Contemporary American literature is one of my (many) weak spots. And while I suspect some literati might object, reading this essay in the NY Times magazine does little to make me want to emend it.
Rophie’s central point is that the current batch of American male authors lack the verve of their predecessors and, well, are simply more conservative.
The younger writers are so self- conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un toward.
Read at your own risk. More edifying, and to the point, is Douthat’s incisive explication, where he channels Chesterton’s theory on the necessity of limits to art:
In their wild quest to overturn every conceivable taboo, in other words, the Great Male Authors of mid-century may have succeeded a little bit too well. By tearing down every possible stricture on fictional representations of sex, they abandoned their successors to the vicissitudes of a world where anything could be written, but nothing could really shock. Great art depends on walls as well as open doors, on constraints as well as cultural blank checks. And anyone who’s nostalgic for the exhilarating transgressiveness that once animated American literature should probably be at least a little bit nostalgic for the taboos that made transgression possible.
To sound a theme I’ve voiced before, the sacred not only provides meanings for the act itself, but for transgressions as well.
There’s a Straussian type point to be made about the virtues of cultural Christianity somewhere in here, but I’ll leave that aside.
In an artistic world that doesn’t have boundaries to eschew, the only rebellion left is to erect some new ones. Package abstinence in such a way that it not only becomes the blasé boredom of young men who have no imaginations, but the romantic rebellion against a world without standards. Make it not just the new ‘cool,’ but the only reasonable option for those with enough independence to assert themselves against the mollifying and subduing effects of the world.
Or, instead , just add vampires. And make them shiny.