There Will Never Be A Great American Novel

For a nation to truly be a nation and not just an economic zone of atomized individualists hustling for gold, it needs a shared culture; culture of course being any pattern of shared behavior in a population that cannot be attributed to genetics; the stronger and more homogeneous the population, the more robust and alive the culture will be.

One of the most distinctive forms of culture there is that of mythology: a story or an entire hero saga of tales that creates and/or showcases the collective philosophy of a nation. Mythology should show both what a particular nation values and what it rejects, and reflect the collective Jungian fears and desires of all peoples (if you happen to believe in Joseph Campbell’s theories).

Mythology is typically not something that a guy sits down and writes, declaring that “I’ve written my nation’s mythology!” Instead, myths typically develop over generations before being written down, either as purely fantastical just so” stories, or romanticized recollections of historical fact that have become dimmed and distorted by the sands of time.

But, seeing as I’m capable of talking about ancient mythologies in 2017, that means many of them have been written down at some point; undoubtedly you knew that already. Over time, these folk tales get compiled and become a nation’s “epic” or “great novel” that becomes widely disseminated to young and old within a nation, and eventually to other nations as well.

There are many national epics that I can name off the top of my head: Beowulf, The Odyssey, Der Nibelungenlied, The Song of Roland, The Eddas, Tain Bo Cuilange, The Shahnameh, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, the Mahabharata, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and so forth. There are even  purely created (ie: fictional epics) such as the Silmarillion or the Cthulhu Mythos.

And now we come to the title of this article. It is a cliché at this point to ask “Where is the Great American Novel?” This is typically a question posited by the smug denizens of the Old World, clucking their tongues and waggling their fingers at Americans for being a pack of uncultured swine who are too busy being morbidly obese embodiments of everything wrong with humanity to come up with any sort of mythology.

As an American bibliophile, I have asked myself this question many times. And it is my opinion that not only does the United States of America not have a “Great Novel”, there can never be, and will never be, a Great American Novel. Not because Americans are incapable of writing a decent yarn (the numerous Nobel Prizes in literature the USA has achieved would say otherwise), but because of two factors:

1) The smaller of the two factors is simply a mathematical one: The USA is a relatively young nation. Time and decaying historical record are the easiest way for historical fact to become mythology. However, recent historical fact can become folklore in some circumstances: Wong Fei Hung and Huo Yuanjia only died about 100 years ago (give or take a few), their life and times are extensively documented and they’ve become Chinese folk heroes.

No, the real issue holding America back in the mythology department is the second issue I alluded to above:

2) America was waylaid with guilt before it could even begin to create hero cults. In short, Americans don’t have an epic because we’re not allowed to have an epic.

Yeah, I’m going to say it: I’ve NEVER understood the old stereotype of Americans being fanatically patriotic and proud of their country. But that might just be because none of the people that I have known well in my life have acted that way in the slightest.

I know exactly what a lot of the readers are thinking, particularly those readers who are not from the USA: “But Larsen! All the patriotic music playing in the malls, the big Fourth of July celebrations, the fatbodies wearing American flag jackets.” Of course. How could you NOT see them? But I want you to take a closer look at them:

What are they celebrating, really? America, obviously. But what is it ABOUT America that they’re celebrating? As far as I can tell, America itself is being celebrated, rather than anything substantively about the USA. For example, America has collectively won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation. Regardless of your opinions of the USA, there’s no way to argue that this isn’t something to be proud of. But the lardasses in Murkan flag jackets aren’t celebrating that—hell, nobody celebrates that. I didn’t even know about the Nobel Prizes until I got to college! It’s not like they ever taught that in public school!

How about the fact that America donates more to charitable organizations than any nation on Earth? That’s not being celebrated either. History and culture? You must be joking—when was the last time you saw Mark Twain, HL Mencken, Ezra Pound, or Winslow Homer being celebrated by one of these patriotards, to say nothing of politicians and historical figures?

No, the only concrete thing they’ll celebrate are “the troops”, ie: the troops that are serving right now. You’ll never see anyone celebrating the Battle of the Bastogne with the same moral unambiguity the way that the Greeks celebrate Thermopylae. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that American “patriotism” has already tacitly accepted the idea that American history is largely shameful, and thus overcompensates with celebrating the now and the future. But I only say that because mainstream American conservatism pre-Trump has heavily implied it believes that.

