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I have made a beef out of what I dislike about the literary movement. I've stated it here before, very vocally. The result from occasional vocalizations has been English teachers telling in various ways how immature I am, or how I am missing the point, as if one has to be stupid to think writers like Pynchon and Barthelme are hacks.

I've always disagreed, and I recently read Gore Vidal's brilliantly insightful essay, "American Plastic: The Matter of Fiction (1974)".

One must start any statement regarding Vidal to noting how simply hilarious he is. If you read Vidal without occasionally breaking into fits of laughter you missing a great deal of what he writes. One of the lovely things about his essays is that have such witty punchlines sprinkled about them, such as this hilarious and perfectly Vidalian barb referring to Barthelme's The Dead Father:

In The Dead Father a number of people are lugging about the the huge remains of something called the dead father. Only this monster is not very dead because he talks quite a bit.

To name just one of many hilarious barbs contained in it.

Before dealing specific criticisms, I'd like to quote his ending which is perfectly correct:

Academics tell me I am wrong. They assure me that if it were not for them, the young would never read the Public-novels of even the recent past (Faulkner, Fitzgerald). If this is true then I would prefer for these works decently to die rather than to become teaching-tools, artifacts stinking of formaldehyde in a classroom (original annotated texts with six essays by the author and eight critical articles examining the parameters of the author's vision). But the academic bureaucracy, unlike the novel, will not wither away, and the future is dark for literature. Certainly the young in general are not going to take up reading when they have such easy alternatives as television, movies, rock. The occasional student who might have an interest in reading will not survive a course in English, unless of course he himself intends to become an academic bureaucrat.

I bolded that section which I thought most important. I would hope that many of you reading this remember the recent study that showed most college lit students don't read outside class. Vidal saw this coming three decades ago. My generation of students reads even less than any before it, reading is falling by double digits among men and just barely staying par among women. Over all less than 40% of all people my age admit to doing any significant reading outside of class, (beyond newspapers and magazines). There are a variety of reasons, but I don't think television can be blamed, or music or internet. Reading levels are at their lowest in quite some time, and the reading of more serious and important endeavors is even lower and whats more fewer and fewer people show any capacity to "get" anything they read; in my own classes I'm amazed at how 90% of them got into an honors course.

Why? In Europe the decline is much less pronounced and what's more good literature remains much more popular on a societal basis. What is it about us that only a microscopic minority reads anything considered worthwhile?

It is my belief that English Teachers have killed literature for America. They have tried to kill in it me; I read voraciously, Vidal, Fuentes, Borges, Faulkner, Tolstoy, I read and enjoy almost everything I get my hands on-except those rare and specific novels I don't consider literature so much as what Vidal terms "Research and Development" and I too bemoan the transformation of literature into a semi-scientific endeavor by hacks. Vidal notes one of John Barthes famous critical works where he took a rather straightforward and short story by Balzac and wrote a word by word line by line textual analysis of it. Vidal correctly notes that all those who think that by trying real hard and so self-consciously trying to imitate past ideas will never attain a new novel. He makes the perfect point that all those who have truly been revolutionary imitated no one, and they weren't trying to create something new, they weren't obsessed with the writing itself, but with the character and subject which so many of these writers have absolutely disgust for, and through this did they morph the text naturally.

I think you can see the hopeless American attitude in their treatment of J.M.G Le Clezio. One critic made an interesting note and talked of how America had translated his worthy endeavors and his works only stopped being translated when he devolved to sentimental crap, basically. Having read Le Clezio's first novel it is a walking cliche of the French New Novel with perhaps a good deal of cleverness, but otherwise staid and hackneyed, boring to read while having little important to say, his other early works are no better. I have also read a more recent book, Onitsha, a pile of sentimental crap, but one of the few translated, and found it to be a beautiful and heartfelt piece of writing, enjoyable to read, epic, and with a profound meaning and feeling. But then again this class of critics is against feeling and beautiful writing.

Vidal notes Barthelme saying 'Anyone can write a beautiful sentence' and then later notes that Barthelme, (along with almost all this group of writers), admits to hating to read fiction themselves before finally coming to his own conclusion that it is 'not so easy to write a beautiful sentence' and that the only easy, imitable thing being done is what they are doing, noting correctly that at the time he was one of the most imitated writers in America.

In many ways I can't help but applaud Vidal for his efforts. He made it through Barthelme's short story collections, all of them, I found it just a few of his short story's among the most unpleasant experiences I've ever had reading. Not only that but he read Barthelme's favorite authors and wrote about all of them, Gass, Barthe, and Pynchon being the main ones. He was particularly critical of Barthe devoting a vast amount of space to criticize many of his specific and quoting the line so bad that he stopped reading one book at page 412, (with 470 more pages to go). He freely admitted to being forced to read Gravity's Rainbow for nearly a year without finishing it, something that made me feel much better, for if a highly intelligent writer and critic like Vidal cannot make it through Pynchon what hope would I have, I after all am not going to waste my time with so much good fiction to read out there, like The Master and the Margaretta, or The Glass Bead Game. He did note that Pynchon achieved the pinnacle of his goals in it but jokingly stated he doubted anyone would ever read it entirely. I personally tried. The difficulty of it lies not within the text, I read The Sound and the Fury and enjoyed immensely, especially Benjy's part, (my favorite actually), but rather the problem with Pynchon in that book is his incredibly non sequitor, the constant rambling and virtual pointless scenes, (well pointless from perspectives of human characters and emotions) and there is a fuzzy quality of it; stuff happens but you have no idea what the hell it is, everything Pynchon writes is so incredibly unclear, but what really made me close the book were the hackneyed lyrics. I feel no need to waste my life slowly reading and taking in lyrics ostensibly meant as quirks on pop culture like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I'm sorry to say but I returned to Anna Karenina rather than waste my time.

