Society and Literature, 1945-1970

Society and Literature, 1945-1970

Society and Literature, 1945-1970

Society and Literature, 1945-1970

Excerpt

The study of recent history and literature is crucial to our understanding of current attitudes and events. Of course, present-day society has its roots in earlier history, but our expectations and the institutions through which we frame them were constituted in the recent past, and only through knowledge of that can we assess their influence and adequacy today. Literature, I shall argue, is involved in the process of self-understanding in the past and present. Sillitoe responds to the factory system, Lessing to the position of women, Murdoch to the existentialist movement, by developing, through the refractive lenses of literary conventions, constructions of conceivable lives. These are, inevitably, interpretations and evaluations of perceived possibilities in the real world. And these constructions are not just responses, they are interventions: their publication feeds back possible images of the self in relation to others, helping society (some sectors more than others) to interpret and constitute itself. The social identities so formed in recent history dominate our current perceptions.

Of course, we lack the guidance of a consensus upon what is the 'significant' recent literature (and, indeed, history). Yet the authoritative opinion that has congealed around earlier periods is, in reality, the promotion of a certain view of what is important and, therefore, the denial of other possibilities. Thus the centralizing of the modernism of the first half of the twentieth century serves to marginalize the (relatively) rationalist work of Wells and Shaw. Once the canon has become established (in the full range of that word) it seems 'natural' — so much so that the reader perhaps doubts my seriousness — and even . . .

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