Great Fiction Has Never Been For The Masses

I recently read with great interest B.P. Rouleau’s Why Men’s Fiction Is Suffering A Great Decline. Rouleau’s perspective as a fiction writer is invaluable, and without doubt he accurately diagnoses the malaise that surrounds much of American fiction today. Yet, more than once I found myself sitting up in my chair as I read, begging to differ with him on one or two points. I intend to elaborate on those here.

Was there ever a “golden age” for the consumption of fiction in America? I am not so sure. Much of the best fiction, as I see it, was surrounded by obscurity and lack of appreciation from the moment of its initial appearance. The literati here comprised an islanded class, aristocratic in its presumptions and preferences. Was there ever a time when men “appreciated” fiction?  Here again, I am not so certain of the answer. Like all great things, great fiction has always been an elite pursuit; it has never been for the masses.

There is some correlation between female taste and sales of fiction titles. I suspect that in every age, perhaps since Petronius’s Satyricon and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass first appeared on the Roman scene two thousand years ago, women have been greater consumers of fiction than have men. Let us give women their due. In feudal Japan, women practically invented fiction. Noblewoman and ladies-in-waiting like Murasaki Shikibu constructed elaborate mythological tales (e.g., Tale of Genji) for the amusement of their lords, and thereby created a genre. Only half jokingly, we might say that men write the great fiction books, male critics praise them, and women read them.


Fiction in feudal Japan:  an elite pursuit created by women

But I digress here. Is great fiction suffering from a decline?  Yes and no. Great fiction has always been suffering from a decline in the sense that its appeal was limited to the educated elites. It was born into decline, in fact. Only rarely has great fiction appeared to universal acclaim and widespread appreciation in a writer’s lifetime. Yes, publishers are unwilling to take financial risks for uncertain literary products, and this hesitancy would doubtless condemn many old classics to oblivion today if their authors were knocking on doors, searching hungrily for a publisher. Necessity drives content.

But was there ever a time when this was not so? And has this trend not now been counterbalanced by the revolution in self-publishing and small publishing, where even the faintest printed voice can now be heard? Perhaps we are at the dawn of a new golden age of fiction, where previously unheard authors can now find a place in the chorus. In the ancient world, anyone could publish a book as long as he could hire a scribe to make enough copies; initial “printings” usually consisted of one thousand copies. The author needed only to sell them through dealers. Perhaps we are re-entering a period much like this.

Yet Rouleau’s article forced me to consider what works of American fiction I believe to be the most important, and why. Great fiction will always be relevant, and there is no better well to draw from than the classics. What better wellspring can we hope to find, unless it be the old Russian masters? Contemporary fiction be damned. I found myself continually drawn to the classics of American fiction, rather than the more modern material.

If we want to spend our time with fiction, why not choose the best? Out of countless exemplars, I decided to go with two old-school American masters. If you think these two writers are out of date, think again. For pure visionary power, maturity of symbolism, and mystical intensity of language, these American masters have never been surpassed.

Edgar Allan Poe

It is easy to forget what a towering genius Poe was. The older I get, the more I appreciate his incredible ability to evoke a mood, create a sensation, or analyze the decomposition of the human psyche. He is a consummate psychologist who was successful in many literary genres: he invented the detective story (The Purloined Letter), he was a great literary critic, he was an unrivaled poet, and he brought the horror tale to a height of maturity that has never been equaled.


Poe’s genius has no parallel in American letters

If you want to see what perfect writing looks like, read (or re-read) The Tell-Tale Heart. This short story is just about the most expertly constructed bit of writing that has yet appeared of comparable length. Poe’s special power was to dissect the breakdown of the human psyche, and he did this with unerring success in The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, and in his gothic tales like Ligeia and  The Fall of the House of Usher. What concerns Poe is the destructive power of human passions like love, rage, and hatred, and his stories reveal with uncompromising clarity the irrational forces that inhabit our souls.

Herman Melville

Now this is a novelist. He led a life that was exciting, rebellious, and full of angst and pain. In other words, he was made for writing. Typee chronicles his youthful experiences among the South Sea cannibals, and is a good warm-up to some of his more serious writing. Typee established Melville as the bad-boy of American fiction.  Having lived among the South Sea natives, he could never quite adapt himself to polite society again. He tried and he tried, but it was no good. He had seen and experienced too much, and it had forever changed him. His later writings show his obsession with philosophical and moral problems, with which he was unable to untangle himself.

Which brings us to his greatest book of all. About Moby-Dick, what can one say about this strange and wonderful book that has not already been said? Perhaps one who is a native of southeastern Massachusetts, who has walked countless times the streets of New Bedford, and has visited the Seaman’s Bethel many times, cannot write neutrally about this difficult and brilliant book. But let us try.

It begins almost like a conventional sea-story, with picturesque scenes of Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a pipe and a fraternal bed together in New Bedford, and signing up for what appears to be a routine whaling voyage.


A dead whale, or a stove boat

And then things get progressively stranger, and stranger still. We are drawn into a surreal world where the characters speak like Shakespearean actors and behave like fanatics. Mystical undertones begin to rise overtly to the surface. We have a whaleboat filled with a multinational crew, headed by a rage-soaked lunatic, on a quest that ends in complete destruction. Among countless great chapters, read and imbibe the beauty of “The Grand Armada”; chew on the marvelous soliloquy by Ahab in Chapter 70 (“The Sphinx”); and experience the grandeur and desolation of the final chapter. This book deserves every bit of its reputation as the greatest, profoundest, and most difficult of all American novels. It doesn’t yield up its secrets easily, but when it does, they come in torrents.

And so we return to our original question: is American fiction dead? No. Genius, like weeds and ivy, will always find a way to persist and regenerate. It has a way of cropping up in the unlikeliest of places. We may not find the great treasures we seek in mainstream publishing, but on blogs, in self-published tomes, and in niche markets, there is a tremendous amount of creative vitality.

We have only to keep an open mind, and cast a wide net on the open sea.

Read More: On The Importance Of Family 

107 thoughts on “Great Fiction Has Never Been For The Masses”

  1. Hi Quintus, if I were to read a few fiction books, what would you recommend ?
    Johnny B.

    1. To stay motivated, you should read what you like, for the most part. But you can’t go wrong with the classics: Whitman, Poe, Melville, etc. Check out the two authors I recommended in this article.

        1. Tried Conrad, couldn’t get into it. I love Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemingway. They both have a lot to say about the “battle of the sexes” and the true nature of men and women. You learn more about this by reading good fiction than you ever would get from a scientific treatise.

        2. Conrad is the best. As a sea captain, I appreciate him more. He was a captain until he was near forty, before he ever set pen to paper. And English was not even his mother tongue. Try “The Rover” it is one of his best IMHO.

        3. A bit off topic as it’s non-fiction, but if you haven’t already, check out Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer. It’s particularly interesting from a modern, red pill perspective.
          Hayden was an alpha among men, a real man’s man, and utterly broken around women. Hollywood’ll fuck that shit up.
          The movie White Squall is a fictionalized version of the last voyage of the actual Wanderer, after Hayden had sold it to a charter captain.

        4. Thanks for the recommendation. I think I’ll try that. I have an interest in nautical things. I am half way through “Two Years Before the Mast”, by Dana. As a sea captain, I think you would appreciate it.

        5. Many books about ships and the sea don’t resonate among those without experience in such things. I’ve had four years before the mast and enjoy that kind of literature.

        6. The relationship with “Apocalypse Now” is also very interesting. Some of the dialogue comes directly from Conrad’s novella.

