Over at Commentary, a nice demolition by D. G. Myers of the pretensions of the too-good-for-commercial-writing smart set:
Yesterday’s New York Times carried a story on “invitation-only” book clubs among “young and attractive” New Yorkers with “impressive degrees” and the “angst that comes with being young and unmoored,” who, unable to find work in publishing or academe, “huddle” together in book-filled apartments to “trade heady banter” on great (or merely fashionable) writers and hoot at ideas their high-priced educations have taught them to hoot at. I defy anyone to read the story and not to conclude that the collapse of the high-end literary market is a very good thing, and not a moment too soon.
What most of these writers want, of course, is not a job but a patron to indulge their penchant for poetasting. But artistic patronage went out around the time of Prince Esterhazy and his coevals. As Dickens showed, there’s a handsome living — and possible literary immortality — to be made as a commercial writer; you just have to be, you know, good at it. And then:
After the Second World War, the literary market began to dwindle . . . A new form of patronage arose to shield writers from market forces: namely, the national system of creative writing — the Writers’ Workshops — that spread from coast to coast.
What is happening now is the revenge of the market. A high literary culture, utterly divorced from economic realities, was artificially propped up for fifty years. In rather more technical terms, American literary culture is an inefficient market; its products are overpriced, and there aren’t many buyers for them at any rate. As the air goes out of the higher education bubble, the literary life as fantasized by the New York Times’s attractive young literary clubbers is deflating along with it.
Which is not to say that literature will disappear. Young writers’ expectations of a good-paying job (with benefits) fiddling all day on overwritten and unsaleable manuscripts — that will disappear. Most everything else will remain the same.
Welcome to the club, kids. Now, get to work and write something that someone will actually pay to read.