Why is Classic Literature So Bad?
Modern literature, or literary Modernism, originated in the last century, mainly in North America and Europe, marked by a conscious break with older, more conservative writing ways, usually in poetry or prose writing. In recent years there has also been an argument about whether literature constitutes art. Modernists argued that it does and that this new kind of literature has its distinct characteristics and merits. The advantages and disadvantages of the unique Modern literary style have also been discussed, with some writers against Modernism being highly critical of the movement’s methods and topics.
One of Modern literature’s primary features is breaking away from the classic narrative form’s old conventions, which goes back to the age of traditional Greek and Roman civilization. Modernists embraced the challenge of developing a narrative structure that did not owe its origins to these forms and which was, in fact, an independent branch of artistic expression. Some Modernists like Leo Tolstoy took up the challenge, writing about modern man’s alienation from the natural world and social relationships. In contrast, others like Philip Roth took up the theme of the contemporary man’s loneliness and its effect on his psyche and his ability to produce meaningful art.
The increasing influence of the media and advertising on Modernism also played a crucial role in changing the face of Modern literature. Advertising and popular culture exerted a great and powerful influence on the creation and content of modern literature. As what paid more attention to advertising and entertainment, which often influenced the writing of Modern literature, the idea of the classic narrative and the author’s opinion as the author of a “classical” work came under severe pressure. Some writers, influenced by these changes, started to claim that modern society’s very nature resulted from social and advertising pressure since modern literature was nothing but a kind of literature imposed on society by commercial forces.
In reaction to some Modernists’ claims, literary critics pointed out the difference between literature and pornography. They maintained that literature is the formative medium for young people and artists who develop new ideas and concepts in people’s minds. On the other hand, pornography is merely a form of sexual expression. However, the attack on Modernism brought out another response: on the claim that Modern literature and modern artist have shaped the society and the culture of our times and that society and culture are affected by Modernist literature and the artists who are drawn to Modernism, what may blame Modernism for reducing aesthetic value in art and the Modernism in architecture, and for the flattening of human forms. However, most people, including many Modernists, still credit the Modernists’ artistic developments with helping shape modern society’s values and principles.
Some of the reasons why modern man is resistant to the idea of classic vs. literature are because of its pretense, the desire for novelty, and the desire for absolute freedom from conventional morality. The resistance to classic literature can be seen even in the early history of Western civilization. For instance, Thomas Jefferson stated, “A writer may give a fancy to the style of his invention, but it ought not to be given as an article of trust to the world…It is our right, if we find it conformable to our interest, to abridge it.” However, Jefferson did not regard himself as the author of this statement.
Modern man’s reluctance to accept classic literature into his life is based mainly on his author’s image and its image. This is a typical Modernist attitude. According to the Modernist writer Frantz Boasberg, “To modern men, authors are persons, but authors are gods since they alone can decide what is good or bad.” It is not uncommon to hear Modernists complaining that classical literature has “railroading” power over their minds. For instance, odor Adachi complains, “The very thought of classic literature makes my stomach turn every time I look at a book…I can’t help thinking of Freud.”
This attitude about the classic of literature has had a wide range of consequences in our present society. It has influenced people to turn away from the classics, to see classic literature as dangerous, foolish, even stupid. But in fact, the “idiot” attitude is just one of many that have plagued the study of classic literature. In a similar vein, the review of classic literature has suffered at Modernists’ hands because Modernists do not have any great respect for classic literature.
Literature scholars argue that Modernists’ above attitude is responsible for the vast majority of what is wrong with American reading culture. The “idiot” attitude described above is a typical example of Modernist excess, which denies classic literature the stature and honor it deserves. However, this “idiot” attitude is just one manifestation of the more significant cultural tendency toward consumerism. Another embodiment is the belief that people who read classic literature are intellectual or artistically lazy. These are two extreme beliefs about classic literature, which are false, but to these people, the notion that classic literature is dead is true!