    2. If it’s not too impertinent to offer my own suggestion, I’d say that Quintus’ suggestions are good, but are all modern. If you wanted a fiction reading list that would acclimate any man to Western Civilization (with an emphasis on your native English tongue!), I’d say:
      The Iliad and Odyssey; the Aeneid (at least a good chunk of it, through to book VI, say); the Metamorphoses; Juvenal’s Satires and/or Petronius’ Satyricon; Aesop’s Fables; if you like Drama, there’s lots of Greek and Roman drama, but it’s never been my thing; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur; good chunks of the Golden Legend (Jacob de Voragine); the Canterbury Tales; the Divine Comedy; Orlando Furioso; the Song of Roland; El Cid; I can’t overemphasize that English speakers should be constantly picking up Shakespeare and reading and re-reading him – his are some of the wisest and most skillfully penned works ever set to paper, and will reward renewed study with new insights throughout your entire life, especially if you learn about the allegorical and cultural backgrounds to his many works from traditional, non-revisionist scholars – same kinda goes for Canterbury Tales; Don Quixote; Ivanhoe; Moby Dick; Count of Monte Cristo and/or Three Musketeers; Bleak House, Great Expectations, whichever of Dickens’ works float your boat, really; Poe’s short stories; Bullfinch’s Mythology, especially if you do limited reading in the Classical Sources; Dostoevsky (esp. Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov); Rudyard Kipling’s works; finally, some people may make fun of me, but I actually think Lord of the Rings deserves a place in the canon of the greats for its native English wit, its inventiveness, its brilliant familiarity with Norse epic and its moral and spiritual clarity. I don’t much care for Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, because my tastes are so anti-modern, but I’ve still read some of them just for balance’ sake, you may want to do the same. That same vein of anti-modernism makes me like modern anti-modern books, such as Brave New World, Farenheit 451, 1984, Animal Farm, etc. Heinlein’s Sci-Fi is worth a read; not always great literature, but almost always a good read; I have a soft spot for Tunnel in the Sky. You can safely avoid, in my opinion, modern “greats” like Salinger, Vonnegut, and others of their ilk. I know they are parodying the banalities and obscenities they describe, but they do this in a rather crass and artless way, in my opinion. Same with Camus, Kafka and other nihilists/existentialist authors: such things may have a good “point,” objectively considered, but the novels themselves muddy the mind and taint the soul with an unclean stream.
      This seems like an huge reading list, but if a man reads even a bit each day, it’s not long to get through a good chunk of this list. I had read almost all of it by the time I was 22, and the rest of it came before I hit 30, and that’s when I was reading lots of other things – poetry, non-fiction, theology, philosophy, besides. And the Shakespeare, as I say, is something I don’t think a man should ever be “done” reading… especially not if he speaks the tongue of Merry England.

      1. Moby Dick is my favorite novel. I’ve read it three times. But don’t forget Graham Greene.

        1. I did forget Graham Greene; some of his works are on my “to do” list, but alas, have to be ignored for now. I have not yet read anything of his, to my shame.

      2. Excellent titles, one and all. I’ll throw a few more favourites into the mix: W. Somerset Maugham is as elegant a writer and as keen an observer of human nature as I’ve ever discovered. Raymond Chandler, as noted in the article that inspired this one, is the king of stylish prose and a great inspiration of mine. Quotes of his that defy belief echo through my subconscious on a daily basis, pulled fom near every page of his masterpieces. The modern-day heir to his vaulted throne, in my humble opinion, is James Lee Burke. Southern-fried noir with a mighty grim backbeat. And in keeping with the genre, James Ellroy is an absolute force with his frenetic, staccato rhythms and blood-drenched, politically-charged, sex-fuelled descents into the underworld. (My lofty plans include being able to stand alongside these great men in the pantheon of master stylists some day, if everything falls into place.)
        Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are all wonderful reads, Tom Wolfe is an energetic blast, Clive Barker is rightly hailed as an incredible talent in the horror realm, and if you like science fiction, the Dune saga and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion cantos are major benchmarks. Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis is an inspiration. Then there’s Cormac McCarthy, who deserves all the praise as one of our greatest living writers, with prose and themes that literally make the jaw drop, and all the acolades for Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Melville and other giants in that vein are richly deserved. There is a wealth of incredible fiction out there in every sort of genre.

    1. Ugh. I respect that you like it but I thought it was a slog. I think I’ll try again one day without any distractions/breaks and see if I can follow it better. I plan to crush 150 books a year in my retirement era.

  2. Quintus, as far as great fiction goes in East Asia, you forgot China’s 4 great classical novels:
    Journey to the West
    Dream of the Red Chamber
    Romance of the Three Kingdoms
    Water Margin
    While the Tale of Genji is certainly well regarded, the above 4 are even more so.

    1. Yes, you’re right. I didn’t have the space to cover everything. Every nation has its own great tradition. What matters is that you actually read it, absorb it, and chew on it.

  3. “Great” things,”great” art, “great” literature is all but dead.
    What killed it – modernism, nihilism, feminism, everything. A man’s true destiny in life is to create, and to build, and to destroy.
    There is no more an incentive to create great art these days since men realize that women’s sexuality is nihilistic and anti-god.
    Fucking nuke it all.

    1. Of the great tragedies in human history the destruction of the library of alexandria always seems like one of the saddest to me, even if the cost was to civilization rather than in human lives. However and perversely perhaps, there is something to be said for the occasional act of nihilism however gutting it may be. A righteous philistine like Savanarola burning books in his auto-da-fe might have blighted italy’s rennaisance if his zealotry had caught on, but I suspect it actually spurred it on. Its great that we still have the ancient tomes Quintus mentions, but how many were lost, and are we necessarily worse off because of it?
      I wonder too what a good book-burning today would consist of (despite despising the idea in principle)?
      Maybe we should burn the good literature rather than the bad. Maybe that would get things going again

      1. It’s been speculated that only about 25% of classical literature survived. Most of it was lost through neglect or deliberate destruction by barbarian invasion, or (even more commonly) zealous Christian mobs or ecclesiastical figures who deliberately destroyed any manifestation of pagan culture.
        We should be grateful for what did survive, believe me. Most of what did survive escaped ruin by the thinnest of threads. Many of these classics existed in only a handful (or even less) of copies, and were transcribed during the Carolingian period (c. 800 A.D.)

        1. didn’t know it was that little, such a waste. I believe some lost works were re-introduced to christendom from the east, and after the fall of constantinople to the turks. Maybe there’s a cave somewhere with the remaining 75% waiting to be discovered.

        2. Yes, much was lost. Of the 100 or so plays of Sophocles, we only have 7 that have come down to us, for example. Tacitus’s Histories and Annals only survive in mutilated form. The list goes on and on.
          But the good news is that we do have most of the best stuff. Much of what was lost perished only because insufficient copies were made. The best stuff was widely read and circulated, and so many copies were transcribed.

        3. that’s fortunate. Its strange though, the church suppressed so many works, but also did much of the copying that allowed these works to survive

