Friday, March 18, 2011

Shifting Economic Patterns, Shifting Literary Themes?

I'm currently reading Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. He of course argues that cities are an important part of this class, and he also argues that artists and writers are vital elements of it. Of course, writers have always been part of the creative class, even when it was small. Now, Florida argues that the class is over a third of all workers -- at least, in the United States. How does this affect the creation of literature? Do we see more or fewer people writing because there are so many more creative outlets? How does writers interacting with so many more creative people affect their own creativity? How does it affect the themes of literature? How do writers affect the creativity of others? Is it through discussions in public forums? Poetry readings and play performances?

Along these lines, how did our having gone through industrialization affect literature? There is, of course, a lot of work on this, but it is primarily from Marxist, Freudian, and postmodernist perspectives. The time has come for free market-based critiques. But at the same time, we have also gone through a time period during which the service industry dominated (in fact, it still does, looking at numbers of workers, though the creative class is catching up). In what ways did the service economy affect literature and its themes? I am unsure how much work has been done on this topic.

Literature is of course affected by its social environment. These kinds of things should be looked at. One can imagine, too, considering how the stagflation of the 1970s, which is in part a transition period from industrialization to the service economy, affected the literature of the time. I am certain writers were trying to understand the economic situation, while being ignorant of the real reasons behind what was happening -- much like we saw with works of literature from the Great Depression.

In fact, I am thinking particularly of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, in which he argues that farmers were destroying oranges out of greed. This demonstrates, of course, an ignorance of basic economics, but also an ignorance of the fact that it was the federal government that had dictated that large quantities of food be destroyed to drive up prices, under the false belief that high prices would help the economy (thus getting the cause and effect backwards). Are there works of literature from the 1970's that similarly deal with the stagflation of the time? If so, how do they deal with it? It is of course too early to see how contemporary literature deals with the current Great Recession. It will, of course, be interesting to see what narrative -- literally, in this case -- wins out in our literature.

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