Literature: ‘Why Bother?’

That got your attention! ‘Why Bother’ is the last chapter in David Orr’s book, ‘Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry.’ Mr. Orr explores the reasons for reading and writing poetry. He says ‘poetry is one way that art mediates life. Popular culture, an objective art form in its own way, was busily mediating life with some startling literary references this week.

An American television program called ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ explores genealogy.  This week it focused a descendant of William Brewster, an Anabaptist and Mayflower passenger. Ben Jonson felt quite close while listening to the story of Brewster’s life between 1607 and 1620.  It was like reading ‘The Alchemist’; its satire and political allegory was suddenly funnier, more meaningful and more appealing. Jonson must have been quite a mediator in his day.

I like to read Vanity Fair magazine; there is always good examples of art mediating life. This month Christopher Hitchens wrote a marvelous article about the beauty of the King James Authorized Version and its influence on the English language; he wrote eloquently about his disappointment with twentieth century English translations of the Bible.

The Bible was in the news again this week. Dr. Bart Ehrman gave a fascinating lecture for the Commonwealth Club of California  based on his two books ‘Forgery,’ and ‘Jesus Interrupted.’ His lecture discussed forged books in the New Testament.  He called them ‘a beautiful lie.’ In the ancient world and Middle Ages forgeries were common; the social and moral ends justified the means. These authors knew art mediates life.

The means to an end – moral and social ends – meaning, and art mediating life; these are enormous issues. Back to Mr. Orr for a moment and his question ‘Why Bother’? Orr is interested in the argument among contemporary poets about form-what must a text have in order to be considered a poem?  While contemporary artists engage in the ageless debate about form popular culture seems to be lagging a few centuries behind, at least with the choice of texts and subject matter. For me, this focus on language and poetry in popular culture helps define complicated, contemporary challenges in symbolic ways, like tropes themselves do in literature and poetry.

Talking of symbols, I also read an article in Newsweek Magazine about the British monarchy this week. An article by Allison Pearson called ‘Citizen Kate’ said ‘Only Jane Austen could have guessed the perfect person for the role would turn out to be Miss Catherine Elizabeth Middleton from Bucklebury Berkshire.’ I will leave you to think about that link to Romanticism, its form, and the irony in this instance of art mediating life.

Literature and art were mediating life all this week.  I read 2 analyses about the importance of language in the Bible written by self-confessed atheists and saw 3 prime time television programs about the bible and language. I read a republican American news magazine’s study on the British monarchy. In the article Pearson references Austen’s women and Orson Welles’s study on the pursuit of power in the same paragraph while trying to flatter a future Queen. This week I was very glad to be studying literature as I read these interesting pieces reflecting life in our times. Why bother indeed. Happy revising!

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