These self-appointed deacons in the Church of Latter-Day American Literature seem to regard generosity (of words) with suspicion, texture with dislike, and any broad literary stroke with outright hate. The result is a strange and arid literary climate where a meaningless little fingernail paring like Nicholson Baker's Vox becomes an object of fascinated debate and dissection, and a truly ambitious American novel like Matthew's Heart of the Country is all but ignored.
If the British prose style is Churchillian, America is the tobacco auctioneer, the barker; Runyon, Lardner, W.W., the traveling salesman who can sell the world the Brooklyn Bridge every day, can put anything over on you and convince you that tomatoes grow at the South Pole.
It does not follow because many books are written by persons born in America that there exists an American literature. Books which imitate or represent the thoughts and life of Europe do not constitute an American literature. Before such can exist, an original idea must animate this nation and fresh currents of life must call into life fresh thoughts along the shore.
The Puritan, of course, is not entirely devoid of aesthetic feeling. He has a taste for good form; he responds to style; he is even capable of something approaching a purely aesthetic emotion. But he fears this aesthetic emotion as an insinuating distraction from his chief business in life: the sober consideration of the all-important problem of conduct. Art is a temptation, a seduction, a Lorelei, and the Good Man may safely have traffic with it when it is broken to moral uses--in other words, when its innocence is pumped out of it, and it is purged of gusto.
I like the hip writers: Fitzgerald, the guy who committed suicide, Hemingway, all those guys. Some of them were alcoholics and drug addicts but they had fun. They were real people. They formed the culture of American literature. Hemingway admired Tolstoy, Tolstoy admired Pushkin, and Mailer admired Hemingway. It all flows down. The greats are all connected. One day I'm gonna write a book myself. The first chapter will be about what a rough deal my momma got. She believed in you guys and your society.
Here is one of the fundamental defects of American fiction--perhaps the one character that sets it off sharply from all other known kinds of contemporary fiction. It habitually exhibits, not a man of delicate organization in revolt against the inexplicable tragedy of existence, but a man of low sensibilities and elemental desires yielding himself gladly to his environment, and so achieving what, under a third-rate civilization, passes for success. To get on: this is the aim. To weigh and reflect, to doubt and rebel: this is the thing to be avoided.
Modern American literature was born in protest, born in rebellion, born out of the sense of loss and indirection which was imposed upon the new generations out of the realization that the old formal culture-the "New England idea"-could no longer serve.