“So much for vicars and churches,” because even when they’re not present, life is still a problem and a question. Even when the marriage plot dissolves, the human drama remains. It resurfaces in a different context. As far as literature is concerned, the problem is not that liberalism has eroded the materials a writer makes use of. The problem is that no writer has lived up to the challenge of facing his own time, of being a “novelist at the end of the world.” To paraphrase the common piece of advice that conservatives give to radicals: The problem is not the system, man. The problem is you.
And it is not even true that no writer has lived up to the challenge. Modernism was, if nothing else, an attempt to live up to this challenge. I am struck by the confident way that T. S. Eliot uses that very word, “you.” “My words echo/ Thus, in your mind,” in “Burnt Norton,” and “You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/ A heap of broken images…” in “The Waste Land.” In fact, even though it is not a novel, “The Waste Land” is perhaps the quintessential example of the type of work we need today: a work that accepts the ambiguities and fragmentation of its time, and still finds the human heart beating within it. He knows who you are.