The "Fallen Western Star" Wars
edited by Jack Foley

Praise for The "Fallen Western Star" Wars

"Jack Foley is doing great things in articulating the poetic consciousness of San Francisco." —Lawrence Ferlinghetti

About the book:

When Dana Gioia, the author of "Can Poetry Matter?" published his equally provocative essay, "Fallen Western Star: The Decline of San Francisco as a Literary Region," he knew that certain quarters would be up in arms. Prominent California literati were quick to defend the San Francisco Scene and wrote articles attacking Gioia. Others attacked the attackers. The entire exhilarating, sometimes hilarious exchange appears in this book.

From "Fallen Western Star"

The purpose of this essay has not been to answer questions but to raise them—questions, that is, that are unlikely to be asked in New York or Boston. Comparing contemporary San Francisco literary life with the cultural scene fifty or a hundred years ago suggests certain uncomfortable issues not only about California literary life but about all American regional culture. The central question is whether regional literature can maintain a meaningful identity—something beyond local color and superficial accent—in the face of the global standardization of electronic media and the centralization of national literary opinion in New York. While this question has been framed here in terms of Northern California, it pertains equally to New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, or St. Paul. Another issue is how literary enterprises and institutions of national importance can be created and maintained outside the Northeast. Is urban culture still a viable reality for American cities outside the Northeast corridor? Or is some new social means of concentrating human talent needed? Is the delocalized and disembodied cyberspace of the Internet the American writer's only alternative to New York? These questions are especially pressing in the West where huge distances separate urban areas and the major cities often lack identifiable centers. Does the concept of Western literature still have meaning as a collective entity, or does it exist only as a remote abstraction in the work of isolated individual writers?

These are not abstract issues to California writers. Any serious literary artist in California, at least one writing in English, feels the competing claims of language and experience. However deeply immersed in the classics of English, the writer cannot help noting how this rich and various literary heritage stands at one remove from the physical reality of the West. Our seasons, climate, landscape, wildlife, and history are alien to the world views of both England and New England. The world looks and feels different in California from the way it does in either York or New York—not only the natural landscape but also the urban one. California also sounds different. Spanish, not French, colors our regional accent. The deepest European roots are Latin and Catholic, not Anglo-Saxon and Puritan. Asia and Latin America are omnipresent influences. There is no use listening for a nightingale among the scrub oaks and chaparral. Our challenge is not only to find the right words to describe our new and complex experience but also to discover the right images, myths, concepts, and characters. For us, this is an essential task, and one impossible to have done elsewhere. We must describe a reality that has never been fully captured in English. The earlier traditions of English only partially clarify what it is we might say . California literature is our conversation between the past and present out of which we articulate ourselves.

—Dana Gioia