The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you crave.
Being an American is a conundrum. First you have the issue of our culture, with its rampant materialism and soullessness. As I've outlined already, we have our problems. Rather than creating art for patrons, we manufacture "work" for producers, who in turn, sell the work as their own to an audience with low expectations.
On the other hand, there's the rest of the world. They turn their nose up at Americans because we live in this culture. It appears that there's something wrong with American artists. We are inferior because of our environment.
If we focus our country's problems, we're too self-absorbed. If we apologize profusely to the rest of the world, we're groveling.
In May 2007, I dropped a note about a backlash towards American culture:
"But the thing that jumps out at me the most is that quote above. With the world mad at America, do you think American playwrights are feeling the pain? After all, in most European eyes, we’re the dummies who elected Bush.
Do you think there’s a backlash against American playwrights – in our own country? Do you think European political plays are preferred by American theaters?
And most importantly, do you think that as playwrights, we’re distancing ourselves from our identities as Americans because we’re appalled by current events?"
No one responded to the note at the time, which I found puzzling since our identities as Americans play a role in the art we create. American artists are either reinforcing the culture, commenting on it or rebelling against it. Our disposable culture encourages trashiness, and that is what other countries despise about America. Well, that and our "freedom."
With this in mind, it's difficult not to feel mixed about Nobel Prize Secretary Dr. Horace Engdahl comments on American literature.
"The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining." According to the Associated Press interview, they are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture."
Most of us naturally become defensive at these remarks. After all, we've been stuck in an age of Americanism. Our culture is our biggest import... Besides our debt. Making the money crowd feel uncomfortable means no production, no success, no book and no recognition.
So the man might have a point. On the other hand, does Engdahl know that there is such a thing as American literature that is not limited by it's country's mainstream culture?
Does it already exist, or is it something we have to create from scratch?
Rather than debating whether the Nobel Prize Secretary has read Oates, Updike, and Roth, I'd rather think about what such literature might look like. Hopefully it would be uniquely American and not an imitation of European culture.