Wednesday, December 1, 2010

500 Years

My eldest son, a graduate student at GWU, often shares his latest bits of gained wisdom from academia with me.  Last week he told me that a “well-established scholar” had stated that five hundred years from now, the only thing people will study about the twentieth century will be the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler.  Interesting. 
Having a background in Humanities, I hate to say that I agree with this to some extent.  Looking back at history, the small bits that we remember about previous centuries are those that were most reported, not necessarily those that were most important during the time. 
Of course, this led to a discussion of books.  How many brilliant pieces of literature are forever lost from one hundred, two hundred, a thousand years ago?  I don’t believe it is because these great works didn’t have “staying power.”  I believe they have just been lost. 
Five hundred years from now, the books that will be considered the greatest of our time will be those that aren’t lost in the shuffle.  That does not necessarily mean they are the greatest, but our future readers will read---something---and assume that that particular work or author depicted our cultural identity at the time.  What will that be?
My son immediately suggested the Harry Potter series.  If so, our future generation will assume we were all fascinated with magic and will continue to dig into our “history” to find other examples of this fascination so they can “prove” this in some literary journal. 
But, I’m afraid it will be James Patterson.  According to the New York Times, James Patterson has written one out of every seventeen hardcover novels purchased in the United States and of course, his books are published worldwide in several languages.  It’s kind of difficult to lose that many books, even in five hundred years.  What will that say about us as a culture?  Hard to tell.   
But, we might get lucky.  Someday, someone may find a lost collection that will shed a new light on our collective history’s fascination with wizards and crime detectives.  I’m hoping it is something raw and funny, maybe Scott Phillips or Gary Phillips.  Of course, it won’t seem so raw and funny then, which would make the reader five hundred years from now laugh at our innocence.  I kind of like that idea. 

1 comment:

sestinatim said...

With the advent of digital media, I think there's a good chance that many books will make it to the 26th century. I think there's a good chance that the end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries will be looked at by future generations as a renaissance of the written word, which is ironic given the current "the world is ending" state of publishing. I think 500 years from now, it's likely that in literary terms, now will be looked at as as significant a time in books as the advent of the printing press in 1440, a little more than 500 years ago.