In literature, critics and theoreticians erect increasingly complex structures of interpretation and reflection – while the general audience for good literature diminishes from year to year. We are moving towards a society in which a tiny but very well credentialed minority obsessively produces arcane and self referential (but carefully peer reviewed) theory about texts that nobody reads.This in the context of what Mead calls our “guild economy.”
The learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors, the clergy of most mainline denominations, and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists – are organized in modern day versions of the medieval guilds. Membership in the guilds is restricted, and the self-regulated guilds do their best to uphold an ideal of service and fairness and also to defend the economic interests of the members. The culture and structure of the learned professions shape the world view of most American intellectuals today, but high on the list of necessary changes our society must make is the restructuring and in many cases the destruction of the guilds.In relation to poetry, AWP and the Poetry Foundation, or (midway through the last century) Black Mountain College and the Iowa Writers Workshop, qualify as guilds. But informal guilds exist as well. What is Langpo but a guild? And wasn’t the Berkeley Renaissance a guild? The Objectivists? And all those who studied at Pound’s Ezuversity? I think so. And I think Mead is right that we must abandon the guild mentality. The Internet and other technologies, such as print-on-demand, are making that possible. What, I wonder, will poets and their readers make of it?