• Number2018
    145
    In 1990 Alvin Kernan in his book “The Death of Literature” solemnly proclaimed the dramatic change in the Western Culture: “ For good or for bad, television and other forms of electronic communication have replaced the printed book, especially its idealized form, literature, as more enticing, efficient, and authoritative sources of knowledge and culture. This change has necessarily affected literature, which could be as dependent on print culture as bardic poetry and heroic epic were on tribal oral society. In the electronic age, literature may simply disappear or dwindle to a merely ceremonial role, like Peking opera.”
    Today, 28 years later, we live in the digital age, when not only the physical book in decline but also the whole practices of reading and writing have been profoundly transformed. Has literature finally lost its privileged place in our culture, pushed to the role of “the other,” of the embodiment of old things, old beliefs, and old values?
  • Grey Vs Gray
    28
    It has always been the case that the majority don't read for pleasure. E-books and audio books maintain reading culture, although the latter to a lesser extent. The printed book isn't "special" when compared to its electronic form, at least not in the gnostic sence.

    Technology has made possible a more eco-friendly method of passing stories and information. While I own over four-hundred physical books and enjoy the smells, the nostalgia and textures, I also use and enjoy other mediums of acquiring information and stories. Movies, documentaries, video clips, articles even wiki; as long as we use and teach skepticism and multi-sorce verification, we'll be okay.

    There are eight billion humans and thus more readers than ever (although I wouldn't be surprised if the percentage of readers has dwindled). I see no reason to fear for our future, at least for now.
  • Grey Vs Gray
    28
    Global revenue for books is about 8 times more than music in 2017.fdrake

    That might be due to the fact a large percentage people pirate their music ( https://www.statista.com/topics/3493/media-piracy/ ). In addition to books costing 10-40 times more than songs. Although it is hopeful, statistics can be misleading.
  • Number2018
    145
    Global revenue for books is about 8 times more than music in 2017.fdrake
    Many writers think that serious literature is going to become extinct under the market’s pressure. Thus,
    Will Self pointed out: “There is one question alone that you must ask yourself to establish whether the serious novel will still retain cultural primacy and centrality in another 20 years. This is the question: if you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth
  • fdrake
    1.4k


    It might be, but over 8 times reduced revenue due to piracy in music looks like a stretch to me. Even if you double the amount of people who admitted music piracy according to that study and assumed that people who pirate music only pirate music that still leaves extra revenue for books. Music revenue/0.3 is still 2-3 times less than books.

    Regardless, there's no evidence people are reading comparatively less books. The death of literature as a position has to come from a (somewhat conservative) cultural stance; something about digital books being worse than paper ones.

    I do prefer paper books personally, especially ones that you study and return to. Over years of use the deterioration of pages opposing the spine gives you a good measure of which parts are most important and most difficult for you.



    Such a conservative stance is being taken by Number2018. I see no reason to believe artistic merit dies with increasing popularity of the art form - absent a well developed theory of artistic merit and its relation to digitalisation and increasing popularity. So far, we're just sneering.
  • Number2018
    145
    E-books and audio books maintain reading culture, although the latter to a lesser extent. The printed book isn't "special" when compared to its electronic form, at least not in the gnostic sence.Grey Vs Gray

    Technology has made possible a more eco-friendly method of passing stories and information. While I own over four-hundred physical books and enjoy the smells, the nostalgia and textures, I also use and enjoy other mediums of acquiring information and stories.Grey Vs Gray

    It is not a matter of nostalgia, and definitely, the digital age provides us with a lot of new possibilities. The problem is that the practices of reading and writing have changed. You are right, much more people are reading nowadays, but their reading
    has become fragmental and instantaneous – and the process of reading is inseparable from the way we are writing.
  • 0 thru 9
    694
    Novels and literature will continue to exist as long as there is paper and pencil, or keyboard and ROM.

