Check out this essay by Anis Shivani on what is wrong with American literature. Sure, lots of red meat here, and one can always poke holes in his thesis: isn't there a super great writer X that Shivani is overlooking? But that objection may well reinforce Shivani's point, which I take to be meaningful in the sense of a statement like "Outsiders find rural Bihar rough to travel through", and citing a comfortable itinerary does not negate the qualitative truth of the statement. :-) In any case, I think it is decent food for thought. Enjoy.
"There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world...not the United States," Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury, recently said. "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature...That ignorance is restraining." ...
Engdahl couldn't be more correct. We are too insular. We specialize in quantity, not quality. Our publishing model, like that of the lapsed auto industry, is a failed one. It survives only because of our gigantism--mere volume is sufficient to ensure a certain amount of financial success, but it is not producing a worthwhile cultural product. Just as we might have 500 television channels but not one will ever offer the challenging movies of Buñuel or Godard, or a Wagner opera, we might produce 175,000 books a year, but quality is elusive. What we're talking about is a business model that is outdated, cannot keep up with globalization. There ought to be no bail-out of American writers. It is a case of market monopoly run amok, taking self-publicity for truth.
We have a generally overinflated estimation of our "literary giants"--Roth, Updike, DeLillo, Pynchon, the perennially rumored contenders for the Nobel Prize--that the rest of the world might not share. Consider, from the point of view of someone in Tokyo or Cairo or Lima, what each of these writers has to offer them. These are American writers first, not in the sense that Fitzgerald or Hemingway were (questioning their Americanness), but American in a curiously isolationist way, preoccupied exclusively with the predicaments of our nation, and no other in the world. The knee-jerk defense American newspaper and magazine editors mounted immediately after Engdahl's comments--not even taking a moment to pause and consider whether he had a point--should tell us a lot about the degree to which sheer defense of our dinosaur model of literature is the driving force for so-called critics. How could they say that about us, those sissy Europeans? Our writers are as good as any other country's, no, better, yes, much better! The Europeans are just jealous. Their writers are too parochial, too small, too little studied. Did you ever hear of Le Clézio? Who is he? We don't read him here. We don't do any scholarship on him. Not to mention Dario Fo. Dario Who? Phoo!