    2. Not true at all; I’ve been writing some things which I think have potential to be truly great. I keep polishing them and will perhaps release them someday – three works that could be described as derivative: a retelling of the Canterbury Tales, some new poetic works in the style of the Breton Lays, and an updated Divine Comedy – and an original work that I won’t speak of at the moment. I’m Catholic, and I want to found a religious order whose focus is the revitalization of Catholic culture – i.e., Western Civilization – by finding Catholic laymen and religious who want to return works of great beauty and craft to the Church’s public worship and private devotions. I’m a celibate man, and I think the reason my soul is alive to great art and literature, is precisely because I have no interest in feminine entanglements or the equalitarian fascism for which they ever toil.
      The blights you describe – modernism, nihilism, feminism – cannot wither a soul that gleams hot through contact with the fire. The man whose link remains living and active to God, to truth, to beauty, has the antidote for all these poisons welling up within himself. You have to let these things conquer you; by nature you were designed to be above them, and if you remain in accordance with nature you will remain above them. I say this with the caveat that it is natural for nature to cling to super-nature, and to avoid the corruption of nature through the baser force of concupiscence. Case in point: men have always known that female sexuality was a black hole. The very same Cathedrals that housed some of the greatest works of art, also were fraught with depictions of the Sheela na Gig (statues that warned men of the empty void of female sexuality – look them up and you will see how vividly they portrayed this). Later Christian culture went astray in breaking with the Church Fathers, who taught that the only reason women in the New Covenant could rise to great heights of virtue and excellence, was because Christ had endowed mankind with a supernatural power that made even women capable of being manly! Seriously, if you attend services for the feasts of female saints, they are full of references to how manly the women became in Christ, exceeding the weakness of their womanly natures. But left to the course that nature follows when it abandons this adherence to supernature, the Church knew what woman was, what she is. While man is not quite so prone to completely abandon the higher principles, even he comes to naught if he lets nature slide down into corruption. Perhaps you are a man who has come to see the vanity and destruction of unrestrained or unreformed feminine sexuality, but you are still eager to get your rocks off and so you make use of them. That is the wrong path, because it binds you to their destruction, and this may be producing your malaise and despair. If you see it for what it is, and find no women who are rising above nature with whom to make a family, then embrace the manly path of self-control and virtue and excellence in art and every other pursuit, while leaving women to their self-made hell. God knows you won’t be able to reason them out of it.
      The point is that the great works of art have always been produced by men in cultures that saw the nihilism laying behind the contradictory vagaries of the effeminate mind; they are great works of art precisely because they defy this and mount above it. If we men are starting to rediscover it, it is a sign that we are once again ready to appreciate the great truths that lead to great art, which require men to be free form this feminine shackle. Art died while we were all pretending that effeminacy and the feminine imperative were good things; if we are now realizing that they are poison, this is the herald of art’s rebirth, not of its death.

      1. Outstanding! Thank you for the reference about Sheela na Gig. I had never heard about these statues before.

        1. Sure thing; they’re fascinating, huh? Scholars debate what they were really for, but to me it’s fairly clear. There were male counterparts in some places, too, Priapus-like figures with enormous phalluses, that also reminded men to think with their big head and not the little one. But the gaping vulva, the obvious deformation and impish features of the critter, indicate to me the same thing whether one wants to attribute an admonitory or an apotropaic meaning to the creature: a slattern’s gaping hole can be an evil to man and fiend alike.

        1. Yeah, but talking too much. If brevity’s the soul of wit, I’m witless.
          Thanks, by the way, for featuring my reading list. I assume it was your doing! Thanks also for the great article encouraging men to read the greats. So much of the cure for what ails us is found in good art and literature.

        2. Cui, your reading list was bang on (seems we share similar tastes, as I’ve read most of those listed as well and would agree with your high praise!). I must ask you to get a hold of me when you do publish your three great pieces — no doubt they will make an excellent addition to my library. Hopefully right beside the Complete Works of Quintus Curtius Volumes 1-3.

        3. Would you elaborate on the “black hole” of female sexuality? I’m unsure whether you’re talking about hypergamy or their undecisiveness, confusion and manipulation.

        4. It’s very dangerous to ask me to elaborate on anything!
          I’m talking about how, when it is unrestrained by virtue or by social convention, it tends to destroy everything about a society. A loose woman can cuckold a man and have him working for a woman that is not exclusively his, and even supporting kids that are not his own. But beyond this, if a woman is flattered in her “autonomy,” she has a way of subjugating the whole society to her, not just in direct, financial ways (like welfare) or by privileged status (through laws that defend her demands in a very biased manner, contrary to the greater good), but also by feminizing the whole culture, reducing it all to an homogenous “safe space” where art, literature, music, science – in short, every endeavour of mankind – becomes degraded and banalized to the lowest common denominator. The female imperative hates excellence and all preeminence; in times and cultures where she cannot eliminate it entirely, she tends to prefer to marry men of excellence and preeminence and to arrogate this to herself by proxy, claiming her man’s qualities almost as her own, even while resenting his greatness to some extent. In societies where she can eliminate or curtail the opportunities for excellence and “unfairness,” she tends to tolerate men who exhibit low-level, cheap substitutes for actual excellence in the form of bluster, bravado, asshole type behaviours. These behaviours mimic the masculine confidence that a real man would have; but she doesn’t want a real man, she just wants the thrill of that manly “edge” to get her tingles going. So she does all she can to make sure that men are hassled in their real lives from becoming men, but she’ll gladly reward men who act like the cock of the walk in bars. This has the double-edged effect of cutting down manly excellence in daily life, and of encouraging vanity, effeminacy and posturing amongst men in “romantic” pursuits.
          This is one of my main beefs with a lot of guys who talk about “alpha behaviour,” nowadays; they seem to think that it equals “asshole out for himself.” My great grandfather and many other good men from past generations, were as “alpha” and “in charge” as you could hope to be, but were gentlemen, polite, and considerate until and unless the situation called for a different approach – in which case, they would kick your ass or set you straight before you knew what happened. The real sign of an excellent and confident man, is independence… by which I mean an inner freedom to act as one sees fit, without being constrained by various vices (like fear of loss, need for approval, etc.). It is easy to confuse this attitude, the attitude of “I’m man enough to act as needed without fear of myself or others in any situation,” with the “I’m too much of an alpha cock to care” attitude. The “I’m too much of an alpha cock to care” attitude is a lie, because the entire point of that attitude is to care. Think how much time and effort some guys put into seduction techniques designed to communicate the sense that they “don’t care” to a woman, when really it is practically their life’s work and the thing they spend most of their free time thinking about and doing. Guys who feel the need to have a lot of bluster and bravado, are desperately signalling how much they “don’t give a fuck,” which tells you right there that they actually do give a fuck, and probably more than one. The man who actually is acting without any reference to how you may or may not respond… well, guess what? You may have to pay attention to him to figure out how he feels, because he actually doesn’t care about signalling his diffidence to you.
          In any case, to return to the point: whether the woman is indulging her baser nature in one-night stands with men (and fomenting an whole culture of men who desperately try to not act desperate while spending most of their time looking for a bang), or indulging her baser natures in the legislative and judicial branches of our government, a woman whose sexuality is not restrained by virtue and convention, is a black hole that manages to destroy not just individual men’s lives, but the whole society’s capacity for masculine strength, vigor, independence and greatness. The initiative, as always, lies with men; we are the nobler sex and the sex given dominance. If we continue to subordinate ourselves to women, even just for “pump and dump” purposes, then their dysfunction remains the ruling paradigm. Even when they are being sexually “exploited,” they are still ruining the men in the process. Man was given command; we must take it and put things right, and turn that black hole into something else: a womb of life, from which new generations emerge and for which civilizing movements may occur.

        5. Thanks for the laugh and the compliment, my friend. If you concur with my reading list, I can only conclude that you are a brilliant man of exquisite tastes! Plus, you’re enjoying Quintus’ posts, which already separates you as wheat from the chaff.

      2. I will never never never understand celibacy. Repression of natural sexuality results in monstrous deeds of evil. FWIW I was raised Catholic too. On another note, I understand the anger here. Yes our civilization is crumbling and feminism is destroying both sexes. Still, naive soul that I am I believe it is possible to restore a natural order for the benefit of both sexes. I do not hate women. Wary that I am of the traps, I do my best to enjoy their company. Sex is wonderful and no I do not feel it either good or necessary to choke, slap or violently pull the hair of my lover. Sorry, but I had to both comment and digress.

