A Conservative Journey Through Literary America — Part 2: A Conversation With Michael Blowhard

Michael Blowhard, of 2Blowhards.com fame, describes himself as “…. a blogger who has lived and worked in the NYC arts and media worlds for 30 years, and who worked in and around the NYC trade book publishing world for 15 years.” Surely, I surmised, this is someone who may have some answers. Mr. Blowhard was gracious enough to answer at length a series questions via email.

Do you think that there are fewer conservatives (artistic, political, or both) in the arts generally, and literature in particular?

A two-part answer.

Part one is that I have a super-inclusive view of “culture.” We’re all immersed in culture whether we know it or not, and whether we want to be or not. We clothe ourselves, we watch TV and movies and flip through magazines, we eat, we listen to stories and jokes, we drive cars and have opinions about airports and restaurants … That’s all culture. So from that point of view we’re *all* “in the arts.”

Part two … Deeply-held Zen bullshit to one side … Yeah, in my experience there are far fewer righties in the arts than lefties, and that holds for writing and publishing as much as the other arts I’ve come in contact with. Lefties dominate, and in most ways they dictate the terms that the arts discussion takes place on. At its worst you could say that a common, unspoken assumption in the arts is that being a lefty is a prerequisite for even getting into the field.

All that said, I should add that I’ve always wondered about something, which is how many of the people in the arts who go along with the general-leftie-ism of the the field do so only for public consumption. In other words, how many of them dissent privately? I’d guess that a fair number do. But how will we ever know?

I should add as well that one of the reasons my fellow Blowhards and I blog is to demonstrate that it’s possible to be arts-guys without being party-line lefty. We developed a pretty good-sized readership pretty quickly, so I have to believe that there are numerous people out there who like the arts but who find the official art-world’s leftie-ism off-putting.

Give some examples of conservative novelists/essayists.

Probably the most famous contempo conservative American literary writers are Tom Wolfe and Mark Helprin. Dana Gioia, a terrific poet…is also a conservative. The conservative magazine world is swarming with rightie journalists and essayists. Bruce Bawer and Andrew Sullivan are two of many examples.

Is it some temperamental quality in the conservative mind that pushes away from a literary career? Or is it institutional liberalism in the lit community? Some combination of the two?

Let me take the opportunity to introduce another one of my Zen-ish points, if I can. I think it can be a mistake to over-focus on the self-described “literary” wing of the reading-and-writing worlds. So far as fiction goes, for instance, there’s a huge and dynamic non-literary world of narrative genre writing out there: sci-fi, crime, romance, erotica, and more. In my experience these writers are often far more free-thinking and far less doctrinaire and party-line than the literary crowd is. They’re also just as smart and often far more talented. They create works in modes that everyday people can understand and enjoy, and they do so in what’s often a friendly, accessible, and even businesslike spirit. And it’s a far larger world than the literary world is.

The literary world? Feh — who needs ’em?

What about politically conservative literary authors throughout history? Did there use to be more? If so, why? What are the historical factors you think would have caused the shift?

You’ll probably want to speak to a real scholar about this. But I can’t resist taking a swing at it anyway. I see three main stages:

– In the late 1800s some writers (Henry James was one) started treating the novel not as a big sprawling entertainment form but as a work of art that needed its own artistic unity.

– Modernist writers responded to the challenge presented by the movies by focusing ever more on “writerly” concerns.

– The post-WWII American boom produced, along with everything else, a boom in colleges and universities. As more people watched TV, book-fiction lodged itself ever more in academia. Eventually what’s often joked about as “the creative writing industry” seized command of the serious-writing wing of fiction-writing.

In other words, where “serious writing” goes, elitism, snobbery, radicalism, and academicism came to prevail.

What advice would you give a political conservative thinking about a career in literature, or the arts generally?

Honestly I’d advise anyone, rightie or lefty, to avoid a life in the arts, at least the arts as conventionally understood: literary-fiction, gallery art, etc. It’s likely to be a very hard one. I’m very serious about that. Money is scarce, success may never arrive, frustration and disappointment are inevitable, breakdowns and suicides aren’t uncommon. And in a country as full of money, space, and opportunity as the U.S., why opt for the hard way?

That said … If your righty is going to persist in his ambitions despite my warnings … I’d first urge him or her to consider how leftie-dominated the traditional arts are. Do you really want to fight that in addition to all the other battles you’ll inevitably be fighting? Perhaps you might want to think about the new media instead. Website design, for instance, is wide open — you can set up shop, do work, publish, get paid — and there’ll be no institutional crapola you’ll have to wade your way through. I’d also suggest looking into the entertainment business instead of the more highbrow wings of the culture world. If you can do work that connects with a sizable audience, you can work in TV or movies whatever your politics. You’ll also be able to make a decent living.

If your righty persists in his/her interest in the higher-brow arts … I’d suggest finding your way to the righty rebel groups that do in fact exist in at least some of them. In painting, for example: the New York Academy of Art runs a 19th-century academic-style program, and there are people like Jacob Collins (a real giant, as far as I’m concerned) who are the suns around whom many “conservative” painters circle. In poetry, the New Traditionalists and New Formalists (who gather once a year at West Chester College outside Philly) are reviving traditional poetic forms. Frederick Turner is a giant here — a great critic and poet both. In architecture, there are New Classicists at work, and the New Urbanists are tradition-oriented too, though some of them get kind of NPR/PBS soft lefty. Only a few architecture programs (Notre Dame, University of Miami) base their training on tradition, but “a few” is better than none, god knows.

So far as literary fiction goes, I wish I could come up with decent advice. There aren’t any conservative or traditionalist schools or circles around, to my knowledge. Like I say, most fiction writers who care about traditional values go into narrative-fiction fields: movies, TV, or genre fiction. Which leaves lit-fiction almost entirely to the lefties, the schoolmarms, and the radicals. So I’d venture three thoughts: 1) Keep your rightieness to yourself if you can. Or 2) Make a deliberate choice to flaunt it. Make a statement of it. Identify yourself as Mr. or Ms. Defiant Literary Righty right at the outset. There’s a reason why Tom Wolfe wears the White Suit! Or 3) Start up a school or circle of writers and editors and readers who prize traditional literary values and craft, and then endure decades of neglect and abuse.

Thank you for time, Mr. Blowhard.

In the next week’s installment, we will analyze Mr. Blowhard’s response, as well as check in with Pulitzer finalist and Weekly Standard literary editor Philip Terzian.

Read Mr. Patterson’s “A Conservative Journey Through Literary America — Part 1: Introduction”

Matt Patterson is a columnist and commentator whose work has appeared in The Washington Examiner, The Baltimore Sun, and Pajamas Media. He is the author of “Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story.” His email is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.


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