Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A point that may seem obvious, but someone should have said to me a long time ago

One thing that really held me back in my graduate hybrid writing/literature program was the fact that I'd barely read any modern literature. I'd guess a lot of literature students are in this boat. You know the drill: you take an "English Literature, 1688-Present" class, and after the three snow days, you only make it to 1875.

Add to this that I'd somewhere picked up the notion that anything new was trash. I don't know how exactly I developed this prejudice, but there were definitely enough subtle hints from people who were intellectually influential to me along these lines that it's not a surprise I picked it up.

Even if you take the stance that everything since the 19th century is garbage, if you want to be a writer now, you have to read modern literature. To have only read those who've come up against the big questions using a different diction than you is just foolishness. If only to avoid repeating what other contemporaries have done in trying to translate the old questions into a modern idiom, you need to be aware of what's happened in the last 100, and especially the last 20 years.

I'm still horribly under-read for a writer. I could read another 100 of the best novels of the past 100 years and still not be very immersed. I have to fix this if I want to go further with writing.

So I simply call the prejudice to your attention, in case it is subtly or not-so-subtly in your mind as well. Like most prejudices, it will do you no good. Of course you have to go back in time to get a foundation in where modern literature comes from. But a foundation does you no good if you don't ever get past the second floor.

1 comment:

  1. But most modern stuff is crap. Of course, there are exceptional writers like Nabokov, but I cannot tell you how often I've gone to a modern writer -- in good faith -- because they were lauded, only to wonder why I'd wasted my time. Wil Self's book, Great Apes, looked so promising but was just stupid and precious, for example. Maybe one problem is that the modern era lacks its genre. We didn't always have the novel, supposedly. Maybe we need our own genre, although I fear it would be the extended tweet.