The problem fundamentally lies within the disconnect. Students don't read because during high school reading is pounded into them as unpleasant. Teachers demand a specific analysis and eventually students get good at regurgitating what the teachers want to hear. And a truly aesthetic enjoyment and reading of the texts is passed over for mutilating it for the means of "research papers" which rather than encourage critical thinking demand that students include three backing statements for every single thought they make. An entire generation of major writers came along and picked up on the cold inhuman aesthetics of the New Novelists, (something Vidal breaks down and explains how it is fundamentally impossible), and then further added their own density and desire to experiment. Vidal correctly notes I feel that rather than being at zero entropy Gravity's Rainbow is on fire; absorbing energy from the reader. The writer and critic of considerable tact and brilliance, the man called the greatest overall man of letters in America, stated my feelings exactly when he noted in exasperation that the novel requires more energy for the reader to read than it probably cost Pynchon to write.

When the professors come to me here, (as they do from time to time), and tell me of my immaturity they mean truly that I have not yet been indoctrinated in specific narrow mindset that says, "Hey, because these works are convoluted and difficult even for critics to understand, they must be good." I don't mean difficult to read, or having complex philosophy, I've read notes on their philosophy, its easy to understand, I've read the writing, its straightforward enough, no what I mean is that in that context they put things in truly bizarre ways, extremely strange, experimental writing that makes very little sense.

I bemoan the no longer existing phenomena of someone enjoying the novel on a personal, indescribable way and that being that. Instead one now sees the novel as a form scientifically dissected and understood. Pardon me if I sympathize with Whitman in the "Learn'd Astronomer" more.

While I believe we have seen the apex of hardcore post-modernism die, (precisely due in part I think to critics like Vidal on the edge of the mainstream, not Pynchon, but to a large degree the reputations of other authors who Vidal criticized much more harshly), what has replaced it is not encouraging. I've been told that Cormac McCarthy's dry clear cut strings of declarative sentences unfetters all bindings of the novel to form and allow for a truly aesthetic existence, from trying to read Blood Meridian, a beloved novel of critics but one hopeless boring and staid for a passionate literary reader such as myself. I find that the self-conscious avoidance of style and complexity is the most stylistic flourish of all. Minimalism is an anathema to me if only because I am firmly of the belief that literature is nothing but the creation of beautiful sentences. For all the talk of how easy it to make it beautiful sentences I agree with Vidal in saying their is a huge scarcity of them in modern literature. In Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horse I feel and see absolutely no sympathy or human feeling towards the read character. If wanted this I would read a book on economics, not fiction. By making the writing dead the story becomes irrevocably dead for me as a reader.

Then there is trashy stylism as I call it, that self-conscious stylism for, well, for the sake of being stylistic. The list of cliched hacks is quite long, not to say there have not been some rare gems that the literary mainstream has recognized, such as A Confederacy of Dunces, Middlesex, Chabon's work or even more recently The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Gilead, to name just a few. But more often than not I catch the trendy books, cliched and stylish for the sake of being stylish, books like The Echo-Maker, (not altogether unpleasant I will admit, nor doll, just not impressive), House of Smoke, etc.

So there is my rant, typos, grammatical errors and all. Its still readable, and this is Dkos after all not my Lit Professor, (who is actually a really cool trumpet player who has assigned out group a good reading list). I suppose there will be some flaming, but I'd hope to see a lot of affirmative whoops of relief from various writers and readers like myself who feel exasperated by the increasingly Ivory Tower trend of literature. Vidal called it writing books meant to be taught and called Gravity's Rainbow the best teaching book in a long time. Though I'm ready to have a good debate with those who disagree with me.

P.S. Its routine, please vote in the poll even if you don't care I really appreciate it so I can see how many people read it. Its nice to have some evidence you are not talking to a brick wall around here ;)

Originally posted to ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 07:53 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  i might soon have to run on errand (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    manoffire, Gemina13

    but I will be back in a little while.

    I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

    by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 07:54:10 PM PDT

  •  Eh (8+ / 0-)

    Regarding English teachers, the truth is that they are of varying quality.

    Meanwhile, I think that postmodernism, like all literature, is largely a matter of taste.  If you don't like Pynchon, well, I can't make you.  But understanding the difference between "I don't like X" and "X isn't good" is a nice thing to learn.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

    by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 07:58:28 PM PDT

    •  Its beyond that, I think its a (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      manoffire, Gemina13, melpomene1

      matter of saying I dislike X, and the reasons for disliking it make it overrated.

      I do realize English teachers are of a varying quality, agree, that was more a barb at specific users here than than anyone I've ever had as a teacher.

      I do believe that there are somethings that area poorly done because the concept and way in which they are done is flawed and not holding up to what I believe the standards of literature should be.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:03:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  OK (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grannyhelen, banjolele, BonnieSchlitz

        But "poorly done" remains subjective, and more to the point, what you dislike is in large part the point of the work.

        Modernists tend to have immense difficulties with post-modernism, because the notion that the work is self-aware and is intentionally using not merely its text but the reactions of the reader to the text for effect are so utterly foreign.  You're supposed to be frustrated by the meanderings in Gravity's Rainbow.

        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

        by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:10:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  hmm (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Gemina13, Nisi Prius

          Well I'm glad to know that there is a good reason. I still can't help but be utterly at odds with it and I think i am somewhat justified.

          Look at post-modernism, it almost entirely developed out of an esoteric group of university professors obsessed with French existentialism and experimenting. They had no talent for writing on character, (not my bias, those are the words of writers like Gass, Barthelme, and Barthe themselves), and so they devoted themselves to experimental tricks with the writing itself, the wrong direction I feel.

          Personally having read The Stranger and Nausea I wonder what the obsession with that is for anyway. I find Andre Gide a far more compelling writer and Madame Bovary far better still than any of it.

          I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

          by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:37:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Existentialism isn't post-modernism.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            grannyhelen

            ...existentialism is utterly modernist.

            "They" is a very large group.  But the merits of post-modernism (or DaDa or any other self-referential art) in terms of the advancement of the philosophy of aesthetics is obvious.  Like with everything else, the enjoyment of it depends on what it is that you take from it.  You'll have a hard time convincing me that I didn't enjoy Ulysses or The Crying of Lot 49 or Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World.

