By Stephen Henighan
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Extra info for A Report on the Afterlife of Culture
What is the form of the bottle emptied of the soul, the Mam man who no longer knows who he is, the stucco 18th-century house that was built in 1950? Literature offers the surest guide. To understand the place and function of literature in the contemporary world one must return to that largest of reading venues, the book club. In August 2005 a seven-month survey of forty-eight of the estimated 10,000 book clubs in the United Kingdom released an exhaustive list of what, in the view of the more than five hundred A Report on the Afterlife of Culture 51 members of these forty-eight book clubs, were the world’s fifteen greatest novels.
The father rejoiced. His son was reading great literature! Unaccustomed to reading novels, the son read slowly. At the end of the 50 A Report on the Afterlife of Culture week, when the family returned to the city, the son still had a hundred pages of the novel left to read. He read avidly in the back seat of the car all the way home. As soon as the car pulled into the driveway, the son, who was approaching the novel’s climax, sat down at his computer and did not open the book again. Perhaps his actions are not surprising.
The mere fact that Oprah Winfrey can present writers such as Tolstoy and Faulkner as though they were new underlines the problem. It is impossible not to applaud Winfrey for trying to reconnect these writers with the diaphanous non-tradition of post-literate society, but the earnestness of her efforts lays bare our sundering from an organic web of culture. In radically ethnically diverse developed societies, such as contemporary urban and suburban Canada, the commercial imperative conspires with the desire for integration and social peace to subordinate an awareness of historical continuity and imprison us in a cultural afterlife that we dare not rupture for fear A Report on the Afterlife of Culture 41 of exploding the tranquil circumstances in which we live.