BGT and Literature about Literature

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I finally finished the last revision of my first essay that I plan to submit to magazines. The essay is a personal narrative about my insecurities about writing and creating work that could be read by others. I excited about sending it out and seeing if it gets any kind or response, though I’m not kidding myself–I know its likely I’ll just get a bunch of form letters saying thanks, but no thanks.

I am also in a critique group, and they were very kind to agree to read my my essay though it was longer than the typical limit that we set for ourselves. Most of the comments I got back were positive, but one of the readers commented that she was dubious about writing about writing, expressing that most of the time, this was a sign of laziness. A writer writes about writing because they don’t have other ideas about what to write about.

This brings me to The Big Green Tent, because it seems like a book about books, or literature about literature. I’ve found the novel to be kind of a mishmash of stories about a wide range of characters, but one thread that weaves through many of the stories is the reference to literature, particularly Russian lit.

This is kind of funny, since I picked the book in order to modernize my view of Russian novels, and here we are finding reference after reference to the classic works (as well as more contemporary works like Doctor Zhivago, which I need to read myself).

Reading the novel is also like being emerged in Soviet life, where every aspect of life is subtly (sometimes not so subtly) impinged upon by the State. In this context, the continual return to literature seems to be a commentary on the function of literature in such societies. If so, I can understand the principle,  but I’m lost when it comes to the peculiarities because I’m not steeped in the shared knowledge and understanding of Russian literary history.

Is there an analogous canon of American lit that functions in a similar way in our country? Maybe, but I might argue that literature has not generally worked as an expression against repression in general, but for certain marginalized groups. Invisible Man served that function for African Americans, for example, or The Bell Jar for women, etc. Still, I think that if we ever did continue down a slippery slope where the press is discredited, the judiciary is no longer independent, civil rights are ignored, and we were less free in general, we might do well to turn to the literature of these marginalized groups.

What are the books that come to your mind in this regard?

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