Saturday, September 12, 2009

Literary Indigestion

Steve Almond at Salon.com takes a look at some of the right-wing screeds that are topping the best-seller lists.

For the past nine months, ever since a certain somebody seized the White House, conservative pundits have dominated the ranks of nonfiction. There have been plenty of golden oldies, such as Bill O’Reilly (“A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity”), Ann Coulter (“Guilty”), Bernard Goldberg (“A Slobbering Love Affair”) and Joe Scarborough (“The Last Best Hope”). But it’s the relative newcomers — Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Dick Morris and Michelle Malkin — who’ve put a stranglehold on the top 10.

It would be easy enough, and rather predictable, to lament this state of affairs and to find in it evidence of an anemic literary culture, a dangerously aggrieved minority, or at the very least the diabolical efficacy of bulk sales.

But such liberal cant totally misses the point. Having spent the past two weeks in what I might call a spiritual communion with these authors, I can assure you that these texts are not the psychotic, fact-challenged rants of the mad, but carefully crafted metafictions in which the mundane terrors of cultural dislocation are recast as riveting epics of paranoia.

[…]

[S]uch is the brilliance of the modern conservative literati. While liberal scribes earnestly prattle on about the necessity for good policy in the face of global warming and peak oil and blah-blah-blah, the authors of the right have long since abandoned this outdated “reality-based” model. The reader’s heart is captured, after all, not by an adherence to the murky truths of the known world, but by the ecstatic possibilities of the imagined. Are these gifted artists to be reviled for writing prose that gratifies the most cherished and depraved sentiments of the body politic?

I say no. And I further suggest that those literary historians who hope to understand the salient psychology of our age put aside their Updikes and Morrisons in favor of Becks and Malkins. They don’t just rule the bestseller lists, people. They own the future of belle lettres as well.

There is a great literary tradition in the disgruntled pundit whose party and politics have fallen out of favor with the electorate and have nothing else to resort to but the pen or the microphone. After all, what are Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and all the other outcasts from the previous administrations doing now? Writing — or paying someone to do it for them. It makes for interesting fiction.