Should smart men prefer the fiction of the past?

Razib thinks so:

I think that it is somewhat peculiar that many
of us find fiction from the past more engaging than popular
contemporary works. Aupelius’ Golden Ass gets my attention; most contemporary fiction does not.  I
am arguing here that this is partly due to the fact that in the past
those who read copiously were, on average, much more like me than they
were like the typical human
. Not only were readers by and large
men (usually of some means and comfort), but they were often also
disproportionately eggheads who were eccentric by their nature. How
many elite scholars were there such as Claudius
who were not attracted to the public life of politics and do not appear
in the annals of history? With the printing press, cheaper paper, and
the rise of mass literacy, things changed, the distribution of taste shifted.  And so did the distribution of genres.

Read the whole thing.  I believe that literary "market taste" was closest to mine in the 1920s, a remarkable decade that saw the publication of major works by Proust, Mann, Joyce, Rilke, Kafka, and numerous other masterpieces.  That may be more a "spirit of the times" effect than an audience composition effect, since I prefer it to earlier and more elite periods as well.  (Or maybe only by then did fiction get dumbed down to my level!)

When it comes to Roman literature there is also a significant selection effect, namely what later manuscript collectors thought was worth preserving and protecting.  Many novels were written during Roman times, but not many of them have come down to us and thus the average quality of Roman literature may look artificially high, just as the average quality of today’s literary menagerie looks artificially low.


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