Both social disintegration and moral relativism lead to the same sorry conclusion: the liberal novel is a novel in which not much is at stake. And if you don’t have much at stake, you can’t have a good story. Santiago Ramos
My interest in the argument on Public Discourse about the decline of literature due to liberalism had more to do with the plight of students than with that of writers–that is to say, my interest has more to do with the narrative environment of young people than with the writer’s prospects for literary success. It no doubt remains true that life is a challenge in which both success and failure are really possible, and therefore it remains the case that our stories matter. But how true is it today that young people believe that novels contain the real stuff of life–the insights that lead to wisdom?
I believe that Solzhenitsyn, to follow up Ramos’ example, does tell a story that matters in, for example, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. If one lives in a regime which tries to suppress life’s chosen meanings, then one way to live well is to refuse to grant moral authority to that regime . One can live amid meanings and trajectories to which society is indifferent or blind. Society may even set your daily tasks before you, compelling you to assist in the construction of its towers, but it may not dictate any meaning whatsoever.
But I share many assumptions with Solzhenitsyn. For one thing, I see modernism as a moral and intellectual dead end, and the his theme resonates in me–the challenge of living in opposition to a regime which is blind to the most important realities. I came to consciousness in a literary culture, and much of the experience that formed me came in the form of novels.