Relevance of Literature
As my first ever blog post I thought I’d start with a question that I have been asking myself and others since I began studying Literature seriously: is Literature still relevant or is it a dying art?
It’s arguable, especially in regards to poetry, that yes, Literature is an art form that is dying fast – replaced by television, cinema and the dominance of easily and quickly consumed entertainment mostly delivered to us via the internet. Talk to generations before us, before the technological revolution and you get “When we were bored we didn’t have the internet or Playstations, we had this *points to their head* and a good book!” Even history taught us (referring to British history here) that we’d turn to the poets to help us better understand the world and our place in it.
Yet over the years these powers, especially in regards to poetry, have quickly faded. You might only know a handful of contemporary poets and that’s only because you were probably taught them in school, not because they had huge press coverage or was revered as much as say musicians or a footballers are. Even most prose writers slip under the radar – although we do know plenty more in comparison to poets – with only a select few treated as a-list celebrities. So in a world where literacy rates are far higher than they were fifty years ago, how is it that footballers, WAGs and even socialites have more fame and recognition than the poet, novelist or playwright trying to better understand their world through their art?
That’s because Literature as an art form was never something that was all inclusive in the first place. If you were working-class in Britain – even right up to the middle of the 20th century – you were more than likely illiterate or poorly educated. You didn’t have the time or leisure to consume Literature, nor did you have the money to spend on it. Literature was something for the middle-class, especially in the days when we looked to poets to interpret the world for us. Even looking to the more recent movement of Literature, Modernism, we find that their work was deliberately impenetrable (try reading Finnegan’s Wake and you’ll see what I mean).
Since then both the education system and writers themselves (Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage have been cited as examples) try and make poetry more accessible and J.K Rowling has been championed as the author that managed to get a whole generation of children into reading. I think poetry has been the form that has suffered most in this cultural shift and there are numerous of reasons as to why I think that is but those in themselves would require a whole post to explore (and perhaps I may well write one). A poet is now largely ignored by most and cannot make a living off of writing poetry alone – most of our well regarded poets, even our poet Laureate, lecture or follow another career path in order to support their writing. This harsh reality re-enforces the idea that Literature as an art form is slowly losing it’s cultural importance – despite the desperate modernisation of how it’s consumed.
I think that overall Literature is still alive and well and that I believe that no less people are reading now than they did back when it had more cultural importance. Yet, I fear that it is slowly losing the regard and impact it once had and that soon another form will take its place – what that form will be I cannot say, but I hope that, as Literature did/still does, is able to provide us with the same functions.
What do you guys think?
(Further reading about the topics I’ve explored will be put in the Further Reading section of the blog)