No Society without Literature

“Literature is all-encompassing: it ranges from societal utilitarianism of the didactic through to the celebration of individualism embodied in post-modern work. Literature, as part of a larger cultural body, is both instructive and entertaining, and has the power to facilitate personal understanding and encourage social cohesion. The society depicted in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is disillusioned with literature: the populace has forgotten its potential to educate and entertain, and has become sceptical of the intellectual elitism it is seen to represent. People are now captivated by the possibilities of non-discriminatory media such as television and popular music. The focus of education and recreation has shifted away from the intellectual and towards the instant gratification of physical stimulation. Initially this is seen as a solution to short-term societal problems, and as a means of promoting the happiness of the greatest number of people. However, in the long term, the removal of literature from society distances people from each other, stunts communication, and eventually effects mass isolation, dehumanisation and the collapse of all societal structure. Although this may seem unrealistically dystopian, there are elements in our society that have been developing since before Bradbury started writing – television, film and radio – that may have the potential to instigate the social collapse Bradbury foretells. Indeed, Adorno and Horkheimer, writing in the forties, argued that this potential had already been realised in the mass-production of film, and feared that television would further degrade society until the individual ceased to be defined without the general ‘society’ of which it was an element. The parallels between this view and Bradbury’s are significant. Most importantly, these commentators share the notion that truly artistic, intellectual culture is essential to society. Figures like Matthew Arnold, Victorian poet and spokesperson for education reform, have been prominent in shaping this understanding of culture. Arnold’s notions of cultural education as promoting the best aspects of society and discouraging the worst illuminate the groundwork behind Bradbury’s own fears about the loss of culture in society.”


Pick up a book and ditch your TV!

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