NOTE: While looking through my old essays, I found another 15 that struck me as particularly interesting. Some may seem a bit dated, as they discuss current events during the period 2008 to 2010, but the principles they discuss are still relevant.
English, once known as the study of literature, was once interested in understanding eternal truths, discovering what was "true and beautiful". At some point literature changed into understanding "the human condition". However, that was still a variety of truth, and in many ways was much the same. However, now, it seems that literature is interested only in studying literature. Once it was "reader response", trying to understand why readers understood stories the way they did. Now, according to this, it is interested in applying psychology to understanding why fiction appeal to readers.
In other words, in a few short generations, literature went from using fiction to illustrate the truth, to reading fiction to understand why we read fiction. Can anyone think of a more sterile, pointless venture than this navel-gazing waste of time? I have accused academia of racing ahead of our society in the descent into the puerile, but in this case I doubt anyone could disagree.
At least we don't need to wonder why the humanities are in decline. When they surrender the quest for truth in favor of psychoanalyzing the reasons their fields even exist, they have given up any claim to relevance.
Actually, it may help me understand why I am so unfortunate in finding a publisher. As I do not write pot boiler suspense or mystery, and do not write vampire romances, and have never had a knack for either gross out juvenile comedy, or adolescent self-aware "cleverness" that passes for high wit these days, lack the ability to write the sort of generic treacle that appeals to the "Oprah's Book Club" crowd, I am stuck in the realm of "literary fiction". Yet, as I refuse to write about how writing is a reflective not reflexive medium, delve into the sordid lives of antiheroes, or write obtuse mockery of the last president, I am stuck without an audience among the literati. (Doesn't help that I tend to take off years, sometimes many years, between literary efforts either, but I like to blame others as much as the next guy, so allow me my little self-delusion. At least I admit it is such, and don't demand someone come along and "fix" it for me to make life fair...)
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2010/04/05.