So they give us this empty flag lapel pin wearing patriotism as a flimsy substitute for having a real nation. And obviously anybody with an above-room-temperature IQ won’t fall for it, which is probably why the American arts and letters have been almost entirely anti-American. Yes, even back in the “bad old days” before the 1960s. I defy you to name a single American artist of international renown that was the stereotypical “patriotard”. I’ll wait…

Probably the closest you’ll come to it is the work of JF Cooper, but even he glorifies and eulogizes the “noble savage”. Just to repeat that: the first American literature to make it big internationally portrays the conquest of the United States as something that is (partially) tragic. Guilt was part of American culture from the very beginning.

Of course, some would argue that “well that’s just because America SHOULD be guilty!” I am certainly not going to deny that America has committed wrong doing, but I don’t think America’s sins are any greater than any other country’s sins. You can certainly have a national epic that is about conquest and subjugation of another people: The Shahnameh? The Aeneid? The Trojan War? The Eddas? All of those great epics have segments where the protagonist’s people invade another country and conquer those people, if not being about that subject entirely.

So, the question is: why HASN’T The Leatherstocking Tales officially become the Great American Novel? Or to put it another way, why has America always had a complex of “the poor noble red man”, while the aggressive epics I mentioned above don’t have that element in them? I would argue it’s an issue of timing more than anything else.

Normally an epic forms with the right mixture of time passing, just the right amount of historical murkiness, and, most importantly, proper “setting”. What I mean by that is, the sectarian hatreds and resource competition that cause tribal violence have to be dead and buried for a while before they can become “epics”. Greece and Iran aren’t itching to fight each other, nor are the daimyo clans of Japan. And if America had been founded in 776 instead of 1776, every war America has fought would probably have “set” properly, going back to the first reason the GAN won’t happen. But because within 100 years before and after America’s founding we had the conception of the noble savage, the industrial revolution, improved communications, and photography, the ugly realities of history were never allowed to become half-forgotten myths.

And there are things relatively recently in American history that could be the basis of an epic, but again, we’re not allowed to venerate them. To cite one example: Steve Sailer has discussed how the Pacific theater of World War 2 SHOULD be America’s epic (or at the very least California’s epic). Indeed, the battles were certainly epic, the locales exotic, the enemy sufficiently an “other”. But you’ll read a thousand articles or books on the internment camps before you read anything about Peleliu or Okinawa.

Instead, the guilt continued to grow to the point where we have a multi billion dollar industry of historical grievance, thus we CAN’T let things cool off and dissipate into the mists of history. There’s always going to be somebody in America making somebody else utterly ashamed of their history (hell, that’s basically how you signal your social standing in America, by talking about how much you hate America), making it incredibly gauche to mythologize combat between the brave Men of the West and the savage “other”.

So I ask: How many countries so fetishize their own guilt and shame? Not too many. And with the juxtaposition of cultural guilt and bad timing, I don’t see America ever having an undisputed cultural epic without some massive cultural upheaval.

Indeed, if anything, America has an “anti-epic” to quote another “bad thinker”, one John Derbyshire. And stay tuned for next week’s article on that very topic.

  • Im mexican and from here the real American Epic is the story of Superman, the guy comes from another c̶o̶n̶t̶i̶n̶e̶n̶t̶ world and thrives due to the n̶a̶t̶u̶r̶a̶l̶ ̶r̶e̶s̶o̶u̶r̶c̶e̶s̶ light from the sun of his new home, he displaces the natives (Lex Luthor and he becomes a villain to justify the displacement… not so much in reality) Superman tries to bring his justice to everyone and becomes a paragon of humanity simply by being the best person he can be because he already was of a superior nature… yeah, some of the things are terribly different (mostly due to the denial of the wrongs, not by the wrongs themselves) but is the closest i see to an exalted american spirit

    • Alan Moore (the comic writer) has made a similar point: namely, that if superhero comics were ever allowed to end (ie: have a Ragnarok/Gotterdammerung), they would be the American equivalent of Greek mythology.

      However, considering that a few years ago there was a Superman story in which he renounces his American citizenship, essentially out of shame, that kind of proves my original point about America not really being allowed to have an epic—namely the overarching cultural trend in America is one of guilt, and even our imperialism is a sort of “enforce progressive cultural norms on people to make up for our past piggishness” idea.

      Not to mention how the satirical image of Superman has always been a sort of embodiment of American Empire.

