* “Sanctimony Literature,” one of the best essays I’ve read on literary fiction in recent memory, and it captures something I’ve noticed but not been able to articulate. Strangely, I’m old enough to remember literary persons trying to affiliate themselves with free speech, free thought, and being bad. Still, I think the essay mostly misses the point on the Sally Rooney books: the characters do sometimes proclaim, “I am a communist,” “marxist,” or “feminist,” but the labels are window-dressing on what the books really cover, which is human relationships and their frailties and pitfalls. No readers outside of a few Manhattan and London precincts care about the socialist labels; everyone else cares about the relationships among the characters. Lots of people proclaim themselves to be lots of things but are more fully revealed in what they do, and who they relate to and how, than in whatever labels they assume. I can’t speak to the Ben Lerner novel, and the Emma Cline novel The Girls I started but quit: it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen to unsupervised teenage girls who get involved with cults, just as the main passion that leads guys to start cults is fairly obvious too. A novel like The Girls is implicitly conservative, with a small “c:” the protagonist’s parents know or should know what’s up, and they should stop her, or try to stop her, from doing the obvious, but they don’t. Maybe the conservative critics of the ’60s and ’70s were more right than the boomer hedonists of those decades, and now the censorious Millennials are swinging round to that point of view. Still, the sanctimonious is boring and there’s plenty of boring sanctimony in modern fiction, which may explain why capital-L Literary culture seems to be, if not altogether dead, then at least to have retreated to the status of poetry in terms of its effects and influence on everyday life. Sanctimony literature may also explain why the most interesting writer today is Michel Houellebecq, who is extremely anti-sanctimony—and many actual readers like Elena Ferrante, who is also European and eager to describe a whole world, even as few people would describe the Solaras as good people. Yet the Solara males often get the girls, or women: perhaps Ferrante gets something the sanctimonious writers don’t.
The two most prominent literary writers of the last decade aren’t American, and maybe it’s worth asking why, and what they’re doing that readers respond to. Look at someone like Gillian Flynn: whatever she’s doing in Gone Girl, it isn’t sanctimony.
* “The new literary bad boys.” Maybe. I’m not sure how much longer conventional or legacy publishing is going to exist. See also the first link, above, as this one is in some ways a continuation of those thoughts.
* James Carville: “‘Wokeness is a problem and we all know it.’ According to Carville, Democrats are in power for now, but they also only narrowly defeated Donald Trump, ‘a world-historical buffoon,’ and they lost congressional seats and failed to pick up state legislatures. The reason is simple: They’ve got a ‘messaging problem.'” Stuff that seems obvious but is apparently not. Carville hits similar notes in a Persuasion interview, too. Not to be repetitive, but his view arguably links to the first two link sets in this post.
* “Advantage, GOP.” On how the structure of elections favors Republicans right now, due in part to gerrymandering and in part to the way the urban/rural split has developed over the last few decades.
* “China is a paper dragon:” a different point of view than many of the articles linked in the last year or two, and one that I’m not sure is true, sadly.
* “A Prophet at the Barbecue: Larry McMurtry, 1936–2021.” Lonesome Dove is a great book, and a book so great that it justifies and explains a whole career. If you’ve not read it, read it first.
* David Brooks on how “wokeness” ends. Maybe. See also “Social Justice Groupthink;” I’m younger than the author but have observed similar trends. It’s important to emphasize, though, that these trends are affecting a minority of students—a very low minority, but probably fewer than 10% of students even at very expensive schools.
* Founding vs inheriting, by Balaji S. Srinivasan.
* On luxury beliefs and signaling. Sanctimony is often a luxury belief.
* “Can Apple change ads?” Deeper than the title suggests.