Why No One Reads Contemporary Fiction

Roger Kimball is the latest to admit he doesn’t read a lot of contemporary fiction and to speculate why. Short version: there’s no common culture. Or in a few more sentences:

We lack the requisite community of readers, and the ambient shared cultural assumptions, to provide what we might call the responsorial friction that underwrites the traction of publicly acknowledged significance. The novel in its highest forms requires a certain level of cultural definiteness and identity against which it can perform its magic. The diffusion or dispersion of culture brings with it a diffusion of manners and erosion of shared moral assumptions. Whatever we think of that process — love it as a sign of social liberation or loathe it as a token of cultural breakdown — it has robbed the novel, and the novel’s audience, of a primary resource: an authoritative tradition to react against.

I complained about something similar just the other day. What E. D. Hirsch Jr. called “cultural literacy” may no longer be possible, not only because the works of the past are no longer considered indispensable to becoming human, but also because no one could possibly agree what the indispensable works are, even if anyone still believed as a general rule that some are.

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Why No One Reads Contemporary Fiction

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