Not the first time I’ve talked about this subject….and, I’m sure, it won’t be the last. However, I hit a bit of writer’s block tonight, and went flipping back through that virtual Rolodex of blog posts and articles that I’ve wanted to write a response to, but haven’t quite made the time to do so. And, I rather quickly found this one. Quite a provocative title, don’t you think?
The sentiment of not only the post, but also the comment chain, concerns me. Several commented that perhaps this is the natural time for literary fiction to die, because nobody reads it any more. That stings…and I think that the reason it stings is because I see in it a good deal of truth. Frequently encountering middle-school aged students and seeing the public education system at work on a regular basis, I see a complete void of interest in reading altogether. I think of statistics of how few adults read books for pleasure, and I think of a remark I heard today on a podcast that we are the first culture in the world that has managed to nearly destroy its own poetry. I think about the evolution of media, and how new media is widely viewed (although most would not directly state this) as a substitute for literature, instead of other avenues to explore in addition to literature.
Am I a snob? Am I part of the “literati” who look down their noses at everyone who doesn’t peruse the summer fiction issue of the New Yorker? I hope not. Its just that I see the loss when I think of the great works I read in high school and college, and how many friends and colleagues I encounter who have never read…or in some cases never heard of…novels that have had a profound impact on the way our culture thinks. I don’t even want to say that I’m “well read.” Its just that I’m “somewhat read.”
Obviously, as the huge increase in sales of e-books and e-readers would indicate, novels are not dead, including classic and new literary novels. The blog post I referenced earlier states that genre fiction survives well, and I’m not against genre fiction…I’m particularly a mystery and sci-fi fan. The blogger questions, however, whether or not modern literary writers (who find it easier than ever to get their works in front of the public eye) are of the same calibre as, say, the Tolkiens or Dostoyevskies or Wilsons or O’Connors of previous generations. That is something that I think merits conversation, because the claim that recent decades have yielded no such great writers is not completely without merit, I think (some current and extremely talented writers notwithstanding).
Is it possible for a culture’s tastes and preferences to change so drastically that literature could die, replaced by pulp fiction and genre novels exclusively? Or, as some of the commenters on the original post indicated, does it simply evolve? Do some think that there are not great writers producing work today because others simply think differently as to what is a great work? In other words, does the definition of a great work change over time? If so, is this a loss or a gain? Is it to be expected? Will video kill the author, as well?
What do you think?
Photo Attribution: stuartpilbrow