An Analysis of Literature Today
I am genuinely curious about people's thoughts concerning the following question.
This is strictly a matter of opinion, but debate on the topic might certainly influence further thoughts on the matter.
In our world today, the denotation (or perhaps it can be seen as a connotation) of literature has shifted considerably compared to, say, the 19th century. Literature is known more as the written word, but it also encompasses various forms such as media (movies).
In your opinion, is the quality of literature shifting in a negative/positive direction, or unchanged throughout the years?
Some examples of sub-questions to possibly consider when answering this main question: What are readers/writers views on the entertainment aspect, symbols, themes, etc? Will people hundreds of years from now analyze our works as we do for the centuries previous (i.e. Poe, O'Connor, Whitman)? How has literature changed compared to the tenor of the times?
I am also posting this here because it is a part of my liberal arts capstone for college. This portion of my project is something I've been interested in even before I was given the assignment, so it is not just simply for a grade. I am interested in the topic and simply see this as an opportunity for personal knowledge as well.
If there are other pertinent sub-questions that you would like to mention for others joining the debate then please say so. I will add those sub-questions to consider in this main post and leave credit for whoever posed it.
If you are okay with being quoted in a research paper, then please say so. If not, no need for stating it. Any post that does not say he/she is okay with being quoted will automatically be seen as a "no."
Quote:I am also posting this here because it is a part of my liberal arts capstone for college.
Am I to understand that you will be quoting people from this thread in your paper? If so, keep in mind that you should do the whole scientific ethical research spiel.
Anyways, on to your question(s). Let me be that person and ask for your frame of reference when you're talking about the shift of literature. That which is considered quality shifts over time. Respected works fall out of favor while others once scorned for their lower class appeal become part of every school curriculum. You can see this with works like Catcher in the Rye which has shifted in and out of favor several times in less than one hundred years.
I'll come out and say it, literature has become better over time. The reasons for this are legion: There are always new and interesting ideas and genres being developed while others are rarely forgotten. As a result of this, the sheer amount of options increase and thus improve the repertoire of literature as a whole. In the same line of thought, we're also now being able to sustain all types of authors regardless of who they are. This too enriches literature.
Now I take it from your post that your idea of literature centers around symbolism, themes, and history which I find a particularly odd idea. Color me purple but these are usually interpreted. With the words of Barthes, it's la mort de l'auteur. I'm not sure whether all the LitRPG authors are thinking about the Symbolism of their stories - yet it wouldn't even be hard to write an essay about how the systemified storytelling is a symbol for how society as a whole embraces data and algorithms to a point that it changes how we tell stories: By increasing abstract numbers and stats on a characters. I could pick Isekai and talk about the prevalent theme of wanting a second chance at life because the old one is so dull, routine and boring, that it's depressing. That's a decent theme for you, people are deeply unsatisfied with their perfectly fine civilized lifetimes and would rather risk death for adventure.
My point is, the author does not have to think about implementing these things. Did Shakespeare really add all these great themes and symbolism? Or did we interpret them into the texts and henceforth held them up as central pillars of literature that these grand masters surely must have thought about while writing? We seek meaning and it's this search of meaning that generates the worth of literature for future generations. We may scoff at 50 Shades now but in a couple of years, it'll make for great reading on the symbolism of power and money in sexuality or attraction and the age-old question whether Mr.Grey would be as interesting if he lived in a trailer park instead. Even twilight can be interpreted for themes.
In a closing comment, I'm fully aware that there was an attempt to draw a line between high and low-class literature but that's something I thoroughly reject. It's not a matter of decreasing quality but rather one of finding the right literature. That however is a matter of not being able to use the myriad tools available nowadays.
Now that you mention it, I don't really think about symbolism too much when writing, but I do try to consider my themes. Considering my theme seems to help me remember why my characters do what they do. There could be many other themes interpreted by the reader, but my themes that I have kept in the back of my mind just seem to help somehow.
A part of my thought process when I consider readers hundreds of years from now is whether our work will be skipped over for the most part in favor of continuing to read Poe and such. But I suppose that is only something that can be guessed at.
I've had very few people say that they find literature to be better nowadays. I also started leaning towards literature improving because of its availability and the opportunities for writers to present their work. Whether it is good or bad, we can learn from them in some way. Writing also has its rules, and we see much of those rules broken rather than followed. Even though they are broken, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is wrong (although readable grammar, punctuation, etc. is preferred. haha.). I kind of see much of writing as a piggybacking process where one author comes up with an idea and then another writer morphs it or adds to it in various ways. We also take from what is happening in our world. Hundreds of years ago we didn't have so much news available. And then the process continues. So with what we have today, yes, I believe this has greater potential.
Thank you for your thoughts. You've given me a lot more to think about. Your response has allowed me to consider some changes I can make to my proposal as well. I'm glad I posted here.
As far as the capstone, I was not planning on putting in too many direct quotes. If I did, they were going to come from texts, articles, etc. The class only required that I have numbers for the main question in this portion. The reason my main post went beyond just saying, "Do you all think literature is better or worse" is because I really am genuinely curious and wanted to see what people thought beyond that.
