I write the class struggle. I feign ignorance about it, but there you go. I don’t understand it. I try not to think about it. I’m no Marxist red or Capitalist swine. Honest: I don’t care about those things. Least not in my fiction. I’d like to have some cash and I wouldn’t feel bad about it. I don’t want to work hard labor or watch NASCAR or join a bowling league. I’m an aesthetic elitist. I worship Nabokov and think he’s right that the only thing fiction should be about is fiction, “aesthetic bliss.” If I ever realized I was writing something to evoke the class struggle, deliberately, I’d take the Hemingway exit. Have an “accident” cleaning my gun.
Not saying I have a gun. Not saying I don't. I’m just saying.
But proof abounds. I write the class struggle. Nearly all my characters are working class, paycheck to paycheck. They play out their desperation that way. Took me a long while to realize this. I just wrote, story after story, novel, another novel. Then it hit me. Probably never would’ve hit me if I wasn’t seeped in higher ed lit theory all day long—kind of Marxist/Freudian/Feminist mumbo-jumbo that leads one to ponder one’s own work on a lonely night after too many drinks. Theory is the devil, product of European cultural elitists. Sold my soul to it, so I know. Go talk Lacan in a dive bar and see what it gets you.
I write class. Why, I don’t know. Maybe because I’m first-generation college. Maybe because almost everything I’ve written takes place in fictional
Ain’t because I write what I know. I’m a poseur. Sure, I’m a thirty-something poor-ass PhD student who rents and has to watch his checking account, but I stew in academia all day talking Foucault and the Affective Fallacy with theorists. I go to parties where cheese from other countries is served. I personally know vegetarians and have seen the inside of a couple art museums. But I don’t want to write that shit. I want to write about people who’d never bother to read what I write.
I told you I don’t know why. I’m no activist. I don’t care to see things change. After all, if we were all comfortable, what would there be to write about? Yeah, that’s sick but I said it. It’s because my torch is aesthetics. Got a friend here in grad school, name of Melissa. We have debates, lots of debates. She tells me I only care about aesthetics because I can afford to care about aesthetics. If I had real problems, I’d care about real problems. She’s probably right. She’s also happy to do her lit crit karate on my fiction: tell me where I’ve been culturally and ethically blind. Turns out my novel Pyres demonizes the working class. Who knew? Not me, not till after the final edits.
“But I care about story and words and people—not society, not culture,” I say.
“And that's because you’re an asshole,” she says.
Maybe she’s right about that, too. Maybe it’s guilt. I came from hunger, but my family broke away before I got sucked into the grinder. Mom met a guy with a college degree, he lifted us out, the rest, as they say… but part of me feels like I can’t forget. The Proddy work ethic part. See, Biodad still breaks his back for weekly wages. He bought my book but admits he won’t get around to reading it. Why? Because he works sixty hour weeks and his eyes shut when he gets in the house at night. Because some people can’t read a whole fucking novel, not because they’re stupid or illiterate, but because they’ve never felt the need to work up the mental endurance for endless steams of words words words going nowhere but their own sweet way.
That’s what I do for a living. Well, "living" is the wrong word. But I feel guilty. So maybe that’s why I write class. Or maybe it’s just a desire to know, to understand what might have been and what it means to need way down at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But I can’t say I don’t enjoy me some elitist fiction myself, Virgee Woof excluded. I chuckle at the joke about how many surrealists it takes to change a lightbulb (answer: fish). I like a good Wes Anderson flick. So the truth is probably more pedestrian. I write class because people with real problems make for more exciting stories. Is it that simple? God, I hope not.