature” have hastened our transforming ourselves into post-whatever critters in the fist of an absent god. Seldom is what you read what you get.
American literature serves as a buffer zone between the strident operations of “literature” and writing. Literature is not innocent, because it possesses a full range of motives that can be as transparent, muddled, or hidden as those of “literature” and writing. It should be obvious that I am not addressing American literature as a body of work that gets canonized and studied with lip-service within academic institutions. I am speaking of an ever expanding body of work that is actually used in our society ---advertising, throwaway fictions and enthralling non-fictions, mass media, scribbling in social networks, schemes to fleece the unthinking and weak-minded of hard-earned money, discourses that satisfy prurient desires and assure us that hope and faith, however invisible, do spring eternal. I should amuse us that the cultural mobility involved in American literature’s becoming American “literature” is fickle. Why are Stephen King’s passionate explorations in the bloody heartland of the America mind not works of “literature?”
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
February 15, 2014