Suffering deeply from the absence of Boy and his mom, I went to the library to find surcease amongst the many volumes. (Despite what follows, the local library does have somewhat more books than are lodged in my domicile; although not nearly the breadth or the quality.)
I started my perusal with a trip to the 800s where I drew out a couple of books of literary/writer's life essays and writings. One of them, by Joyce Carol Oates, provoked me to search the shelves for some other things I had been wanting to read. One of these was also something I read about at another blog--perhaps it was "This Space Intentionally..." or one such. So I sought out Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon--no luck. Well, I thought, perhaps the stories of Raymond Carver. Nope. Well, then, I'd been wanting to read the last few John Updike. In the Beauty of the Lilies--no. Terrorist--too new. Memoirs of the Ford Administration--Sorry. Any of the Bech books--no such luck. Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest--so sorry--all that's in is Rabbit Remembered in the collection Licks of Love.
Each time I would think of something I wanted to read--The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield--forget it, The Human Stain, I Married a Communist--you must be joking. The Sea, the Sea--look elsewhere. Indeed, of all of the things I sought I found only a couple--Joyce Carol Oates's Collected Short Stories and Collected Stories of Carol Shields--someone with whom I am unfamiliar, but by the perusal of Oates's book of critiques and reviews discovered.
Now, I know the library is public. I also realize that shelf space is very limited; but when one can't find some of the major writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, never mind Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford or North and South. Well. . . Let's just say that I'm thankful for the internet because I don't have to rely upon this repository of disposable subliterature for things like Vernon Lee's Hauntings, the novels of Marie Belloc Lowndes, or the works of Mrs. Oliphant (admittedly an odd, acquired taste).
Our public libraries tend to be in this condition because our reading public has ceased to read and instead spends much of its leisure time checking out DVDs and Audio discs--both worthwhile resources, but hardly the kind of thing likely to induce growth in depth and understanding of certain basic underlying principles of our culture. But then, that's part of the point isn't it. There is a subversive strain to all of this. As we erode the Canon and turn our attention from the great works of the past to the ephemeral and junk works of the present we no longer have a culture to stand on. And that's just fine with some. We can replace the edifice of western civilization with the post-modernist construct of multiculturalism, which extols diversity for the sake of diversity, rather than diversity as a means of understanding the shared human experience. Chinua Achebe is not great because he is African, he is great because the struggles he writes about are a shared human experience. They may come out of a different cultural context, and thus give us insight and perspective on the issues at hand, but the greatness stems from the ability to speak past the culture and into a very different one. Some Prefer Nettles is a magnificent book, not merely because it is Japanese but because it is deeply human, touching chords we all can hear and connect with.
The only access to multi-cultural understanding is through a solid grounding in one culture. That is, the gateway through which Chinese Literature is approached by a Westerner is a western gateway. That does render some aspects of Chinese literature nearly incomprehensible--but as with all great work, the essence comes through. One nearly need see Ran or Throne of Blood to understand how a truly great work can be assimilated and acculturated so that its themes continue to speak to the shared human condition.
But the multiculturalists talk out of both sides of their mouths--they want to share the contributions of many different facets of our own culture before most people have the basics of understanding the main-line of western culture. The effect is a dismantling one. Substandard multicultural entries are introduced as "literature" selections, and nothing is understood in its wider context, as to its roots and reactions to it.
This was to be a minirant--I go on too long. But you get the point. To be multicultural one must of necessity be grounded in some culture that gives a context for understanding. Multiculturalists fail to understand this, or, in the case of some, understand it very clearly and push their agenda to subvert it; thus, toppling the (as Roberts Hughes puts it so marvelously in The Culture of Complaint) "pale penile patriarchy."