In this book, the author looks at some of the agents that have contributed to literature's demise and ponders whether its vitality can be restored in the changing circumstances of late 20th century culture. The author relates the death of literature to potent forces in our post-industrial world - most obviously, the technological revolution that is rapidly transforming a print to an electronic culture, replacing the authority of the written word with the authority of television, film, and computer screens. He describes a number of the crossroads where literature and society have met and literature has failed to stand up. He discusses the high comedy of the obscenity trial in England against "Lady Chatterley's Lover", in which the British literary establishment vainly tried to define literature. He looks at such agents of literary disintegration as schools where children who watch television eight hours a day can't read, decisions about who chooses and defines the words included in dictionaries, faculty fights about the establishment of new departments and categories of study, and courtrooms where criminals try to profit from best-selling books about their crimes. According to the author, traditional literature is ceasing to be legitimate or useful in these changed social surroundings. What is needed, he says, if it is any longer possible in electronic culture, is a conception of literature that fits in some positive way with the new ethos of post-industrialism, plausibly claiming a place of importance both to individual lives and to society as a whole for the best kind of writing.
About Professor Alvin Kernan
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Published September 26, 1990
by Yale University Press.
Literature & Fiction.