      • The Superman nationality stuff was treated as Superman not wanting his actions to be interpreted as the official US international policy, not as a shame action, the thing with the american pride is that they built in on the idea of them being good as the reason for their actions (manifest destiny, “chosen by god” and that stuff), which is contrary to the same actions they have performed under that premise

        If they want to have pride they must stop pretending to be fueled by an inherent goodness and just accept the mundanity of their motivations but they keep pretending to be fueled by goodness in a time when “good” is a word that anyone can wield to justify their cause

        • In the past, maybe, every empire has its motivational lie (ie: white man’s burden, etc.). But I really don’t see anybody advocating Manifest Destiny in this day and age.

          • Not manifest destiny but its contemporary equivalent: the idea that they are good and thus that goodness justify their actions

          • LarsenHalleck

            There’s definitely an element of that, but in the article I wrote directly after this one, I talk about the very deep trend of anti-Americanism within American culture, and I posit why this duality might be the case

    • Lisa

      #TeamCaptainAmerica

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  • etype

    America does have a great novel. A novel that is one of the greatest in the history of literature – one of the greatest in the English language, on par or better than any single work by Shakespeare. Comparable easily to Don Quixote by Cervantes, Faust by Goethe, etc. It is one of the paradigms of great literature – and that is Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ – a novel that is Biblical in scope, Biblical in art, Biblical in moral and prophetic depth. Moby Dick is as great or greater than any single work in the English Language – with the exception of the King James Bible. The problem is Americans are not a literary people. You ask for a myth – this is not the middle ages – it is past time for any people to receive a myth. You have one of greatest works in the English language – and you are not elevated enough, unified in focus and purpose enough to know it.

    • Moby Dick is another candidate for the Great American Novel, but again, it all goes back to how we’re not allowed to celebrate it. Because celebrating anything about America is somehow shameful.

      • etype

        There is something to what you say. But it is one of the greatest works in the English language – regardless of what anyone says. It is discriminated against because it is the Great American World novel, and it is discriminated against by the Anglophile sect – which requires Americans to culturally tug the forelock to England. No English language work should equal Shakespeare. Moby Dick does. Shakespeare is more aligned with the English common man and the European American than he is with English establishment, who still do not accept a common English playwright could write those works. The same with Melville’s Moby Dick.

        • Perhaps the future will show Melville heralded as an equal to Shakespeare.

  • Charles Martel

    Especially since (((they))) control the narrative and history of America in pop culture.

    It’s a very useful tactic to steer the populous where it needs to go.

    Guilt and shame are good motivatiors to that. Especially with Christian whites who by and large the most empathic and carry the most capacity to feel shame

    • Indeed guilt has been weaponized against America. But I do hesitate to lay the blame entirely on the Jews. Undoubtedly Jewish writers/intellectuals have contributed to the guilt complex, but there’s plenty of gentile idiots who do the same.

      • Charles Martel

        Agreed. Such “useful idiots” aren’t they?

        • Yeah, it’s like John Derbyshire says: The Jews may very well be forcing society into the way they want it to be, but the fact that the majority population sits by and allows it is the bigger problem. 2-5% of the population shouldn’t be able to so effectively boss around the other 95% of the people.

          • Charles Martel

            Exactly right. It’s good to learn the lesson from the Boshelviks/Reds who were 90% Jewish leadership were able to stir enough frenzy to take out the majority Whites party.

            Solid analysis though enjoyed reading it.

      • etype

        Blame the jews all day – they are here to loot the till, not destroy the culture. It is the English who planned to destroy your culture in order to turn you into easily led children. It is the English who use the Jews to own your media – this is not my theory, they wrote a shelf of books about it – how to retake America – how to use America to destroy Europe – how to control a nation by owning the banks and the media – who are the right people to hire to accomplish this – Jews, (no ethnic loyalties except to money and themselves – and this is all perfectly legal and compatible with your culture and creed – you cannot blame the jews for doing exactly what you permit them to do ) . Research William Stead – the Round Table – Cecil Rhodes, there’s at least a years worth of research here if you are intelligent, and it’s out there to find .
        The British with the Americans now, have made a pact with the devil – Empire or world power with the agreement that you get eaten last. Unfortunately the Devil loves to punish those stupid enough to think they can equal or best him in deal making, and enjoys twisting deals to your disadvantage, while still fulfilling the contract to the letter. Enjoy what time you have left. Prepare to either stand and fight, or fall and be forgotten.
        Blaming jews will get you no where – you know that yourself, the more intelligent among you feel it in your guts. The real culprit is your old friend you originally fought a revolution to be done with – and then you got sucked back in by your own failure to live up to your own ideals. It is the English who are the world parasites – try reading history, but this time without the dunce cap and the idiot goggles.