Friday, October 21, 2011

From Facebook

I commented on facebook that "literature is not what it used to be."

One of my friends asked, "When was the golden age of literature?"

I answered:
I had to go away and think about your question. I would pick the 19th century as the golden age of the literary novel. However, as far as I know, the category of literary novel did not exist then. People like Dickens and Twain have been made ancestors of the literary novel, though they more properly belong in the history of popular fiction. I suspect that the true literary novel came into being circa 1900 with the James-Wells divide and then High Modernism. So maybe the golden age is Proust. I suspect the literary novel as we know it today came into existence after WWII, possibly in the post-war red-baiting era. (I'm talking about the US here.) Fear of the witch hunters made people careful about that wrote or painted. It was safest to do work that was inward or abstract or concerned with formal problems. Or you could turn to art for kids, trashy art, stuff no one took seriously: SF, comic books and Mad Magazine. Just an idea...

By "literature" I mean the writing that the commanding heights of culture -- the New York Times and the New York Review of Books -- take seriously.


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