What Is Contemporary Literature? With Pictures
Nobel Prize contender Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams is set in 19th-century Albania, in the eponymous Palace of Dreams, whose workers are charged with sifting through the dreams of the country’s citizens to analyze and use as political fodder. While Kadare did claim political asylum from Albania in 1990, he was apparently later invited to become Albania’s president. Khaled Hosseini came to the United States with his family in 1980, seeking asylum during the Soviet–Afghan War.
Settings usually keep to the current or modern era, so futuristic and science fiction novels are rarely included in this category. Well-defined, realistic, and highly developed characters are important in classifying a written work as contemporary, and most writing in this category features stories that are more character driven than plot driven. Nathan Scott contributes a fine essay on black literature, discussing a number of new, little-known black writers who deserve to be known better. Scott deeply regrets black writing should be treated as a literature unto itself, but he acknowledges the separatist Black Arts Movement of the sixties determined it must be by dictating what black literature should be about and banning white criticism. Thus black literature has become forbidden territory to whites and many a promising black writer condemned to obscurity. Scott is saddened by this evidence of “a profound collapse of faith in the indivisibility of the human family and in the unity of culture.” It is, as he says, a distinguishing feature of the period.
These changes stemmed from a belief that continues to grow today, the belief that there is no God. After the horrors of the war, many people came to the conclusion that God was either dead or did not exist in the first place, which brought with it the idea that maybe life was meaningless. Writers struggled to communicate in a way that showed the world how to cope with this “truth.”
Analyzing the represented cultural traditions can lead to a greater understanding of that culture. Studying the history of that culture (including an historical time line of the civil rights movement, voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and immigration in 20th America) will create a more enlightening appreciation of cultural attitudes, motivations, and actions. During the semester, we will study and analyze selected works of fiction, poetry, and drama dating from the end of World War II to the present.
This four-volume reference work surveys American literature from the early 20th century to the present day, featuring a diverse range of American works and authors and an expansive selection of primary source materials. Literature shows people struggling to find meaning in a world that doesn’t offer us the old assurances , as it breaks down our faith in the supremacy of the rational, scientific human being (e.g. comparisons between animals and humans and machines). In our contemporary world, meaning is not stable or absolute; values and identity are relative to culture, religion, and geography. Everything exists in a context, a framework of circumstances and relationships. The more historical contexts we learn to recognize, the less likely we are to evaluate everything in terms of today. In reading books or watching movies from the past, the critical thinker knows better than to judge them in terms of the present.
Why are unaligned poets like Richard Howard, Sylvia Plath, and Ann Sexton discussed under “Schools of Dissidents”? Hoffman writes well about many, memorably about some, but his survey disintegrates into a series of seemingly unrelated capsule careers. Richard Kostelanetz gave a clearer sense of recent American poetry in nine pages of his On Contemporary Literature than Hoffman does in the more than 150 pages he allows himself of the Harvard Guide. He finds the contemporary poetic scene invigorating in its variety and overall quality but depressing in its bitter partisanship. The “fratricidal intensity” of rivalry between different schools and poets of different vision and persuasion Hoffman believes is peculiarly American, as is the missionary zeal with which poets claim that, in making it new, they have rendered all previous poetry obsolete! As Hoffman says, “In the United States we not only inhabit the present, we invent the future, while with greater energy than other peoples we perfect the forgetting of the past—mainly because most of the human past seems to .