            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:44:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Uylesses (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Jay Elias

              is, (and Vidal thought so also), a fantastic work of literature even if the reading is dense. Not finished it yet, but the portrait of the artist as a young man was a book i very much enjoyed.

              I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

              by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:46:38 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Eh... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ArkDem14

                The genius of Joyce is inversely proportional to how close you are to being a Catholic who grew up in turn of the last century Dublin.

                Yes, the reader has a responsibility to reach for understanding, but often it seems artists forget their own responsibility to communicate effectively.

            •  huh, I find Satre and Camus (0+ / 0-)

              the major heralders of existentialism and the new novel that influenced the beginnings of post-modernism, to be remarkably alike in tone and style.

              I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

              by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:47:52 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well, it was a close movement... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ArkDem14

                ...and there is debate, some caused by Sartre himself, as to whether he was sincere about it or just going along with the fashion.

                I think Ulysses is the work which truly exists on the border of modernism and post-modernism.

                The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:57:05 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  You use the words modernist and post-modernist (0+ / 0-)

              as if they had fixed meanings that everyone agreed on.  They don't.  Andreas Huyssen's influential After the Great Divide, in fact, argues for a usage totally at odds with yours.  He claims self-referentiality to be the defining feature of modernism, and that post-modernism is to be understood as an extension of the historical avant-garde's efforts to re-imagine the integration of life and art.  He's not right, and neither are you.  These terms are meaningless, and recognizing that is the first step towards clarity.

              "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

              by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:06:58 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I would somewhat agree (0+ / 0-)

                Faulkner is well Faulkner, the terms fail to give a meaningful explanation of an author, they are just the barest of terms on the most open-ended of stylistic philosophy for the sake of being able to group things so completely different authors can be contained within the same group.

                I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

                by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:11:18 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Meh (0+ / 0-)

                The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:13:27 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Profound. nt (0+ / 0-)

                  "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                  by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:14:36 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I don't know what else to say (0+ / 0-)

                    I don't really feel like castigating you for your arrogance, or pointing out that rendering comment threads intelligible requires simplification, or that simply because a Columbia professor wrote something doesn't make him right.

                    My take is that you don't have an interest in substantive conversation with me, but would rather do your best to suggest I'm an idiot without saying so.

                    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                    by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:17:10 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I was responding to your arrogance. (0+ / 0-)

                      But of course that would be hard for you to see.

                      My point was not that you simplified.  You completely misunderstood my point.  My point was that you were claiming that the terms in question had meansing that were widely agreed upon, and you were lecturing the diarist about his "confusion"  regarding them.

                      All these things considered, I would say that you're right, you are not someone I imaginge having a substantive, or even remotely interesting, conversation.

                      "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                      by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:22:31 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  And I guess you missed (0+ / 0-)

                      this part of my comment:

                      He's not right, and neither are you.

                      since you felt called upon to explain to me that just because a Columbia professor says something doesn't mean it's right.

                      "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                      by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:24:02 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Perhaps you'd like (0+ / 0-)

                      to share with us the source of the definition of modernism and post-modernism you would like us to adhere to, and we could have a lively debate about whether THOSE definitions, or some others we could propose, are the BETTER definitions.  

                      Talk about substantive.

                      "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                      by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:25:48 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Oh, get off my cock already... (0+ / 0-)

                        ...let's go with Martin Irvine; he's a good picture of how I'd define the two movements.  

                        Your entire line of attack against my posts here I find absurd; I've barely spoken about the definitions.  I find your claims of why you posted that comment to me implausible at best.

                        The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                        by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:31:55 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  "Barely spoken"??? (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          ArkDem14

                          Modernists tend to have immense difficulties with post-modernism, because the notion that the work is self-aware and is intentionally using not merely its text but the reactions of the reader to the text for effect are so utterly foreign.

                          You are invoking a definition there, whether you like it or not.

                          Martin Irvine.  Interesting.  Who is he?  Never heard of him.  He might be brilliant.  But my point, of course, is that there are no fixed definitions of these terms.  The so-called experts disagree with each other widely.  My suggestion about providing your set of definitions so that we could have debate about the relative merits of various sets of  definitions of the terms was FACETIOUS.  We may as well have a debate about the proper definition of the snark (the mythical animal, not the mode of expression).

                          Which is why your talk of "modernists" "tending to have trouble" with "post-modernists" sounds so, yes, sophistic.

                          "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                          by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:38:10 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Certainly, I was invoking..... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ArkDem14

                            ....Irvine's a professor at Georgetown.  And clearly, he's the author of the link, which is all that matters.

                            I think the rest of your comment is pedantic to the extreme.  And I have no obligation to indulge you.  If you want to believe these words have no definition, more power to you.

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:41:51 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I think the entire debate is rather (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            andrewj54

                            superficial and unnecessary. Good writing is all that is important to me and one should not get tied up and obsessed with the form in which you write but merely do it in a way that is honest to yourself and ideas and do it in a way that unveils something within humanity. Don't mess with it, just let it out, and however it happens to come out is how your personality and person is supposed to write it.

                            I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

                            by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:45:08 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  The first prfound contradiction in Irvine's handy (0+ / 0-)

                            little chart is this:

                            postmodernism is characterized by "Suspicion and rejection of Master Narratives for history and culture"

                            But by attempting to characterize the postmodern, he is proposing...what for it...a MASTER NARRATIVE.

                            LOL

                            But of course, postmodernism embraces the free play of the signifier, paradox, jouissance, and all these other wonderful words, so it's not a point of view that can be expected to hold any sort of coherence.

                            WHich makes it hard to lecture people about what it is and isn't.

                            So yeah.

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:46:23 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  adpositions upset you or something? n/t (0+ / 0-)

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:50:24 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  adpositions? (0+ / 0-)

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:52:19 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Prepositional phrases (0+ / 0-)

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:53:14 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I don't follow you. nt (0+ / 0-)

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:54:08 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

                            Suspicion and rejection of Master Narratives for history and culture

                            He isn't claiming that master narratives are, in fact, incorrect in all forms, nor that post-modernism believes such as a movement.  Nor, I might add, is his attempt to create a definition of post-modernism an exercise in post-modernism.

