Writing Cult Threatening
Culture Beat Reporter
The Latin8s, an insidious writing cult with roots to the early 19th century, have re-appeared on the literary scene, threatening today’s easy reading culture with their forceful use of big words, dense writing styles and intellectually challenging content. “It’s concerning,” said Federal Bureau of Literary Pretension (FBLP) field agent Stephan Allblu, of their rapid resurgence. “People are worried.” The self-described ‘refined and elitist’ group was driven into obscurity in the early 20th century by the populist and monosyllabic Saxons—a secretive, though largely benevolent, writing collective that has dominated acceptable publishing protocols since. The FBLP and other literary watchdog agencies believe the Latin8s re-emergence threatens the smooth and accessible ride that readers across the globe have enjoyed for decades unburdened by the inconvenience of having to stop to consider the complexities of the human condition, the annoyance of referring to dictionaries, the lack of resolved endings and the shame and despair felt upon abandoning their books unread. “They have nothing but contempt for today’s readers,” Allblu said. “They use their words like cluster bombs—indiscriminately, recklessly, arrogantly—publishing them regardless of the impact on the psyche of the innocent masses just seeking a ‘good read’. We haven’t seen the remainder bins overflowing like this in years,” he said. “We are taking this seriously.”
the Latin8s and
Allblu sits in his office above an Amazon Books warehouse in Portland, Oregon’s NW industrial district. He’s in a reflective mood, second-guessing the word-police for letting the Latin8s regain a foothold on the literary terrain. “The signs of their re-emergence were there, but we became complacent,” he lamented. “Lulled by Hemingway and Steinbeck, we took our eyes off Fitzgerald and Woolf and Waugh and Powell and others. Their seeds took root. By the 60’s, Burgess, Pynchon, Barth, Barthelme, Gardner and others were getting good reviews and, in some cases, movie deals,” he noted. “Donna Tartt, Don Delillo, John Banville, Marilynne Robinson and others exploded onto the scene and became the darlings of The New York Times Book Review. Tom Hanks is said to have begged for a role in the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.”
Allblu’s fears appear justified. Big-box bookstores are seeing significant declines in sales while the small, independent sellers are on the rise. There is open rebellion in writing groups. In Moorehead vs The Vicksburg Round Table (2017), a case that dominated the literary news for over a year, The Pulitzer Prize Sub-Committee on Turgidity re-affirmed a lower-award ruling that a Virginia woman had the right to retain the word prelapsarian in her memoir of an ex-Daughter of the Confederacy debutante turned radical librarian in the turn-of-the-century rural south. That book, I Will Hush Them No More by Melissa Moorehead, is now de rigueur reading for every feminist book club across the country with prelapsarian still there on page 209, second paragraph from the bottom.
Is the movement a threat or a beacon of hope? Another sign of an irreparable tear in the fabric of western society or a step toward another era of explosive intellectual growth? Willamette Monthly arranged a sit-down Q&A with local representatives of the two factions to understand. We met on neutral territory outside the Powell’s Books retail outlet at the PDX Airport. To prevent any confusion or hurt feelings we agreed to avoid condescension, claims of elitist entitlement, any references to David Foster Wallace or Robert James Waller, etc... In recognition of, and in deference to recently deceased Brian Doyle, the celebrated Portland writer, the words exuberant, bony, muscular, maw and elfin would be eschewed in the discussion. Too, we would eschew using the word eschew. And any sentences that open with the word Too would also be eschewed. We are human beings, we agreed. We can only take so much.
Latin8 Portland leader, Fred de Schmucke (nom de guerre: Francis Aloysius Hitchens-Hazzard) downplays any concerns. “Dictionary and thesaurus sales are up,” he noted with enthusiasm. “The utterances of a mob-like collection of lachrymose snivelers are of little concern to us. Consider the re-emergence of the Latin8s, instead,” he continued, “the petrichor arising from the parched terrain of the barren state—the veritable antidote to the absence—of literary adroitness across the writing universe in its current form.” Patterson Grisham Jr., spokesperson for the Saxons—the group rejects any formal hierarchy—disagrees. “They’re snobs,” he said. “We don’t like them.” When asked to elaborate, Grisham declined. “I’ve made my point.”
A transcript of the discussion follows, abridged for length, clarity and the discretion of the author.
Willamette Monthly: Francis, the Latin8s? Where have you been? And why now?
Francis Aloysius Hitchens-Hazzard: We never decamped, really. Never relinquished our appanage. But we saw the writing—such as it was—on the wall and had no inclination for a morganatic relationship with the unkempt masses. We tarried underneath, hidden in the penumbra. Our quiescence was strategic and calculated. Apotropaic, if you will. And, ultimately, efficacious. As to why now? Clearly, we see where populism has brought us, do we not? The current state of affairs is unacceptable to us.
WM: What do you hope to achieve?
Hitchens-Hazzard: The rejuvenation of intellectual curiosity. The annihilation of politically correct, pandering-to-the-masses plots, the fall of book farms and big-box bookstores. Another golden age of literature.
WM: Patterson, concerned?
Patterson Grisham: Nah.
WM: Would you care to elaborate?
Grisham: You keep using that word.
WM: Expand with a little more detail?
Grisham: Hooey. How’s that?
