We are the custodians of our culture. As writers—of both fiction and non-fiction—our work leaves a footprint in the world of literature by which the ages will stereotype us. While it is true that in the 20th century there were advances in storytelling—specifically motion picture and the larger accessibility of audio recording—I still feel that the major in depth and long form impressions that will be left behind will exist primarily as the written word. Whether that written word will be in ink or e-ink remains to be seen (though best bet is on the latter).
As such, I find it remarkable—and have found it repeatedly remarkable throughout the week—that there was no work of fiction or editorial opinion in the entirety of 2011 that was worthy of the distinguished Pulitzer Prize. It makes me wonder about the commitment of our society to the arts and the attention we play to the forces—social, political, and military—around us. This is not a criticism of any individual person or group but rather a comment upon the general indifference, the disillusionment of our people as whole. Or at the very least, the simplification of our interests.
Simple interests are not bad per se, but there is a general tendency in our mass entertainment that has, for some time, been leaning towards a kind of entertainment that is base rather than investigative, and weightless rather than provoking. Perhaps it has to do with the level of stress we are collectively under—many of us have to work more for less than the generations before. Perhaps it is the inevitable result of the instant gratification my generation expects due to fast technology and poor attention spans. Or maybe it’s a growing pain between the inherently difficult processes of reading (it requires a number of brain functions to work in congress for a full effect) versus the innately passive mode of watching—as it doesn’t require participation or active listening. Are we growing lazy or simply just apathetic?
Traditionally, art doesn’t come from a comfortable middle; rather, it comes from the extremes where people are driven and inspired to act. In this sense I am referring to fiction that is reflective of the world we live in, that provides thoughtful commentary embedded in a well-crafted story with characters that are representative of some aspect—positive or negative—of the human experience. I am referring to non-fiction that is illustrative of a true perspective of the world, steeped in a well-rounded, researched, and developed first-hand experience. I am talking about opinions that are built from dissemination, disassembly, and discourse with presented facts. This kind of thought; wrestling with facts and refusal to be spoon fed is ground zero for the genesis of relevant art and expression.
Is it gone? Is it simply subdued in lieu of more easily acquired entertainment and pre-digested knowledge? Or was 2011 simply not a great vintage for powerful fiction and striking opinion? I’m not sure…and I won’t feign to spoon feed you the answers. I’m simply standing on a rooftop and asking the questions—
“How do you feel about this?”
Well. Somebody wow me. I dare you.
Agree? Disagree? Post your comments below and check the counter-point from Elizabeth Schmermund.