19 April 2012

It's a Gass, Gass, Gass

William Gass, "Pulitzer: The People's Prize," in Finding a Form (originally in The NYTBR):
"…the Pulitzer Prize in fiction takes dead aim at mediocrity and almost never misses; the prize is simply not given to work of the first rank, rarely even to the second…" (3)
"Any award-giving outfit…is doomed by its cumbersome committee structure to make mistakes, to pass the masters by in silence and applaud the apprentices, the mimics, the hacks, or to honor one of those agile surfers who ride every fresh wave." (5)
 "…the fact is that good taste and sensible judgment are rare, and excellence itself is threatening, innovation an outrage." (6)
"When missing exceeds chance, as in this case; when a record of failure approaches perfection; then we can begin to wonder whether it is really missing the mark at all; whether the Pulitzer, not by design but through its inherent nature, is being given to those it wishes, quite precisely, to award, and is nourishing, if not the multitude, at least those numbers among the cultivated whose shallow roots need just this sort of gentle drizzle." (7)
"The Pulitzer has perceived an important truth about our complex culture: Serious literature is not important to it; however, the myth that it matters must be maintained. Ceremony is essential, although Mammon is the god that's served. …Literature, which is written in isolation and read in silence, receives as its share less than 3 percent of the funds available to the National Endowment for the Arts. …And if you point to the discrepancy between the acknowledged importance of our literature to our culture and the pitiful public support it gets, and decry the injustice of it, you will receive the same response I always have: Those addressed, like a cat, will not follow the direction of your gesture, but will be just curious enough to sniff nervously for a moment the end of your admonitory finger." (10)
"The Pulitzer does not give glory to its choices; its choices give celebrity to it; and that is precisely why it is the best-known and, to the public, the most prestigious prize…" (10)
"What the public wants, as the Pulitzer sees it…, is an exciting story with a timely theme, although it may have historical setting. The material should be handled simply and delivered in terms of sharp contrasts in order that the problems the novel raises can be decisively resolved. Ideally, it should be written in a style that is as invisible as Ralph Ellison's invisible man, so that the reader can let go of the words and grasp the situation the way one might the wheel of the family car. And since most of the consumers of fiction are women…, it won't hurt to fulfill a few of their longings, to grant, now and then, unconsciously an unconscious wish. Because we have a large, affluent, mildly educated middle class that has fundamentally the same tastes as the popular culture it grew up with, yet with pretensions to something more, something higher, something better suited to its half-opened eyes and spongy mind, there is a large industry or artists, academics, critics, and publicists eager to serve it—lean cuisine, if that's the thing—and the Pulitzer is ready with its rewards.
"No, this prize for fiction is not disgraced by its banal and hokey choices. It is the critics and customers who have chosen and acclaimed them, who have bought the books and thought about them and called them literature and tried to stick them like gum on the pillars of our culture. It is they who have earned the opprobrium of this honor." (12)


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

"Thomas Friedman, Wanker of the Decade, and recipient of 3 Pulitzer Prizes"

Randal Graves said...

And still better than a Grammy.