    The cinema is the modern community novel. It takes more people to make it, and a wider audience experiences it (usually). A movie is like a multi-dimensional novel, including actual humans, real sound and color. Although they aren’t directly comparable, a good movie is better than a poor novel. And vice verse, because many movies are more product than art. But the potential is there. When a film “gets it right”, it is almost transcendent.
  • Number2018
    145
    Such a conservative stance is being taken by Number2018.fdrake
    Why conservative? I would say - realistic. Do you know anybody, who is reading “Don Quixote” or “Peace and War”? I do not know. Though, very few classic novels are read by students, forced by curriculum and their teachers. Without the readers, these books will become just museum artifacts.
  • fdrake
    1.4k


    Appreciating 'the classics' is fine, reducing good literature to them is silly. In 200 years perhaps people will be lamenting that not enough people read Danielewski and Palahniuk. There's already something similar happening with Borges and Eco, last time I spoke to literature snobs anyway.
  • fdrake
    1.4k
    In 2200 people are going to be looking to Gibson for 'essential insights into the nature of humankind' more than Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Certainly, technical changes alter the way we read and write. Guttenberg's printing press resulted in much different writing and reading than was possible with the books prepared in the monastery's scriptorium.

    All the forms of electronic communication -- the telegraph, telephone, film, radio, television, computer, internet, etc -- have changed life. Abraham Lincoln hung around the War Department's telegraph office to get the latest reports from the field before anybody else saw them. Photographs of battle scenes brought home to people just how bad the carnage of the Civil War was. That was 160 years ago. All the technological innovations since then have continued to change the way we produce, distribute, and consume information.

    The way people wrote changed when typewriters replaced pens. When the 'word processor' replaced the typewriter the experience of writing changed again. Seeing one's words on a print-like page (typewriter) or a screen (word processor) was different than handwriting. War and Peace was written in long hand.

    Appreciating 'the classics' is fine, reducing good literature to them is silly. In 200 years perhaps people will be lamenting that not enough people read Danielewski and Palahniuk. There's already something similar happening with Borges and Eco, last time I spoke to literature snobs anyway.fdrake

    Most of the books printed since Guttenberg have been forgotten. Every year the conveyor belt of produced works dumps old product into the pulping machines. There are really very few books from the past that we still want to read. That's most likely going to be true for today's works too. Most of them will be forgotten fairly soon -- you won't have to wait for 200 years.

    Classics are rare, because most old books don't fare well as time passes. Not a lot of people still read Chaucer, but thousands do. Far, far fewer (scores of people) read Chaucer's contemporaries Gower, Langland, or Boccaccio.

    Furthermore, there are too many books to read, from the very ancient to merely old to new yesterday. There is far, far, far too much short-form writing to read, as well--fiction or factual. Too much music to listen to, too many films to see, too many web sites to visit. There are more cute cat videos than one has time to watch.
  • Number2018
    145
    In 2200 people are going to be looking to Gibson for 'essential insights into the nature of humankind' more than Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.fdrake
    I am quite surprised; I think that ”essential insights into the nature of humankind” have become meaningless.
    “To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand, refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalize without anthropologizing, who refuse to mythologize without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is man who is thinking, to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection we can answer only with a philosophical laugh – which means, to a certain extent, a silent one.”
    ― FOUCAULT MICHEL, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
  • fdrake
    1.4k


    That was one reason I put it in scarequotes.
  • Number2018
    145
    Classics are rare, because most old books don't fare well as time passes. Not a lot of people still read Chaucer, but thousands do. Far, far fewer (scores of people) read Gower, Langland, or Boccaccio.Bitter Crank

    Thousands - are not bad at all, I assumed less.
    Furthermore, there are too many books to read, from the very ancient to merely old to new yesterday. There is far, far, far too much short-form writing to read, as well--fiction or factual. Too much music to listen to, too many films to see, too many web sites to visit. There are more cute cat videos than one has time to watch.Bitter Crank

    You are right - too much of everything! As far as I know, most teenagers do not read books at all.
  • Marcus de Brun
    450
    The book, in my estimation represents a private relationship with knowledge. To engage in a private relationship one must have something that approximates to a private self. The decline of the book as such is a consequence of the decline in the relative significance of the relationship with the self, the private cultivation of the intellect for the benefit of the self alone. Increasingly human beings are public entities, with public lives external to the self. Wealth and increased access to wealth has empowered people and power is expressed or expired in the public domain. Private wealth and poverty in the real sense, have little to do with material wealth. To read is to see and embrace the private poverty of one's intellect.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Probably most teenagers do not read books; probably most of their parents do not read either.

