Friday, April 8, 2011

The #2 Seeds

A.) F. Scott Fitzgerald. With Fitzgerald the case to be made is why he isn't a #1 seed. For two reasons. First, he didn't influence and express the American voice to the same extent as the four. Nobody talks like Fitzgerald or writes like him. Being the best means being unique-- and I think he's the best American writer, if not the most important. Second, Fitzgerald has never been as big on a world scale as the others. Other cultures have never quite "gotten" him-- a sign of how truly American he is. Still, he's never been more appreciated than now-- another Gatsby movie upcoming-- and his work can become more influential, if writers understand exactly what he did and how he did it. I'll address his writing in another post.

B.) Ayn Rand. The literary world for sixty years has refused to acknowledge this person, but it's like trying to ignore the sun or the moon. Her influence on America is bigger than what has become quite a tiny literary world. Her ideas and analysis are the world we live in now. America, with its oversized strengths and flaws, its egoism and materialism, is a Randian world.  If we as advocates of literature ask literature to be a living part of the civilization, a necessary part of the argument, then Ayn Rand, more than any American writer, past or present, fulfills that role. The Reagan era took its ideas from her. The Tea Party today is part Jefferson, part Jesus, and part Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged alone sold a million copies last year. With a movie version due out, that number will only go up. Added note for the p.c. crowd: Ayn Rand was a feminist before there was feminism.

But, the writing? What about the writing? Despite the ostensible logic she claimed to express, Ayn Rand's novels-- even their ideas-- are illusion. Her books are very much works of art. I'll address this next week in a separate post.

C.) Toni Morrison. Morrison allows us to bring American literature to its varied present while at the same time strengthening its tie to the past. Morrison has a unique voice-- a big, loud, American voice-- which at the same time is tied inextricably to founding American authors like Herman Melville and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If Ayn Rand's viewpoint is part of the contemporary American argument, then so is Morrison's. Besides, Toni Morrison isn't just a renowned novelist. She's also a dominating essayist, and has even written the libretto for an opera-- "Margaret Garner"-- which I saw presented in Detroit in 2008. I was blown away by it.

D.) Jack Kerouac. As dynamic a persona, as mythic a person, and as American a voice as anyone. On the Road, his most influential book, is quintessentially American. As much as any work of literature, it captures and defines this country, which has always, always, been about the open road-- the impulse toward freedom, the need to travel ever farther. Where, we're not always sure. Fitzgerald called it a green light. Kerouac expressed the driving and striving on a more visceral level.


  1. A friend of mine couldn't believe that I seeded Hemingway above Fitzgerald, his contemporary. But remember that when they were alive, Fitz was completely overshadowed by his scornful friend/adversary. Be aware also that they're seeded on the same side of the brackets-- on what I've decided to designate the "A" side. This means that, unless one of them is knocked out by someone else, they're on course to meet. Fitzgerald elegance against Hemingway brute force. It could be quite a contest.

  2. Bravo! I like how this is shaping up! Good to see two writers I love and two others so deserving, yet whose defeat will be delightful. I’m looking forward to your posts RE: the writing, though in the one case, maybe it’s just typing? Hope it’s okay to trash talk. Happy to find out I’m wrong. It's pretty much why I'm here.

  3. I expect a lot of trash talking before the tournament is over, from competitors, advocates, and audience. Twain, you notice, already started some during the first press conference.
    I hope the old boys get a surprise when they get back to town, whenever that is. I've already seen a Ken Kesey psychedelic bus driving down the street in the wake of the Kerouac announcement. And the coffeeshop is suddenly open for business.
    But there's also a cocktail lounge ready to open across the street from it, with neon sign flashing on and off over the entrance. Fitz has been seen standing wistfully outside the locked doors, and Dorothy Parker also.

  4. Modern Library's lists of the Top 100 English-Language novels may be of some assistance in this tourney:

  5. Nice group of second seeds. And your arguments so far are quite convincing. You could have gotten a woman into the top seeds with Emily D. Aside from that, it's hard to disagree with you.

  6. Twain, Melville, and Fitzgerald have the best-known characters of currently seeded authors. Just thinking, no argument pro or con, but most Americans couldn't name a Hemingway character. Why is that?

  7. Barr! Just off the top of my head I can name Robert Jordan, Pilar, Francis Macomber, Jake Barnes, Brett, Robert Cohn. But it's likely true fewer people today read Hemingway, and of those, hes definitely a young man's author, as is Kerouac. (Even Fitz to some extent.)
    I expected more blowback re Kerouac and Rand, who have tons of critics.
    Re Modern Library. The bowtie clubby lit crowd? I can predict their choices without looking at them. Wharton, James, Lee, Cather, But when I get a chance I'll look in. "O Pioneers!" I'm from a section of the Midwest so I should like that kind of. . . .
    Meanwhile the poets and playwrights are up in arms, and critics like Edmund Wilson, he who was so condescending to Scott, have been looking particularly lost.

  8. p.s. Re Emily D. More about her next week.
    (There are a handful of truly great American poets whose work jumps off the page. All kidding aside about her, she's one of them. Also, her enigmatic life and personality carry, like so many of these people, a mythic quality.)