        1. Celibacy is not repression, and it doesn’t lead to evil; in point of fact, the men involved in abuse were known not to have ever really practiced celibacy to begin with; they were Marxist faggots who deliberately infiltrated the seminaries in the early-mid 20th century on the advice of Gramschi and other left-wing radicals. Even with that, the abuse rate in the Catholic Church at the *summit* of the abuse scandal, was 1/5 the rate of abuse in secular institutions like the Boy Scouts and public schools. Sex abuse rates are higher in churches with married clergy, even. Yes, we’re talking per capita, not in total. Celibacy of the clergy has little do with sex abuse, apart from keeping the abuse rate lower than average! Any sex abuse is horrific, but despite her lower sex abuse rate, the Catholic Church gets disproportionately wailed on because… well, because She is Christ, if you want to know my frank opinion, and it is inevitable that the sacred should be treated contemptuously by the profane. Certainly, that is how Christ Himself was treated; shall His Body fare any better?
          I have never felt like my sexuality was being repressed, and in fact, once I joined the monastery and had completed my first year without sexual release of any kind, I was surprised at how manly and in-control I felt, and at how much clarity of mind resulted. Far from feeling “repressed,” I felt like a whole new expanse of freedom had opened up. Men have always known that sex with women is fun and feels great, but that it tends to draw a man into a world of cares. With contraception, some of these cares are eliminated… with the result that society goes sex-crazy in its careless hedonism. I wanted neither the cares nor the hedonism, preferring to simply give myself over to the Lord as His man. Sex is cheap compared to some experiences I’ve already had, beginner though I am. Repressed? That idea is less than meaningless to me, because sexual desire pales in comparison to the eros I’ve discovered. But if you want to talk about repression, it may be more accurate to say that the truth is the other way ’round, and that most men chasing tail are repressing a far more fundamental need and urge of the soul.
          The feminists and cultural revolutionaries foisted this absurd idea of “repression” upon us. I don’t think you have to be a genius to see that society is far more prone to “monstrous evils” post-“repression” than it was during the bad old days of “repression.” The fight against “repression” is just another of the Left’s Orwellian ways of trying to make evil sound good. Feminism, leftism, cultural Marxism, never come right out and say: “we want to reduce everyone to lives of poverty, despair and dysfunction so that we may indulge our schadenfreude and reduced the bulk of mankind to degree of impotence required by our cowardice, rather than suffer the beautiful people to be happy for one second longer.” No, they target all of the things that make the society healthy, speak of them as though they were vices, and gradually convince you actually to *choose* misery as though it were the noble thing to do. “Repression” is just one of their Orwellian terms used to control the terms of debate.
          Just so you know, I was not raised Catholic; I was raised an atheist. I converted to the Orthodox Church in my early twenties and became a monk; after ten years of study, and learning to read the Fathers and Councils in the original tongues, I am now converting to Catholicism of my own free and deliberate choice.
          Neither am I angry with women; I’m more angry with men, specifically the past two generations of men, who ignored the wisdom of the past and allowed women to drive themselves mad without the benevolent influence of patriarchy. A good woman has a strength all her own, and I honor the all-pure Mother of God and the many womanly saints as paragons of strength and virtue. I have known good women in my life, though not one who could rival a man’s noble integrity in solicitousness for Truth (they can exist, in rare quantities, I’m sure, but I haven’t met one yet). I know that women without grace inevitably follow the path of Eve… i.e., they generally are confused about what they want and how to get it, and will gladly do all kinds of damage in pursuit of their half-understood desires. Men who don’t retain a permanent core of independence, tend to follow them down their rabbit holes. But in the end, the man is to blame. You are right, that it is possible to restore a natural order to the sexes. Men have this as their permanent responsibility, and it will always require them to insist that women submit to male authority. When women do this, they can often be quite helpful to society from this position of submission, and have a strength and a goodness of their own. But when they forsake this submission to the man, who has natural dominion over them on this earth, they forfeit their own nature and strength.

        2. That’s an incredible viewpoint worth much consideration — I’ve always been sympathetic to what pauldrake is getting at here, but your reply sheds a new light on the matter.
          Best of luck on this path of virtue you’re following. I think you’re heading the right way.

        3. I don’t know if I am treating the sacred profane but I do appreciate the intellectual approach you take to this very weighty matter. First of all let me state that I was never harmed by a priest or nun. Second I am aware that other institutions have had a similar problem with pedophilia, this is hardly an evil solely the province of the Catholic Church. Third believe ir or not I was mainly addressing the issue of celibacy alone. I’m sorry I just do not consider this a normal state of affairs for an otherwise healthy human being. Lastly, yes there are many examples current and historical of sexual repression resulting in hideously destructive behavior. Precisely because it is so unnatural to be that way. Judge me as you like, I bear you no ill will but that is how I have come to believe.

        4. I agree that celibacy is not a normal state of affairs. I think there is certainly a damaged kind of person who embraces celibacy for the wrong reasons. All I’m saying, is that when these people engage in highly destructive behaviour, it is not the celibacy, but the other issue, the sexual perversion or dysfunction that caused them to feign celibacy in the first place, that is to blame.
          I don’t believe for a second in “repression.” Or, rather, I suppose one could experience sexual repression, but only if one had a sick neurosis about sex that caused one to desire shameful or deranged forms of sexual excitement, or that caused one to regard even healthy sexuality as something perverse and shameful. But in that case, the problem lies not in the celibacy, but in the neurosis that drives the pathology about sex in the first place. Failing that, healthy society always knew that practicing self control makes the management of instincts and urges easier, rather than more difficult, and certainly doesn’t pervert them into a deranged form of repression. Until very recently, it was entirely normal for the majority of married society to refrain entirely from sexual activity after they had had as many kids as they wanted. My great grandfather stopped sleeping in the same bed as my great grandmother after they turned 40, because they had had all the kids they wanted and figured she was getting to the age where she shouldn’t be having more. They lived celibately for the rest of their lives – 35 more years for him, 45 more for her. They were the wisest, best, most healthy people I’ve ever known. My grandmother and grandfather did the same; grandad was a drunk, but he was a drunk before they went celibate! Even the Protestants didn’t tolerate birth control until the 40s and 50s rolled around, so this really was the way of life for just about everyone. Not everyone was repressed; rather, the vast majority of society was more or less healthy.
          It wasn’t until modern psychologists started warning everybody about “repression,” encouraging them to masturbate because it’s healthy and normal, and encouraging them to write nasty letters (without mailing them) or to beat up pillows in order to “vent their anger,” that huge swaths of people suddenly started developing actual neuroses related to sex, anger and narcissism. A man who lives his celibacy well is indeed living a life that is not normal or natural; it is supernatural. He does not repress his sexuality, nor does he even merely suppress his sexuality; rather, he redirects the capacity for eros – unitive desire – towards the divine, and experiences a transfiguration of his whole capacity for desire that, truly, leaves less potent forms of desire seeming very, very paltry in comparison. I’m glad that you bear me no ill will; nor do I you. I would encourage you to take a closer look at the way celibacy has actually been lived by many thousands of holy people throughout time.

        1. Depending upon what you mean by that, I may disagree somewhat. Understood as forming tight-knit communities that seek to preserve the good through crisis, I agree, and this is what I seek to do.
          Understood as maintaining a commitment to an exclusively Benedictine way of life, modeled on the Rule… well, I suspect the future has some marvelous surprises, and deliverance will come in unexpected ways. The Church has also always been compared to that garment of many colors with variegated fringes… i.e., as having a broad variety of customs and modes of life. I think the Church will survive as she always has: i.e., in many more ways than one!

      3. Incredible comment, and welcome back here. I’m also a Catholic and am quite interested in this order you’re founding. If you can point me in the direction of more information on the matter, I’d appreciate it.

        1. Always good to meet a brother in the faith. Shoot me a line at my gmail address (CuiPertinebit), and we can talk about it a bit. I’m especially looking for men who may feel a call to be a priest or a monk, but the order will also rely heavy on “tertiaries” (laypeople who sympathize with the order and become lay members of it). Also, I want to emphasize people who may have a talent (or a desire to learn) in a traditional art of the Church – chant, sculpture, iconography, folk music, woodworking/metalworking, etc. – so that they can directly work on the arts/materials needed. That said, we will certainly need people who are looking to help in other ways – donating time or treasure. Of course, any good order should be of benefit to the people supporting it. The order would obviously pray for all its tertiaries and benefactors, and past that I think our members would grow a lot in their faith from reading the books, listening to the music, attending services, and generally learning about their Catholic culture and faith in a more profound way.

