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Is Literature Having its Katabasis?

“I’ll just say it — I did my homework. I read every memo. Thomas Tipp was right: People will read again.” – David Aames, Vanilla Sky

This quote is taken from Cameron Crowe’s 2001 adaptation of Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 film “Abre Los Ojos,” and I, too, believe that people will actually read again. Before I decided to write this article, I could not stop thinking and wondering about what has happened to the mysterious and great writers who changed the course of literary and human history by teaching something new about the human soul and spirit.

Years ago, we saw more bookshops. Today, that literature has metamorphosed and turned into being a storyteller’s formula that entertains the masses. Some books and writers have become instruments of marketing and bestsellers. In class, Dr. Boguslawski called this type of commercial literature “pulp fiction and pornography,” and although not all commercial literature has turned into that, I do agree with a part of it. This is not some new phenomenon present only and uniquely in the United States. It has all the elements of causality and casualty, and I may say too that it also currently happens in Russia and Spain, and even in Latin America. I would even dare say it happens in the rest of the world. Literature, as Colombian writer Santiago Gamboa pointed out in an interview, has had its very own coup d’etat in the last decade.

As we know, as commercial readings increase in in production and popularity, timeless literature is displaced. But has literature disappeared? Did all the classics from the literary cannon move out to another time and place? Where have those timeless and aesthetic works of art, which portray the absolutes present in life and the human condition, gone?

Well, in a way, they have disappeared from the collective unconscious of our generation’s mind. Many amusing and enjoyable books have come out since the 80s and 90s, but literature has gone to a second plane, absorbed by what is consuming our daily lives. Pages turn into screens, and a book’s life gets behind. A ‘pillow-book’ has moved out from our beds to our bookshelves, and our new buddies have become cell phones that help us multi-task and let us hold the universe in our own hands.

Will all bookstores come to bankruptcy? I think not, but let us analyze a very important example. Last fall, the well known bookstore Borders went bankrupt. Clearly a bad management of competitiveness, a bad relationship with the Internet, and the new revolution of e-books and e-book readers were some of the causes of its demise. And although e-book readers are a great technological advantage and also an eco-friendly initiative that can save a lot of trees and money, there is still a hidden pleasure in the smell present in the first editions of books from nowadays and from last century. So bookstores will continue to linger on in our lives.

And when we walk through the halls of a bookstore or library and find a book that takes us to a remote or near time and place, we humans also tend to reach for a previous golden age, one in which we believe that everything in our lives would have been ‘better,’ as in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

My proposal for the present day is simple, yet complex. Today is not a day to look back for a better time, but instead a time to remember what has happened in history and finally do what Pasternak’s Dr. Yurii Zhivago did after he recovered from typhus. Now is “Time to arise, time for the resurrection.” Let us embrace Literature again. It is our responsibility. It is our time now.


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