WM: Um, succinct, I guess. Francis, some say that the use of big words has the unintended effect of making the writer appear less intelligent, obfuscating the narrative he or she intends, inserting pomposity where simple story-telling would suffice. How would you respond to these assertions?
Hitchens-Hazzard: First, let me say that your words delight my ears! ‘Obfuscate!’ ‘Pomposity!’ ‘Suffice!’ ‘Assertions!’ Like music. I am... titillated; there is no other word. As to our sesquipedalian tendencies, isn’t that what literature strives for? To use the language in all of its magnificence? To say things in a new, more grandiose, way? To speak as God enabled us to speak?
WM: You’re claiming divine support?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Si la chaussure va, as my dear mother would say. Eucharist. Transubstantiation. Ejaculations! These are His words, not mine. Look to whom you gave the reins to your country. This monosyllabic cretin. This is leadership? Look to your best-seller lists. This is literature?
WM: Patterson, the Latin8s attack on monosyllabism seems rather a broad swing of the sword. How do you defend it?
Grisham: Through the books I choose to read.
WM: Hmmm... Literary historians see the Saxonist wave not out of step with the socialist movement over the past two centuries, politically; making literature available to the masses etc. But I hear Francis now positioning it as aligned with the alt-right. Is there any political affiliation? And, if so, would you be willing to declare it publicly?
Grisham: No. And no.
WM: What’s on your nightstand?
Hitchens-Hazzard: John Banville, of course, the complete set. A living saint. Velutinous on the outside; barbarous, sensuous and corporeal within. Winston Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897–1963 for lighter fare. Mary Lee Settle’s Beulah Quintet. I could go on. Tocqueville...
WM: Please. Don’t. Patterson?
Grisham: Franklin W. Dixon, the complete set. Gripping. Aunt Gertrude an early, iconic feminist. Jaws. Always Jaws. Scary. Deep. Benchley’s good. Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Ayn Rand.
WM: Francis? You laugh?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Ayn Rand. I rest my case. So many little words. So very little said.
Grisham: You mock.
Hitchens-Hazzard: It is impossible not to. We believe in the ‘big-ness’ of things. Big ideas sometimes need big words.
Grisham: Maybe your focus on big words is to compensate for your lack of size in other areas?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Who mocks now?
WM: You have both been characterized as passionate in this matter. How did you come to your positions?
Hitchens-Hazzard: I knew early on that I was different. Poly-syllabic. There. I’ve said it. The other kids taunted me. Perhaps you were among them, Patterson? ‘Big words, small dick.’ ‘Poly wanna cracker?’ I was shamed. Father was embarrassed by me. One cold winter evening—I was just ten or eleven years old—poppa, in his nightly bourbon-soaked rage, threw my worn and tattered Ulysses onto the raging fire in his study and made me write out Orwell’s Rule 3 over and over again until my hands cramped and I cried out in despair, “ ‘Never use a long word where a short one will do!’ Forgive me dearest poppa!” I screamed. I was despondent. The next evening, mother came to sit at my bedside. Poppa was in his nightly slumber before the fire with a Harold Robbins novel splayed out on his lap and an empty tumbler on the table next to him. Mother read to me from Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River of ‘an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives’ and it was as if I was reborn. Mother rose up from her chair and turned off the bedside light. She leaned over and kissed my cheek. Her tenderness warmed me. In the doorway, she turned back and leaned her head against the framing. Her eyes caressed me. “Your father is a small man, Freddie,” she said. “Like his words, no? Be bigger, dearest one.” Yes, I am ‘poly’. And damned proud of it.
Grisham: I read The Sun Also Rises.
WM: What drives your reading choices today?
Grisham: I like a good story simply told. Is that so wrong? Man against man, you know?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Hmmm, intriguing. Man against nature?
Grisham: Of course. Man against himself.
Hitchens-Hazzard: We are not so different, perhaps.
WM: Your dream guests at a dinner party?
Grisham: A diverse party, of course. Ayn Rand. Oprah. James Patterson. Our president, of course. The great historian, Bill O’Reilly. Waller. Whoops! No Waller. Forgot. Lee Child.
Hitchens-Hazzard: Then again.
Hitchens-Hazzard: William F. Buckley. Oh, how the words danced off his tongue! Anthony Powell. The Fitzgeralds—Penelope and Scott both. Christopher Hitchens. Bernard DeVoto. Edith Wharton. Marilynne Robinson, Robertson Davies.
WM: Best American Novel ever?
Hitchens-Hazzard: There are only three candidates, of course. Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn or Sometimes A Great Notion.
Grisham: Hmmm... The Moviegoer. To Kill a Mockingbird. To Have and Have Not.
Hitchens-Hazzard: You stun me there, Patterson.
Grisham: How so?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Well, those are great books.
Grisham: As are yours. Though Melville and Kesey really pushed my buttons. Could I suggest that some editing might make them better?
Hitchens-Hazzard: You blaspheme! I rend my shirt! But I forgive you.
Grisham: Powell’s is open. Shall we?
Hitchens-Hazzard: Peruse the shelves? Let’s do. And perhaps a drink sometime?
Grisham: I love you, man.
Hitchens-Hazzard: You’re like a brother to me.
(sniffles all around)