Modern Literature is nothing more than an Anti-Intellectual Word Salad

Originally published on The Writing Cooperative. 

This week, two writers in my circle were preoccupied with the same question. Why does modern literature suck? As far as I know, these two writers do not know each other. They are in similar political circles (right leaning, conservative) but different creative circles, which made the coincidence of their common interest even more fascinating.

A similar question has also been on my mind recently, which is “Why does it seem like there hasn’t been anything new or exciting in publishing lately?” or more to the point “Why are books so boring?”

A few weeks ago, I went to New York City to see about pitching my fiction. I met with three editors and two agents and they all said the same thing: Tell me what other books your book is like.

No one wanted something new. They all wanted a sure thing. And they all especially wanted to work with a writer who already had a certain amount of approval through social media networks, previously published stories in journals, etc. Of course, it was all about money but it was also all about what was safe. Whatever happened to creativity? Whatever happened to creative risk? Whatever happened to art?

I noticed too that everyone I met with was a young woman who had expressed interest in books about women with a feminist theme. Perhaps I’d targeted the wrong crow. Surely there are publishers on the right who are telling different stories. Surely there are publishers and writers our there taking creative chances. But where are they?

On July 22, Leslie Loftis published “The Storytelling Gap” on Arc.

In the article Loftis asks not only, “Why are there so few good modern storytellers on the right?” but also, “Why are the stories on the left so bad?”

Loftis concludes the post-modern, progressive storylines that dominate Hollywood and popular books of today suffer from two shortcomings: they don’t know how to tell a good story, and when they do tell one, these stories belabor their own brand of moralizing.

“In the past I’ve placed the blame on Hollywood and the progressive publishing left. They have forgotten how to tell stories. Schooled by relativism, they don’t understand archetypes of characters or stories and think both are bendable to tell whatever morality is in vogue.”

She continues;

“I have gotten my fill of sitting in a movie theater, having paid for the privilege of a two hour lecture. I certainly won’t waste my time reading one.”

While the right doesn’t share the left’s disregard for narrative structures, it does share the prescriptive, moralizing tone. Except where the stories of the progressive left push their own agenda, the right seems to seems to push cheery story lines with happily ever after’s in a world depicted “as it should be” instead of as it is.

“Prescriptive stories — ones that show the world as we would like it to be — quickly turn tedious. Whether a cloying right-branded tale or a stretching progressive one — think books such as Ash, which features Cinderella as a lesbian — modern fiction is full of not-so-thinly-veiled morals of the story.”

Coincidentally, another writer I follow, Vox Day, addressed the same problems and came to very similar conclusions. He concluded that the writing on the left reflects the poor quality rampant in postmodern literature. What Loftis saw as a bendable moralizing, Vox Day described as “demoralizing.”

Post-modern Literature is Bad Writing

I’m not the kind of reader who only likes to read deep, intellectual books for my own good. I sometimes like to read light-hearted books that make me laugh or serve as a frivolous escape.

I loved reading, Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells for the gigglefits and anecdotes. I’m also a fan of Delicious Tacos for his dry humor and the glimpse his writing offers into the darker side of lust, eroticism, addiction and monotony.

But it’s not that the subject matter of most modern literature is bad, it’s the quality of the actual writing. It can be very hard at times to even figure out what the writer is trying to say.

“Postmodern literature is literally word salad. It’s not good. It’s not deep. It’s childish, it’s superficial and it is meant to be skimmed lightly so that it makes you feel something. It is literally anti-intellectual. You have to turn your brain off to try to understand this.” Vox Day

In “Modern Literature Is Bad Writing” Vox Day describes the writing style of Cormack McCarthy, Annie Proulx and others as;

“Just bad poetry formatted to exploit the lenient standards of modern prose. The obscurity of whose will, which has an unfortunate Dr. Seussian ring to it, is meant to bully readers into thinking that the author’s mind operates on a plane higher than their own.”

Both Loftis and Vox Day lament that the writing on the left lacks craft. Do the writers lack talent? No, in fact, this incoherence is intentional.

Postmodernism loves to break the rules. It comes form the abstract visual arts that challenged to viewer to find beauty on their own. A giant red canvas. A black dot in a white canvas. The artist wasn’t creating the beauty or making a statement. The artist was putting the responsibility of making sense of the art back onto the viewer.

What do you see?” Is the running joke of art collectors going through the modern art museum looking at dots and paint splatter, pop art soup labels and pedestals with nothing on them.

The anxiety of influence is no longer suffered by the artist who pours his soul into his work in an attempt to infuse it with meaning and significance in an original way. Instead, the anxiety of influence is transferred to the viewer who must “make sense of the senseless,” find meaning out of nonsense.

Heaven help you if you don’t understand that the splatter paint is a radical challenge to modernism and contemporary art. The biggest eye roll ever will be shared at your expense if you claim not to be “moved” by the blank canvas that is showing you everything and nothing. Because everything is nothing and nothing is everything. How can you not understand that, dumbass?

Coming out of this self-important elite art scene is the distinction of literary art, as opposed to mass market art. Literary art is for intellectuals, unlike mass market which is for plebes. Literary art is more than stories, it is poetry. It is commentary on the world, on itself. It breaks the rules of narrative and structure as a rebellion! Don’t you understand?

In other words, it’s a jumble of words and phrases, loosely formed around an idea or character, and if you don’t understand, or don’t pretend to understand, you can’t be part of the club.

“Their style is not meant to be read word for word for meaning.” Vox Day says in his Darkstream video, “The Incoherent Evil.”