  4. I would say that great works of all types have always been in decline. Meaning, great works will usually be appreciated by a minority of people, initially. Only in the course of time will their greatness be appreciated.
    Most of the fiction being read today (particularly by women) I would not consider “great”. It is pablum generated for the masses.
    Most women, like most men, do not read great fiction. They read the literary equivalent of “Housewives of whatever county”.
    One thing I’ve noticed that is very interesting:
    The great men of yesteryear, regardless of their professions, were also excellent writers. Writing was not a specialized talent, everyone educated was able to do it.
    That does not seem to be true as much today.

    1. This is because the men of years past had a more focused, standardized educational system. They were educated in classical letters. They also knew and read classic English literature. All over the West, the culture has become vulgarized.

  5. “Perhaps one who is a native of southeastern Massachusetts, who has walked countless times the streets of New Bedford . . . ”
    Across the room from me I have a couple of paintings of the Charles W. Morgan at dock in New Bedford. The artist, my mother, says she used to be able to draw the standing rigging from memory.
    A bit to one side of the these is a ships lantern that used to hang on it. My grandfather bought it at auction before the Morgan was sent off to Mystic.
    I love Moby Dick, but I might not be objective.
    “…and there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them
    again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”
    One of the greatest passages in literature, but my father’s family is from the Catskills, so I might not be objective.

  6. ” It was born into decline”.
    Such a succinct and pithy phrase.It strikes as pertinent to so many trends both intellectual and cultural that we witness today.

  7. Great points, Quintus.
    “Yes, publishers are unwilling to take financial risks for uncertain literary products, and this hesitancy would doubtless condemn many old classics to oblivion today if their authors were knocking on doors, searching hungrily for a publisher.”
    My decision to use the word “decline” is certainly a value judgement. In the article I focused more on degradation of content in modern lit, but another example might be degradation of style. Steinbeck’s East of Eden opens with a chapter detailing the natural environment in which the novel takes place. Today, East of Eden would promptly find its way from the slush pile to the shredder in just about every modern traditional publishing house that took the time to read the first page. Why? Because potential customers no longer have the attention span to read about how the river snakes through the Salinas Valley and how the sun falls on the mountain range at different hours of the day. The decline of fiction is certainly a symptom of a larger cultural devolution, but nonetheless I believe it exists (meaning I believe that we used to be in a better place).
    “…But was there ever a time when this was not so? And has this trend not now been counterbalanced by the revolution in self-publishing and small publishing, where even the faintest printed voice can now be heard?”
    Self-publishing is awesome. While I’ve been fortunate enough to have one short story published “traditionally,” I anticipate I will eventually take the self-publishing route. A difficulty with self-publishing, however, is that it necessarily lacks the quality control that literary magazines and publishing houses once provided. I’m all for trolling the high seas for hidden gems and tossing the by-catch overboard, but what I would prefer is a competent number of publishing houses, agents, and literary reviewers who are, for example, ROK readers and contributors. Our kind used to run the industry in past decades (at least since there has been a fiction “industry”), but now we are relegated to trading tattered e-books in the shadows of the literary “black market,” so to speak.
    I hope you’re right, though. I hope we are entering some sort of golden age where we can take back our positions as the authorities on literature through blogs/self-publishing/etc.

    1. Bryan:
      Yes, there is much merit in this point of view. There has been an undeniable decline in the overall level of cultural sophistication in the literati in nearly every western country.
      I was struck by the observation someone made on the BBC recently that there is not one single current man of letters in England that is willing to challenge the power structure in the way that great writers of the past used to do: George Orwell, H.G. Wells, G.B. Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, etc.
      Where did all the men of ability go? This is the fundamental question of our time.
      The answer partly lies in the fact that wealth and prosperity do not encourage dissenting voices. In the post-1945 era, there has been a massive level of prosperity enjoyed by the West. This period may be coming to an end. As hardships increase, so will great fiction voices who will know how to diagnose and interpret modern problems.

      1. Yeah, these aren’t our fathers’ iconoclasts. Speaking Truth to Power ’14 = flashing your tits on Twitter to show solidarity with a celebrity who didn’t mean to flash her tits on imgur. Or #Ferguson.

      2. Only this week Will Self attacked Orwell as a ‘mediocrity’ (Self is a progressive lovey whose work is turgid and verbose although the Quantity theory of Insanity was good) So no-one will challenge the establishment, but it seems there are those who will attack a great author from the past who was actually prepared to do so.

        1. “1984” and “Brave New World” should be read in tandem to understand the dystopian debate between Huxley and Orwell.

        2. Self was talking about Orwell’s prose style, with reference to an essay he wrote on the use of English (‘Politics and the English Language’).
          While he was wrong to call Orwell a mediocrity, he had a point. Orwell prescribes a rather narrow use of our rich and beautiful language, and recommends using only short, Anglo Saxon words. Had James Joyce, Nabokov or Shakespeare have taken such advice then our literary culture would be unimaginably poorer.
          It’s easy to take pot shots at Self, but he is a serious writer working against the grain of our rather facile culture. For that at least he should be applauded.

        3. A fair defence. I was a Self fan. I had to mention the quantity theory of sanity because when it came out I was bowled over by its brilliance, and somewhat thrilled that he had been a fellow Crouch Ender (as in the North London Book of the Dead).
          To be honest I think everyone is misreading the attack. Yes, Self’s language violates Orwell’s injunctions against purple language although I always saw Orwell as more against lazy writing that just being in favour of plain english. Orwell was against lazy borrowed phrases, cliches, etc…all the things that ‘murder’ the english language, but I think Orwell was mainly talking about prose rather than poetry, I don’t think his target was Shakespeare, although it might be Joyce.
          But while Self is targeting Orwell’s ‘narrow use’ of rich language, my immediate gut feeling was that this wasn’t the only thing he was targeting. Self’s language is difficult in a past century of writers who have prided themselves on their difficulty, and impenetrability, including with a view to achieving a mesmeric effect on the reader and persuading on that basis. The same wider politics that produced Barthes Death of the author produces anti-authors (am I not necessarily talking about Self here) who wants to dazzle the reader into awe-inspired submission. My suspicion is that Self targets Orwell because of the function Orwell serves in the wider literary / political economy; that is as a guardian against the kind of literary mystification that enables totalitarian creep. I’m not suggesting Self is a totalitarian, but he is an arch progressive, married to the Independent’s Deborah Orr, spouting safe dull brilliance on question-time etc, aggressively attacking anyone who questions the politically correct sacred cows of our age. By attacking Orwell as a mediocrity he is attacking one of the main institutional bulwarks against the inexorable march of progressive causes. After all which author do dissenters reflexively reach for when encountering the latest assault on freedom of speech etc – doublethink, newspeak, all the limitations of and violations of language that permit censorious legislation to speed ahead have in Orwell a more or less lone defender. If Orwell comes to be seen as a mediocrity and is knocked off his pedestal, the progressives, the speech-code enthusiasts will rejoice, because he is their enemy. Self was something special. Not anymore. He’s establishment to the core, however clever he is.

        4. Well, Orwell does counsel against cliches, and here I agree with him entirely – they deaden a piece of writing. The bit about long words and latinate words though – I’m not so sure. Rich prose adds to what Barthes refers to as jouissance – the bliss of reading.
          I don’t share your gut feeling, though – I think the simple fact is that Self has a book to promote and he was being deliberately controversial, attacking a sacred cow (Orwell) for headlines. But I also think he is sincere in his position – I’ve read interviews where he’s mentioned G.O. before in this context.
          I’m not sure I fully understand the rest of your argument, though. I would have though that a progressive like Self would be the first to reach for Orwellian concepts like newspeak and doublethink when attacking something like, say, Cameron’s desire to limit UK privacy rights further over the current Isis crisis?
          I guess you’re suggesting that as Self is the establishment himself now then he would like to take down Orwell as someone whose insights threaten his position. The only problem with this is that Orwell’s ‘message’ can be co-opted by both the ‘establishment’ and the opposition for their own purposes.
          (Interestingly, contrary to his anti-big words stance, Orwell was a big James Joyce fan, and he also wrote a very complimentary essay about Henry Miller, who had swallowed at least a couple of thesauri himself!)

