Monday
Nov142011

American Literature

Ryan Ridge




Most days, like most folks, I work. At night, I sit around drinking, reading American literature.

I'll admit: Whenever I type 'Western Canon' I accidentally add an extra 'n'. This, I understand, is my subconscious mind critiquing American literature.

Western Cannon.

Go ahead. It's okay. I'm wearing an astronaut helmet and a Melville costume. Go ahead and fire me from the Western Cannon! I will soar over the university towns, across the divergent readerships, and into the lost libraries of the sea.

Sometimes, when I'm driving, I'll hear American literature on the radio and think: Man, if this is what passes for American literature these days we are fucked! But then I'll realize I'm not listening to American literature. I'm listening to the news.

You won't find American literature in the news, unless you're Ezra Pound.

Pound who said: Literature is news that stays news.  

Make it new.

One time I found American literature in Mexico. A Norton anthology hiding in a Oaxaca motel where the Bible should've been.

Although the Bible technically isn't American literature, it's always the bestselling book in America, year in and year out.

Every year I tell myself: "This is the year. This is the year I'll make a significant contribution to American literature." But in reality, I just make a minor contribution to National Public Radio and move on.

Speaking of moving on, where would American literature be if it weren't for the road?

The automobile is a literary device. It's the motor of so many books. The engine. Matter of time before the wheels come off though.

Like it or not there is a direct correlation between the price of books and the cost of gas.

The United States boasts an impressive 97.9% literacy rate. Although it makes you wonder, with so many capable readers in our midsts, why is the book industry in shambles? I suspect it has something to do with supply and demand, saturation. I also suspect it has something to do with  film and television.

All the films adapted from American literature into American movies.

Instead of books, book trailers.

Billboards.

Internet.

So many modern novels are just rough drafts for screenplays anyways.

The other day I walked out of a movie theater and into the light.

The other day I was out fighting illiteracy but it turned out badly because it turns out illiterates are strong.

An Anthology of 20th Century American Illiterature

Kurt Cobain took pride as the king of illiterature.

Kurt Cobain who loved reading William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs who enjoyed cutting apart American literature.

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. Said Ernest Hemingway.

Most of Hemingway's inspiration came from one drink called the Mojito.

Tonight, I think I'll whip up a batch of Mojitos and read some American literature.

Good rum is the foundation of a good Mojito.

The Declaration of Independence is the foundation of American literature.

Although some say Benjamin Franklin invented American literature prior to Jefferson.

Benjamin Franklin, who never drank a Mojito, but loved strong ale. America's first great man of letters according to David Hume.

What does it mean to be a man of letters in an era where no one writes letters anymore?

Someday they will say of our writers: He was a man of emails. She was a woman of tweets.

Someday we will view the novel as a novelty item.

Poems by and for robots.

An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence. Warned Raymond Chandler.

Tao Lin is the perfect spokesperson for today's American literature. The fact that he's so divisive can only be attributed to the outdatedness of our Aristotelian mindsets. For instance, the notion that we still look at maps and see either blue or red.

Because even the bluest poet in the reddest state is still prone to the purplest of prose.

Because the internet blog of the future exists today.

Because it's hard to find American literature in the comment sections on the internet, but sometimes you'll find it in the articles above. 

As above, so below.

The cyber-Hermeticism of American literature in action.

I can't help but read every comment on the internet as commentary on the internet itself.

I can't help but read American literature as commentary on literature itself.

The role of the critic in American literature is to coin consumer expectations.

The role of the consumer is to open their wallets and close their eyes.

Last night, like most nights, I fell asleep reading American literature. 

This morning, I woke up and wrote some of my own.

Man, if this is what passes for American literature these days we are fucked!

If a nation's literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays. Warned Pound.

As the language decays, every sentence becomes a death sentence.

American literature never stopped an execution, but it may have prevented a few murders and it's certainly gotten many of us laid.

Is it possible to find salvation in American literature? Maybe. Sure.

Our literature is a substitute for religion, and so is our religion. Remarked Eliot.

Remarks are not literature. Said Stein.

Here's a bit of gossip: All literature is gossip. Claimed Capote.

It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature. Observed James.

Even so, it doesn't mean that American history is literature.

Even so, it doesn't mean that American literature is history.