The stamp of our time


or why contemporary capitalist/commercial realism and postmodernism are doomed in literature 

(Entryway; photo by Peripatetic Media)


Just a couple days ago I was laughing about the latest evidence of the commercial (literary) writer as a brand, using a name, an established paradigm and a major publishing house to generate sales. 

For starters, the established paradigms today can be divided into two groups: capitalist/commercial realism and postmodernism. The former generates sales; the latter consolidates your reputation. 

As we have suggested in our new genre of transposition and in the ideas informing peripateticism, both of these schools of writing are at odds with the contemporary world. This probably always the case. An established mode of representation succeeds because at one time it was in harmony with the times. Postmodernism, for example, rightly captured the shift away from objective representation, universals, truths, content in its focus on subjectivity, relativism, difference and form. 

Today, we are far from that. To quote Caspar David Friedrich:

...wenn auch in unserer Zeit wiederum ein Rafael oder sonst ein ausgezeichneter Künstler wie die der Vorzeit aufstünde mit ebenso großen Naturanlagen und Fähigkeiten wie seine Vorgänger, er würde dennoch nicht wie jene malen; seine Werke würden und müssten immer das Gepräge seiner Zeit an sich tragen, und der zweite Rafael würde also dennoch sehr verschieden von dem Ersten in seinen Darstellungen sein, wenn gleich beide einen Gegenstand behandelten.


if in our time, another Raphael or an excellent artist like those of earlier days were to emerge with exceptional natural talents and abilities like his predecessors, he would still not paint as they did. His works would and must bear the stamp of his time, and the second Raphael would therefore have to be very different from the first one in his depictions, even if both treated the same subject. (translated by Raymond Lafferty)

Today, writers, artists, playwrights, etc. in the West (and maybe elsewhere) are offer a great opportunity to present their ideas, their artistic vision through decentralized platforms. On one of these or among a group of them, a new aesthetic will emerge and eventually be coopted by the mainstream. But we are far from that. Now we have zines, literary magazines, independent bookstores and writers who can easily create and exchange their work. 

And whether you are a commercial writer rubberstamping an established school with the editors of a major publishing house or are an independent writer innovating and experimenting, you still can't make a living as a writer!!! 

So which would you prefer?

by Henry Whittlesey

Further reading 

Inspiration for independent writers
An open letter to ezra goldstein
More on independent bookstores and amazon
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