Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Does literature lack staying power?

Albert's the one on the right
It has been 106 years since Albert Einstein came up with his formulation of special relativity and his early contributions to quantum theory. Yet for everyone but career physicists, relativity and quantum theory remain fresh and exciting. This feels like modern science.

It is 111 years since Schoenberg wrote Verklärte Nacht, yet this piece of music is still fresh, and to many quite challenging in its approach. This feels like modern serious music.

Yet if you look at novels from this period, they seem very old fashioned indeed. And most people, frankly, would find the vast majority of them dull. There is certainly no way you can really represent a novel from the 1890s as feeling like a modern novel.

One way to look at this is to say that the novel form has developed a lot more since that time than science or music. But my suspicion is that it shows that literature (as opposed to story telling) is a lot more ephemeral than these other fields. Great stories will have a life of their own well beyond their age - arguably why Shakespeare still does well. But literature is so dependent on rules and form and fashion, that's a different beast altogether.

I'm not doing literature down... but maybe it ought to be ranked more with, say, cinema than serious art and science.

The thing that started me on this was thinking about Albert Einstein in 1905, when he looked like the photo above, not the white haired old sage who springs to mind. Then it struck me - this work was over 100 years ago, yet it is still something so modern feeling.


Picture from Wikipedia

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