There is nothing I love more than when literature is used to make a blatant comment about something going on in society. Studying history through the lens of literature was one of my favorite ways of understanding a time period or a place. Right now, literature—and not even modern literature at that—is being used to make a comment about events of no little importance.
Literature references are popping up all over the place in regard to the current U.S. presidential election. First you had the #Trumpbookreport tweets that became a hit during the 3rd debate last week. And now, I’ve come across an entire website dedicated to Cthulhu: Cthulhu for America. With a lack of better words, this is just the best!
Literature, whether you are a reader as an adult or not, is a shared experience. We all had certain books we were supposed to have read as children for our English classes. Clearly, some of that stuck and people pulled it out for social commentary (though it’s entirely possible they are all English majors!). Reading these books allowed us to talk about issues presented in a safe environment. We also learned about history and social issues all through the lens of a character’s experiences. Personally, there’s not a much better way to learn about such things than under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. That is at least 50% the point of taking English class. But that’s another conversation for another day.
Another interesting point these incidents bring up is the changing tradition of cannon and scholarship in literature studies. In the past, there was a movement of everyone reading the same texts. Some group, organization or individual deemed certain books to be the canon and thus, we all read them. I’m exaggerating a bit here, but still. I love that literature studies is changing and higher level academics are now studying lesser-known or less-widely read writers. It’s nice to see a new perspective and I think this activity reflects the nature of our post-modern world.
This being said, there is something truly spectacular about a large and diverse group of people having read the same books. You can’t converse unless someone else can do the back and forth with you. Otherwise, you’re just lecturing and you wouldn’t have little gems like the above. Without that, you wouldn’t have wonderful things like the Trump book report scenario.
Lastly, these incidents serve as a reminder that there is something that binds us collectively together. There are lots of great things about post-modernism. But it also can be isolating (though we certainly strive to celebrate the individuality of this era). Luckily technology is in stride or those who skew outside of the collective would be quite lonely. I don’t think that we would have entered a post-modern era if we weren’t aided by technology and the many things that entails. But, I digress. Humans are social creatures. Therefore, the invention of social media as a part of our technological advancement makes sense.
While the act of reading is quite solitary (just like the act of writing), there is something truly joyful about being able to come together with another person or even a large group to discuss the experience of reading. Channeling that reading experience into making a comment on the wider world is equally beneficial and enhances the concept of the shared experience, but it is changed and offered in a new way. It’s truly spectacular that the writings of authors long gone have been morphed and adopted into popular culture.