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Seth Greenland : “Today, the art in the United States should serve a purpose, moral or didactic “

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L’écrivain Seth Greenland en 2008 à Vincennes. The writer Seth Greenland in 2008 to Vincennes. Sophie Bassouls / Corbis via Getty Images

Forum. The art is paramount. Necessary. Result of a human need deep, ineradicable, art is an integral part of the company since the time when human beings were going to find refuge in the caves. And since that time, art is also a means to exercise social control, subtle or overt. In ancient Egypt, in the architectural wonders that are the pyramids were also designed to force the admiration of the slaves who carried the bricks

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America had to be different. This was supposed to be a beacon to those who fled from the dogmas, a place where the group project was to create a society where everyone could be an individual – the nirvana for an artist. Since the poet Walt Whitman (Song of myself !) up to the painter Georgia O’keeffe, passing by the photographer Robert Frank, the United States, the artists were free to expose their personal vision of things. If they choose to sing the status quo, such as Steven Spielberg, they won Oscars. If they want to make it fly in splinters, in the manner of Allen Ginsberg, it gives them the National Book Award.

But something fundamental has changed and, these days, the art in the United States should serve a moral purpose or didactic. I’m not saying that the artists can no longer write, paint, or photograph what they want. But if artists and writers don’t follow some of the precepts, they are less likely to see their work mentioned in the major media, mentioned in the right circles of the society and considered as part of the cultural discourse well-thinking.

It is the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl

It is risky for me, american novelist, to write the sentence you just read. Why ? This is not a secret, the temple american cultural is a project that is progressive. And I think it is a good thing. If someone has to control the culture, I prefer it to be progressive rather than the National Rifle Association [powerful lobby defending the right of Americans to carry a weapon]. Unfortunately, there is a price to this : homogeneity. Looks like Hegel (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), when people agree, it becomes more difficult to achieve progress. How can art exist if everyone has the same ideas ? The art is going against the current. It is the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl.

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Let’s take the example of Hollywood. It is a truism to say that the culture of Hollywood is progressive. Perhaps are you thinking of writing a screenplay. Knowing the political orientation of the producers in which you try to sell it, what will you do ? Of course, there are a handful of producers who value the complexity, but what you will do probably, because almost everyone does it, it is put in the closet the complexity and write something that reinforces the vision of those who will sign the cheque.

“Inclusion radical “

We observe a similar phenomenon in the edition, in any case in the domain of literary fiction. If an author creates a main character who questions the values of progressives (I don’t say ” condemn “, not simply ” questions “), there is a risk of penalizing its work when it will be subject to criticism. However in a world where the critical approval is needed to sell books, the case is bad part. And if by chance the author decides to shed light on the inner life of his protagonist, the problems are getting worse exponentially. It is not Michel Houellebecq in the literature, contemporary american, because the current conditions do not allow it. A new york publisher will flee an author who writes what writes Houellebecq on Islam

Progressivism today has one other major aspect, and from a cultural point of view it is perhaps the most important of all : progressivism focus groups formerly excluded from power – women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, gays and other groups that have been historically marginalized. On the surface, this looks like an evolution all positive. Call this phenomenon ” inclusion radical “. Yet, it is this trait of the project progressive current which is detrimental to the item, According to an act of cultural tacit, the writers have the permission, or not, to write such-and-such a story. A hierarchy inverted is put in place, where those who were previously excluded are now at the top, and where those who were excluded (metaphorically, at least

Let’s take the example of the author’s chinese-american Amelie Wen Zhao, who has postponed the publication of his novel Blood Heir when he was accused of racism for writing about slavery without dwelling on its horrors. Another example : Kristine Kathryn Rusch, author white award-winning, was so much discouraged by the traditional publishers to write about a character black she came to autopublier novels she devoted herself to a detective, an african-american.


In mid-January, the controversy raging about the novel American Dirt, written by Jeanine Cummins, a writer of irish origin and puerto rican (one of his grandparents is puerto rican) and who are described as white. The book, for which the author has received an advance of a million dollars, tells the story of the journey made by migrants through Mexico to the u.s. border.

In spite of the significant research it has conducted, Cummins had been so afraid to be insufficiently qualified to write this book that she has expressed this fear in his afterword. “I would have liked someone of darker skin than me to write this book,” she wrote in a tone of regret. A large part of the literary community was in agreement with it and the Cummins has been the subject of terrible attacks on social networks because she had the audacity as a white woman to write about what the experience of the migrants. Appeuré, his publisher decided to cancel the promotional tour as originally planned.

Novelist Lauren Groff, who had written a favorable criticism of this novel in The New York Times, confessed: “I was sure that I was not the right person to do the review of this book, I could never tell if it properly represents the mexican culture or the plight of migrants, I have never been a mexican or immigrant “. If the goal is to create a literary culture that is open, the flagellation by the authors to find out who has the right to write does not create optimal results.

The authenticity premium on talent

During a literary festival in australia, the author white Lionel Shriver gave a speech wearing a sombrero to denounce the injustice of the principle that only the members of a group should be allowed to write about it. If it is difficult to approve of his choice of clothing, I am in full agreement with the thought of Shriver. Today, nothing is more prized that the authenticity, which has the primacy over the talent. You see the problem. Or maybe not. We can disagree and yet coexist, and democracy works.

But why all this is happening there today ? A large part of the artistic community perceives as a danger to vital attacks against progressive values, embodied by the sinister chairmanship of Donald Trump. The nervous systems of one and the other being red alert, all of this leads us, without surprise, with a good dose of thought reductionist. In this struggle, the artists are not willing to cede one millimeter of ground. The groups who feel threatened are folded into their own communities, where they are comforting in the company of people who think like them. If the “melting-pot” american has always had something of a myth, for a large part of the period that followed the second world war, it was an aspiration, an ideal of the company.

In America today, if we do our ethnicity, the main feature of our identity, the danger we face is not to identify ourselves first and foremost as Americans. However, ironically, it is the progressivism that will suffer

There is nothing fundamentally wrong in a creation shaped by the identity or the politics, but, to my eyes anyway, the most powerful art is that which is shaped by the humanity of the artist.

(Translated from the English by Valentine Morizot)

Seth Greenland was a writer. The one that we qualify as “new Tom Wolfe” was born in New York in 1955. After multiple odd jobs, including that of ” crab killer “, he began writing as a screenwriter and novelist. Among his books, published in France by Liana Levi, we can mention Mister Bones (2005), A pattern model (2008), A buddhist angry (2013), or Mechanics of the fall (2019).