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A few weeks ago the British newspaper, The Guardian, announced in a long article (10 January 2012) that literature was dead. Wow! Who knew?! I mean I have wasted my time all these years with something that is over, not once but has been dead several times, but like an ignoramus I had been hoping that my effort had purpose.

The well-argued article was replete with quotes from notable academics and from various authors over the centuries. Now the thing is that literature in this case is not literary fiction, not a genre novel either; not just any novel. It’s a meta-exploration of words and language that had once been presented to the world in a new way. Can’t think of any? Well, Don Quixote and Finnegan’s Wake are two, not the sort of books that sit on most bedside tables for a good 30 minute read before slipping off to nod.

It is an academic definition of a novel, analytical, which takes as it UR forms some recondite novels that academics invest years analyzing as it creates work and builds careers. An opaque book needs an interpreter, right?

It was Peter Ackroyd who remarked that academics like the difficult novel as it endows them into a priesthood: officials who interpret its meaning to the public. It also provides an income.

Having studied English literature at university; a wholly useless project because it is more involved in biography as a method of analysis than textual understanding; and later semiotics and deconstruction, a distinction ought to be drawn between the “death of the novel” and the continuing ambitions of many to write in a commercial marketplace.

There is something to be said, along with the ‘death of the novel’ group, that the well-spring of writing arises from reception and transmission; that writing is writing against, in a sense, all the previous texts and authors. And in writing against, writing in the same stream. Originality, such as it is, is quotient of that equation with the past, the history of thoughts and expression.

But just as anyone in middle age might gasp at the latest song, movie, or book and see how similar it is to something already experienced by that person, progress, and real innovation is rare. Even that which appears new may be drawn from another past, re-styled, rephrased, and that sense, the end of something is a new beginning, it is more than likely circular.

“Elles accouchent á cheval sur une tombe, le jour brille un instant, puis c’est la nuit á nouveau.”

Guy Cranswick
9 March 2012