The Great Depression was one of the most desperate periods in U.S. history, and one of the most important in American literature.
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At the heart of this article is a line that really got me thinking about the difficulties faced by literary reading educators.
In focusing upon the kinds of literary writing that sprang from the difficulties of the Great Depression of the 1930s, author Adam Kirsch tosses in...
"Never before or since have so many of America’s best writers focused on the lives of the poor and the working class or written with such a furious sense of political engagement."
Suggesting that today's great writers have not risen to the challenge of circumstances quite similar to the challenge faced head on by the great writers of the 1930s, Kirsch asks what on the surface appears to be a quite simple and quite critical question...
"What did the storytellers of the Depression know that our own writers don’t?"
I can't help but wonder whether the circumstances today are sufficiently different; that today's writers know something about the publishing industry that was not part of the mix in the 1930s.
Or whether writers today are so heavily "managed and handled" by a publishing industry that is fighting its own battles to stay alive, that even in times when competition for mass attention for one's work all but require non-resistant compliance to playing it safe strategies.
Or perhaps it's the shrinking reading public who read for escape rather than for insight.
Or whether we've evolved / devolved to the point where it's just easier to let those with moderate to outlandish opinions do the thinking for us.
Or whether the din of those who would do anything to oppose anyone with opinions contrary to their own; informed or otherwise, is now the white noise of our existence.
Or whether we have become so divided and paralyed by that division that we can not allow any idea to exist without causing a massive tsunami of opposition in our partisan media.
Whatever the reasons might be, if Kirsch's premise has merit, the parallels of circumstances do exist. And, I can't help but wonder if today's public discourse about those parallel circumstances is a more effective or less effective way for a society to face its most difficult challenges.
In thinking about this situation, my mind meandered back to Abrahan Lincoln's "A Nation Divided speech," wherein he said speaking of the issue of slavery, though the economic realities behind the controversy have much in common with the economic realities of depressions,...
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South."
History did prove Lincoln correct, at least on the level that opponents did "arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction:..."
But, headlines today even call into question the degree to which the success of ending slavery was in fact sufficiently successful in correcting the problems caused by slavery.
Where Lincoln may have been wrong was that he only predicted an either this or that outcome; whereby either slavery would end or it would become lawful throughout the states.
He does not offer the possibility of opposing forces winding up in a never ending absolutely equal tug-of-war where problems are never addressed and status-quo persists until both sides come to their senses or the citizenry demands that they do so.
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