That being said, with such a thoughtful response, I have to ask......Can I quote some of your response in my paper??!! Haha! It is absolutely fine if you would prefer I don't. I'm just glad I got to read it.
Thank you again for your response.
Literature in every age aimed to please to some extent. Shakespeare's greatest works were made to be sold out shows at the Globe. Works we now consider to be frontrunners and classics were in their day, just entertainment: Be it Steveson, Richardson or Dickens. The last example is particularly egregious. One can even say Dickens' serialised fiction was an ancestor of what we do on RRL today. Lady Chatterly's Lover was considered vulgar, porn and Lawrence had to even leave country. Even today, the book is banned in a few places but it is also considered a literary marvel. Point is, entertainment is but one of modes of expression in literature and perhaps the most important. The earliest storytelling, fairytales weren't the Grimm Brothers' sanitised stories, it was the racusous, rapacious, lewd tales by the fire to entertain people. Theatre was established as a genre only after the inclusion of general public. Sure it was still miracle and morality plays but it was the populist entertainment factor that made it stand firm as a form of expression.
We must not forget that the great penetration of literature itself was a result of popular demand. If there wasn't a ready market of bored English housewives while their husbands worked in the new routine of factory during the industrial age, there would be no novels.
Every age has rued the 'loss' of culture. Aristotle rued the passing of memorisation and abhorred the written word, later people levelled the same charges towards pen and paper vs slates and chalk. We see the same kind of insecurity during the Resotoration pariod, or in the sentiment that led to the Neo-Classical period. Heck, even "Renaissance" is an attempt to return to the old; what was considered good and what was considered better. In retrospect, each age produced its wealth of literature and the current one will be no different. We have writings of dubious quality and intent by the greats and during the greatest ages. The dirty poetical throwdown between Dryden and Shadwell is no different than a silly spat(But with better grammar and verses). We have weird pamphlets like a criticism and bemoan of the loosening of social morals due to starched collars (I don't remember the exact title though, but I'll check up later) produced even during the heyday of English literature.
What we have to realise is that we might very well be in the cusp of revolution in literature and its consumptions like brought by invention of printing press or the previousl mentioned industrial age that caused a shift from major genre of expression from poetry to novels. The digitisation, and the fact that more and more people are getting online every day is the biggest driver of change in comsumption and shift in modes of production of literature. We had to contend with colonial and mostly colonial peoples' literarture till the last five decades. Now we see the cultural floodpools left as the Union Jack receced from its 1/3rd of the known world. While the sun certainly now sets within the British empire, it also rises for the many colonies. Hence, we now have an extremely rich, extremely different counter-colonial or post-colonial expressions, often in English that should be and is a wonderful shock to behold. The sheer difference in thought expressed in the same language is driving the feeling of 'lost culture' to some extent for sure. Perhaps, this is a collective "The horror, the horror, the horror" moment of western literature at the rising tide of opposing ideals expressed in the same space? As the 'Heart of Darkness' stands exposed to the wide world, might it not be our own expression of the shock of its disillusioned potential?
If I was asked, symbolism, history and themes are more important than ever in contemporary literature. Due to the exposure of the world and the immense interconnectivity, have we not started the questioning against the dominant white patriarchal views of history? The 'truth' nowithstanding, for every poem we lambast as SJW feminist bs poem, is it not the author's honest attempt at questioning the dominant historical narrative? Is not every copy purchased of FIfty Shades (despite it's very horrendous writing quality) a testment to the changes in purchase power, exploration of sexuality, and a direct question to the ideals and perceived history of acceptable expression that had once banned Lady Chatterly's Lover? Is not every crackpot theory book of ancient aliens and nazis hiding under antarctic ice another revision of history? To me, this draws a certain equivalence with a Prometheus Bound or an Edward II.
As for symbolism, again I think current litearture has more symbolism than ever before. Except the ancient hieroglyphs that literally used symbols, we right now have the greatest raw symbols to express ourselves in form of emojis or gifs. It might seem silly but they do represent a fundamental shift in expression and literature. The symbolism of a swollen eggplant emoji is certainly performing the same functions as of "whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses"(Ezekiel 23:20). Excuse my tongue-in-cheek comment if you will. Another potent example would be memes. Prefaced with a "Tuesdays be like..." and a picture of a blank-faced sloth, these things do not even need anything else to express a universal meaning. With 140 words to express oneself, one cannot certainly be a Dickens in their expression, but they can certainly do a microtale. And a tiny thing such as this cannot be bereft of symbolism. It's born in it, it's molded by it. And as more people get online and share the same expressions, same human experience...so does the symbolism carry even more weight. That's why a meme is now old by a week. Because now our cultural heritage is shared, we don't need to wait for an Ezra Pound or Joyce to become popular and then revel in their symbolism.
In closing, I think literature is right where it always was and is supposed to be. Only difference is now that there are a lot of us consciously practising and consuming it.
In my own opinion, I personally don't like reading anything written before 1900, unless it is poetry. And even then, I would rather read Natasha Tretheway than Robert Burns.
