“People used to wish that life could be as it is in books—that it could have the beauty, drama, and shapeliness that writers gave it. Today, by contrast, we hope desperately that life is not really like our writers portray it; in other words, we hope that writers are not representative men and women, but unfit beings whose perceptions are filtered through their unhealth. It is necessary to hope this, because if life were as it appears in our literature it would be unlivable.” Adam Kirsch explores the downside of literary nostalgia.
"Our culture claims to celebrate vigor and well-being, yet holds up steroid-addled men and impossibly thin women as models of physical perfection. Those of us unwilling to juice or starve ourselves are left feeling inadequate and confused about why we do not bear any resemblance to the humans we are meant to emulate." Michael Ian Black reviews two books about the male physique -- and reveals a bit about the unrealistic nature of our cultural expectations.
I know, I know - another piece about "the canon." This one, however, is sure to elicit a response one way or another. A sampling: "There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past. Same goes for people of color in Wordsworth’s day, or openly queer people in Pope’s, or …"