    There has always been a large demographic of people who do not read books; some of them can not read; some of them find it too difficult to read for it to be a pleasure; and some people could but just don't.

    There has always been a demographic of eager readers; it has varied over time, but it has included the educated elite who like to read; the upward aspirational immigrants who want to partake of the Anglo-American culture; ordinary educated people (not elite) who like to read, and then a few people who read for a living: book editors and reviewers. The chattering classes read because they need fresh fodder to chatter on about.

    Then there is a demographic who is well educated, literate, affluent, and who take pride in claiming that they haven't read a book since college. Conversation with these people validates their claim that they haven't read a book in the last 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

    Here's a ranking of reading: At least the US is not on the bottom.

    1. India — 10 hours, 42 minutes
    2. Thailand — 9:24
    3. China — 8:00
    4. Philippines — 7:36
    5. Egypt — 7:30
    6. Czech Republic — 7:24
    7. Russia — 7:06
    8. Sweden — 6:54
    8. France — 6:54
    10. Hungary — 6:48
    10. Saudi Arabia — 6:48
    12. Hong Kong — 6:42
    13. Poland — 6:30
    14. Venezuela — 6:24
    15. South Africa — 6:18
    15. Australia — 6:18
    17. Indonesia — 6:00
    18. Argentina — 5:54
    18. Turkey — 5:54
    20. Spain — 5:48
    20. Canada — 5:48
    22. Germany — 5:42
    22. USA — 5:42
    24. Italy — 5:36
    25. Mexico — 5:30
    26. U.K. — 5:18
    27. Brazil — 5:12
    28. Taiwan — 5:00
    29. Japan — 4:06
    30. Korea — 3:06
  • ssu
    602
    Has literature finally lost its privileged place in our culture, pushed to the role of “the other,” of the embodiment of old things, old beliefs, and old values?Number2018
    I don't think so. Even the physical book isn't going to fade away: it's simply still so useful and handy. If one argues that the hey-day of book reading is over, that less people read books than earlier, I'm not sure about that.

    (Yet what has profoundly changed is writing physical letters. First dramatic change was of course the telephone. Then came the internet. All the ease that we have with various kinds of chats, text messages and apps have change how we use the media. We write a lot more, but what will stay for later?)
  • Number2018
    145
    The book, in my estimation represents a private relationship with knowledge. To engage in a private relationship one must have something that approximates to a private self. The decline of the book as such is a consequence of the decline in the relative significance of the relationship with the self, the private cultivation of the intellect for the benefit of the self alone. Increasingly human beings are public entities, with public lives external to the selfMarcus de Brun
    Historically, the book not always has mediated the relationship with self. For example, for ancient Stoics and Epicureans, the spoken word of a teacher was the most important. And, one can doubt the private character of the process of the ancient “care of self.” Nevertheless, you are right that we experience the dramatic decline of the book culture, and reading cannot provide us with our own private and intimate space.
  • Number2018
    145
    There has always been a demographic of eager readers; it has varied over time, but it has included the educated elite who like to read; the upward aspirational immigrants who want to partake of the Anglo-American culture; ordinary educated people (not elite) who like to read, and then a few people who read for a living: book editors and reviewers. The chattering classes read because they need fresh fodder to chatter on about.Bitter Crank

    I agree with you. But the point is that literature, authors, their critics, book's reading have lost their privileged position in our culture, they do not generate and translate the most advanced meanings and values anymore.
  • Number2018
    145
    I don't think so. Even the physical book isn't going to fade away: it's simply still so useful and handy. If one argues that the hey-day of book reading is over, that less people read books than earlier, I'm not sure about that.ssu

