Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are Classics Age-Proof?

Today at work we threw some chain-smoking, borderline skinny-dipping college kids out of our pool. As they lurked away from their wet t-shirt contest and tossed their (still lit) ciggies in my freshly-laid pine straw, I narrowed my eyes and shook my fist and said "Be gone, you whippersnappers!"

Okay, so that last part's a fib. I did narrow my eyes and glare as they stormed off, one young lady cursing at me over her shoulder for daring to throw them out of a pool they'd taken so much trouble sneaking into. And I'll admit I felt a tingle of glee watching them slide into their cars and drive out of my community. There, I thought, puffing up like a bird. I've protected my residents from these ne'er-do-wells.

And then I thought, When did I get so old? It hasn't been all that long ago that it was me sneaking into apartment pools and glaring at the old farts who had the nerve to tell me to get lost. Barring some stretch marks and a few extra pounds I'd rather keep hidden, and a 9-to-5 office job paired with a 5-to-9 parenting job, oh and a mortgage and a car payment and a 401(k)...where did my youthful carelessness go?

We all outgrow our youth eventually. And apparently we fiction writers outgrow the youths before ours, even. According to a Dartmouth College study of literature (reviewed by The Guardian), modern writers are starting to sound more like their peers, and less like their 18th and 19th century ancestors (aka the writers of classic literature). This isn't surprising. As much as I love Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and many of their peers, I can totally see why they have a hard time competing against the siren of today's primetime television and summer blockbuster films. Modern readers want action, drama, suspense, intrigue...and all of it at warp speed. The fiction of yore just can't keep up.

Are we losing something by ignoring our literary ancestors? That remains to be seen, although I'd venture to say we can never learn enough from our past. As long as we keep a broad-minded approach--appreciating the past, studying the present, preparing for the future--we can maintain a careful balance.

It's okay to grow up. To get old. As long as we don't forget where we came from.


1 comment:

  1. I agree that we're not losing anything. Contemporary writers still read the classics--and that's definitely the case if they major in English. But it's okay if our great contemporary writers don't sound anything like Twain or Melville because language changes. And it's perfectly natural to do so. Otherwise, we'd all be running around saying, "þæt wæs god cyning!" It's these writers, poets, and novelists who help us gauge how quickly and to what degree formal writing is changing. Look only to teh Interwebs to see how the spoken language changes.