Joseph North on the Monetization of Writing

This is only tangentially related to poetry, but I have nothing else interesting to say this week, so here we go. Joseph North has predicted the death of the liberal arts  (including poetry)  as we know it unless it becomes commercially viable. Let me elaborate.

In Literary Criticism; a Concise Political History, Joseph North opens with a startling truth. In the past forty years, literary studies have shifted entirely from critical to scholarly analysis. He says this is because of our slow shift to a free-market economy, and because base informs superstructure, (because our economy affects our culture,) we have fundamentally changed as a people to better suit the economic machine. This is why there’s been a massive pressure in recent years to shift to STEM careers instead of the humanities and the arts. Why our own arts program here at Geneseo was slashed only a few years ago. The arts and humanities as we know them aren’t easily profitable, so they’re not widely praised as important. (Remember the starving artist trope.) Literary studies has shifted from didactic revelation to more historical analysis; not a force to change culture, but one to churn out information and facts that can be more easily monetized in textbooks. I fear poetry may follow suit unless it finds a niche in consumer content. It may have already: Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey has found incredible commercial success in the past couple years, even landing a spot on the New York Times #1 Best-Selling list. If the base decides that, like Kaur’s work, poetry is commercially viable, then it will be kept around in future generations. If not, it may follow the path of our own art department. Non-existent.

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