On my way to the office this morning I listened to Sufjan Stevens’s Seven Swans CD. Though this is not my point, it’s worth noting that I only bought his CD because I Googled “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for the lyrics, and discovered the Youtube video below, which is precisely the kind of thing that major record labels want to outlaw.
Anyway, as I pulled into the parking lot and popped out the CD, my radio blared some popular Christian song about how “you got me and Jesus.” It was jarring, to shift so suddenly from Stevens’s dreamy “Abraham” to that nasally, unimaginative croaking. Perhaps that’s the only way to recognize the richness of something, to trade it for dullness for a time.
I found this interesting, coming so quickly as it did on the heels of a similar experience over the weekend. I finished Walker Percy’s Lancelot on Sunday afternoon, and turned immediately to a couple of literary journals. Lancelot is by no means Percy’s best, and if you’ve not read him I recommend The Moviegoer instead. But after being immersed in his lyrical style, I was jarred by the clunkiness of what passes for so much modern prose. These are top journals, but I could barely stand to read a good bit of them, what with Percy’s phrasings still fresh in my mind. I imagine even his best would be rejected by a number of lit journals today, along with Robert Penn Warren and James Agee and Graham Greene. Those sentences are too long. There isn’t enough detail. All this falling from grace and coming to redemption is too fanciful. And seriously, what is up with those over-long sentences?
It’s depressing, the squeeze: an increasingly aliterate public on one side, and on the other a host of literary-minded folks hell-bent on murdering voice, narrative, and lyricism. I’m imagining a New Literary Jerusalem, and I don’t even need to be one of the writers. I’d be content just to sit in its shade and read. Perhaps with a little music: