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Thursday, February 15, 2007

James Salter & The Case for Literature

This is the essay from "Writers on Writing" that prompted my diatribe about the end of literature: James Salter's "Once Upon a Time, Literature. Now What?" Here's a nice passage:

We know that what is called popular culture has over-whelmed high culture with consequences not yet fully realized. Pop culture's patrons, youth and a large number of those who were formerly young, have rewarded it with immense riches, advancing it further.... Are we witnessing a mere collapse of taste or the actual genesis of a new myth worthy of replacing the outdated Trojan War or of standing beside it? As with the glorious stock boom, age-old standards of value are henceforth cast aside.

I think Salter is right on target here when he writes about the supplanting of the one for the other. There was a clip on television once of a young man (obviously a great fan) just coming out of a theater after watching the latest Star Wars installment. He was screaming at the top of his lungs that George Lucas was a god and that Star Wars was the greatest story ever told. I was deeply disturbed. No doubt the young man was a fanatic, but some thing else seems to be out of sync here. Has anyone ever heard of the genealogy of myth? I think it was Joseph Campbell who first coined the idea that all great stories are geologically based on previous ones; especially those stories based on the struggle of good versus evil. Star Wars inarguably has its roots in many previous stories, the legend of King Arthur being the most obvious one (Excalibur i.e. light saber, etc.). So I think that this is what this generation is losing. They take everything at face-value and bother little with what came before. Perhaps I am sounding like an old-bite, but when I was a teenager things had substance; all things seemed to evolved from the root of art, poetry, music, literature, history, philosophy. In fact, there wasn't a good story in secondary school that we didn't compare to our Greek Mythology class. We are, above all, losing this type of critical thinking and drawing connections between things. And the Luddite in me keeps wanting to come out... "it's the technology, stupid!"

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