The infamy of literature

This morning, reading a broadly acclaimed biography of a celebrated writer, I came across a sympathetic account of the latter’s father, who had died as a consequence of a botched medical procedure, followed by an apparently sincere appreciation of the struggles this man had been forced to undergo as a consequence of his race, his poverty, and his condition of exile. I thought of how the web of privileged acquaintances that had made the composition of this biography possible and had led to its becoming a popular and critical success was analogous to the endogamous apportionment of money and privileges that had rendered the life of this émigré father so bitter and disappointing and his death so derisible. This is a picture in miniature of the infamy of literature and of the cultivation of feeling as an end in itself. In many cases literature is no more than a means by which, from a position of privilege, people of a sensitivity that quite easily grades into the cagey profit from sorrows already long since brought into flower, about which nothing can now be done, to assure themselves a place in the prevailing social and economic order where they will be tolerated as a kind of pampered moral ornament.