27 September 2011

Die, American Literature! Die! Die!

Last month I wrote about Joseph Epstein's hilariously grumbly screed against The Cambridge History of the American Novel, and now at Slate the editor of that volume writes a temperate, rational, and utterly ungrumbly response. I particularly liked this paragraph:
Simply recording our appreciation for the "high truth quotient" (the measure Epstein wants) of a stream of canonical novels won't do. It's not clear what that "quotient" is for Epstein, but anything that smacks of pop culture is by definition excluded. Yet novels were and remain a vital part of popular culture, and their emergence in the 18th and 19th centuries was greeted as an affront to the "centurions of high culture" who appointed themselves to guard the gates before Epstein nominated himself for the job. Only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of American novels published ever achieved—or even aspired to—the exalted status of high art.