What do people search for in urban literary life?

All of us, especially the publishers among us know very well, that the promotion
of literacy, of literary culture, becomes more and more difficult not only in
Europe, but in the whole so called western civilisation.

This is not primary due to the people’s decreasing
capability to read, or to their decreasing willingness to do so. Everybody seems
to be able to read a text on a display screen, seems to be keen on the tabloids
and – of course – on all kinds of journals and books, which promise to improve
your health, career and sex life. In terms of the simple mass of deciphered
alphabetical writing – I suppose people read more than ever before.


It is in a way dishonest, over-simplified and pedagogical,
when the lower level of cultural policy steadily cares for „reading“ and
„reading capabilities“ – and at the same time refuses to say, what exactly
should be read. Most of what can be read, does not develop people’s intellect
and comprehension, but help them continue to make their minds dull. Therefore we
have to ask and to answer the question, what we want people to read. We have to
assume responsibility for this. And we have to campaign for the art of
literature – for literature as an art form – and for the complex essayistic and
scientific texts.


Exactly in this field however we must be aware of an
increasing monopolisation in terms of controlling and affecting the demand for
books and literature, as well as the habits of reading. Fewer and fewer
institutions, people and media tell us, what we have to read, what’s gonna be a
bestseller, which book and which author we have to talk about. This
monopolisation has several aspects and reasons:



  1. First Our life, our culture is more and more affected by the desire for
    capturing attention, by all kinds of celebrities and by the gossip concerning
    those celebrities. The cult of celebrities, the dominance of entertainment
    suggest living in a global village. They are expressions of the people’s
    yearning for manageable structures of life, for precise rules in a, as it seems,
    totally messy world. – The new adoration of so called „heavy characters“ is one
    consequence of that. These „heavy characters“ offer clusters of meaning – just
    like in former times clever Odysseus and brave Hector. These persons and the
    labels of the global brands help people communicate and to find their way in
    their lives, in their „Lebenswelt“. The bleak world of global brands and
    celebrities is mostly oral and illiterate. It is an impact of a new anti-modern,
    anti-intellectual und anti-literate orality.
  2. Secondly, the monopolisation of controlling the demand for books and
    literature is a result of the economic pressure, the mass communication media
    feel. They further the cult of celebrities, the cult of entertainment on a low
    level. They satisfy the desires of that cult, and at the same moment they
    strengthen it. People are thus chained by there own bad taste. In the mass media
    community anti-intellectualism and anti-literacy create their own foundations.
  3. Thirdly, A counterbalance by a solid, self-confident Educated Bourgeoisie is
    no longer existing.

Let me add another important aspect of the anti-intellectual
and anti-literate mass-media community: It fosters the grasp of consumism at the
individuals, the acceleration and the superficiality of our lives, the
alienation from nature, from the fundamentally emotional issues of human
existence, from love, harm and death.



No Contradiction: The augmentation of literary events, of urban literary
life.


All this provided – how can we explain the increasing
interest in literary events not only in larger German cities, but also in
smaller towns? And it is increasing directly proportional to the number of
offered TV-channels! The Literature Houses are booming, in Hamburg we have
months with hundred and even much more readings all over the town, and many of
them are pretty well-attended. And by no means only those readings, which
present authors and literature, that are rather in line with the market or which
are blockbusters. Quite the contrary! Lyric- and poetry-festivals are
attractions. People, who didn’t ever buy or read and read a poetry-book, visit
readings of difficult or even hermetic poems.


Why don’t they read the books at home? What do they want?
What are people searching for?


I don’t think that they are looking for the great event –
they can’t indeed – because readings don’t provide such great events. The
artistic, the literary notabilities – in our days they hardly rank among the
celebrities, aside from few exceptions.


I rather think, that they are in search for intellectual and
mental stimulation and for being emotionally moved. These thought-provoking
stimulations and these emotions – they are still to be found particularly in
literature. And – the more all this is banned from the surface of life, the more
the intelligent people feel the absence. Something is missing; there must be
anything else…


By visiting readings and other literary events people not
only want to become acquainted with the text and its author as an ensemble..
They also hope to get to know like-minded people, to have corporate feelings
beyond the illusory community of the electronic global village. They hope for
deeper thoughts and for deep emotions, they want to know what the future will
bring – in the interior and exterior human life.


The Educated Bourgeoisie, which used to provide
meeting-points for such types of literary communities, has almost disappeared.
Intellect and money has departed from each other more than ever before. Public
literary life, Literature Houses, libraries and literary festivals partly
assumed the functions of the Educated Bourgeoisie. They are providing
meeting-places for the seekers of truth and beauty, offering literature and
authors to communicate with.


So social anti-intellectualism and anti-literacy on the one
hand and augmentation of urban literary life on the other hand are two sides of
the same coin.


Summary:
The promotion of literacy, of literary culture
generally becomes more and more difficult. In terms of the simple mass of
deciphered alphabetical writing people read more than ever before. Therefore we
have to ask and to answer the question, what it is, that we want people to read.
We have to campaign for the art of literature. In doing so, we notice an
increasing monopolisation in terms of controlling and affecting the demand for
books and literature, as well as the habits of reading. Reasons are the cult of
celebrities, the dominance of entertainment, and the impacts of a new
anti-modern, anti-intellectual und anti-literate orality. Mass-media amplify
these trends on a low level.


As a countermovement an astonishing boom of urban literary
life is taking place. Obviously people are in search for intellectual and mental
stimulation and for being emotionally moved. They hope to be satisfied by
becoming acquainted with the text and its author as a whole. They also hope to
get to know like-minded people, to have corporate feelings beyond the illusory
community of the electronic global village.


By
Wolfgang Schömel

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