At Salon today, "Why American novelists don't deserve the Nobel prize."
Four years after Morrison won the Nobel, David Foster Wallace predicted the current rut in which our literature finds itself in a New York Observer evisceration of John Updike’s “Toward the End of Time.” Though he took particular issue with Updike’s autumnal output, Wallace parceled blame to all of the Great Male Narcissists, with their hermetic concerns and insular little fictions. The following is Wallace’s estimation of Updike, but it could just as easily be said about anyone else in the postwar American pantheon: “The very world around them, as beautifully as they see and describe it, seems to exist for them only insofar as it evokes impressions and associations and emotions inside the self.”The article points out two such insularities in modern writers by evoking Roth's "bygone Jewish precincts of Newark" and Cormac McCarthy's "gun-slinging west." Both go a long way towards making the point that Alexander Nazaryan, the writer of this article, perhaps hasn't been reading much Roth or McCarthy lately.
Perhaps the article's right, though, that a great deal of our pantheon-ed American writers have turned insular, and write their fictions--as Wallace lamented about Updike--more as a way to reflect what they feel about what they see, instead of exploring what they see and how others might feel (though, at what point did evoking an individual's experience become so anathema; at what point did it stop being universal when done well--even if it was your own?)
I don't really know. I haven't read much of the pantheon-ed writers of late.
In the comments of the article, a few brief mentions are made of those American writers working outside the pantheon--such as Gene Wolfe or Neal Stephenson--who are anything but insular in their writing. And by insular I mean, of course having main characters of a strictly white and American orientation. Both writers use a more expansive palette, exploring a world-sized amount of philosophy and suffering.
I'm fairly certain there are other examples, as well.
It would have been nice if Mr. Nazaryan had expanded his view of American writers beyond Roth, Delillo, Pynchon, et al. If those writers are guilty of insularity, then writers like Nazaryan--and those lamenting the state of American fiction--might do well to step outside their own insular views of American literature and read what else is out there.