“There never was a time when those that read at all, read so many books by living authors rather than books by dead authors. Therefore there was never a time so completely parochial, so completely shut off from the past.” — T. S. Eliot
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3 thoughts on “Never a time so completely parochial”
Based on the popularity of Eliot alone, I doubt his little jeremiad applies very well to our current time. Maybe it was more true in Eliot’s lifetime?
Ah, but statements like that are only ever ‘true’ for people who believe them already; it suffices that they convert the choir.
I’ve read studies that say most Americans don’t even read one book a year. When they do read a book, I doubt many are reading Eliot.
Before agreeing with Eliot, it’s important to ask if his null hypothesis is reasonable. , and the typical person today is much more likely to write a book than a typical person at any time in the past. Thus, one would expect a large proportion of all books in existence to have been written by authors currently alive today. Therefore, a temporally cosmopolitan reader would still mostly read those.
The situation today should be contrasted with, say, the European early middle ages, when fewer people were alive than in the earlier classical period, and a smaller proportion of them wrote new books. In such circumstances, one expects that many people would read books by already dead authors, as was indeed the case.