You know how whenever someone gets disgruntled with the publishing industry they invariably name a classic book and say, “Well, [insert James Joyce, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, other dead white male/Jane Austen here] would NEVER have found a publisher today.” And this is supposed to remind us about the fickleness of today’s crass publishing business, the shortsightedness of its employees, and the general debasement of literature? As opposed to “back in the day” when they appreciated Literary Genius and Weighty Books and all the rest?
What I want to know is: how come no one does the reverse? Here’s a fun exercise: let’s instead think about all of the books published today that would never have found a publisher in a previous era. You think they would have published Toni Morrison in the era of Herman Melville? (nope!) What about Jonathan Franzen in the era of Jane Austen? (nope!) Or an openly gay author like David Sedaris in any closeted era? (nope!)
Why would previous publishers not have recognized the genius of these authors?
They would have been a) worried about the bottom line and b) busy publishing books that were reflective of their own times.
You know. Like today.
REPLY TO GORDON – PART ONE
A few comments about some points you have raised.
"This seems to have coincided with a growing technological culture, a more atheistic culture, and a more sexually expressive culture."
But in an earlier post you suggested that literature has progressed from 200 years ago to the mid 1950's before entering a decline. May I point out that technology progressed steadily through that same period. So, whatever literary decline may be occurring can hardly be blamed on technology. Now, if you want to cite particular misuses of specific communications technologies, that might be a different story.
As to sexually expressive, I think I agree.
Not sure on the "atheistic" point – but see below.
You said –
"I believe humanity has lost its certainty about many things, and this has caused a great deal of existential despair. I believe art reflects this by becoming more chaotic, less defined, less skillful, and more beastial. Essentially, since we can't figure out why we're here, art serves less and less of a purpose. We have no reason to do our best. We have no reason to rise above our animal instincts."
I think you main point here is quite mistaken. Great art can flourish in a climate of uncertainty. It does so by addressing areas of uncertainty and giving the underlying phenomena meaning. What great art cannot withstand is the loss of hope and belief in a future. Perhaps this is what you are actually picking up on.
As a counterexample to your thought on what makes art good or bad, consider the films of Quentin Tarentino (sp?). Very complex, very technically skillful, and totally degrading of the human spirit, and deliberately so, IMO. The guy is totally proficient at what he does, but what he does is just wrong!
Why are we here? Certainly, we no longer agree on this, if we ever did. But, in an age which lacks consensus on this point, the challenge to art is to answer that question. And if a good answer should be presented, would people not eagerly grasp for it?
"Soon, there will be no difference between a painting by a monkey and one by a human. Eventually, a comic book (most likely a sexually oriented one) may be the greatest work of literature that is commonly produced. Eventually, all music will be nothing more than booming tribal beats, or expressions of anger and rage."
As long as people are human at all, art which elevates the spirit will have an audience. It may however, be a very small audience. And I'm not sure tribal beats can't be great art. Remember, at one point historically tribal drums formed the backbone of a sophisticated long distance communication system. Rythmic expression has ample scope for complexity and sophistication. And, I recall in the late fifties reading an article about "art" produced by tossing globs of paint at a spinning wheel. Arguably, the monkey's product might be better. 🙂
REPLY TO GORDON – TWO OF TWO
You said –
"From that, a civilization may form as the result of some religious cult following or some such thing, and in that setting people will try to rise upward again."
People will always try to rise upward. That's what makes them "people". However, some circumstances are less conducive to success
You said –
"Tribal roots are for animals, that's why we left our tribal roots. That's why we value upward evolution not devolution or horizontal evolution."
But, oddly enough, no aimal has ever produced a tribal culture on the order seen in human tribal society. Human tribal societies evolve or they die. And if they evolve, that is the proof they were not animal, but human. I agree that living in a tribal culture today would not be particularly desirable. But to assert we can learn nothing from that culture seems somehat absurd.
"Where I live, if you take some of the folk who come speeding out of the sticks in rusted pick ups, greasy hair flying, missing teeth, and scraggly nicotine-stained beards, they will consider Burger King fine dining. They would be wrong. But even more importantly, they are not an equal judge of what fine dining is. Their opinion doesn't matter."
I doubt this. They might consider it "good eatin'" which is a different sentiment. I myself don't, because I dislike flame-broiled burgers. I'm strictly a McDonald's guy for my fast food. (And their new Angus burger is great!) But, the truth is, I think, that "fine dining" is simply not on these folks' radar. I think if you got them out to a good pig roast, with plenty of trimmings, they would notice and appreciate the difference. Or, if you're talking about the kind of places that require formal dress to be seated, I'll just say there is a difference between "fine" and "pretentious".
You said –
"I'm not using the term "bestiality." I said bestial, or like an animal. And I'm not referring to a god of the male gender, nor have I. In fact, I am not arguing God's existence at all. What I'm saying is that if we believe there is no God, then humanity won't try to be perfect. If we stop trying to be perfect, then we settle for less."
Oddly, some atheistic systems, such as Marxist Communism, have been in the forefront of attempting human perfectibility. Also, Buddhism which is arguably atheistic, teaches a path of perfection. Moreover, it is a tenet of much Christian theology that sinful man can never achieve perfection, but rather that it comes as a gift from God. The early Middle Ages in Europe were overwhelmingly theistic, but they were hardly a hotbed of great art or literature.
I´m currently reading Daniel Levitin´s THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC. He´s a record producer-turned-neuroscientist at Stanford.
Turns out that ´our brains are maximally receptive – almost spongelike – when we´re young, hungrily soaking up any and all sounds they can and incorporating them into the very structure of our neural wiring. As we age, these neural circuits are somewhat less pliable, and so it becomes more difficult to incorporate, at a deep neural level, new musical systems, or even new linguistic systems.´
I so wanna agree with you that after grunge the world ´n its wife went down the drain, but it seems we´re just getting old 🙁
Gordon: The great art of previous ages is the stuff that survives. The less-than-wonderful stuff is forever forgotten.
This decline in art you perceive might just be the fact that you're looking at skewed sample groups.
1) Inartfully??? Artlessly, perhaps
2) Just as all Math teachers/politicians/lawyers can't be evil – there are some good ones out there – neither is it probable that all agents are good. That you've never met an agent who wasn't of surpassing integrity possibly says more about you and the company you keep than the essential nature of the profession
Truth is nobody reads classic books anymore. The "geniuses" pretend to read them just to be included in the circle of friends. Or let say they are just "collectors."