I’ve heard people ask…reputable people, and in far too many places to link to here…why American authors aren’t writing novels of the calibre that we’ve seen in “classic” literature. Many think that the quality of fiction today just can’t compare to the great writers of our history. I push back on this in a few ways. While I don’t argue that there is an objective standard for good writing (or any other art form), I think that there’s also something to be said for subjective tastes. Though I can’t fathom why, there are a lot of you out there that don’t like science fiction or comic books, and may have difficulty appreciating even the best-written of the genre. That’s a matter of taste. There are still science fiction authors that one would objectively recognize a excellent writers.
The complaints that I list above, though, aren’t typically about so-called “genre” fiction, but rather literary fiction. They also tend to be made…and this is the second place in which I push back…by ivory tower elitists. I’ve certainly been accused of being a bit elitist at times, but literature, just like any art, is there for everyone to appreciate, engage, and discuss, regardless of vocation or educational standing. Sometimes analysis and debate of literature can cause us to miss the point of a wonderful story, and, again, we can say the same for any medium of creative expression.
I have to agree, though, that it’s more difficult to generate quality work of any sort today. And, while art should be there for everyone to engage, that assumes that everyone has the attention span with which to engage it. The issue in both of these statements is the same: we’re so invasively and so easily distracted by things that draw us away from our creative efforts. Fellow-blogger and author Michelle Argyle wrote about something similar just today, when she discussed how wearying it can be to put so much of yourself out there for the world to see.
Odd how we feel that we have the right to dissect our culture’s celebrities, while using social media platforms that can potentially make any of us small celebrities in our circles of influence.
A lot of others have written about this, as well. Nicholas Carr has written about the phenomenon of how the Internet’s structure re-wires our brains in a 2008 article in the Atlantic that received a lot of traction, and also in a new book that I haven’t read, but that looks fascinating, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I’m familiar with different studies that indicate how difficult it is to regain focus on an important task following a single distraction (is that my phone dinging?), and how this negatively impacts productivity in a corporate environment.
How much more so in the creative process, which requires sustained, focused attention to the art which is so lovingly being crafted?
Or, the book that we find progressively more difficult to read? The painting that we can’t sit still long enough to to contemplate? The child with whom we struggle to provide our full attention because of the nagging tasks competing for us within easy arm’s reach?
In a more comedic way, this says it well. We’re losing a part of our humanity as we lose our focus: