Literature and Elites

A Love Story.

It would have been so nice if I could have stuck with the topics I specified in the last post, but what's a blog for if not for writing about whatever is on one's mind right now? Today, it is this article, (German only) especially the introduction which reads:

He blogs about books every non-stupid person should have read ...

The artice is clear in its message: There are books and Books. The former are mass-produced pieces of kitsch. Cheap entertainment and product of a -- Theodor W. Adorno scowls disapprovingly -- culture industry. The latter are enlightenment. The very image of culture. Worthy of protection by Smart People™. The former, however, fall into the literary Uncanny Valley: They are zombies -- undead Horror, spreading epidemically and threatening Real Literature™.

This differentiation bugs me and it bugs me deeply. The differentiation between entertainment Literature and elite Literature is especially pronounced here in Germany -- or maybe it's just my perception. But it is a symptom of the special place books have in the German understanding of culture. I'll cue the principle of Cultural Studies here: Every culture is worth investigating.

To me, working with books is a category of working with media -- that's a title books can't be denied, no matter if it's Goethe under the cover or the biography of Dieter Bohlen. For a long time, literature has managed to steer clear of being subsumed under the nebulous term "the media". Even in Media Studies we have a look at books in our first Media History classes and then never talk about them again. And why should we? There are Literature Studies for that. And -- in Germany still as dominant as ever: German Language Studies.

German and I, we had a wild affair that ended with my undergraduate studies because we just couldn't get each other. German Language Studies refuse flat out to have anything to do with other media than books. TV, film, internet ... that's got nothing to do with books, does it? And now they are all surprised that the literature industry takes on forms similar to those other media industries have had for years.

So the last bastion of capital-B-Books is the canon. There are books you have to have read if you consider yourself somewhat educated.

Because, obviously, genre fiction like Romantic Fantasy could never discuss relevant topics. It couldn't possibly ask meaningful questions and have a look at them from different perspectives. After all, they aren't Books, they're just books. And what does it matter when half of the social problems in Schiller's Intrigue & Love are hardly relevant today when he's canon?

I love to read Schiller and Goethe and Rilke, but I do like genre fiction. Maybe I'm not all that much into Dan Brown (some books of whom I've read) and maybe I'll never have a close look at 50 Shades of Grey (whose author's name tends to slip my mind), but I do love a Romantic Fantasy Story when it's well and intelligently written.

The problem isn't with the book stores. The problem lies within the entire industry which has specialised in stressing similarities rather than the unique selling points of books. Maybe a Romantic Fantasy would be worth a review if instead of "Sexy, original and thrilling to the last page" the cover stated "A story about the pitfalls of mixed relationships in discriminating environment that creatively discusses problems of equal and reproductive rights."

A diegesis is always just a metaphor for reality.

No matter the genre or authorial intent.

Culture is water in which we are immersed like fish. There is Literature which is a guided meditation on water. But sometimes, we get our best and clearest thoughts when we take a drop of water -- maybe a book -- and have a close and unbiased look at it and the things this particular drop says about the water in general and what this means for us.

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