In the old gallery there were...

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MORE THAN REALISM OR ITS RIVALS, the dominant literary style in America is careerism. This is neither a judgment nor a slur. For decades it has simply been the case that novelists, story writers, even poets have had to devote themselves to managing their careers as much as to writing their books. Institutional jockeying, posturing in profiles and Q&As, roving in-person readership cultivation, social-media fan-mongering, coming off as a good literary citizen among one’s peers—some balance of these elements is now part of every young author’s life. It’s a matter of necessity and survival, above and beyond the usual dealings with editors, agents, and Hollywood big shots. The ways writers used to mythologize themselves have either expired or been discarded as toxic. In the old gallery there were patrician men of letters (Howells, Eliot), abolitionists (Stowe), adventurers (Melville, London, Hemingway), madmen (Poe), shamans (Whitman), aristocrat expatriates (James), bohemian expatriates (Stein, Baldwin, Bishop), playboy expatriates (Fitzgerald), denizens of café society (Wharton), romantic provincials (Cather, Thomas Wolfe), small-town chroniclers (Anderson), country squires (Faulkner), suburban squires (Cheever, Updike), vagabonds (Algren), cranks (Pound), drunks (West, Agee, Berryman), dandies (Capote, Tom Wolfe), decadents (Barnes), butterfly-chasing foreigners (Nabokov), cracked aristocrats (Lowell), recluses of uncertain eccentricity (Salinger, Pynchon, DeLillo), committed radicals (Steinbeck, Rexroth, Wright, Hammett, Hellman, Paley), disabused radicals (Ellison, Mary McCarthy), radicals turned celebrities (Mailer, Sontag), activist women of letters (Morrison), alienated children of immigrants (Bellow), neo-cowboys (Cormac McCarthy), hipsters (Kerouac), junkies (Burroughs), and hippies (Ginsberg). In the end there is only the careerist, the professional writer who is first, last, and only a professional writer. The original and so far ultimate careerist in American literature was Philip Roth.

Poll Results

recluses of uncertain eccentricity (Salinger, Pynchon, DeLillo) 6
bohemian expatriates (Stein, Baldwin, Bishop) 2
butterfly-chasing foreigners (Nabokov) 1
disabused radicals (Ellison, Mary McCarthy) 1
vagabonds (Algren) 1
suburban squires (Cheever, Updike) 1
country squires (Faulkner) 1
romantic provincials (Cather, Thomas Wolfe) 1
alienated children of immigrants (Bellow) 1
neo-cowboys (Cormac McCarthy) 1
junkies (Burroughs) 1
madmen (Poe) 1
adventurers (Melville, London, Hemingway) 1
and hippies (Ginsberg) 0
committed radicals (Steinbeck, Rexroth, Wright, Hammett, Hellman, Paley) 0
radicals turned celebrities (Mailer, Sontag) 0
hipsters (Kerouac) 0
activist women of letters (Morrison) 0
patrician men of letters (Howells, Eliot) 0
cracked aristocrats (Lowell) 0
decadents (Barnes) 0
abolitionists (Stowe) 0
shamans (Whitman) 0
aristocrat expatriates (James) 0
playboy expatriates (Fitzgerald) 0
denizens of café society (Wharton) 0
small-town chroniclers (Anderson) 0
cranks (Pound) 0
drunks (West, Agee, Berryman) 0
dandies (Capote, Tom Wolfe) 0
the original and so far ultimate careerist in American literature (Roth) 0

Zach_TBD (Karl Malone), Tuesday, 16 March 2021 22:43 (seven months ago) link

disabused radicals. these types often make the best writers. mary mccarthy is phenomenal and not read enough.

treeship., Tuesday, 16 March 2021 22:50 (seven months ago) link

delete thread, forgot all of this is already being discussed in a poll series that covers all authors of all time, forward and backward, and has already been much discussed. i was drunk, i am dumb, and soon i will be drunk and dumb again

Zach_TBD (Karl Malone), Wednesday, 17 March 2021 19:30 (seven months ago) link

the dominant literary style in America is careerism

Only in America?

pomenitul, Wednesday, 17 March 2021 19:32 (seven months ago) link

Voted for bohemian expats.

emil.y, Wednesday, 17 March 2021 19:47 (seven months ago) link


Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Sunday, 21 March 2021 02:41 (seven months ago) link

Bohemian expats, just barely edging out adventurers and romantic provincials

Mark E. Smith died this year. Or, maybe last year. (bernard snowy), Monday, 22 March 2021 02:22 (seven months ago) link

Christian Lorentzen is so eager to pigeonhole authors that he came up with no fewer than 31 pigeoholes. He missed one, which also happend to be the one he most comfortably fits: tedious hacks looking for a gimmick to get themselves published.

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Monday, 22 March 2021 02:29 (seven months ago) link

Hard to pick, went with romantic provincials

The Ballad of Mel Cooley (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 22 March 2021 12:10 (seven months ago) link

Disabused is a weaselly word but probably not the only weaselly word in this lot

scamp til you're damp (Noodle Vague), Monday, 22 March 2021 12:22 (seven months ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Tuesday, 23 March 2021 00:01 (seven months ago) link

where would mark twain fit? small town chroniclers? romantic provincials?

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Tuesday, 23 March 2021 15:32 (seven months ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Wednesday, 24 March 2021 00:01 (seven months ago) link

I don't quite get the point of this list. From the preceding sentence, it seems these are supposed to be ways that authors mythologized themselves, but a lot of these don't seem to make a lot of sense from that angle. Like did Pound really mythologize himself as a crank? Did Harriet Beecher Stowe try to mythologize herself as an abolitionist? It seems the list kind of looses its moorings and becomes just a facile compendium of the images attached to well-known writers, suitable for displaying possession of a liberal education, if the name should come up in a cocktail party conversation.

o. nate, Wednesday, 24 March 2021 01:52 (seven months ago) link

where would mark twain fit? small town chroniclers? romantic provincials?

towering American authors of deceptive simplicity and great depth and complexity!

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Wednesday, 24 March 2021 02:57 (seven months ago) link

yeah exactly

Li'l Brexit (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 24 March 2021 08:40 (seven months ago) link

Just wait til everyone’s searching for this thread in 20 years, unable to find it. “Good luck!” I’ll say

Zach_TBD (Karl Malone), Wednesday, 24 March 2021 15:09 (seven months ago) link

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