Every modernist has this moment of profound grief when they discover that the novels, poems, and plays they find sacred, the ones that warranted a century of study and will demand more time still, are only a fraction of what people during the early twentieth century actually read. And we all kind of possess the same hard-wired snobbery: pop is stupid, but it will always be with us—as Jesus said of the poor—and we must develop some kind of defense in our gut to make sure we don’t end up listening to BTS on shuffle. Of course, the importance of a democratizing, global pop group like BTS can’t possibly be understated. It appears pop is the only global language we can really understand. And that’s kind of beautiful. Still, the snobbery remains, and young modernists like myself—who probably have a lot in common with the pop-is-stupid-coffee-shop-kids—will continue to work, driven by the absolute certainly that the art we study was the most real, the most visceral of the time period.
What I’m trying to say is this: Moretti’s article points out a kind of stunning flaw in how we measure the consumption of literature as either entertainment or professional practice today. We can measure who is writing, where they are publishing, what percentage of poems/stories are accepted by which popular magazines, but no one cares to wonder who the fuck is reading any of our real, visceral art. What is true of 1808 is true of today: “audiences turn resolutely—and irreversibly—to the current season” (Moretti 8). But maybe our current seasons is more difficult—or even impossible—to chart. As mass media gets, well, massier, so does its atomization. The consumption of art becomes at once monolithic and totally infinite as audio technology and amateur publishing become more and more accessible. For every BTS, there are thousands of bedroom pop musicians who play for an audience of one. For every Rupi Kaur, there are thousands of poets shilling their poems on Tumblr. Listen. I publish my poems in great, renowned magazines who have published Pulitzer laureates, and the most I talk about those poems is on Tinder. Who besides my matches on Tinder is opening these literary magazines and consuming this shit?