Thomas Pynchon found an accommodating symbol in the Aggregat 4 (aka the V-2) rocket, a weapon that could not save the war for the Greater German Reich but became operational soon enough to kill thousands huddled under the throbbing sirens of London. The centerpiece of his 1973 novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, was the world’s first supersonic ranged weapon, arriving at its target before its pitched scream.
Pascal’s wager—that saw of Christian apologetics—is conventionally understood to demonstrate that human beings deny the Christian God’s existence at the risk of perdition. The seventeenth-century French polymath Blaise Pascal weighed the infinite torment awaiting unbelievers under God’s Providence against the finite pleasures of living as an atheist in a godless universe. He concluded, regardless of the deity’s actual existence, that the only rational choice is to adopt cautious belief.
In his newly translated book, The Hatred of Literature, critic William Marx argues that celebrated minds like Heraclitus and Rousseau became utter lightweights when reading literature. Their insults, like all insults against the art form, were largely unoriginal and wouldn’t change much. “Real innovation is rare in anti-literature,” Marx writes. Presumably, this is why Marx was able to structure his investigation by four categories that sweep across Western history. These are the great “trials” of literature: authority; truth; morality; society. Hatred reads like an overblown victimology of literature in that its assailants have never presented a lethal threat. Belied, banned, or burned, stories and poems find a way of transcending their plight. For Marx, the true annihilator of literature is simply “indifference.” Against the coming wave of mass indifference, we can do nothing but join him in a helpless prayer: “May the gods prevent that day from ever arriving.”
Two centuries ago it would have been reflex to name the dominant novelist or poet of your generation; eclectics might’ve named a few. Today that’s not so easy. Who are the children of postmodernism? The paragons of millennial literature? Dozens o [...]