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:57:09 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  history and culture (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ArkDem14

                            post-modernism, whatever it might be, would seem to have something to do with history and culture.

                            And while his exercise may not be an exercise in postmodernism, he claims that exercises in postm-modernism manifest a suspicion of master-narratives.  Which itself is a master-narrative ("master narratives BAD!!!!!").  Which means it (whatever it is) is in contradiction.  I don't think post-modernism ever claimed any sort of coherence, but again, since it is manifestly incoherent or contradictory, this version of it (Irvine's) makes claims about what it is or isn't equally incoherent.

                            And if his explicatory effort is not supposed to be an exercise in postmodernism, then it means there must be some "space" where the postmodern rules about the epic failure of master narratives don't apply, since he is able to create such a master narrative.  But if that's the case, then WHO CARES about postmodernism, if we can so easily go around it or step out of it or shed it?  We are not beholden to its claims, so it is an entirely academic, irrelevant affair.

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:05:40 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I think Wittgenstein said it best (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ArkDem14

                            when he said "For a large class of cases, though not for all, the meaning of a word is in its use."

                            And since there is not normative use of these terms (the fact that such presumed eminences like Irvine and Huyssen disagree so wildly about what the terms mean), the words cannot be said to have real meanings.

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:12:45 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Fair enough (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ArkDem14

                            You have a valid point about normative meanings.  That said, we cannot have any conversation at all about this subject without ascribing some meaning to the terms.

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:18:06 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I apologize (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Jay Elias, ArkDem14

                            for my unpleasantness.  I am almost done with academia, for which I am thankful, but my time there has made me...sensitive...to certain kinds of discussions.

                            You're right that you need definitions to have a discussion of these terms, but the fact that the definitions are so disputed should be a signal that the question itself, of what these terms mean, could be a false one.

                            "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

                            by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:24:28 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Cheers... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ArkDem14

                            ...apology accepted and reciprocated.

                            The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                            by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:27:09 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed...my little secret... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay Elias, Gemina13, banjolele

      I don't like James Joyce. Ssssshhhh!!!

      But I understand why he has literary merit.

      "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

      by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:17:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love both Vidal and Pynchon. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    manoffire, The Cartoonist

    Whonga!!!

  •  asdf (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anorish, Aunt Martha

    Why? In Europe the decline is much less pronounced

    Oh, you haven't read Vidal's brilliant polemics against the French nouveau roman.  Relatively few of its readers realized that Myra Breckenridge was in part a send-up of Robbe-Grillet. :-)))

    •  ah yes, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gemina13

      his piece on French letters. No no you misunderstand me, I merely meant that the decline the percentage of the population which reads stuff obviously more literary and higher quality is much larger, I mean even American authors suhc as DeiLiio are huge hits in translation in countries like Sweden and Norway.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:06:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Few people in America ever read (4+ / 0-)

        in the first place.

        We have this strange delusion that America was a nation of poet-scientist-statesmen Jeffersons in 1790.  They were only the thinnest of upper crusts.  Nor was the Antebellum South just the O'Hara family.  The majority of kids graduating from high school in 1910 were highly literate -- but most kids never made it anywhere senior year anyway.  And on and on.

        •  yes but I feel a great deal of it (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Gemina13

          has to do with the movement from a liberal arts high school education to a highly technicaly math and science education. I just wonder why we focus so much on math and science at a young age and not literature and langauge and creative thinking; that type of education created the scientists who built modern physics and chemistry.

          I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

          by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:30:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  The French Lieutenants woman (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nisi Prius

      is a brilliant elaboration of Robbe Grillet without the stark, adjective free, numbing prose. I know this is on American literature  but thought I'd add that to your Myra Breckenridge observation.

  •  I left the last four contemporary novels well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melpomene1

    before page 200 (Franzen was the last of the lot).

    So I reread All the Kings Men.

    I can't find a sense of adventure in the current stuff I have tried - just writers running in place.

    "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason." - Thomas Paine

    by shrike on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:05:19 PM PDT

    •  agreed, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gemina13

      read The Master and the Margaretta.

      Or Doctor Zhivago, or Anna Karenina, (sorry, been on a Russian kick lately trying to work my way through all the Russian Masterpieces, Crime and Punishment is next)

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:07:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What books are "must reads" for an intellectual? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melpomene1

    I just know Shakespeare and Homer...

    Many people come from a technical background and have never read....anything...

    I have a friend who making six figures as an engineer and is considered very brilliant yet he's never read a single novel or non-fiction book...only hardcover textbooks concerning technical matters

    •  know the type (3+ / 0-)

      well Faulkner is a most read I would say, but the list is huge. get it to you when i get back

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:08:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Depends... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grannyhelen

      ...I mean, there is the "canon" but that's a pretty huge list, and many modern works lie outside it.

      "The Brothers Karamazov", "Paradise Lost" and "Moby Dick" are all hugely important if you want a few to start with.

      The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

      by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:17:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But then is "the canon" truly important of (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay Elias, banjolele

        someone wants a). a good story and b). just to know it isn't utter pap?

        Sorry - I get kinda rebellious against "the canon" ;-)

        "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

        by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:22:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of course not... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          grannyhelen

          ...but the question was about intellectual "must-reads".  I don't even like Melville's prose.  But the significance of Melville can't be understated.

          The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

          by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:24:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  True, true... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jay Elias, banjolele, melpomene1

            ...I'm just skeptical of "the canon" right now after reading 19th century women writers - and their treatment by the men who decided what was "real literature".

            I understand the restrictions - and sexism - have changed since then, but still it strikes me as a somewhat patriarchal thought process. For instance, just because Harry Potter is a book written for children, doesn't its over-riding popularity - and its obviously well written style - qualify it as sort of a "must read".

            I wouldn't say that about any Dan Brown book, because to me it reads more like an extended movie script write up than actual literature.

