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Frederick Turner and the Rebirth of Literature

The breach that opened between the serious and popular arts during the early years of this century has so widened over subsequent decades that the current "postmodern" era is characterized by a kind of cultural schizophrenia. While visual images bombard us through the media, the graphic arts have increasingly evaporated in performance and conceptual art. While recordings go platinum and rock and rap concerts draw huge audiences throughout the world, serious music haunts university music departments like a guilty specter. While popular novels sell by the millions and poetry is read on campuses and in coffee shops from Maine to California, serious literature is increasingly slighted by popular journals and ignored by the public. Published in limited editions and rarely reviewed, poetry is all but dead as a cultural force.

Not coincidentally, it was during this period that the term "serious" art became synonymous with "avant-garde"; that T.S. Eliot's dictum that modern art should be difficult came to imply that art should be impenetrable to ordinary readers. Even serious, ambitious works of art that lack a certain requisite level of difficulty are accorded an ambiguous status in our culture, so that, for instance, novels by distinguished writers such as Alison Lurie and John Updike elicit guilt and embarrassment in sophisticated readers similar to that produced by movies and popular songs. However much...

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