T. S. Eliot wrote,
“We can only say that it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.”
Long ago when I read this quotation from T. S. Eliot I nodded in understanding: human civilization was advancing rapidly, learning was becoming more universal, modern problems were honing the intellect of modern society, a greeting-card level of poetry would be rejected by people who were more and more demanding in their intellectual pursuits. Eliot speaks of the poet but this conclusion certainly holds true for the novelist or the dramatist as well.
But did it remain true?
In the United States I see a comprehensive diminution and distrust of anything intellectual. Critical thinking is now a quaint concept. Rather than being able to accept and enjoy complexity in literature, the population is melting down in front of the television and statistics on the number of people not reading even one book after graduating are astounding. In this country, reading and intelligence is a limitation rather than an asset.
There are a lot of contemporary authors that continue as Eliot suggested, writing difficult, demanding texts which exercise the intellect of the reader and offer a path to enrichment. Unfortunately the front rounder at Barnes and Noble is overcrowded with authors that are key to maintaining the publishing industries’ bread and circuses approach to increased profits and fundamental disregard for developing the language and literature of this country.
Does what you chose to read regularly lead to personal improvement or is it just mindless entertainment to pass the time until your favorite television shows come on the tube?