Thursday, January 1, 2015


Sitting in a doctor's office awaiting a little slice-and-dice on an eye socket, I whiled away the time with an article in the New Yorker, an American magazine that once had a very uppity reputation for good writing. Later the magazine was bought by the Newhouse publishing dynamo, whose bedrock interest in quality was linked more egregiously to the income it could produce ... it was nice to be known for quality, but if you couldn't provide quality, take the money and run.

Anyway, I got sucked into a pretty well-written piece as I whiled away the time. And it made me wonder if, with the advent of the Internet, there was/were any longer something called "literature." And from there, whether "literature" had ever really had the laurels it might lay claim to in, say, the classroom or white-whinery.

"Literature," for those unfamiliar with the word, is writing of guys and gals like Shakespeare, Flaubert, Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Tolstoy, Cather, Goethe ... and a laundry list of others that an educated person might -- in some circles -- be expected to read. Not "like it" necessarily, but to read and recognize and fashion some cultural lifestyle shawl from.

One of an Internet dictionary's definitions of "literature" is this:
writings in prose or verse; especially :  writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest
 Literature was the kind of stuff high school and college students wrote papers about, discussed the meaning of ... you know, the homework angle. And, looking back, I am happy to have been subjected to the lash of literature, but I can't really say I know why, or what, precisely, is or isn't literature. Perhaps only a person who has been run through the literature mill could query the actual-factual meaning of "literature."

As homework, I can remember hating Shakespeare. But after being taken -- much against my will -- to see one of the plays, it occurred to me that Shakespeare was basically a gussied-up soap opera, replete with wondrous emotions, like love and jealousy and anger and conniving and honor and ... and don't forget the clothes... they were wowsers.

This recognition did not come as some counter-cultural, it's OK-to-be-uneducated insult to all the pansies running around saying "literature." OK... maybe a little. But what really interested me was that literature was the same shit on a different, human day. Puffed up literature was just the puffed up people who decided to puff it -- and by extension themselves -- up. Since puffing up was a pastime hardly limited to the literati, the playing field was simply leveled: There is good writing and bad writing and writing in between and it was all like anchovies ... I hate 'em but someone else may find Nirvana in them.

A stand-alone virtue or greatness of literature is ,,, well maybe it's sort of true, but it's not very true. And that's OK because that's the way things are... or seem to me.

All I was really wondering this morning was, "Is there a 'literature' being created today?" I guess if we wait long enough, there is. Like dead people, literature gets better with age.


  1. Happy New Year, Adam, and thank you. Every day I read your ponderings first thing (after breakfast) -- food for thought after my oatmeal. Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

  2. James Joyce changed literature for as forever as forever lasts. In the 60's a literature evolved that celebrated the death of rules. The available for and interest in literacy changed with the printing press. Historically the ruling class always supported their entertainments. Assuming our species should be an evolutionary success, even should paper cease to enter into it, i expect it will survive, expanding and contracting with the winds of human stupidity. And with that, i expect we'll prefer the familiar to the new.