            "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

            by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:30:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, time will tell... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              grannyhelen, banjolele

              ...regarding Rowling.  Present popularity isn't often a great measure.  Of course, some popular literature, particularly the Three Musketeers saga, have had massive and outsized influence of the progression of fiction in the time since it was serialized.

              It all depends on your approach to the history of literature, I suppose.  There is a difference between the greatest works from an aesthetic standpoint, and the most significant ones in terms of influence on the progression of literature and the arts.

              The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

              by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:33:41 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  However, the popular putdown was used against (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Jay Elias, banjolele

                writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe (say what you will about Uncle Tom's Cabin, it was a monumental book historically speaking) and Sarah Orne Jewett because "popular" meant it probably wasn't "art"...

                ...at least as far as women were concerned.

                I think 100 years hence if you want to understand something about our culture, right now, reading some Harry Potter might actually be far more revealing than reading Gore Vidal.

                I guess that's my other problem with "the canon" - it doesn't necessarily reflect the stories that resonate inside the culture, and if writing is storytelling, shouldn't resonance actually count for something?

                "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

                by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:43:24 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I didn't mean it as a putdown... (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  grannyhelen, ArkDem14, banjolele

                  ...I love Dumas, for example, and there are few writers in history who were more popular.

                  I think there are two ways to measure this.  The canon reflects, to a degree, the works which are most popular among writers rather than readers.  In the same sense that the Velvet Underground never sold many records or got play on the radio, they were hugely influential on the people who eventually did sell lots of records and had radio hits after them.

                  And I think that you can find many women who did have works which were hugely influential even if they were not hugely popular.  Stowe may have had the bigger hit, but Muriel Spark was more influential on the future path of fiction.

                  The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                  by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:50:24 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Hate to go back and forth with you... (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Jay Elias, banjolele

                    ...well, no I don't because I love discussing stuff like this (hope it's not annoying to you)...

                    ...but this is the difference between high culture and low culture, and the historical problem with this distinction is that it divorces the high culture from its context. In other words, it tries to remove it from the time in which it was created in an effort to make it timeless.

                    Now, I have no argument that some things are timeless, but I think we also have to recognize that timeless things are in and of themselves limited by the mileu in which they were created.

                    At a certain point - honestly, really in the 19th century - suddenly American literature was no longer about telling a good story with lots of detail that folks could related to. It tried to become something more than that, and in that way - imho - it lost a lot of what makes (or made) American literature uniquely American.

                    We are a mass media country, and I think it's setting a wrong expectation when we knock down a work just because it has mass media appeal (and "the canon" tends to do that).

                    "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

                    by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:58:59 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  It's not annoying at all... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      grannyhelen

                      ...obviously, I love it too.  

                      Again, I hesitate to use the concept of the canon as something which signifies "high" culture.  Plenty of the canon isn't high culture - or wasn't when it was written.  Sophocles and Euripides were not strictly high culture in ancient Athens.  Neither was Shakespeare.  Don Quixote was massively popular, with translations into multiple languages and unauthorized sequels throughout Cervantes' life.  Gulliver's Travels is so popular it has never been out of print.

                      The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it. ~ H.L. Mencken

                      by Jay Elias on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:09:52 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  I've been criticized for liking Stephen King (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Jay Elias

                    but I feel he is one popular author that will go as a major influence. In fact in several recent works he has bordered literary writing, (before trashing it at the end), but he came quite close with Lisey's Story.

                    I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

                    by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:01:48 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

            •  Besides that... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              grannyhelen, ArkDem14

              If you read one Dan Brown novel, you've read them all.

              But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

              by banjolele on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:06:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  I always told my students to try hard (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            grannyhelen, Jay Elias

            to get through Melville's awful prose --because behind it was a genius. I just want to edit him!

      •  I'd still like "the canon" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        melpomene1

        Those sound good, but I hate getting "everyone's top 10" and then you end up asking 1000 people for reading advice...and im not looking for "well this is a really interesting piece of work" I want something that also makes you say "I'm really glad I read that, and I'll never forget it"

        I'll never forget Hamlet or I, Robot...but I've completely forgotten a few steven king books entirely...its like i haven't even read them...i hate having read an entire book and forget 99% of it...

    •  I think it's a matter of just committing to read (0+ / 0-)

      and then finding the thing that strikes a chord with you.

      Me - I'm more of a Toni Morrison, T.S. Eliot, Jane Austin, Peter Weiss fan...

      ...but that's just me.

      I think as long as it is a good story, told in a manner that makes you think, that qualifies as a "must read" for me.

      "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

      by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:21:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  you can't just walk in a library & pick out books (0+ / 0-)

        nor do i think amazon.com ratings mean much, considering how highly rated right-wing screeds receive...

        •  But why not? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ArkDem14, virginwoolf

          Look - I'm an odd ball. When my classmates were reading Nancy Drew I was reading my mom's copy of Norton's Anthology of English Literature and the Faerie Queene.

          But at the end of the day, why not just pick up a book, read a little and if you like it read more, and if not pick up the next one?

          It seems like an infinitely reasonable way to figure out what your literary tastes are. And at the library it's free of charge.

          "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

          by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:48:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  There were 15 million books at harvard (0+ / 0-)

            I don't need to work out the math in front of you...but even randomly walking and picking up books and just trying a few pages, I would easily miss out on many of the best books in history

            Besides I don't think books are like movies, where you need to get hooked in the beginning...for example when I was 12 I read the first 80 pages of LoTR and thought it was godawful boring...and the universal chorus I received later in life is that you have to stick through it and you fall into the story

            •  I think the more you read the more patient (0+ / 0-)

              you become as a reader. And I think there's a difference between "like" and "appreciate" - but if someone is just looking to get involved in literature, and they aren't a big reader, I'd recommend picking up and trying. Of course within a chosen genre - that does tend to narrow things down a bit ;-)

              "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

              by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:03:42 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  I find Toni Morrison (0+ / 0-)

        awfully overrated as a writer, I did not find her writing very appealing, or really that original to be honest, and on top of that the writing itself is not compelling. I don't understand why she won the nobel.

