ARE THERE GREAT NOVELISTS TODAY? PART I
The study of literary history imparts a bias toward the idea of golden ages, the thought that literature was once better than it is today. This idea expresses a cyclical conception of history, or wave theory, which states that an art like everything travels through highs and lows.
To this bias, there's an opposing bias toward the present which is at least as strong, because it conforms to our built-in viewpoint. We grow up in the myth of unbroken progress. We assume everything's better today. We can read about, but can't really know past greatness, because we weren't there. It's impossible to completely understand previous phenomena. The past is unfamilar, and so, inferior.
For instance, how "big" the Beatles were in their heyday. One can try to quantify it-- say, that one out of four records bought on the planet was a Beatles record, or whatever it was. But that doesn't adequately describe what Beatlemania was like. Only those who lived through it know. For others, it requires a leap of the imagination.