Reasonable Words: “Oh, you publishing scoundrels!”

For the commonplace book, to file under “nothing new under the sun.” Here’s the opening paragraph of a review from a recent TLS,

“To write and have something published is less and less something special,” complained Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beauve in 1839. “At least once in his life, everyone will have his page, his discourse, his publisher’s brochure, his toast, everyone will be an author once…’Why not me too?’ everyone asks.” One of the recurrent motifs of this latest installment of the “monumental” Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (as it rather immodestly describes itself on its dust jacket) is the challenge posed to traditional notions of literary and cultural value by what Sainte-Beuve, perhaps the most influential critic of the nineteenth century, called “industrial literature.” The period covered by this volume is characterized by rapid changes in the technology of literary production, the emergence of new audiences for literature, and deepening anxieties about the best way of distributing the “golden treasury” of high literary culture to the masses without debasing the currency.

Too many people publishing, new technical platforms disrupting once-sacrosanct cultural values, new audiences doing new (sometimes messy and inconvenient) things. 1839? 1997? 2013? Sounds like blogging to me…

Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, dean of the 19th-century literary critics. A face that says: “No, I’m not on twitter, and I don’t ‘follow’ anyone!”

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