A Report on the Afterlife of Culture by Stephen Henighan

By Stephen Henighan

In this essay assortment, Henighan levels throughout continents, centuries and linguistic traditions to check how literary tradition and our conception of heritage are altering because the global grows smaller. He weaves jointly bold literary feedback with front-line reporting on occasions reminiscent of the top of the chilly struggle in Poland and African reactions to the G8 Summit.

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The Booker Prize threw into relief the tensions between McEwan’s literary ambitions and his populist instincts. The persistent murmuring that Amsterdam was not a very good book appears to have fuelled McEwan’s ambition to write a novel that would be longer, more complex and fit less obviously into the gothic or thriller category; a book that would justify his bracketing with literary writers such as Barnes, Swift, Amis, Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953), from which McEwan borrows the central plot device of an adolescent carrying letters between illicit lovers at a big country house.

Books and music help to sustain our identities as people enjoying the best that life can offer; by passing on these hobbies to our children we certify our offspring as members of a superior class (in a society that feigns blindness to the concept of social class). We know that being “cultured” is part of our social heritage as people who have attained a certain level of material success; we believe that children who read will advance in life, and that we must set a good example for our children.

It is important not to lapse into the repetition of these complaints; it is equally important not to ignore real change when it occurs. All art forms are appreciated most fully by those who understand their histories; all provide an entry into the larger panorama of human history. Literature, however, provides the best test case for our eviction into the afterlife of culture because literature and history are two strands tangled beyond separation from one another. Neither of these ways of understanding the past through the written word makes sense without a knowledge of the other; an apprenticeship in literature instills an acquaintance with history and vice versa.

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