Thursday, May 20, 2010

Read: James Salter

James Salter "One Upon a Time, Literature. Now What?"

"More and more I am aware of people who are successful in every visible way and who have no sensitivity to art, not interest in history, and are essentially indifferent to language. It's hard to imagine that anything in their experience other than the birth of a child might elicit from them the word transcendent; ecstasy for them has a purely physical meaning, and yet they are happy. Culture is not necessary for them although they like to keep up with movies and music and perhaps the occasional best-seller. Is culture essential, then? Not pop culture but something higher, something that may endure.

Perhaps not. Whether humankind or nations advance or decline is a matter of unimportance to the planets and what lies beyond. If civilizations reach a new zenith or if they flounder is a concern only to us and not really much of a concern since individually we can do so little about it.

At the same time it is frightening to think of a glib, soulless, pop culture world. There is the urge toward things that are not meaningless, that will not vanish completely without leaning the slightest ripple. The corollary to this is the desire to be connected to the life that has gone before, to stand in ancient places, to hear the undying stories. Art is the real history of nations, it has been said. What we call literature, which is really only writing that never stops being read, is part of thing. When it relinquishes its place, what is there to substitute for it?

It was Edwin Arlington Robinson, I think, who when he lay dying asked that his bed be taken out beneath the starts. That's the idea, anyway, not to breathe your last looking some TV sitcom, but to die in the presence of great things, those riches - the greatest riches of all, in fact - that can be in the reach of anyone."

No comments: