OR THE DECLINE OF LITERATURE?
AN INTERESTING ARTICLE appeared last week at the Time Literary Supplement, “Death of the Critic?” by Michael LaPointe. The article addresses the topic of the decline of literary criticism via addressing two recent books on the subject.
LaPointe argues against nostalgia for bygone literary days. He says the importance of literary critics circa 1950 was an aberration. In his eyes the absence of strong figures like Edmund Wilson and Lionel and Diana Trilling today is not to be taken too seriously. He concludes, in fact, by suggesting literature must become more detached from the culture-at-large. From general society. You know, like monks scribbling away in monasteries in bygone medieval days.
The bigger story is right in front of him, but Michael LaPointe waves the story away– the decline of literature in the culture.
Publishing seems as healthy as it’s ever been. Book readership has kept pace with GDP growth, demographic changes and the like. But that’s the point– it’s only kept pace the last seven decades, maintaining incremental improvement year-by-year, while overall cultural noise has exploded exponentially. While rival claimants for attention– notably sports and music– have increased their cultural profile many times over.
QUICK: Can anyone name an NFL player from 1950? Bob Waterfield maybe? Or a basketball player??
(photo c/o ebay.)
In 1950 NFL football was scarcely a blip on the cultural radar screen. It produced zero (0) figures as recognizable and renowned as Ernest Hemingway.
Today the situation is reversed. With the rise of the NFL has come countless commentators and analysts– magazines by the score and entire cable networks– devoted exclusively to picking apart every last personality and encounter involving their favorite game.
Music? The music business began increasing its cultural footprint beginning in 1956– interest generated by energetic new products and wildly charismatic personalities.
With the rise of rock came the creation of the rock critic, via flagship rock magazines like Creem, Rolling Stone, and many others.
Meanwhile, the ship of literature floated placidly along. Unconcerned. Unaware. Complacently satisfied that within the stuffy world of letters, all seemed fine.
Literature’s leading figures became less charismatic, less interesting. Finally– with the likes of Donna Tartt and Jonathan Franzen– either reclusive or irredeemably bland.
The art’s attempts to reverse this situation– with authors literary or popular from Roxane Gay to George R.R. Martin– are going no place. (Bret Easton Ellis fights heroically to gain cultural attention, but is himself too identified with a moribund and stuffy “Big 5”-backed establishment literary scene to make much headway.)
Without an exciting underlying art to describe, there are unlikely to be exciting critics to describe it.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
YES! The solution is the one we prescribe: to mesh both poles of the art, the literary and the popular, creating a new synthesis that’s relevant and meaningful yet connects with a large portion of the populace at the same time. Popular critics would arrive as byproduct.
This starts with a better product. (See recent posts of ours about the 3–D Short Story here and here and here.)
Then, more striking personalities to become faces of a renewed art.
Quixotic? Maybe. Art is never transformed by the timid.
It’s time for literature to walk away from its clubby salons and musty university lounges and step fully back into the game.
THE 3–D STORY DEBUTS JUNE 6 AT OUR MAIN SITE.
-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS
Great points. I think critical writing in the the 60s and 70s like Lester Bangs, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, and Hunter Thompson hit the middle ground between academic and popular writing. I wish more writers today (some do) followed their example.
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