Re: RARA-AVIS: letting time sort it out

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 23 Jun 2006

Thanks Mark, for clarifying much of what I stumbled to suggest.

At 05:06 PM 22/06/2006 -0400, you wrote:

>". . . and short, and was eclipsed when technology brought performance
>into the home."
>So we're in a post-literate age, now? And we're all Luddites here for
>continuing to turn pages? Maybe.

Probably not Luddites in that we're computer capable, and also able to turn a television on and off, but still, even without any data before me, I suspect one single episode of television drama (The Sopranos, say) draws a bigger audience than 90% of printed fiction in any given year. Well, some eye-popping statistic like that could be claimed, I'm sure. Blockbuster movies make millions their first weekend of release. I've no idea how many units are sold, or how much money a successful computer game makes, but I suspect it's as much or more than the years printed best-seller. Not that any of this is what you call Big L literature. My point is simply that the market for popular fiction has shifted to other media.

Judging from my experience trying to shill books from a table-top at the front of Canada's answer to Barnes & Noble, few read for "leisure" these days, buying more computer manuals, self-help books, maps, CDs and scented candles than anything that might be called fiction, creative non-fiction, certainly poetry or Big L literature.

>As I recall from long ago lit classes, I think Melville was somewhat
>popular for his "whaling tales," but nowhere near a Stevenson, for

Okay, but "popular" among what set? Were enough people literate at the time for there to be what we've come to call a pop-art market?

>"If a bit of art is here in the present, however it got to be here, then
>I guess it has to be better than whatever art is not here in the present
>and so cannot be evaluated at all, making Miker right, sort of."
>But better by what standards?


> And they
>remain lost, even if times may have or may in the future shift to a more
>sympathetic mindset.

Except if something doesn't exist in the present we've only an act of faith to believe that it existed in the past, good, bad or indifferent. Logic may suggest, but we've no way of knowing. And it's only guesswork, even by the most qualified of institutionalized critics, as to what will exist in the future. I'm off on sort of an existential tangent here, just for the hell of it.

>So I am perfectly willing to believe that what survives is some of the
>best of the past, but I have trouble believing it's all of the best.

I agree, but it's all about belief. Then again, maybe the REALLY good stuff never made it at all. I'm trying to think of some especially crappy writing that has wriggled its way through the ages. Bet it has something to do with those enduring human qualities related to sex and violence.

I can dream, can't I, Kerry

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