Skip to comments.Why Tom Clancy doesn't write literature
Posted on 04/10/2012 2:14:07 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Willa Cather wrote an American literary masterpeice - so did Fitzgerald, Bellow, and Mailer - but Clancy's Red Storm Rising is just commercial junk.
Take a university English course offered under a summary like "The American Novel" or "A Survey of American Literature" and you find that before the 1930s the great American novel was written by people like Mark Twain, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Henry James - but literary greatness after that period devolved to people like Philip Roth, John Barth, and Paul Auster.
So why is the Life of Pi great literature and Cardinal of the Kremlin just paplum? It's not the writing: Pi is incoherent, characterless, illiterate drivel; Cardinal is literate, complex, coherent, and filled with people drawn from life.
The answer is that the criteria for greatness changed during the 1930s: from a focus on the quality of the work, to a focus on the acceptability of the message - and that message, of course, is not just actively taught in freshman English classes across America, but defines reality for many aspiring young journalists struggling through four years of college or University.
Thus I doubt whether a million Americans could even name three Faulkner novels, but his work provides the canonical democrat, NYT, image of the southern republican - just as the self loathing in Bonfire of the Vanities is foundational to their understanding of the ethical relationships between the urban poor and the nouveau riche in market economies.
Two things seem clear about the differentiation of good literature from bad:
The rules on which judgements are made about what constitutes good literature allow for a great deal of flexibility, but the rules on what cannot be considered are completely inflexible. Thus Norman Mailer's personal life compensates for some weaknesses in his messaging; novels about nothing are as acceptable as bad grammer; profanity is expected but not mandatory; and it's still possible to write literature without an explicit gay scene or authorial lifestyle - but Clancy's positive portrayal of military values is sufficient to place anything he writes so far beyond the pale that recognizing his name is considered a serious faux paux among the educated.
In great literature race and class count, in commercial junk they don't.
Clancy's characters have nationality and purpose - but in great literature they're black, or jewish, or gay or rich or poor or from carefully delineated classes. The conflicts Clancy's characters face tend to come from their commitments to goals above and beyond themselves: so they fight fear, exhaustion, and each other on behalf of their countries or their ideals, but share their essential humanity, personal values, and character traits. In contrast, characters in great literature are usually conflicted only by the boundaries of their racial and class isolation - generally achieving nothing for anyone in the process of discovering that they're nobody.
Thus Bonfire is literature where Red October is judged worthless because the values in the two books are virtual mirror images: the commercial junk builds involvement in the lives of achievers working through a specific event within a framework defined by personal commitment to truth, honor, and country where the Classic American Novel endlessly revalues the pointlessness of a life isolated from reality by a kind of post stalinist consumer euphoria.
What it comes down to is this: prior to the 1930s, great American literature had a lot in common with today's commercial junk: it was well written; the characters had individual weaknesses but a kind of group subscription to human equality and shared values in which the response to class issues of color, religion, birthplace, and parentage is mainly factual - thus Huck Finn, like Jack Ryan, can tell black from white, but reacts to the person, not the color.
After the 1930s, however, great literature diverged from this standard: from Hemmingway and Steinbeck to Roth and Auster, racial, sexual, and religious lines are sharply drawn and deeply internalized by onanists wishing themselves driving abuse, pity, or apathy across immutable class lines.
Think of the difference as that between a Sarah Palin rally with its excited, involved, and real Americans; people just like Huck Finn and Jack Ryan - versus a typically scripted Gore or Obama event with the usual deeply committed, and deeply serious, organizers; carefully scripted impromptus; and the nearly complete absense of spontenaity or enjoyment among the Augie Marches bulking up the crowds.
So what's this mean for republicans? The superficial message is this: the fact that millions of Americans devour each new Clancy novel demonstrates an enormous market for republican ideas - but the more subtle message is that the values taught aspiring journalists are dramatically out of sync with their markets and therefore that republicans should first work to get some Clancy novels into the curriculum, and secondly give some serious thought to the likelihood that millions of Americans consider themselves ill served by the news media choices available to them.
Clancy isn’t boring enough to be “literature.” Although “The Bear and the Dragon” came close.
Really. The only good (entertaining) story I recall from lit was “The Most Dangerous Game.” The people writing the Lit books even managed to find a boring and unfunny story by James Thurber - a real achievement.
And I like to read! (I’m the only student in history that used to get notes sent home with him from school: “We caught Ray reading in class. Again.”)