        5. He wrote at a time when authors were trying to essentially convert the English language to French (or so it seemed). In short they were becoming so pretentious that they were bordering on unintelligible. Orwell saw this as destructive to understanding, which I am inclined to agree with.
          The modern analog is business-speak. Read any corporate email and you can distill one sentence of worth out of three paragraphs of content. People simply seem to use as many fillers and buzzwords as they can to sound educated or correct. It destroys actual communication.

        6. I think there’s a balance to be struck between asinine pretentiousness and call-a-spade-a-spade plainness. As it is I’m a big Orwell fan and I think his prose is generally very effective. But there’s room for both him and someone like Will Self, who uses a particularly broad vocabulary. Or say Raymond Carver and Nabokov. It’s just a different approach.
          Completely agree with you on business-speak. As you say, people try to sound more intelligent and end up just sounding stupid. Orwell writes of how these kind of cliches replace actual thought and he’s right.

        7. I think its perfectly legitimate to dispute what orwell claims. Prose style isn’t something that can or should be fixed although orwell’s concerns do offer some very useful rules of thumb, and, together with his wider body of work, his take on the english language, and the need to guard against its misuse, including its misuse for political purpose, seems to me to have been very timely. I’ve actually just taken the time to listen to Self’s actual piece on BBC radio

          and while its impressive, its also profoundly sneering (a stylistic issue as well perhaps as a moral one) and profoundly politically correct. He says for instance “the trouble for the george orwell’s of this world is that they don’t like the ways in which our tongue is being shaped”. He then goes on to say that those who appeal to Orwell might claim to be concerned to guard against jargon and pretension but that underlying this is ‘prejudice’ against ‘difference itself’. He makes a strong case perhaps but the root of his attack seems almost entirely political, and directed against the ‘little englander’ mentality that wants to preserve language as it is i.e. frozen in time in the 1940s (not an unreasonable complaint if its true) and in favour of ‘difference’ – a progressive buzzword ever since Derrida’s ‘differance’, . I.e. when Self talks about enriching the language he seems to be concerned with a) removing small-minded strictures that might limit what we can write (perfectly legitimate but does Orwell really do this?) and primarily b) bringing in the voices of difference / diversity: what else can that mean but destroying the canon in favour of the usual darlings that progressives favour.
          To my mind his argument isn’t unreasonable, but it still amounts to another strategic attack on the western canon. He might not even be wrong. There are other voices in the world. Maybe they need to be heard, and maybe that won’t happen if we all keep to rigid ‘Orwellian’ rules, but there is definitely a deeper political purpose to what he is saying. He is attacking a sacred cow, because that cow is blocking the road. Personally I would be worried about where that road leads.
          As for Orwell, if he actually liked Joyce, something I wasn’t aware of, then isn’t that evidence that Orwell’s way of thinking wasn’t restrictive. For myself I was deeply impressed by a portrait of the artist as a young man, but have never been able to penetrate into the Joyce’s more mature works.

        8. thanks for the link – I’ll have a listen later ( I read what I assumed was a transcript but it may not have been complete).
          Self referred to this issue of Orwell seemingly trying to restrict other voices from his ‘standardized’ version of English, and that being a political issue. I could be wrong, but I rather think Self may be putting words in Orwell’s mouth there . . . I don’t recall his essay being a polemic for the sole use of standard (ruling class) English, but rather a simple – if at times overly restrictive – call for clarity.

      3. Yes, in Classical times certain kinds of poets were truly considered prophets, and the belief that they wrote under inspiration of the gods and the divine muses was taken seriously. I do think that certain men of great literary genius rise up in times, brimming perhaps with a greater sensitivity to the ills of the age, spurred on perhaps by supernatural forces of either benevolent or malevolent mien, I think there is often something more than merely natural about the great writer, and especially the great poet. I consider Shakespeare’s writings, for example, to be a more than human achievement. In a time of prosperity, when men are generally deaf to the spirit and the divine (even mock it, derail it, disbelieve in it), the prophet and clear-sighted man of might is harder to find.

      4. I think there are still some writers out there who are striving to transcend the debased culture – see my list above and also Sergio de la Pav who self-pubbed a great book called The Naked Singularity a couple of years back (it was subsequently picked up by a mainstream publisher to great acclaim).
        An ROK publishing house is an intriguing idea, though.

    2. Self-pubbing is great, but you have to be patient in trying to publicize your work, if you ever get there at all. The thing with Steinbeck is that East of Eden was one of his later works; he was already well known then. I often wonder if he would have been able to publish such a work if it was his first book. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was great. But I think having your name established allows you to be much more indulgent of your creative side. There has always been a lot of pulp out there, the goal is to get your name out there and then have more leverage to explore topics/themes you yourself find worth writing about.

  8. Wholeheartedly agree – there are still many good writers out there. The problem is that writers like Hemingway or Bukowski would be shunned in our times and you have to cast a wider net when looking for them – as you have correctly stated.

  9. I would disagree with the title of the article. While being “well read” may be an elite pursuit, great fiction has been able to reach out to the masses. One example is “The Jungle.” I would argue it can be considered great fiction because it is generally acknowledged to have been the catalyst to change the horrific working conditions that it described. Theodore Roosevelt was said to have refused sausage with his breakfast the next morning after reading the book. That book was well known and read during this time and therefore available to the masses.
    Another example is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. While it was criticized when first published for being juvenile, this body of work has stood the test of time. A short inquiry into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien will show that he put an immense amount of detail into his work. He did not create a work of fiction set in a fictional world, he created a fictional world in which to set his fiction. In his genre he remains the undisputed king- with all those coming after either emulating his work or attempting to differentiate from it.
    Tolkien’s work is widely available to the masses through print, film and study around the world.
    My final example is Shakespeare. I need only write his name and most every native English Speaker in the world would be able to name one of his works and could likely recite a line of phrase from it.
    I think that these three examples show that great literature has been available to the masses at different times (and still available today). What I would agree with is that the masses have generally not been as well read in a variety of great works and the number of people who are well read has declined among the youth of this generation.

    1. Charles Dickens was very popular and widely read in his time to. Many of his novels were serialized in newspapers so the masses had access to them. I have been meaning to try him again, I have read him in the past and couldn’t get into it. His publisher paid him by the word, and it shows. I think he needed a good editor.

      1. In all honesty I cannot stomach Dickens. He’s saccharine and gives pat excuses to the poor and the aristocracy in his apparent quest to tear down the bourgeois that he not so secretly held in contempt. In my estimation at least.

        1. Working in that blacking factory scarred him for life, hence the accurate description in your post.

    2. i was thinking of dostoevsky. my understanding is that most of his novels were serialized in newspapers and very popular in russia as they came ouut.

  10. In Europe, writers of great fiction since Jules Verne gave inspiration to space exploration, what has since become a billion dollar industry despite being still in the larval stage.

  11. “We may not find the great treasures we seek in mainstream publishing, but on blogs, in self-published tomes, and in niche markets, there is a tremendous amount of creative vitality.”
    I am quietly hopeful about self-publishing, if it breaks the stranglehold of the big publishing companies, although the other side of that is high sales may be even less likely to mean high quality. I’m not sure what to think about newer formats. When the net first got going there was a lot of talk about hyper-text 2, but that didn’t really get going because people still want linearity, rather than endless cycles of clicking etc
    Some of the greatest fiction of the 19th Century was published in instalments in periodicals. Today the equivalent is people eagerly awaiting the next episode of game of thrones or breaking bad. But that’s not quite the same is it.
    For the moment maybe its worth just defending the canon against those who are working so hard to destroy it.

  12. There are some literary treasures that are only appreciated retroactively, like Moby Dick. But the literacy and intellectual curiosity of the common man has undeniably decayed. Many of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Dickens works were serialized for magazines so that regular people could afford them, some of the works being so popular that crowds would gather on the docks in America to hear about the next chapter. In the past, poor people listened to classical music. Lecturers did circuits around the American West to give talks on science and history to farmers. Different times indeed.
    For literature to flourish, writers must hold a respected place, and they currently do not in either the upper or lower echelons of society.