But if you are trying to say "Old is better." I will disagree with you. There are more great writers alive and writing today than there have been at any other time in history. You have to be willing to look for them since time hasn't let opinion coalesce around the idea of what is good and what is representative of our era.
I don't. I'd say I am constantly on the border. My second post actually shows that I am starting to actually see our literature as improvement.
I have changed my wording for some of the sub-questions I mentioned, because I can see how the questions may have leaned to my opinion of low-class and high-class literature. Also, the sub-questions were only there to begin with as possible ideas for some people to consider if they didn't already have their own. I only placed them there as an assist to spur the thought process.
The main question had three options placed there: negative, positive or a perpetual state, as in constant and unchanging. I am removing "perpetual" and replacing it with "unchanged."
I also mentioned how the denotation of literature has changed over the years. It encompasses more than just the written word, which means that there are more forms of literature that may influence each other and people's views of it. Some reject the literal definition, so what is the literal definition? Which is why I further added "connotation."
I know the topic seems very broad, but I did this with the intention so that people responding had more access to coming up with their own sub-questions. Those sub-questions could then potentially spark further thoughts.
So far, even with just a few posts, I'm seeing some slightly differing opinions, with some exceptions as well to agreements. Which I think is a good thing! I will take some time to reread everything and improve on the original post further. I'll probably also add an edit section for other sub-questions I'm seeing.
The responses are so well-thought out. Thanks for your thoughts!
The quality of literary fiction in many cases, has actually somewhat remained constant. If you've ever read any of Erckmann-Chatrian, much of what they wrote is in fact written in a decidedly modern style. Which would suggest that the modern style of first person narrative is not an abberation of the present day state of Young Adult ficton.
I personally find that symbols and style are not someone either tries to write or avoid, but rather they write what naturally comes to themselves as a writer, whether that be rife in symbolism or be as concrete as a joke about bring someone a huge bag of potato chips from a gocery store.
Ultimately it's the reader that will ultimately find meaning in a work.
I simply write to for my own self-expression.
I don't even bother to think about whether my work will be analyzed years to come, nore is that my goal. My goal is simply to express myself as honestly as I can for Cathartic release.
Literarture has not changed much, how people interpret it has changed.
I believe we need to look at the numbers game. There's more literature today than yesteryear, and there was more of it yesteryear than a hundred years ago. Add that a writer today has access to a rear mirror in literary history as well as access to ideas and analyses at the flick of a finger.
The conclusion is that the best of today's literature is better than before. Sure, we might have to accept that a 'day' might be upwards to a few years long, so let me rephrase 'today' and use the word 'contemporary' defined as 'written today:ish'.
There's another reason as well. Today we can copy yesterday's words, or borrow if you want to be kind.
If there ever was a 19th century masterpiece, and there were, then someone has rehashed it as well as polished it. Even though a reader in the know might notice the abundant borrowing and scoff at the work for that reason, it still remains a polished version of the original, and thus 'better'.
And I admit I'm abusing the question posited by the OP. 'Better' and not 'more original'. A polished copy is better -- it's defnitely not original though.
Leaving the subtopic of semi-plagiarism aside, what constitutes as contemporary better is, well, contemporary. We're moved by changes in fashion. The written word is no exception. While I'm still prone to believe that the numbers game is still valid, I'm no longer rock solid in that belief.
Let's limit the scope to the commersial genre crime. Compare P D James to Arthur Conan Doyle (yes I'm leaving their respective titles out). Who's better? We're talking around 70 years between the stories. Is it even possible to compare the experiences by The Strand's readership with those reading about Adam Dalgliesh? That you and I are able to read it all isn't really part of the question, because we're not really contemporary readers any longer (barring the very last of P D James' novels).
Some might argue that a masterpiece is timeless, but I disagree. London by gaslight is history, no matter how much I enjoy reading a story in that setting. So someone had the genious stroke to simply time-shift mister Holmes a stiff hundred years into the future and present the stories as a TV-series. Did that prove the stories were timeless? Sorry, but no. Such a reinterpretation brings us full circle back to the 'borrowing' argumentation I more or less began with. It's brilliant, it's polished, it's borrowed, and it's in many ways better, but it's also tuned for consumption by early 21th century consumers.
And with that I leave with more questions than I started with. 'Better'? For whom, when and where?
StenDuring Wrote: I'm going to leave the symbolism/attributes/themes question aside and fully focus on the concept of literary quality. Before you ask -- I belong to the dark side with an MA in Comparative Literature under my belt. My reading is since forever tainted.
Fistbump for sister discipline! Final year BA in English Lit heere!
The number of writers now at all levels is vastly larger compared to even something like 50-100 years ago now. The number of good writers is still about the same ratio of 1-10% of all written works produced are of good quality. The biggest problem is that the "potentially" good writers still get drowned out by a sea of crap or worse, lose the willpower to keep writing. How many unfinished stories have started here on RR alone, only to never get picked up again, be rewritten to something completely different, or dead ended unsatisfactorily?
That is what I see most of all that is discouraging in any community, no real incentive to keep going save the few who try to make it their living. Worse still those who do but then drop in quality or frequency.