This blog is entirely concerned with what I am terming hyper-contemporary literature. But what is hyper-contemporary literature, and how does it differ from any other kind of literature?
When we read literature, the word ‘contemporary’ can mean two things. First, it means the historical moment of the text’s production. For Shakespeare’s plays, this is the early modern period when either Elizabeth I or James VI/I was on the throne. For Dickens, it was Victorian England, and for Woolf it was the Britain of Edward VII, Edward VIII, Georges V and VI; Britain during the First World War and the Great Depression. These are historical periods rich in interest, and forceful factors in how any text has come to be imagined and produced.
The second meaning concerns today. ‘Contemporary’ refers always to the period in which you, the reader, come across any text. Today, that means Covid-19, Trump and Biden, accelerating climate change.
There are therefore always two ‘contemporaries’ involved in reading. The contemporary of the text’s production and the contemporary of the reader. When these two coincide—when the author’s ‘now’ is the same as the reader’s ‘now’—then we have my ‘hyper-contemporary’.
There are several reasons why I’m interested in this phenomenon, and several consequences. For the former, I am interested because there few theories that suggest that ‘now’ or the ‘contemporary’ is a coherent, whole or unbroken moment. Instead, theorists and philosophers from Augustine, to Walter Benjamin, to Giorgio Agamben all contend that the ‘now’ is fractured. Agamben argues that only those who are ‘dys-synchronous’—those who feel out of sorts in the time in which in they live, or those who find that (in Hamlet’s terms) the ‘time is out of joint’—are truly contemporary:
The poet. insofar as he is contemporary, is this fracture, is at once that which impedes time from composing itself and the blood that must suture this break or this wound.Giorgio Agamben, ‘What is the contemporary?’, in What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, CA: Stamford University Press! 2009), pp. 39–54], p. 42
For Agamben, here, the poet or the author is the cause of the contemporary fault line, as well as the source of its possible solution. Hyper-contemporary literature is therefore doubly (if not triply, or more multiply) inscribed with this fracture and its attempted fixing.
Another consequence of my interest in hyper-contemporary literature is its inherent temporariness. That is, as with the ‘temporary’ part of ‘con-temporary’, hyper-contemporary literature cannot stay so for long. In my estimation, hyper-contemporary literature is worthy of that name as long as it is little read and has not yet gathered a critical consensus determining whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Hyper-contemporary literature is brand new and unknown.
This is the kind of literature that I review on this blog. Whilst there are pre-existing professional reviews for most of what I review, I avoid them in a bid to read hyper-contemporary literature in the freshest light.
This brand-new writing gives us readers the best chance to judge a text without the burden of others’ opinions weighing us down. When we read Shakespeare, Dickens, or Woolf, we already know that the writing is good; in fact, not just good, but exceptionally good and, therefore, canonical. We are so used to reading ‘good’ literature that there’s a danger we can’t spot why it’s good, or, conversely, why bad writing is bad.
Therefore, another consequence of my interest in hyper-contemporary literature is the increased likelihood of reading ‘bad’ literature—though it won’t have earned that title yet. The same is true for ‘good’ literature. To read hyper-contemporary literature is to risk. It is also to learn again and to hone our critical skills of judgement.
And that is the aspiration and aim of this blog, as it is for my recently-published book.