Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Nonconformity, by Nelson Algren

This book length essay, written in the early fifties but not published until after Algren's death, is a passionate plea for relevance. It was written at a time of repression in the US, and Algren insisted on honesty and boldness in his writing. Here's a taste:

"No book was ever woth the writing that wasn't done with the attitude that 'this ain't what you rung for, Jack--but it's what you're damned well getting.' 'A novelist who would think himself of a superior essence to other men would miss the first condition of his calling,' Conrad tells us. Not to say that an American writer cannot keep his faith that staying warm and dry-shod is the main thing, and still write honestly."


"Infected as younger writers are today by the current passion for caution in everything, the reportorial method affords an emotional detachment that makes a virtue of stenography. The advantage of replacing the complexity and the pain of the living experience with the painless and simple process of giving dictation has become sufficently plain to the sensible writer. For by this method one could report on the overburdened without identifying himself with them. One could preserve a sense of superiority to the dead and the overburdened. A surefire means, it seemed, wherewith to gain one's art without losing one's life."

Highly recommended!

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