    1. TV, movies, and video games are to blame. I read a survey where something like 85 percent of ALL college graduates said they had NEVER cracked a book since they graduated.

  13. Appreciation? As a boy I remember reading the Poe only got paid a dollar fifty for “The Raven”, a rip off even in those days!

  14. Appreciation of the finer points of literary and philosophical works
    needs an IQ level supported by a Masculine culture, to be appreciated.
    a culture where Men are reduced to being dumbfucks to get laid (their
    primary life prerogative and force) and a “Madtriarchy” reigns, the loss
    of this appreciation is inevitable.
    It has always been the tragedy of the most Able of Men to find the,selves surrounded by the most inept.
    I do appreciate your efforts to bring this to notice QC.

  15. I was sort of pondering this question myself and have begun to wonder whether capitalism itself is bad for culture. Since it must appeal to the masses to make money, the quality is going to decline.
    Particularly I think the entertainment industry as a whole has decline precipitously since 2000.
    But you’re right. There will always be good stuff if you know where to find it though. Hopefully I can make my own contribution to masculine fiction with my own book which is nearing completion.

    1. The free market, like every other facet of a free society, requires a virtuous people. The Founders and most other men of the Enlightenment and age of Reason were rather clear about this up front. We had a great thing going with free markets for a very long time without the problems we have today, the only thing that has changed is that the populace has been taught to mock virtue and to practice unbridled hedonism. This comes from leftist academia, not from the market.

  16. You might enjoy “In the Heart of the Sea”, the true account of a Nantucket whaler sunk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by an angry white whale and the basis for Melville’s “Moby Dick”.
    As for sea tales “The Heart of Darkness”, “Typhoon”, “The Secret Sharer”, and “The Nigger of the Narcissus” are great yarns by Joseph Conrad.

  17. The Harry Flashman Series by George MacDonald Fraser. Harry Flashman, the anti-hero , is a rake, coward and lovable scoundrel who always seems to come out on top in the end. The author died a few years back but was a vet of WW2 and Britian’s Burma campaign.

  18. “Call me Ishmael”…that first paragraph in Moby Dick is the finest fucking opening paragraph I’ve ever read….

    1. I always liked Vigot’s line near the beginning of “The Quiet American”- “Now he’s very quiet.”

  19. Modern fiction, is a dangerous poetry: not healthy for all. Not surprising that college profs twist it to ideological ends. I’ve always regarded the mythical, heroic comic books as much more salutary for the many… Teaching Modern fiction is painful and tedious.

  20. “he (Poe) brought the horror tale to a height of maturity that has never been equaled.”
    I’m sorry, but any horror aficionado would tell you HP Lovecraft is the true horror master. With his tales of otherworldly beings, Elder Gods, and a vocabulary which creates worlds as a painter creates images, Lovecraft has drawn praise and given inspiration to film directors like John Carpenter to authors like Steven King, many of whom credit Lovecraft as being the greatest of all time.
    In horror Lovecraft has no equal. Hell, the opening paragraph of “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” is better than anything Poe wrote in his entire body of work… Ivory tower literature professors credit Poe as the master of horror because they can’t stomach Lovecraft and denounce his racism, a product of his time, but people who appreciate the genre know Lovecraft’s genius as a monument unto itself.

    1. I am a big fan of HP Lovecraft and have read most of his stories. He is without doubt the only American writer of the supernatural worthy who can compete with Poe’s tales of the macabre (with the possible exception of Stephen King).
      But he can’t be rated quite as an equal of Poe, and I’ll tell you why.
      1. Poe’s psychological insights were deeper and far more profound than Lovecraft, who was only concerned with producing the emotion of fear or horror.
      2. Poe was a far more versatile writer. He achieved first rate distinction in poetry, the prose poem, literary criticism, in detective fiction, and in imaginative fiction. Lovecraft wrote in the horror fiction genre only.
      None of this should be viewed as slamming on Lovecraft, whom I like very much. But we simply can’t put him in Poe’s league.

      1. Another credit we can give Poe is of solving Olber’s Paradox, involving the nature of an infinite universe with finite light in the sky… In “Parallel Worlds” by Michio Kaku a cosmologist he quotes is astounded that this poet and amateur astronomer “perceived the right explanation 140 years ago when in our colleges the wrong explanation… is still being taught.”
        So the man made a significant contribution to the world of physics as well.

  21. Great literature deserves a place on every man’s bookshelf. But once in a while I enjoy some old fashioned pulp about badass dudes doing badass shit. I highly recommend the original Robert E. Howard stories about Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane.

    1. Same. Those stories were actually extremely well-written. Yeah it’s all Conan being Conan but the sentence structure, balance, word choices and lyricism made it respectable literary writing, as funny as that would sound to people who don’t know.

  22. It is rather hard to define precisely what “great art” or “great literature” is, exactly. In a lot of ways, Poe was very commercial. He certainly had a great handle on how to portray dread. However, there were probably many people at the time who thought of his fiction as pretty commercial. He has maintained (and probably improved) his reputation since the 150-odd years ago he died. I can’t speak to Melville’s contemporary reputation, but it really is almost luck as to who ends up being remembered for writing “great fiction.”

  23. Considering the purpose of this site, and Herman Melville, it strikes me that Melville’s short story, “Bartleby, The Scrivener”, is an excellent literary example of the beta male. Bartleby, whose job is to be a human xerox machine, is timid, passive, and in decline. Losing more and more of his once impressive work ethic, blandly begins to refuse more and more work with his often repeated phrase, “I’d prefer not to.” For those yet to read this tale, please check it out. I sometimes wonder if Melville wrote this story as a warning to himself. After all, he was a commercial failure as a writer, most of his books were panned, and wound up working as a public customs inspector. Where he was said to be the only honest man in the whole department. It should also be noted, his wife’s family made numerous attempts to get her to divorce him, but she refused.

  24. This is my favourite writer on RoK. Always good and interesting articles, which are positive and never decline into just another post slagging off all women.
    I actually think the opposite though. Most of the classics were best sellers in their own time. Steinbeck, Hemingway, dickens, twain, kipling, conan doyle, dahl, jack london, h g wells, stephen king, orwell, somerset maugham…they were all big sellers in their own time. It doesn’t mean every best selling writer becomes a classic though, the vast majority are of their own time and easy fiction. Rarely do writers become classics if they were not popular in their own time.

  25. Great article.
    I was thinking about this: ‘Was there ever a “golden age” for the consumption of fiction in America? I am not so sure. Much of the best fiction, as I see it, was surrounded by obscurity and lack of appreciation from the moment of its initial appearance.’
    For me, it feels like there was a kind of golden age for American fiction as recently as the 50s, 60s and 70s when you’d get serious writers like Norman Mailer and Philip Roth on TV chat shows. They were bone fide celebrities and the public were interested in what they had to say. A widespread engagement with literary culture is sadly a thing of the past now – the only writers most people have heard of are the likes of Dan Brown, JK Rowling and then the older genre guys like Stephen King, Grisham etc.
    The most famous US literary novelist right now is probably Jonathan Franzen, and he’s hardly a household name. He’s also not particularly groundbreaking – The Corrections was very good, but Freedom (his much lauded release from a few years ago) was a beta-male yawnfest.
    I read fiction compulsively – both backwards into the Western Canon (Melville, Dickens, Dostoevsky,Tolstoy, Nabokov, Shakespeare etc etc) and newer stuff. My personal feeling is that fiction is unique in its ability to enable readers to understand the world and other human beings. But I recognize that it seems to be something of a dying pursuit, in it’s death throes, vanquished by the internet, movies and gaming. Will Self, the British novelist, recently said this:
    ‘How do you think it feels to have dedicated your entire adult life to an art form only to see the bloody thing dying before your eyes?’
    It’s a sad state of affairs, but I continue to read widely because it enriches my life. Some of my favorite contemporary (or more modern) writers, in no particular order, are:
    Martin Amis, Will Self, Michel Houellebecq, Gary Shteyngart, David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, Philip Roth, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Sam Lipsyte, Jeffrey Eugenidies, Joshua Ferris, John Niven (UK), Haruki Murakami, Bukwoski, Henry Miller, Ian McEwan, Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Jay McInerney, Denis Johnson.
    All well worth checking out.

