The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

The Futility o’ Avoiding Current Events in Literature

A common dictate in literature is that one should avoid referencing current events to avoid “dating” one’s literature.

There’s 2 problems, the 2nd being the most major:

  1. Dating a work isn’t inherently bad. In fact, sometimes people enjoy works swimming in their era, not just for nostalgia, but also for people too young to have lived in that era. I’ve known young people who enjoy black & white films simply ’cause they enjoy the quaintness.

  2. Mo’ importantly: it’s impossible to avoid. Society changes so much & so rapidly — ’specially now — that decades from now, e’en works trying to be as timeless as possible will look indecipherable.

We can see this in literature by looking @ many classics & seeing how steeped they are in their times. People praise Shakespeare for making “timeless” stories when many people have trouble understanding them ’cause o’ how starkly language has changed since then. Dickens tales take place in a time when almost nobody had electricity, when nowadays we view the power going out for mo’ than a couple days is a serious danger. In fact, in connection to what I said before, people oft praise Dickens ’cause o’ what he said ’bout the society in which he lived; we count its use o’ pop-culture as a feather in its cap, not a black eye.

The idea that one can make a work that’s “timeless” assumes that we can predict the future — that we know what will be considered “current events” in the future & what we’ll think resonates1.

Perhaps a better rule is that art should be mo’ than just current events & that it should actually say something ’bout them. The main feature in common examples o’ bad pop-culture references is that they’re just copy-&-paste references without any analysis or commentary. But then, that’s just a symptom o’ a far direr artistic crime: a lack o’ creativity.

Posted in Literature Commentary