In the past year, some of our writer friends have expressed dismay over the sorry state of the world of letters. One writer, commenting on reviewers and critics, concluded that the barbarians have won, and another observed that literary publishing is coming to an end. All this grumbling comes in response to the troubling murkiness of the marketplace. Doubt about the future stems from complex issues, including the fall of the canon of Western literature, the sometimes mistaken invocation of political correctness and diversity as defining of literary value, the shift away from literature by hard-pressed publishers pursuing more apparently saleable material, the decline of reliable literary conversation in all but a few major periodicals, the marketing-driven public fascination with the cult of personality and celebrity, the Internet-based sense of authorship by plurality in hypertext, and, finally, the resulting popular notion that anyone’s opinions about art are as valid as anyone else’s.
Many thousands of new literary works are published each year. Amid this proliferation there’s plenty to reflect on, but to despair about writing? To say the end of literature is now? We think not. Rather, the means of connecting reader and writer, the understanding of how it’s done, is radically changing. The horse and buggy are being replaced not by a car but by a rocket ship.