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Alas, Poor Horatio

Keeping the tradition of irritating my colleagues for their (and my) outmoded love of literature (and apropos of my somewhat insensitive interruption of  one of my colleague’s  accessing non-print media yesterday), I would like you to consider  an article regarding a publishing innovation: straight-to-paperback .

Should this win the hearts-and-minds of distributors, retailers, and editors, our gig could be over faster than you can say “under-capitalization.” The market for literary titles has been commoditized to the point that only Oprah produces reliable hits and, with the advent of straight-to-paperback, authors can now expect to be remunerated primarily by name-recognition and that not so much. Loss of margin almost always translates to market irrelevance. Bon voyage.

As others privy to my rantings might know, my sense is that whereas in the 1950s—during the era of  Lionel Trilling  and even in the 1980s in the era of  Harold Bloom —literature was “important” to non-specialists, the lie is now becoming apparent as non-print media such as film, video games, and television render all but irrelevant the “study” of literature. This has been a specialist niche for more than twenty years and publishers are at last willing to let  Shakespeare  give up his ghost. If we’re lucky, English (language and literature) departments will be downsized to fit somewhere between the departments of philosophy and anthropology.

Literature has had little to offer the sensibilities of mainstream America since the Civil Rights movement, the end of the Cold War, and the advent of third wave feminism. Literature seems to now be a pastime for the overeducated and the intellectual elite. Without writing, English professors wouldn’t be employed. Coupled with the fact that we professors of literature farm our most fungible skill—the teaching of writing—to graduate students, we cannot be long for this  university-as-corporation world .

1/3 (rhetorical) odds that in 15 years the jig will be up.