Sunday, August 29, 2010


After receiving an email from a friend regarding my previous post I realized I unintentionally sowed the seeds to a justifiably easy rebuttal.

The essence of the email was that the authors I mentioned, as well as other figures such as Joyce, Kerouac as well as many other 20th century figures not mentioned but easily implied, even if they had a period of wider public admiration, have fallen into a niche, "elite" reading now, and this may be the continuing trend and may even be for the best.

By way of self-correction/clarification I have two comments to make to that:

1) With the growth of literacy, the availability of books, and the availability of knowledge regarding books, it seems to me that the proportion of Sartre's, Dostoevsky's, and Celine's has not grown in pace with the expansion.  It has fallen disproportionately behind.  At the very least an increase of the overall number of these types of writers should have grown but I regard an addition to this group (Bolano, Sebald) as rare.

2) All of the authors mentioned are part of that post-capitalist expansion time period.  My mistake.  The Age of Entertainment was already in swing.  The cult of Hollywood celebrity was beginning.  An online search of former bestselling fiction books from earlier this century shows very few works, or even writers, that have stood the test of time.  The main point of the previous post, but one that may have been watered down along the way, was regarding the role of the novel and entertainment.  Things become more clear when you go further back when what was entertainment could be at the same time profound, without the shallowness most entertainment passes for today.  Let's take the ancient Greeks.  Any introductory course in Greek history speaks about the importance of the Odyssey and the Iliad to Greek life.  They were not poems to be heard and forgotten.  They lived on and informed the lives of every individual that heard them.  It remains an assumption, but watching a performance of Oedipus Rex must have shaken people to the core.  The same is true for other epic poetry from the Scandinavian countries or what is now India.

To step outside literature let's look at another form of entertainment that seems to mimic one in the past: modern sporting events compared to gladiatorial contests.  While a game of hockey may provoke excitement, allegiance to a team, and a host of other feelings, I would argue that the experience is far less profound than what is provided when confronted by the ancient event.  The closest modern equivalent would be bullfighting, and this has been reduced and sanitized over the last 75 years.  Coincidently, the entertainment industry has expanded at a quicker and quicker pace over the last 75 years as well.

I feel there is a place of important fiction for a wide acceptance of society.  I believe that people are more intelligent than the "masses" are often given credit for, but they merely need to be pointed in a certain direction. In short, I accept Frye's claim that a person cannot adequately comprehend the world around them without the help of books, including entering another person's perspective with the aid of fiction, but I insist that there is only a certain level of these works that will be beneficial to this understanding.

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