Where is the Great American Novel?: A reflection on Life and Art by Doctor Charles Reuvolle

This is a short story that I wrote in the last hour, literally. I spent no other time on it, but I very much like this, so I thought to share it with you, my loyal reader (not sure if I have more than one). Be gentle and enjoy.

Charles Reuvolle was, by far, the most emphatic, gin-fueled authority on British Renaissance Literature that Princeton University had to offer. At least, that was how he explained his occupation, after the sixth drink, to various bar patrons. Doctor Reuvolle was, for the most part, a self-imposed hermit having no television, buying no movies, and subscribing only to various scientific journals such as Neuroscience Quarterly and the occasional ironic purchase of a New York Times Best Seller. The good doctor reasoned that he did not want to become another victim of “the disease of linguistic and grammatical neglect that was plaguing our great country worse than unemployment,” and that the only way to purge himself of this was “entertainment attrition.”
Doctor Reuvolle taught two courses at Princeton. The first was an obligatory course on British Literature rigorously designed for the unwitting undergraduate that didn’t search out the horror stories of past students online. It wasn’t that Reuvolle didn’t like his students. He simply did not choose to allow them to be lenient on their standards in regard to their education. “You are the future of the American literary tradition,” he would remind them at the beginning of every semester, “if you do not care for your own grammar or linguistics, then you might as well go write reality television or the next Best Seller.”
This friendly reminder at the top of each semester epitomized the purpose of his second course “Where is the Great American Novel: The Degradation of American Standards in Industry, Self-Worth, and, most importantly, Language,” an elective he taught to a select class of 16 students every semester. “This course,” he reminded everyone who accosted him for change on the street or asked him to volunteer at a youth shelter, was his idea of “community service,” and he would have no part of his efforts stolen from this work.
Doctor Reuvolle ran his hands through the invisible locks of hair on his shaved head, tweaked his beard, and pushed up his glasses with a purposeful finger to meet the gaze of his fresh batch of students. “First of all, I would like to thank you for choosing to devote yourself to this task of reviving the English tradition in America. As many of you are aware, we are caught in a whirlwind of so-called entertainment,” with this Reuvolle cleared his throat with a singular, gruff cough. “The American tradition of English is becoming less structured and, therefore, more meaningless. This newly developing tradition of reality television, liberalized expression through YouTube, and recycled film plots with a disregard to its philosophical, social, and intellectual impact has led the majority of us to believe that no matter how innate or trite our opinions, its our thought that counts, and we, therefore, have a divine mandate to share this kernel of perspective with the rest of the planet as personal evangelicals of our own ignorance. This, if you have read any of my articles, is where I propose that we have strayed from the path set down by our intellectual ancestors.” On this note, Reuvolle made his way around the podium and stood before the class, a naked speaker with a vital message. He removed the pipe from the chest pocket of his jacket and lit it, puffing twice before speaking again.
“I’ve fought it, but clearly it hasn’t worked. I require legions, and you are my recruits. In this class, I will push you to construct a novel of personal, intellectual, and social significance. You will draw on the great minds of every field of academics that appeal to you and synthesize their seemingly conflicting voices into a burning social critique of this country, urging your fellow citizens to fill their minds with knowledge and shut their mouths so that the only dregs of knowledge don’t fall out and leave them bereft of any sense at all.” Pricilla, the perkily-titted, perfectly and precisely dressed senior, raised her hand.
“But, if we are to make something so powerful and moving, wouldn’t it be lost on the entirety of the country? How do you propose we fix the tradition if we don’t shatter the current system and spoon-feed the populace until they are able to reason for themselves?” Charles smirked at this, knowing she would be the one to raise the question that he had pondered for years.
“Excellent point Ms. Wentscom. This is why I have designed the course in two parts over two semesters. In the first semester, we will construct our manifestos, and then we will destroy them. The second semester is devoted entirely to undercutting every aspect of our works and guising it properly for public consumption. We will make references to popular culture, idioms, and even, it pains me to say it, write to the sensational nature of this blind herd of ours. We will be guerilla intellectuals, holding the highest of opinions and sullying the form of our work to reach the unwilling populace for its own good. I will not be satisfied until each of us has taken our greatest work and downgraded it to meet the standards of the New York Times Best Seller List. Then, and only then, can we begin to rebuild the fabric of this country, word by word and mind by mind, we will restore the vigor to American industry and its people through their souls and their hearts. At this very moment, the great American novel is
cultural confetti. It has been torn apart by its populace which uses its philosophical insights and humanistic themes as blurbs to fuel the barrage of banality provided by news reports, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, remakes of remade movies based off books which are inspired by true stories. The great American novel has been reduced to a million fragments exalting laziness and ignorance as the new standard of life. I see in your face that you doubt me, but what else could we believe when school children in Sweden have a better grasp on English grammar and American history than the average American adult? This way of life has long deserved an editor, not divine but flawed and human, to synthesize and restore the once sweeping themes of humanity to their former glory saving us from the decimation of American culture.”

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~ by theblogofmatthew on November 29, 2012.

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