On Why I Can No Longer Read Literature

I used to love literature, fiction and poetry primarily. I am a devotee of the classics and will always be. But the last decade of my life has seen a perfect storm of sorts that has taken me far from the world of literature. Leaving teaching as an adjunct English professor, eventually becoming a freelance editor less than two years later, getting awakened to the importance and value of having a strong, detailed knowledge of history and politics in understanding the shape of the world as it is, relatively full-time work curtailing my time as a reader for pleasure and as a writer of poetry and extensive essays on all matter of things, becoming a blogger, and pretty much exhausting all the literature I’ve ever truly hungered to read, has led me to this moment. But this moment has been going on for more than two years now and doesn’t seem like it will morph into another “moment” anytime soon.

In the last half dozen years alone I have become irreversibly interested in studying history and politics in an endeavor to discover where it all went wrong, and this is a consequence of numerous intense conversations with others who are more politically minded than I have been and probably ever will be. My true home, it recently became clear to me, is literature, no matter what I say otherwise, but the truth is you can’t go home again, not once the scales have fallen from your eyes and the doors of perception have been cleansed, and you recognize the ivory towers of art, literature, philosophy, and religion you’ve isolated yourself in for so long have only taught you so much, and practical action in the real world is the only next step that can add meaning to your life and the story of the world as it continues on its course toward an unclear future.

What greater purpose does my vast knowledge and love of literature serve me or others when the world is in a state of chaos and terror and the consequent suffering is so visible, so tangible, that you cannot hide from it or cure it in any way by yourself, for you are no king, no queen, no god, no messiah? This is the existential crisis I have been facing and that has been growing ever deeper, ever fiercer within me over the last few years that I have found no remedy for, no way of combating when it surfaces in my heart and mind, throwing my soul into a worrisome tailspin of angst and despair. For me, literature has become limited, an almost elitist experience, something the masses the world over does not value and can do without at this juncture because it cannot solve our problems.

Philosophizing on the most abstract and abstruse metaphysical ideas, critically studying art from over a century ago, and debating the meaning of a poem from the Romantic period has become superfluous and alienating in my eyes at this time. My idealism, rooted in these very acts I once giddily and ecstatically engaged in, has been struck the most catastrophic blows throughout the last decade, and I have yet to find a new path that will serve to fulfill me and help the world. Teaching at the college level was utterly absurd fifteen years ago, with almost all my students absolutely disinterested in reading and learning, in looking beyond themselves, a true embodiment of the American identity that was born of the vile and self-serving ideology and policies of the Reagan era that has found its most arrogant, putrid form in the current occupant of the White House and the decay and inevitable dissolution of his devil’s party, the one which Milton would most decidedly never have been a part of.

I would love to educate others in the value and beauty of literature and all the humanities, but at this time this seems like a dream too lofty and unrealistic as I gaze ever more steadily, and with the greatest dread, upon the decline of man and his various civilizations across the globe. What is needed now is action, sustained action that will spark revolution. Talking, it is clear, does nothing; only action that overturns everything that prevents freedom and enchains or eliminates our rights and shows the ignorant to themselves in the starkest of colors will bring change that can create further progress. But unlike in the past, we must not stop, we must not rest on our laurels when change for the better comes to pass, thinking politicians will do the right thing and not be swayed by the lure of wealth and power, the great corruptors of the human heart. We must hold all those we vote into power accountable for their words and actions, and we must get laws passed for term limits, and ensure they are not repealed, that way no one has decades of power to bring the American people down a path that serves a remote few, whom he or she is beholden to because of millions given them by corporate donors and rich individuals who have a self-serving agenda and not one that will benefit all Americans.

The time for individual agendas at the expense of the security and liberty of others is over; we must remember we are not alone but belong to a greater community, a nation of many diverse voices that must be heard as one again, and we can only be heard as a united spirit, a singular voice, by becoming better citizens, more vigilant as to the actions of our leaders and where they will lead us in the future, and by learning and teaching others our history as a nation. Becoming civic-minded is not a bad thing; it is, sadly, now more than ever, a terribly necessary thing, for the failure to be citizens over and above individuals with our own distinct plans for our lives has brought us to this moment of extreme division in our history, and in order to survive it, we must implement revolutionary change, starting from within and then step-by-step rising up from the community to the state and finally the federal level, tearing to shreds all the laws and policies that have been designed to enslave us and make us ignorant, hopeless, and complacent, and keep us so, as they guarantee ever-increasing wealth and power to their architects and their upper class and corporate beneficiaries.

I can no longer read and enjoy literature because for the last decade I have slowly but surely discovered that anything I can glean from it is of no importance in the face of the world in its long, frightening decline toward collapse that we are all witnessing. The days of my literary idyll are well and truly over, for it is selfish and vulgar of me to take time to read fiction and poetry and grasp for a youthful innocence and isolation that cannot be recaptured, as I am not Marcel Proust, but rather a descendant of William Blake, a poet of prophecy and radical change, when there is great upheaval everywhere we set our eyes, and when alleviating the suffering of others and fighting for a cause greater and deeper and more lasting than ourselves is the only path toward true liberty and self-meaning.

3 Responses to “On Why I Can No Longer Read Literature”

  1. Chiara

    I am deeply moved by this post. I am no American citizen but certainly can try to understand your words as a young individual discovering the beauties of literature. It is truly hard to see the world taking knowledge for granted, not investigating enough, not investigating in the right places. But I still remain hopeful (and I don’t put hope on my youthful account) because I also see people believing and trying to restore balance, step by step. Youth tremendously needs people to look up to, people to draw inspiration from. We NEED more passionate teachers to fuel the literary flames we all have in ourselves. (Excuse my poor english, it is not my mother thongue, french is.)

  2. David

    Thanks for your articles that are deep and moving.

    I’d just like to say, that though times look tough and terrible, underneath that society is turning a corner for the better.

    Populism is raging across the world in India, Pakistan, USA, Poland, Hungary, Brazil and my own country, the UK. However, beneath that, society has changed – I remember the video of the Catholic boys in MAGA hats confronting an older native America activist, who said “Trump is queer.”, and the reply of these right wing students was a shrug “So what if he is, who cares”.

    Even the right wing kids in UK and USA have no time for homophobia and gender stereotypes and, really, it’s macho stereotypes, above all else, that keep people trapped in destructive versions of their self image.

    In the US and the UK, being homophobic is seen as ridiculous, in much the same way as those who were concerned about blasphemy were seen as ridiculous dinosaurs in the 60s and 70s. This has been a huge change in society in my lifetime, something I would never have anticipated.

    Also, I feel the politics will resolve themselves, without trump there would be no Alexandra Ocasio Cortez – Trump may inadvertently cause the election of the first socialist-inclined president in US history, certainly since FDR.

    There are big fights in the world now, for the environment, equality and LGBT rights, and against racism and gender stereotypes – but, I feel, underlying the immense turmoil of these times, society has already changed for the better, the real task now is to secure the victory, and grow stronger, not to live in fear.

  3. John Guzlowski

    I loved fiction but discovered about 15 years ago that fiction told me a story that didn’t speak to me.

    Non fiction does


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