I got caught with the same periodicals in class, although I only looked at the pictures.
Sorry, you have to share that claim to fame. I used to get those kind of notes all the time, and my youngest son has started getting them from his teacher lately. The frustrating thing for my teacher (and my son's) is that the teacher couldn't even complain that I wasn't paying attention in class - even though I would be reading a book about a completely different subject, I always could answer any questions the teacher asked about what he (or she) was teaching that day...
I read what I want to read,something that either entertains me or informs me. I could care less if it’s considered good literature. I hated “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”,which received raves.
I am proud to say I have never read an Oprah Book Club book.
Tom Clancy writes books people like to read——who cares what his writing is called?
Unlike this writer,I loved “Bonfire of the Vanities”.
If you, or the author of the post, think Bonfire of the Vanities, written by Tom Wolfe, is some sort of liberal novel, you don’t know what you are talking about. Tom Wolfe is not liberal. He is a writer of novels with a distinctly conservative point of view, though he does not make the politics front and center. Read his more recent book on present day college life, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It will help educate you.
I am a PhD in literature—medieval literature to be precise. Yes, much of what is considered canonical in literature is boring, but the complexity that is lost on so many is what makes literature what it is. Clancy is topical, and a requirement of “true” literature is that it must be universal. Is Clear and Present Danger going to be something everyone can relate to? I think not.
And just to rip off from Samuel Johnson, a work needs to have at least survived for 100 years before it can be considered truly canonical. I’m not saying that I agree, so make of that what you will.
Is not the “Modern Language Association” the purveyer of wording and illogic so complete that it defines why no one respects the liberal arts any longer?
Would not the writer of this “critique” most probably be a member of this joke of an organization?
For fun, use Google to find the article written by a physicist and submitted to these stooges to see if they’d see through the bull-Obama.
Of course, they didn’t. After all, were they to have talent, they’d not be members of the Modern Language Association.
Kingsley Amis - “All Literature is escapist”
What is “paplum”?
What is “paplum”?
H.S. junior-year English was chock full of insufferable British lit. The only novel I managed to complete was “Watership Down.” I had to rely on Cliff Notes for “Jane Eyre,” “Great Expectations,” and other unmemorable “classics” of the English language.
For my personal reading, I was in my sci-fi phase: Asimov and Clarke.
“Thus Bonfire is literature where Red October is judged worthless because the values in the two books are virtual mirror images: the commercial junk builds involvement in the lives of achievers working through a specific event within a framework defined by personal commitment to truth, honor, and country where the Classic American Novel endlessly revalues the pointlessness of a life isolated from reality by a kind of post stalinist consumer euphoria”
That's almost as good as “...the angst of modern man finding himself adrift in a world of discontinuity of reality cast against the backdrop of......” yada yada.
Almost as good but just as pretentious nonsense.
>>I am proud to say I have never read an Oprah Book Club book.<<
You might have and not realized it. I was on a flight recently and the guy next to me and I started talking about books and reading. He had just finished one book and was holding one with a huge “O” in the cover with “Selection of the Oprah Book Club.”
It was The Good Earth. Yes, that one we all read in High School.
>>What is paplum?<<
How about bad spelling?
More seriously, defining a piece of writing as "literature" is a subjective exercise among people who generally graduate from the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods (Manhattan West Side for example), attend the same parties, vote for the same candidates, and all nod to each other in smug agreement that the rest of us are knuckle dragging morons. They are the type of people for whom in another age the guillotine was invented.
“The Good Earth”?
You’re right,you got me. :-)
Clancy books are plot-driven and sacrifice the “literary” to whatever serves the plot. They can’t move slowly. They have to keep up the pace or people will lose interest.
They do this very well, in my opinion. They are pretty much all that you want them to be. For their military accuracy alone they would be worth the price, even if they weren’t a darn good read.
These are the kinds of books that often become treasured literature in the future, long after their commercial success is over—classics of a genre, although Clancy is one of a kind, practically a one-man genre.
They have always been utter crap.
During his lifetime Poet Robert Services poetry was considers sludge for the masses (though he was popular at literati parties in France) yet today he is recognized as one of the great lights of the Dawn of the twentieth century.
What makes something literature is not an anointing from self important university chairs. It is continued popularity over time in a way that recognizes the work as defining an era.
Academic egos notwithstanding.
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