        I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

        by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:02:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree... (0+ / 0-)

          ...no surprise. I thought Beloved was a very well written book.

          Honestly, I think Joyce is a little over-rated as well. But like I said, I understand the accolades.

          "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

          by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:05:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I suppose (0+ / 0-)

            I just didn't care for her, she seemed to be doing something done quite freqeuntly and of the same theme in many book of the month books and her writing just doesn't compel me. but then neither does McCarhty's, DeLillo or Pynchon's.

            I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

            by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:09:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The difference, imho... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ArkDem14

              ...is Toni Morrison is writing a slave narrative from an African American experience. Writing in an authentic slave voice more than 1 generation after slavery is no mean trick - Morrison pulls it off authentically, with putting in some details and story elements that I think make for a compelling read.

              I'll tell you what bothers me with Joyce, honestly, is I can't stand the way he writes women. It's pretty obvious he isn't one ;-)

              Morrison - to me - is very rich narrative, and Joyce is a little cool.

              "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

              by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:16:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Eh, I'm a scientist. I'll leave it to others (4+ / 0-)

      to decide whether I'm "brilliant" or not, or whether my favorites would make one an "intellectual," but I certainly wouldn't consider anybody "brilliant" who does not have a well-rounded education. That includes the reading of literature and poetry for pleasure and as a mental exercise. Authors write in the context of their own time, and I've found that every author or poet I've ever read has been an interesting window revealing different perspectives of their time period in one way or another. I find it interesting to use their books as a sort of springboard to learn more about the historical circumstances of the times they lived and wrote in.

      My absolute favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut. Others  include Shakespeare, Joyce (my second favorite after Vonnegut), Heller, Whitman, Frost, Thoreau, Orwell, Faulkner, Tolkein, Asimov and Terry Pratchett.

      I recommend Vonnegut first for the technically minded. We seem to have a cynical and sarcastic frame of mind that is well suited to his works. I have trouble decided whether I like "Cat's Cradle" or "Slaughterhouse Five" better.

  •  I read Science Fiction (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grannyhelen, banjolele, melpomene1

    The occasional fantasy and mysteries. When I was in school, I was told to read "serious" things instead of things I enjoyed. So I embarked on reading the "classics" and fell asleep halfway through each or just lost interest because I found them either too boring or too dense. I needed a "sensawunda" or I was not going to read.

    Contemporary Fiction is just plain dull. I get up every morning, go to work and then come home at night. In between those points I do stuff, meet people, etc. What I don't need is to read a novel about a guy who gets up in the morning, goes to work and then comes home at night. Unless he's a super spy or a criminal vigilante. Unless he's doing this in the far reaches of the galaxy. Unless his job is fighting orcs.

    I leave literary novels to those who are much smarter than me. I'm too pedestrian in my taste to enjoy that fancy stuff anyway.

    The Road to 2010: More Democrats. Better Democrats.

    by Splicer on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:19:22 PM PDT

    •  There's some great older fiction (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      banjolele, BonnieSchlitz

      that would qualify as sci fi ("Faust" for example) and some great contemporary fiction that might be more your thing - Italo Calvino springs to mind.

      Just a thought ;-)

      "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

      by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:24:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Here, here! (0+ / 0-)

      I am continually shocked at how denigrated any genre other than "character study of mildly realistic people" is. "Curse you and your "ideas"! And your "entertainment"! And your.... vocabulary!"

      I have learned far more about the human condition by reading about aliens than I have ever learned from any other art form. Anyone who can tell me that "Dune" or "Schismatrix" or "Anathem" or the Lensmen books aren't "liturachur" and thus are not worthy of serious thought has immediately and irrevocably proven themselves a fool and a jackass.

    •  Then read it and enjoy! (0+ / 0-)

      You've probably heard of "gateway drugs".  Marijuana has a reputation as a gateway drug, even though tobacco and alcohol have stronger records.  

      Exciting, well-written stories in any genre (as long as more than the gonads are excited), poetry that rhymes, Broadway musicals and landscape paintings are infamous gateways to high culture.  While you may have little interest now in high culture, the authors you enjoy probably draw inspiration and pleasure from it and set out little bits for your delectation -- a bit like a coke dealer giving out free samples.  

      So enjoy the books you like.  Project Gutenberg is waiting with most of the classics free for the taking, should Treehouse of Horror I or three lines from Dante's Inferno in front of Chapter 7 lure you.  

      2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

      by Yamaneko2 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:44:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You might notice that Vidal (6+ / 0-)

    is a much, much better essayist than he is a novelist.   And his essays about novels, while entertaining, are not unaffected by this point.

    Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you. -- Fry, Futurama

    by LithiumCola on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:23:21 PM PDT

  •  I have tried to love Pynchon (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14

    but so far have failed. Barthe is preposterous. I tried several times to read Underworld and finally made it when I realized the trick was to stay with the book for a whole day until it got into your head. It's a fabulous book. But not a favorite with English teachers.

    Moby Dick is hard to stick with too, but the same rules apply. Stay with it for 24 hours and you can't put it down. Stay with Gravity's Rainbow for 24 hours and they take you to the loony bin.

    "Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six." Leo Tolstoy

    by Miss Pip on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:28:06 PM PDT

  •  It's not just America (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grannyhelen, ArkDem14

    I work with students (ages 14-20) from throughout the world. Few enjoy reading, and even fewer express any interest whatsoever in reading anything modern or post-modern.

    Most of them would prefer to play sports, watch television or movies, play World of Warcraft, or just hang out and gossip.

    But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

    by banjolele on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:29:59 PM PDT

    •  perhaps gaming and technology (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      grannyhelen

      has just destroyed my generation. I mean advancements take patience, and maturity, so very very few have that.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:33:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Reading requires slowing down... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        banjolele

        ...and concentrating on one thing.

        Technology requires speeding up and concentrating on several things.

        It may just be the art of knowing how to slow down and not be distracted.

