Dwight MacDonald's essay "Updating the Bible," in Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain reminds me yet again of just how much the study of literature has changed in the last twenty years.
No one reads; no one has time; no one has patience for anything complex. Which is exactly one of MacDonald's complaints about the felt need to revise the King James Version (KJV - 1611) of the Bible and replace it with the Revised Standard Version (RSV - 1952).
MacDonald wrote about the failure to appreciate the KJV in 1959. What he said then applies to the study of literature now.
Speaking of what he claims is the exaggerated difficulty of the KJV:
Almost all of it is perfectly understandable to anyone who will give a little thought and effort to it, plus some of that overvalued modern commodity: time. Those who don't can hardly claim a serious interest in the Bible either as literature or religion. (172)Which is exactly the criticism I have of contemporary students ( and just as often, their professors).
We err by making the "study" of literature today a study only of theory, of graphic novels, television, and tattoos. In doing so, "what is now simply a blunder...will become a catastrophe. Bland, flavourless mediocrity will have replaced the pungency of genius" (172).
But genius itself is suspect; canonical literature is a pale copy of theory, and the whole of the academy is bent on catering only to what is relevant to and fun for eighteen-year-olds.
When "lol" and "bff" are one's linguistic currency, how fun can the "strange, wild, romantic, complex turns of style"(170) of Elizabethan English be? - whether in the KJV or Shakespeare?
We will have lost something of great value when all we have is a cartoon version of the synopsis of King Lear with characters "txting."
And still someone will ask, "Do we have to watch the whole movie?"