  26. The Book of Sand
    Jorge Luis Borges
    Thy rope of sands . . .
    —George Herbert
    The line is made up of an infinite number of points; the plane of an infinite number of lines; the volume of an infinite number of planes; the hypervolume of an infinite number of volumes. . . . No, unquestionably this is not—more geometrico—the best way of beginning my story. To claim that is it true is nowadays the convention of every made-up story. Mine, however, is true.
    I live alone in a fourth-floor apartment on Belgrano Street, in Buenos Aires. Late one evening, a few months back, I heard a knock at my door. I opened it and a stranger stood there. He was a tall man, with nondescript features—or perhaps it was my myopia that made them seem that way. Dressed in gray and carrying a gray suitcase in his hand, he had an unassuming look about him. I saw at once that he was a foreigner. At first, he struck me as old; only later did I realize that I had been misled by his thin blond hair, which was, in a Scandinavian sort of way, almost white. During the course of our conversation, which was not to last an hour, I found out that he came from the Orkneys.
    I invited him in, pointing to a chair. He paused awhile before speaking. A kind of gloom emanated from him—as it does now from me.
    “I sell Bibles,” he said.
    Somewhat pedantically, I replied, “In this house are several English Bibles, including the first—John Wiclif’s. I also have Cipriano de Valera’s, Luther’s—which, from a literary viewpoint, is the worst—and a Latin copy of the Vulgate. As you see, it’s not exactly Bibles I stand in need of.”
    After a few moments of silence, he said, “I don’t only sell Bibles. I can show you a holy book I came across on the outskirts of Bikaner. It may interest you.”
    He opened the suitcase and laid the book on a table. It was an octavo volume, bound in cloth. There was no doubt that it had passed through many hands. Examining it, I was surprised by its unusual weight. On the spine were the words “Holy Writ” and, below them, “Bombay.”
    “Nineteenth century, probably,” I remarked.
    “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never found out.”
    I opened the book at random. The script was strange to me. The pages, which were worn and typographically poor, were laid out in a double column, as in a Bible. The text was closely printed, and it was ordered in versicles. In the upper corners of the pages were Arabic numbers. I noticed that one left-hand page bore the number (let us say) 40,514 and the facing right-hand page 999. I turned the leaf; it was numbered with eight digits. It also bore a small illustration, like the kind used in dictionaries—an anchor drawn with pen and ink, as if by a schoolboy’s clumsy hand.
    It was at this point that the stranger said, “Look at the illustration closely. You’ll never see it again.”
    I noted my place and closed the book. At once, I reopened it. Page by page, in vain, I looked for the illustration of the anchor. “It seems to be a version of Scriptures in some Indian language, is it not?” I said to hide my dismay.
    “No,” he replied. Then, as if confiding a secret, he lowered his voice. “I acquired the book in a town out on the plain in exchange for a handful of rupees and a Bible. Its owner did not know how to read. I suspect that he saw the Book of Books as a talisman. He was of the lowest caste; nobody but other untouchables could tread his shadow without contamination. He told me his book was called the Book of Sand, because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end.”
    The stranger asked me to find the first page.
    I laid my left hand on the cover and, trying to put my thumb on the flyleaf, I opened the book. It was useless. Every time I tried, a number of pages came between the cover and my thumb. It was as if they kept growing from the book.
    “Now find the last page.”
    Again I failed. In a voice that was not mine, I barely managed to stammer, “This can’t be.”
    Still speaking in a low voice, the stranger said, “It can’t be, but it is. The number of pages in this book is no more or less than infinite. None is the first page, none the last. I don’t know why they’re numbered in this arbitrary way. Perhaps to suggest that the terms of an infinite series admit any number.”
    Then, as if he were thinking aloud, he said, “If space is infinite, we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite, we may be at any point in time.”
    His speculations irritated me. “You are religious, no doubt?” I asked him.
    “Yes, I’m a Presbyterian. My conscience is clear. I am reasonably sure of not having cheated the native when I gave him the Word of God in exchange for his devilish book.”
    I assured him that he had nothing to reproach himself for, and I asked if he were just passing through this part of the world. He replied that he planned to return to his country in a few days. It was then that I learned that he was a Scot from the Orkney Islands. I told him I had a great personal affection for Scotland, through my love of Stevenson and Hume.
    “You mean Stevenson and Robbie Burns,” he corrected.
    While we spoke, I kept exploring the infinite book. With feigned indifference, I asked, “Do you intend to offer this curiosity to the British Museum?”
    “No. I’m offering it to you,” he said, and he stipulated a rather high sum for the book.
    I answered, in all truthfulness, that such a sum was out of my reach, and I began thinking. After a minute or two, I came up with a scheme.
    “I propose a swap, ” I said. “You got this book for a handful of rupees and a copy of the Bible. I’ll offer you the amount of my pension check, which I’ve just collected, and my black-letter Wiclif Bible. I inherited it from my ancestors.”
    “A black-letter Wiclif!” he murmured.
    I went to my bedroom and brought him the money and the book. He turned the leaves and studied the title page with all the fervor of a true bibliophile.
    “It’s a deal,” he said.
    It amazed me that he did not haggle. Only later was I to realize that he had entered my house with his mind made up to sell the book. Without counting the money, he put it away.
    We talked about India, about Orkney, and about the Norwegian jarls who once ruled it. It was night when the man left. I have not seen him again, nor do I know his name.
    I thought of keeping the Book of Sand in the space left on the shelf by the Wiclif, but in the end I decided to hide it behind the volumes of a broken set of The Thousand and One Nights. I went to bed and did not sleep. At three or four in the morning, I turned on the light. I got down the impossible book and leafed through its pages. On one of them I saw engraved a mask. The upper corner of the page carried a number, which I no longer recall, elevated to the ninth power.
    I showed no one my treasure. To the luck of owning it was added the fear of having it stolen, and then the misgiving that it might not truly be infinite. These twin preoccupations intensified my old misanthropy. I had only a few friends left; I now stopped seeing even them. A prisoner of the book, I almost never went out anymore. After studying its frayed spine and covers with a magnifying glass, I rejected the possibility of a contrivance of any sort. The small illustrations, I verified, came two thousand pages apart. I set about listing them alphabetically in a notebook, which I was not long in filling up. Never once was an illustration repeated. At night, in the meager intervals my insomnia granted, I dreamed of the book.
    Summer came and went, and I realized that the book was monstrous. What good did it do me to think that I, who looked upon the volume with my eyes, who held it in my hands, was any less monstrous? I felt that the book was a nightmarish object, an obscene thing that affronted and tainted reality itself.
    I thought of fire, but I feared that the burning of an infinite book might likewise prove infinite and suffocate the planet with smoke. Somewhere I recalled reading that the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest. Before retirement, I worked on Mexico Street, at the Argentine National Library, which contains nine hundred thousand volumes. I knew that to the right of the entrance a curved staircase leads down into the basement, where books and maps and periodicals are kept. One day I went there and, slipping past a member of the staff and trying not to notice at what height or distance from the door, I lost the Book of Sand on one of the basement’s musty shelve

  27. Moby Dick is a classic but McCarthy takes the idea further in Blood Meridian. Both these novels evoke feelings I have only experienced from reading the bible.

  28. One of the best red pill fiction books I have ever read was “The Sea Wolf” by Jack London. His main antagonist wolf Larsen is the manliest man I have ever read. Do yourself a favor and look it up

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