        "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

        by grannyhelen on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:37:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Don't you think you're a little dramatic here? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grannyhelen

        Destroyed? Good grief. What percent of people in our parents' generation do you think have even heard of, or for that matter actually read, Gore Vidal?

        But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

        by banjolele on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:44:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  certainly greater than the (0+ / 0-)

          .1 percent of my generation that might enjoy reading of an essayist, or a Faulkner. Today people's idea of a tough read is Twilight. I have to say I'd prefer even Peyton Place to that.

          I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

          by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:49:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This is cynical, uninformed bullshit. (0+ / 0-)

            People today read and write more than any other generation in history. If you don't believe me, how are you seeing my words?

            http://www.wired.com/...

            •  I mean actual writing, (real writing, not blogs) (0+ / 0-)

              reading books, not blogs. The number of teen age guys who say they read books ever is somewhere in the 30s, it was at about 55% in the 1990s. Woman have finally fallen below 50% as well.

              You really miss the point.

              I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

              by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:37:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  and your essay has nothing to do with reading (0+ / 0-)

              at all, just writing.

              I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

              by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:42:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Good to know there's "real" and "fake" writing. (0+ / 0-)

                Which is which again?

                And people write to be read. The fact that the format is new doesn't make it somehow "invalid". The fact is, people are communicating through text at unprecedented levels.

                "The point" isn't that people read less novels, it's that people are reading more, of different things.

                •  I didn't make any statements on (0+ / 0-)

                  what constitutes writing. Yeah, so what, my generation has figured out how to write conversationally, woopity do man, They've also lost the ability for most other writing styles, but hey I'm fine with that, its symbolic of the era and most of my writing tends to be explicitly dialectic as well.

                  I don't think reading back and forth chats constitutes the same thing as reading Faulkner, in fact I'm sure it does. I chat a lot, I can chat and read thousands of pages of worth of meaningless crap and not be any better for it but Faulkner has profoundly influenced my outlook on life. Chatting is merely taking the place of many face to face conversations, reading the phone book, or reading very simple chats about ordinary every day things don't constitute even learning anything such as one would even through a popular novel. It also has nothing to do with exercising the areas of the brain associated with imagination and cognitive thought, instead conversational writing tends to exercise the areas associated with socializing. People increasingly need to be force fed information and can no longer think creatively as I've noticed. Herd mentalities are growing stronger than they ever have before it seems to me because of so much communication and every thinking even more alike in order to fit into prospective groups.

                  I think its a stupid assertion you are making that somehow all writing is a fundamental gain and so is all reading. I could write my fucking brains out on skype, I do in fact for hours on end sometimes, without ever having to actually think so much as mindlessly have fun conversing with other people which is just fine, likewise with reading it. Even reading James Patterson is more of a challenge mentally and I'd get more out of brain-exercise wise. So no. Its a ridiculous claim.

                  I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

                  by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 11:18:32 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

          •  People have always read junk. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            grannyhelen, ArkDem14

            I collect books that were turned into movies, especially from the 30's-50's.  Try reading "Kitty Foyle," a bestseller that was made into a movie starring Ginger Rogers.  "Imitation of Life." Both unreadable. "Forever Amber" is unbelievably idiotic. They all sold beautifully.  

  •  Join ALAS Assn of Liberal Artists in the Sciences (5+ / 0-)

    I tried to start such an organization once, when I was working in bioinformatics. It was to be an organization for liberal arts majors who were not able to find a job in their fields and were forced to go into 'materialistic' jobs.  It's slogan was to be "But I had to get a job that PAID something."

    I left grad school in part because of Joyce. Saul Bellow told us Joyce had said it had taken 20 years to write Finnegan's wake and it should take 20 years to read it.  I figured there must be other things to do....

    I once wrote a Chaucerian Tale to honor HIPAA (Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act).  It won widespread acclaim among the HL7 and AMIA cognoscenti. Sigh. "For one brief shining moment, there was Camelot."

    Auriandra Wabasha MN

    by Auriandra on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:36:04 PM PDT

  •  Hmmm...I appreciate your enthusiasm (0+ / 0-)

    but I must disagree with your aesthetic evaluation of Pynchon.
    How is a V rocket screaming us to beautiful destruction not mournful, poetic, tragic, infuriating, sexy and all the things an emo kid loves?
    How is the parabola of a rainbow not the shape of a woman opening herself to give the glory of the world? not the shape of life itself?

    How is this:

    "You one of those right wing nut outfits?" inquired the diplomatic Metzger.
    Fallopian twinkled. "They accuse us of being paranoids."
    "They?" inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
    "Us?" asked Oedipa.
                                The Crying of Lot 49

    not brilliant?

    If young'uns don't like this shit, they're missing out.

    But for you, you might wanna try Leonard Michaels. He tells stories. Good ones.
    from the link:

    If it is true that, as years ago someone said, Gore Vidal (as essayist) writes in perfectly shaped paragraphs, it is equally true that Leonard Michaels writes in perfectly shaped sentences.

    •  Who is us? (0+ / 0-)

      How is that funny? Who is they? What is the point? Why is that supposed to be compelling, those are my questions for that.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:42:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the (0+ / 0-)

      way you describe it yes, in fact there was such a huge gap between the way it was described and the actual novel that I am still confused. The novel makes little sense and meanders infuriatingly to no purpose and I find, rather like Vidal, that these writers tend to try to experiment more to compensate for their "rattling prose"

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:44:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  that might be funny (0+ / 0-)

      if I was reading it totally for the sake of reading the writing as a second by second thing. Reading to read. It has nice ring and rhythm, but is confusing due to the utter lack of subtext or meaning, and is one of his common little farces for humor. Not to mention constantly using blank said and blank said, something no self-respecting author should do i feel.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:13:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I blame Republicans. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14

    They cultivate stupidity as performance art.

    •  I don't doubt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BonnieSchlitz

      it. The only reading I've ever seen conservatives talk about is usually books of angry rants by moronic radio talk hosts...or Ayn Rand, and everything else is usually described as silly fluff.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:41:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  O rly (0+ / 0-)

    Students don't read because during high school reading is pounded into them as unpleasant.

