I watched a film tonight. I wanted my mind off my dissertation so I can read it again with a fresh mind (we’ll see…) but I’m not too sure my choice of billing for the night were the best. Considering, I initially spent the day reading Keith Richard‘s Life while listening to the Rolling Stones, I was already in a “mood”, if you catch my drift. You mix that with some red wine and months of isolation and selective insulation in order to get the dissertation done, watching Kill Your Darlings was just the kind of “it” that was bound to work its way right in my head.
What initially caught my attention was how Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan in the film) asked Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe who, no matter what, is for me still odd to see be someone else than Harry who I grew up with, sort of, although I personally thought he did a brilliant performance in this particular film – in The Woman In Black on the other hand… not so much) how many people started the Renaissance (p.21), and after receiving an answer asks how many started the Romanticism (p.22)?
Two and five, respectively, apparently – according to the script and film-version-Allen Ginsberg, if you were wondering.
But see here, this is where I stumbled. 2 and 5? Who? How? What about the others? Maybe I’m still in my research mood – and unused to sleeping what else do I have to do at 10:45 at night on a Sunday, I began researching…
The Renaissance, at least in Italy, can be considered to have begun around the years 1350 to 1400 But to the questions of WHOM started it. Well, there are options. Which are more than two, as Ginsberg in the film suggests. How about The Medici family? Or then the bundle of individuals such as Dante Alighieri (“the greatest literary work ever written in the Italian language”, ref. 1), Francesco Petrarch (“Father of Humanism”, ref. 1) and Leonardo da Vinci (“THE quintessential Renaissance man, not only in his artwork, but in his outlook on life. Driven by imagination and curiosity, Leonardo was not just an artist, but a scientist, a mathematician, a musician, an engineer and a writer to name but five”, ref. 1). But this again depends on which city you would consider as the “birth place”; Florence? Rome? (ref. 1-2)
And what about the Romantics? Where “no other intellectual/artistic movement has had comparable variety, reach, and staying power since the end of the Middle Ages”. How about attributing the origins to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm who began to collect the popular fairy tales, till then passed through generations as oral tradition. What about Shakespeare who almost single-handedly reformed English language? Or maybe Wordsworth? Or Shelley? Or later on Blake or Keats? (ref. 3-5)
Then what Kill Your Darlings shows, the Beat Nation. The New America – The Jazz era had everyone in fever.
And in the end… What do we have now? What has become of us?
What is literature that is permanent? Regardless of time or generation, belief or politics? It is something that we would label now as ‘classic literature’, or in other words it is a work of literature that “has stood the test of time; and it stands the test of time when the artistic quality it expresses – be it an expression of life, truth, beauty, or anything about the universal human condition – continues to be relevant, and continues to inspire emotional responses, no matter the period in which the work was written.” (ref. 9)
I have been brought up to love the written word, to respect the books, the stories, the ideas of others, the imagination. My mother is a collector who instilled in me a love of reading so much so that I was an avid reader and “storyteller” before I went to school. My godmother was more cautious – book spines are not to be bent! I like my book to look worn out, exhausted – read through thoroughly. My father, recently, as well as joined with the latter part of my studies, gave me the spark to start examining and reading (or when not reading, at least watching) Nordic Noir and Scandinavian Crime. My recent chat with Hannu, a Finnish-weird author, got me reading My Struggle from Karl Ove Knausgaard (ummpf is all I can say). And the more I read, and the more I read and more I learn and more I hear – I wonder – what is “it” for this generation? The now? What is to become of us?
Who do we have now that we will remember in example of literary prowess, with such passion, with ever-continuing impact on the way we think or even speak, with such torn opinions as we do remember Shakespeare, Faulkner, Kafka, Marguez, Douglass, Dickinson, Ginsberg, Dylan, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Emerson, Stein, Whitman, Pound, Baldwin, Baraka, Zola, Angelou… Too many to mention. Or the books, the books nearly every student will have to read or will one way or another come across that changed history – 1984, The Art of War, Anne Frank, Incidents in a Life of a Slave Girl, The Second Sex, The Prince, Moby Dick, Walden, A Room of One’s Own, or (if you want to go there) how about The Bible?
What is 21st century equivalent of Dadaism, Naturalism? Realism? Modernism? The Post modernism? Existentialism? The Beat Generation? Is it, dare I say, “YOLO”? And what have that produced in terms of cultural revolution that will taunt and inspire us for generations to come?
Is reading different in the 21st century? If you read the comments under the article, you see most people seem to think that literature hasn’t changed, but people have. The way we read. We prefer (and I use the term “we” very loosely here) shorter, more condensed form of information, whether high literature or a news feed on our social media. We read in fragments, on the go, on our tablets or smart phones, while commuting or sitting in a cafe… Who reads sprawled, long, demanding texts anymore? Is this the reason for the surge of short stories?
There is aplenty of literature worth to read in the 21st century. There is a lot of new wonderful writers and styles to pay attention to. But what have we come across since the 80s that is “norms shattering”, groundbreaking and bending the existence, mind-blowing like we had so much until the earlier part of 21st century. (ref. 8-10)
I have no answers. I’m trying to find some.
For a Salzburg University final exam I once interpreted Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost as to mean we have a long way ahead, life and work, before the solace of sleep that is death (my professor disagreed, though she said it was an interesting interpretation; she rather thought it was about the hardships of daily life). Can we also assume that if there’s a lifetime ahead, there’s hope? I do hope there is more to come that will cause worldwide shudder and raise again the ability to adore, have patience and improve concentration – and for this, we need also world literature, to break out of our comfort zones and be exposed to new and unfamiliar, even uncomfortable, there must be hope, as Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve, | And Hope without an object cannot live.