Why Contemporary? – Part 2, or, Get ’em While They’re Hot

A quote from Tessa Hadley in yesterday’s Guardian caught my eye as summing up quite succinctly some of the reasons I find the study of contemporary literature so fascinating and poignant.

‘A reader’s relationship is quite different to a living writer. Because you’re alive in the same moment, breathing the same air in the same world, reading a great contemporary feels like finding yourself inside the forge where the book is being made. The writer in working at the edge of what’s understood, shaping the inchoate present into sentences, revealing it for the first time’.

Tessa Hadley, ‘My Hero: Nadine Gordimer’, Guardian, 28 January 2012, Review, p. 5.

This issue of ‘why contemporary’ – which I also thought about in an earlier blog post – continues to fascinate me, as it rightly should. It constantly comes up in conversation with other literary students as a key point of difference in our work and the challenges we face. I’m thinking about it especially this weekend as I’m preparing to interview a living poet for a magazine on Tuesday (bit hard to interview the dead ones, I find). It seems strange to me that many literature scholars are so keen to emphasize that texts are living and open to new interpretations, yet they much prefer the author to be dead (thanks, Roland). If old, older and ancient texts still hold a potential to help us interpret our present and go some way to aiding our understanding of the past, then is it any wonder that new texts with their genesis in our present and potential in our future are so exciting?

I’ll never say that non-contemporary texts are in any way unworthy of literary study. However, to borrow Hadley’s forge metaphor, I like to get ’em while they’re hot.

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