Thursday, July 13, 2006

Voice of a Generation

Can you name the current voice of a generation? Me neither.

I've often wondered what happened to the sort of unifying voices that appeared in previous generations. It seems like you can look in any era and see someone great, someone who became the literary leader for that time. But now we have no one. Or do we? Or was that really the case at all?

Lev Grossman in Time Magazine takes on this issue and makes some great points:
Are we simply living through a downturn, one of those periodic dead spots
wherein the muses take a smoke break? Has the country's artistic talent been
siphoned off by sexier, better-paying media with bigger audiences? (TV has been
suspiciously good lately.) Or could the professionalization of "creative
writing," in the form of scores of M.F.A. programs, actually be retarding the
progress of contemporary literature--hammering eccentric geniuses into
workshop-style conformity, then drowning them out by handing diplomas to their
mediocre peers by the bushel?
Ah, that so often relied upon MFA bashing again. Though, it's hard not to wonder the same thing.
Or maybe there never was such an animal in the first place. The voice of a
generation could just be a convenient fiction, propagated by academics looking
for dissertation topics, publicists looking for publicity and (surely not) book
critics looking for a headline. On some level it has always been an absurdity.
I'm not sure that anybody could say that about a writer at a given point in time. These things require a little historical perspective. Who knows, maybe we'll look back in twenty years and realize that Dan Brown was the Voice of the Generation.

Grossman sums up:
Listen for the singular voice of the current generation, and you'll hear
something else, something different: multiple voices, singing not in unison, but
in harmony.
A bit too rosy for me. He's talking about the variety of ethnic voices, the voices that cross borders, so I can see where he's coming from. Instead, I think we'll look back and see a literary scene as disparate and chaotic as these times.

Bonus -- Booksquare makes fun:
One, define generation. Two, define who needs to be spoken for. Three, find
speaker who crosses cultural, political, ethnic, gender, and whole bunch of
other lines. Four, write book. We have no clue why this is so hard.

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