My literary snobbery is in retreat. Although, there is a chance that it is a strategic withdrawal. Snobbery is like that. It is more an act of refusal than an act of acceptance. It maintains a standard of rejection and calls it taste.
I was taught that Whitman was so much better than Ginsberg that Allen’s poetry made him apish to a degree that indicted him for irrelevance. I was encouraged to dismiss him on that basis. It was kind of an agreement of what was at the top and a sneer to what was considered below.
I resisted because Ginsberg’s poetry touched me. I learned to play with his mockers and find ways to twist their judgment back on them. They were decidedly not in favor of this approach.
But the snobbery had left seed that had taken root. I wasn’t interested in James Michener or Leon Uris. They were just story tellers although there was that similarity to Charles Dickens, to Homer, to Shakespeare. I allowed my snobbery to sweep the newcomers aside. I felt affirmed and erect. Then, I began to read Michener and Uris. Funny how that changes things, isn’t it? It is so much easier to dismiss the unfamiliar.
Michener is magic. He is fathered by a blend of some Neanderthal with those instinctual memories, who has mated with one of the new people. The ability to adapt and still have the instinctual memories. Jane Auel came close to describing it, but we never truly learn what became of Ayla’s son. Ayla had a son with a Neanderthal, but she was forced to give him up and accepts the loss. I know that her books are considered cultish, but I like what she has to teach.
A person wishing to learn about Hawaii would profit from reading Michener’s novel. And The Source reveals the pagan foundations of Judaism. Some people say that they would not read a work of fiction to find out about a place. Wouldn’t a travel book be for more useful? But would someone interested in exploring the Asian cultures of Japan and Hong Kong not profit from reading James Clavell? Would they not also learn something about how environment shapes people over a time? What travel book provides that glimpse of the relationship between people and place the way that Michener and Clavell do?
It saddens me that they aren’t read anymore. Maybe it’s the pacing. They wrote long books. We seem to like to have our books more resemble a quick snack now. But maybe that’s just another form of snobbery.
I understand that any form of snobbery is meant to maintain a standard. It is a form of natural selection that discards things of lesser value. However, the value is measured by the constraints of the snobbery. That almost sounds like a belief system, a religion.
The proponents of such a belief system will contend that they believe in veritas or perhaps gravitas, but what they finally adhere to is the comfort of their code. Does it close or open their eyes?
I have a friend who believes that strings on a popular song relegates it to schmaltz. I found a recording of Mark Knopfler playing “Brothers in Arms” at a benefit concert after the volcanic eruption in Monserrat. I played a cut of Frank Sinatra’s saloon version of “One for My Baby and One More for the Road” and he told me that the exceptions proved the rule. Strings are schmaltz.
There is a time when hairs stand up on the back of your neck. My less sophisticated friends call this the “shit detector” and of course snobbery accused that vernacular as being vulgar and limited. Perhaps it is just too scatological. Unless snobbery morphs into fetish, that is unacceptable.
Michael Crichton and John Grisham and Thomas Harris were a triumvirate of popular success authors who were viewed and still viewed as pandering. But before the creation of Harris’ Hannibal, the name signified a barbarian who managed to cross the Alps on elephants, but now- Hannibal the Cannibal. Forever changed. But perhaps the change isn’t for the better. Who is interested in the inner workings of a sociopathic serial killer who ingests his trophies? I wonder if Poe would have found him of interest.
One can trace the path of a mind in Creighton. It is a mind that sought answers and questions and loved them both. But although popular in his lifetime, he failed to toe the correct party line. Then the ultimate silence of dying. Technology marches on and Creighton was all about technology. Would Jules Verne agree?
John Grisham’s writing evolves. He tries to come to an understanding of the world, although pieces like An Unpainted House and Bleachers, and the non-fiction effort, An Innocent Man are largely ignored. After all, he is rich off of his writing. What could he possibly have to say? Would Faulkner have the same opinion?
Some fiction is passed through the gate of literary snobbery under the guise of a guilty pleasure. This places it in a realm that is akin to intellectual pornography- it’s not really good but we are somehow drawn to it. But is it not from those things to which we are drawn that we learn the most about ourselves?
Pop culture is an easy target for the snob’s disdain. There goes that Tom Wolfe. Even though A Man in Full and Back to Blood hold a Voltaire-like mirror up to the culture of the times, we are told that Wolfe has stopped writing true fiction and decided on culture assassination. No chance that he was redefining fiction is truly allowed. Not in the world of the literary snob.
I remember an apartment in lower Manhattan. In a small bedroom was a poster of a man sitting surrounded by piles of books. He was an older man. The caption read, “I only have time for the best books because I may not have time to read them all.” He sat alone in the room and seemed very sure of his convictions. I used to admire that caption, but I do not any longer because I think the word “best” is more than a little subjective and more than a little condescending.
My own snobbery extends to Stephan King. I cannot deny his creativity but I feel more used by his formulas than for example a Michener whose formula was a vehicle for exploration. King’s seems more to be a way of resolving questions. That is a bit boring and ultimately brings a sigh of disappointment rather than the shimmer of a dancing question. But I know that this expression of my snobbery tells me more about myself than it reveals about King.
I believe that there must also be a snobbery of economics, of politics, of law and even of geography. There is surely historical snobbery. I am not a fan of seeing things and people explode, but I am drawn to the explosion of ideas and the ways that those explosions reconfigure things.
The origin of the word snobbery applied to someone who imitated people of a higher social class. Is it ironic that those same people eventually adopted it as faith?
I became a true student when I was able to say with sincerity, “I don’t know but I want to know.” I became a teacher when I was able to help those who asked the same question. Is a snob able to express sincerity of interest and admit not knowing or is it required that it be hidden for purposes of appearance, or perhaps a belief that it would go unappreciated?
How is snobbery different from taste? Does the cultivation of one result in the development of the other? Is it all about finding that system of belief that provides reassurance and therefore comfort?
I suppose the term itself has an inbred negativity. Maybe it’s just a harsh judgment. I don’t know for sure, but do you ever call yourself a snob and smile with satisfaction at the implications?