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A Literature Worth Loathing

What Makes Bad Readers Good

In his newly translated book, The Hatred of Literature, critic William Marx argues that celebrated minds like Heraclitus and Rousseau became utter lightweights when reading literature. Their insults, like all insults against the art form, were largely unoriginal and wouldn’t change much. “Real innovation is rare in anti-literature,” Marx writes. Presumably, this is why Marx was able to structure his investigation by four categories that sweep across Western history. These are the great “trials” of literature: authority; truth; morality; society. Hatred reads like an overblown victimology of literature in that its assailants have never presented a lethal threat. Belied, banned, or burned, stories and poems find a way of transcending their plight. For Marx, the true annihilator of literature is simply “indifference.” Against the coming wave of mass indifference, we can do nothing but join him in a helpless prayer: “May the gods prevent that day from ever arriving.”

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