Modern Literature: are we making any sense at all? Writes Alok Mishra

modern literature and criticism

Have we really become callous towards literature? No, I am not being a cynic while raising this important (yet over-repeated) question. I am just being a ground floor realist who sees the most happening on the ground than those who are sitting on the 23rd floor behind the glass doors and talking about the romantic literature produced by a poet in the countryside. With the dramatically increasing number of the bestseller authors and their best-selling books, a layman would certainly ask me – hell, how do you have the spine to ask this question? And I will reply to this – oh! bro! you don’t know what goes behind the scenes and knowing the game of becoming a bestseller, I am deeply concerned with the honest decline in our interests towards meaningful literature on a mass scale – be it academic, casual, or just popular.

4-5 days ago, Nidhi has written wonderfully how she feels cheated while teaching English literature to her students. As a high school teacher, her concerns were alarming. Many professors have also told me that even the PG students come to the classroom without books and they don’t know how to paraphrase a simple poem. Is this the standard that we expect from students at this higher level? And trust me, I have seen their writings…

Leaving aside the academic debate (which I often keep getting back to), coming to the casual literature, we have made truly a mess of this thing! What are we reading today? Novels without the essential qualities and poems? oh! we no more read poems! Just scan the list of top 100 books on any popular website and you will find only a few which deserve to be up there. Most of those, sadly, are just cunning weaving of gossamer by some sporty spider-minded people who know how to manipulate the minds of the modern readers. Modern readers enjoy reading the quick-time or the masala literature mostly which, I must admit, is up to their choices, of course. Nevertheless, such choices are not deliberate; that’s the result of extreme advertising of nonsensical literature on the web and social media. Authors have to use subterfuge of the lowest level to achieve their ‘selling’ goals and finally reaping some profit out of their investment. So, have we reduced literature to such a bet?

It’s nothing but ironical that we see the really good and worthy authors only winning the prizes and then being known to the world. True – their literature is being appreciated; irony – but by only a selected few! This trend, in practice since decades now, is very alarming (but who cares for these alarms when we have Siri to talk to?).

Being a literature student has taught me that every age (roughly a century) develops its own style and trends in the terms of genre and thereby productions in a particular genre. Nevertheless, seeing such petty things going around makes me impatient! And eventually, one has to fall back to those classics once again and then once again and then once again… Those who have been thundered with the dry rains of modern literature have only one cure – read likes of Dickens and read all their works…

(I know this article might seem fragmented and broken and making no sense. By the way, this is what I mean!)

by Alok Mishra