“Postmodern literature is literally word salad. It’s not good. It’s not deep. It’s childish, it’s superficial and it is meant to be skimmed lightly so that it makes you feel something. It is literally anti-intellectual. You have to turn your brain off to try to understand this.” Vox Day

Independently, both Loftis and Vox Day conclude that the problems with literature on the left are twofold:

  1. It lacks understanding of(Loftis) or resist (Vox Day) the narrative tools required to tell a good story
  2. The stories are limited by their moralizing (Loftis) or are actively demoralizing (Vox Day).

Despite their similar observations about the problems with lack of craft and sense in literature on the left, Vox Day and Loftis draw very different conclusions about how the right should respond.

Loftis challenges writers and publishers on the right to write more descriptive stories that are more representative of the human experience without censoring out the unsavory parts.

“Intuitively we understand that what the world-as-it-is stories offer us. We hunger for the real stories. Yet, publishers and producers push the prescriptive tales thinking that is what people want, or that it is their moral duty to give the public their versions of how things should be.”

The reason? Because life isn’t tidy and easy to sort through the way the prescriptive moralizing stories suggest. If we are only shown the world through one rose colored lens, we will be unprepared to deal with the reality of our own lives, which looks nothing like a moralizing parable.

Vox Day doesn’t have a problem with the moralizing of stories on the right. In fact, he presents that it is our duty to use literature to moralize and portray the values we stand for as an antidote to the active demoralizing narratives on the left.

Vox Day asks viewers of his dark stream, “What is the purpose of fairy tales?”

The purpose of fairy tales (or literature) is not to be descriptive, as Loftis suggests. It is not to show us a world (real or imagined). Referring to C.S. Lewis’s defense of fairy tales, Vox Day reminds us the purpose of fairy tales is to teach us lessons about that world that can be applied to ours.

“The reason fairy tales exist is not to tell children that dragons exist. Children know dragons exist. It is to teach children that dragons can be slain. It is to moralize.“ Voxday

Postmodern literature, he contrasts, is there to demoralize. Post modern narratives tell us two things through both the style and content of the writing:

  1. Nothing matters
  2. Follow your heart

“Both are fundamentally evil messages” Vox Day reminds us.

The narratives of the left “discredit, disqualify, isolate and demoralize” the reader. The stories he values, and I imagine the stories he wants to read more of are those that do the opposite. They serve a purpose to uplift, motivate, include and moralize.

If We Write to Present the World As It Should Be, Why Do We Read?

As a reader, I agree with Leslie Loftis. I am a bit bored with moralizing stories that try to tell me what to think and how to behave, whether they come from the left or the right. Further, I don’t want my reading to be limited to “good” stories with the “right” ideas, shielding me from “bad” stories or “bad ideas.” I want to read books that expose me to things that I can’t find in my daily life, for better or for worse. If there are “good” or “bad” ideas in them, I’d like to make up my own mind, thank you very much.

I also don’t want to be limited to objective, descriptive stories. I actually want bias. I want opinions. I want feelings. But I want a lot of them. I want true diversity in ideas and perspectives. I want to be challenged and thrilled. The more the better. I don’t have to agree, I just want to see what you see, feel what you feel, know what you know.

A good book will pull me from my world and insert me into the books’ world. While there, I suspend my disbelief and then become invested in the book. The trials of the character become my trials as a reader. I take on the challenges, successes and adventures of the characters while I am reading.
Literature and art shouldn’t tell you how to behave or what to think. It doesn’t map out your life like an instruction manual. Good Literature and art should just make you think. It should make you question and wonder and ask why.

The problem isn’t that modern literature is prescriptive, it’s that it is telling the same story over and over with the same lesson each time. It’s boring. It’s unoriginal. It’s tedious. So what if it comes to wrong conclusions, I’m offended that it does it so poorly!

The quality of writing has been devalued while the writer himself becomes the star. The writer’s personal status, minority status, victim status, or whatever status needed to make him or her a writer slash celebrity takes precedence over the craft, style and theme and art of the writing.

To show us how bad writing has gotten, Vox Day challenged his readers with a game. He took a passage from a book that won the 1985 National Book Award then divided the original passage into 15 strings based on the punctuation and randomized it twice. He then challenged readers to guess which randomized paragraph was the original. What he found was that readers were likely to guess any paragraph over the others because they all read like nonsense.

Vox Day quotes Robert Hass from the New York Times Review of books, writing about The Crossing, by Cormack McCarthy.

“The reader is meant to be carried along on the stream of language … It is a matter of straight-on writing, a veering accumulation of compound sentences, stinginess with commas, and a witching repetition of words … Once the style is established, firm, faintly hypnotic, the crispness and sinuousness of the sentences … gather to a magic.’”

What Hass describes as a “faintly hypnotic magic,” I experienced more as blissed out buzz, but to each his own.

Postmodern literature “it isn’t even meant to be properly read at all, only skimmed for the surface impressions made by the words.”

Like Loftis and Vox Day, I am hungry for literature that is well written, provocative, evocative and inspiring but without the nonsensical word salads. I want to read stories that have meaning and significance. I want to read writers with charisma, perspective and insights. Whether they do this through a feeling, a character, a place in time, a setting, a conflict, or any other creative device, I don’t really care — as long as it makes me think.
I don’t even care if the message is moralizing (or demoralizing). I’d like to believe I am not so susceptible to prescriptions of others that I will abandon thought and quickly adopt their ideas because I read a controversial, hedonistic, or indulgent book.

Please support Leslie Loftis by checking out her writing and her publication on Medium called Iron Ladies.

Please support Vox Day by subscribing to his blog.

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