Pondering the Defeatists

A new review, The University Bookman on “Pondering the Defeatists”. A “handsome new edition” of the book it may be, as the review states. Yet the front cover design and typography is abysmal and must have take all of 60 seconds to slap together…

Still, The Age of Defeat has long been very difficult and expensive to obtain, so an £8 Kindle ebook re-issue is welcome — whatever you might think about the author’s claims to also be expounding a philosophy. His book surveys the retreat from the heroic in 1950s literature, as post-war writers began to grind the nose of their readers in the imagined ordinary, with this often seeming to involve a string of insignificant incidents set against a grey backwash of kitchen-sink mundanity. ‘Imagined’, because the life depicted was too often a gloomy leftist intellectual’s cartoon caricature of what was actually a far more rumbustious and vigorous working-class life.

From the review…

The Age of Defeat makes a convincing case that the cult of the ordinary guy is a dead end. Human beings need something to admire and to which to aspire. Readers want a way out of quotidian misery and banality, and the “serious” non-genre novelist thinks it beneath him to provide this, finding the heroic corny.

This problem has of course persisted in high-brow literature. My hazily remembered reading of Paul Auster in the early 1990s springs to mind, for some reason. This has contributed strongly to the effective irrelevance of ‘the contemporary novel’ beyond the walls of cloistered university English Departments and the pages of the TLS. But the relentless denigration of the heroic has now also been worming its way through popular culture for thirty years, and thus a book from the 1950s still seems to have relevance in explaining the underlying motivations of the purveyors of gloom and doubt.