    Nonsense. Students read. They just don't read what you want them to read. Far more students dislike academic reading due to literacy problems and/or a prevailing cultural attitude towards reading. Steve Urkel did more to discourage children from reading than any teacher ever did.

    But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

    by banjolele on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:42:29 PM PDT

    •  perhaps (0+ / 0-)

      I did a very interesting paper on how the last generation very effectively plastered its stereotypes into the minds of a generation and made them reality through TV and culture whereas they had never been the mainstream reality before.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 08:45:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Chekhov: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, virginwoolf

    "More and more I think it is not a question of new forms or old forms. What matters is to allow what you write to come straight from the heart."

    Actually, one of his characters says that.  But still.

    Experimentalism has its place.  But in the end, we look for art to speak about us and our world, not art itself.

    You might find Halliwell's Aesthetics of Mimesis to be of interest.  He is  sophsiticated scholar of Greek philosophy, and argues that Aristotle's concept of mimesis (crudely, imitation), is much more complex and sophisticated than is widely understood.

    "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" --Patti Smith

    by andrewj54 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:11:58 PM PDT

  •  This country and the world need a new Renaissance (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, andrewj54, Nisi Prius

    Honestly, I think there's a lethargy in all of the arts.  The debate between "modern and post-modern" doesn't mean anything.  Does the work really hit you in the soul?  Does it resonate beyond the page?  This is what is important.  

    This country and the world need a new Renaissance.  

  •  Literature was always elitist- (0+ / 0-)

    In that only a subset of the population could read it, had the money, time or literacy to read.  It is a fairly bourgeois activity.  For a short time in the twentieth century there may have been wider accessibility and interest, but generally it has always been so.  Writers write for other writers.  Others write for the masses.

    I read recently that American literature is culturally isolated as well.  (I cannot remember the author of such claim)  That American literature often carries themes that are distinctly American, not universal of humanity, which makes it less accessible on a global scale.

    Publishing companies have killed literature as much as the RIAA killed music. We no longer have small publishing houses willing to take risks, just a couple huge publishers and they want FIGURES.

    So if there are brilliant young writers today (I suspect there are) they are self publishing, pouring their hearts out to anyone who will listen.  They are probably doing this on a blog.

    •  Not entirely correct (0+ / 0-)

      American literature is hugely popular, I mean I read interviews of people in Sweden urging them to award the Nobel to DeLillo, or Pynchon. Many American writers are major sellers which is what Engdahl meant when he said America is too insular. What he really meant was the growing sense in Europe that the American literary establishment ignores major contemporary European authors.

      Faulkner is also hugely popular in Europe.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:21:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Read House of Leaves (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14

    by Mark Z Danielewski.

    you may dislike it; but there is no questioning that the sheer brain power involved in creating it verge on genius.

    If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

    by indefinitelee on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:14:08 PM PDT

  •  Technical text reader here. (0+ / 0-)

    One of my English teachers was a wonderful, intelligent, engaging man with a sense of humor and a zeal for his students' success.  Unfortunately, success in literature was then measured through exercises in vivisection:  taking a living work of literature, cutting it open and closely examining it for symbol and allegory.  Actually enjoying the literature was not expected or desired (or reasonable, given that most of his class was laboring through other AP courses and trying to save up enough for college by work.)  So literature quickly turned into a game of "find the symbol", and if you could turn two sticks into a Cross or a circle into a crown of thorns, you won!  (Now commentators seem to look for teh ghey;  the graveyard no longer makes a good closet.)

    There is also the issue of translation of meaning and intent within the English language.  Sensibilities have changed:  a modern reader cannot go through Huckleberry Finn without wincing, unless that reader is particularly insensitive.  The English language itself has changed.  Both of these are good things, but make it harder to study literature.  

    Changes in society itself are probably blinding the academy from recognizing beauty and inspiration originating outside the traditional humanities.  Science, engineering, religion and politics dominate discourse these days;  it is as unreasonable to expect Gore Vidal to properly appreciate the one decent and original hymn hiding amidst the 500 released for Christian consumption every year as it is to expect Keith Olbermann to read and understand Beowulf in the original Aenglisc.  

    Finally, written expression published on paper is no longer the only literary venue.  The radio, television and cinema have hosted great artistic expression amidst the dreck.  To this add the Internet, which demands both reading and writing and where the art:dreck ratio is rapidly approaching that of Jorge Luis Borges' library of random books.  For good measure, the Net is disproportionately stealing time from books, not from American Idol.
         

     

    2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

    by Yamaneko2 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:20:59 PM PDT

    •  The Book of Sand I liked that by Borges (0+ / 0-)

      And The Garden of Forking Paths, both great works.

      I didn't wince in Huckleberry Finn and I'm also not insensitive, I realize the context it was written in and the actual underlying criticism inherent with the novel.

      I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

      by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 09:28:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's hard to divorce oneself from the present. (0+ / 0-)

        If you did so successfully, then congratulations!

        I'll admit that I did a lot more wincing in the first few chapters than after continued study, but the first volleys of the N bomb painted Huck Finn in a way that Mark Twain would surely disapprove (despite Twain's own, enlightened beliefs on this score.)

        2009: Year of the Donkey. Let's not screw it up.

        by Yamaneko2 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 10:05:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i mean in context though (0+ / 0-)

          n***** was simply the way a white person standardly referred to a black person. There was no sense of correctness or sensibility and though its inherently racist what can one do about it except except and try to look for the deeper meaning of Twain's characters.

          I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us-Kurt Coain

          by ArkDem14 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 at 11:06:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Frankly, I find most contemporary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, Nisi Prius

    American literary fiction--the work that is in lit mags, which includes Harpers and the New Yorker, both precious and dull.

    Better fiction is coming out of Canada (Alice Miller) and the UK. I'll take Book Prize-winning work before any US literary prize-winning work any day.

    Sadly, my students (I teach Creative Writing) are enthralled with whatever is hip and hot--even my grad students. Many have to be taught how to read work that's difficult for them to "relate" to.  This was not true even 15 years ago.

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