Much of a muchness?

Throughout our college years we read hundreds of books, poring over tomes in the library, scrolling frantically through Gutenberg.com. But how often do the books we read fall into a category that could easily be called much of a muchness? Throughout the arts and humanities there is an emphasis on reading over lectures, and often the writers appear more real to us than the lecturers. It might feel like we read widely through sheer volume, but often the material can blend together, creating a confusing mesh of reading. Has Maynooth fallen into this trap of paying homage to the established writers rather than modern contemporary authors?

We tend to prefer modern authors. Their language is easier to read, their ideas are more like our own, and all in all, they are still understandable after a night in the Roost. But if we force ourselves out of the comfort zone that contemporary authors present, we are faced with an uncomfortable reality. Often the most important things that you will study in college will be by dead, white, male authors. This is not because they are better, but because their influence has been felt more widely, and also because dead white men wrote more. This is a simple explanation for their domination throughout the literature we study, but it is one which stands up to scrutiny. The education that these men could avail of, and their image within the public eye was preferable to any female writers or those of colour. As Ray Bradbury claims, the tap will never flow if you do not turn it on. If we wish to have more diverse writers, we must first accept and encourage diverse writers.

However, do similar backgrounds in author’s biographies really create hegemony with regard to their work? If so, where did pioneering and unusual writing styles come from with Ernest Hemingway? Why is his depiction of the jazz age so different to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s? How is it that writers with the same nationalities, same class, same gender can have completely different principals and espouse entirely different ideas? When generalising authors, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of prejudice that has for so long excluded female writers or writers of colour from the canon. When reading, we should see every writer as an individual and each book separate to the writer. In this way we can do what all of our lecturers have been prodding us to do since the very first week, and read the text.