    One could argue about the quality of reading and about its importance.
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    Little did he [Mr Kernan] know that, only seven years later, a publishing phenomenon was about to explode upon the world that eclipsed any literary sensation seen before in any language.
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    The chattering classes read because they need fresh fodder to chatter on about.Bitter Crank
    Would I be correct in assuming that this is a humorous, self-deprecating self-reference? Surely, if there is such a thing as a chattering class, there could be no greater epicentre of it than an on-line philosophy forum.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    they do not generate and translate the most advanced meanings and values anymoreNumber2018

    Please expand on this. I'm not sure what you mean.
  • Number2018
    145
    Please expand on this. I'm not sure what you mean.Bitter Crank

    Will Self:" In the early 1980s, and I would argue throughout the second half of the last century, the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavor. The capability words have when arranged sequentially to both mimic the free flow of human thought and investigate the physical expressions and interactions of thinking subjects; the way they may be shaped into a believable simulacrum of either the commonsensical world, or any number of invented ones; and the capability of the extended prose form itself, which, unlike any other art form, is able to enact self-analysis, to describe other aesthetic modes and even mimic them. All this led to a general acknowledgment: the novel was the true Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk."
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    I'm sorry, but I don't see the fine literary novel ceasing to be what it was before. Granted, other art forms that are really quite compelling have joined the novel -- film in particular, and electronic media (radio, TV...) Granted, literary styles have been introduced that are quite unlike 18th and 19th century novels (not surprising since society is not the same now as it was 200 years ago).
  • Bitter Crank
    6.5k
    Ahhh, interesting question that, is TPH the epicenter of the chattering class. No, I'm afraid not. We aren't nearly 'elite' enough. It isn't that the chattering classes are academic or economic class elites; they aren't even cultural elites. They are New York / LA / London publishing / media elites who babble on in the company of other chattering units, and whose collective circle jerk commentary ends up on the pages of The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, and various glossy high end-type web sites.

    We chatter here, for sure. So do monkeys, but that doesn't make the primates members of the chattering classes.

    We aren't at any risk of being mistaken for taste makers, trend setters, opinion leaders, and blah blah blah. Not that we would want to be. I mean, god forbid that we should have a mass following. It would ruin everything.
  • andrewk
    1.6k
    I think that may still be the case. There are still plenty of Writer's Festivals around the world, where lots of people turn up just to hear authors talk about their work, their views on life, the universe and everything, and maybe read from their books.

    Despite there being much more money in Cinema, TV and gaming, we don't see Directors' Festivals or Actors' Festivals. Sure we have the Oscars, but nobody would ever accuse them of being Deep. Nobody expects Quentin Tarantino or Ryan Gosling to have anything particularly interesting to say about the world, but they do expect that of JM Coetzee and Hilary Mantel. Furthermore, the directors and actors are so carefully stage-managed by their media minders that there is scarcely any opportunity to get an authentic thought about the world out of them publicly anyway.
  • SophistiCat
    475
    19th century was the golden age of print (or more precisely, from late 18th century to early 20th), and, coincidentally or not, that is also when the novel became "serious literature." By print I mean not so much the physical medium, but what has come to be associated with it: the relatively long, sequential read, which includes "literature," as well as non-fiction books and magazine and newspaper articles of nontrivial size. It is contrasted with audio-visual and multimedia entertainment, reference, social media, Internet browsing, forums like this, etc. (The latter two are on the way out, by the way.)

    So literature, or print, as we conceive of it now, is actually a relatively recent and brief phase in the history of human civilization. Already, if we group together all the new forms that came to prominence in the 20th-21st centuries, this new age is comparable in length to the age of print.
  • SophistiCat
    475
    Nobody expects Quentin Tarantino or Ryan Gosling to have anything particularly interesting to say about the world, but they do expect that of JM Coetzee and Hilary Mantel.andrewk

    The age of the serious writer as a public intellectual carrying wisdom and moral authority is even shorter than the age of print - that started roughly in the middle 19th century in the Western world, and is on the vane now. I think you are wrong about Tarantino and Gosling, given our celebrity culture.
  • Marcus de Brun
    450
    Some of the greatest and most beautiful people who have ever lived, have never lived.
    The Book is dead. Long live the Book!
    M
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