Bearing the bad news: contemporary American literature and by Sanford Pinsker

By Sanford Pinsker

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Remember, too, that Faulkner's The Hamlet ends on a note as funny as it is ominously prophetic. After patiently trying to untangle Flem's complicated, wildly comic affairs, the Judge throws up his hands and admits publicly that he "can't stand it no more! " It's a delicious moment, but one destined for a long, and ultimately exasperating, run in American culture. For even as we celebrate Faulkner's updating of an Old Southwestern comic spirit that lies beyond law-and-order's grip, we recognize that the small claims court and civil suit are rapidly becoming for our world what the prison and the graveyard were for Hawthorne's.

One could claim, and with some justification, that The Catcher in the Rye encourages precisely the sort of dreaming and heroic identification that Trilling stands four-square against. Indeed, if moral complexity were the sole issue, one would need look no further than Trilling's The Middle of the Journey (1949), an extraordinary novel published a scant two years before The Catcher in the Rye. But that said, who would be comfortable in claiming The Middle of the Journey as a formative book? To be sure, accessibility is part of the formula, but timing is equally important.

The paleface, being above all a conscious individual, was frequently able to transcend or to deviate sharply from the norms of his group, and he is to be credited with most of the rigors and charms of the classic American books. While it is true, as John Jay Chapman put it, that his culture is "secondary and tertiary" and that between him and the sky "float the Constitution of the United States and the traditions and forms of English literature"nevertheless, there exists the poetry of Emily Dickinson, there is The Scarlet Letter, there is Moby-Dick, and there are not a few incomparable narratives by Henry James.

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