The American Scholar

The END of LITERATURE

LITERATURE’S MAINSTREAM is not a river that flows between fixed banks, but one that must be cut, and it is the experimental writer who, avoiding the backwaters of the often more lucrative and momentarily celebrated conventional writing, can be found at the cutting edge. We all know this. But what if literature itself is an expiring holdover from the last century, using an outmoded technology and fast declining into an archival state of primary interest only to scholars and hobbyists, the current worldwide proliferation of writing programs nothing but an ironic death rattle? What if it’s over, and the wildest and most brilliant of experiments won’t revive it?

Some 33 all-too-brief centuries ago, the 13th-century BCE redactor of the then-500-year-old Gilgamesh epic, our oldest known sustained literary narrative, added a frame story that pretends to locate, hidden within a copper foundation box under the legendary ramparts of Uruk, themselves by his time long since fallen into dusty ruin, a text engraved on lapis lazuli and perhaps inscribed by Gilgamesh himself upon his return from his adventures, which presumably is the story about to be told—a

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