Art is a fickle thing. It’s hard to predict what would be relevant at the moment, let alone know what will stand the test of time. Art’s relevancy depends on the ethos. Artists are a product of their times but lasting art has a quality with a core that hits a chord with the essence of humanity, spanning through the ethos, even if the work itself is not great. An easy example is Kerouac’s On the Road, the 20-year-old’s The Catcher in the Rye. Let’s face it, it’s a poorly written book. The guy goes across the country a bunch of times and meets a bunch of people that could be the same person. But the novel has come to represent a major cultural change within America, giving it “modern classic” status.
What does that mean for our contemporary authors? Will they be teaching Lena Dunham’s memoir to our grandkids? I have no idea. It’s pointless to throw names around and speculate who who will be our classic novelists to later generations. It’s also pointless for an author to set out to make a classic; the literary world has already made that impossible.
Every so often there will be an article like this that comes out that claims “print is dead”. People have been reading the same story for the past 40 or 50 years. The problem is like watching an old man dying in a hospice – print has been slowly been taking the back seat to other mediums. Film and television have taken the forefront in popular story telling and we live in the first time where the literal page is non existent, which makes it increasingly hard to find a good bookstore. This has massively change how one goes about even finding a book.
Though personally I’m more a fan of a page rather than reading on a screen, these changes don’t necessarily mean horrible things for authors. Yes, it’s the worst time to be a writer, but it’s always been the worst time to be a writer. Get used to it. The pay is non-existent but the outlets and means are easier than ever before. I’m not saying that everybody who makes an e-book will have a instant classic on their hands, but the ability for further generations to stumble upon a truly great work has been made exponentially easier.
Bottom line: We will have our own classics, but only time will tell as to what they are, or if they’ll be any good. Let’s just hope Dan Brown is just a phase we’re going through.