As a consequence of progressive hypervigilance against the faintest whiff of appropriation, Tyree asserts, “[t]he novel has become a branch of nonfiction, either biography or autobiography.” Call it the new orthodoxy of the digital middlebrow, “the rise of safely empowering stories with likeable protagonists who move through short sentence after short sentence towards uplifting conclusions in which virtue is rewarded.” The laudable goal of increasing the diversity of literary voices has somehow morphed into a series of purity tests designed to ensure that any artistic representation ticks the same boxes as its ostensible author. “On this,” Tyree writes, “conservative religious evangelicals secretly agree with their puritanical secularist enemies on a censorious attitude and checklist approach to art as either ‘acceptable’ or ‘offensive’ to whatever program one happens to prefer for cleansing all vileness from the world.” The result?
"[A]rt is increasingly viewed by both the right and the left as a sub-branch of medicine, therapy, hygiene, or good manners. Art is no longer that which tells us the truth but rather that which makes us feel better — a deflated ideology that is spawning a sort of unofficial school of palatability."
And this, I fear, is what’s afflicting many of my students. They don’t find postmodern fiction palatable. They’re offended by its lowbrow humor, its willingness to subvert even sanctioned causes, its tortuous sentences, its cringeworthy sex scenes, its refusal of closure, and the demands it places on its readers. “Difficulty is elitist,” one told me recently. And then there’s the problem of Pynchon’s biography: despite decades of secrecy, he hasn’t managed to hide his Ivy League education or his blue-blood pedigree. What business does he have, they ask, advocating for the marginalized or downtrodden? Shouldn’t we be reading something by someone less privileged? Isn’t he just taking up space that ought to be reallocated? Somewhere along the way these students acquired a fabulous set of tools but few ideas on how to use them. Instead, they follow scripts, never the wiser that their pursuit of intersectional justice has congealed into something dubiously illiberal.
Tyree’s answer to our present dilemma is weirdness, “cultivated eccentricity as an antidote to a world gone mad.” He proposes a Pynchonian counterforce, a ragged band of outsiders and misfits to resist all the orthodoxies of the day. Despite the polarization of the moment, both the left and the right feverishly engage in what Tyree terms timewashing: “[O]ur era’s signature creation of fake pasts that purport to cleanse history of its deep stains and recurring nightmares with the scented spray of propaganda.” Our “incapacity to live with the past in all its troubling complexity” poses a grave danger, he argues, and better fiction could be our salvation.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor