Literature by Quota
In Chinua Achebe’s novel Anthills of the Savannah, set in contemporary Nigeria, a disaffected government official sounds off before a university audience about his nation’s multifarious post-colonial corruptions. “Do you not,” he thunders, “form tribal pressure groups to secure lower admission requirements instead of striving to equal or excel any student from anywhere? Yes, you prefer academic tariff walls behind which you can potter around in mediocrity. And you are asking me to agree to hand over my life to a democratic dictatorship of mediocrity? No way!”
It is a sad irony that the phrase “democratic dictatorship of mediocrity” could almost describe not only a country like Nigeria struggling with its ancient multitribal structure but today’s United States. Once the paradigm of a society based on the idea of individual merit, and a model for others aspiring to that estate, we have increasingly become subject to a tribalism of our own, and the concomitant assault on the ethic of excellence and merit has affected not only the world of American politics but virtually every area of society, including, perhaps most astonishingly, literature and the arts.
About the Author
Carol Iannone reviewed Wendy Wasserstein’s Elements of Style in the September 2006 COMMENTARY.