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Surviving Tremors: A Time of Too Many Isms?

Everybody seems to want something to shake dust and mold from assumed stagnant foundations. Ask any independent literary webzine editor what she wants and the words “original” and “new” will inevitably nestle into the response. This original and new work may come by way of various splintered isms, for better or worse.

Literary isms sprout often, and lately it seems that so many of them tout the same anti-mainstream agenda. From Brutalism to The Offbeat Generation to self-depreciative referents like Joseph Ridgwell’s fictional The Shambleists, angst against the establishment propagates widely. I get it, I truly do. I’m for it. But if everything is new, will there be anything left for academia to latch onto in order to generate necessary conversation regarding trends? This is a genuine question, in want of discussion.

The role of academia is to legitimize underground isms and propagate discourse about their work in order to better understand the limitations and potential of a society. The Beats, for example, came to prominence in the 1950s and only later got their own canons and college courses. What started as a small group of kids riding a mix of angst, drugs, and pens, swelled into something widely appreciated and of understood importance. From Ism to study to understanding; this is the process.

But what is now? Are we at a time when nothing is intriguing us enough as an underground collective to warrant the future attention of academics? Should I be worried that if every story is new, then a lack of structure won’t support such future conversation? Are we too splintered to be someday taken seriously by the larger community?

Or am I just nearsighted and suffering the egotistical impression that my generation is experiencing something unique? During the lead up to The Beats’s mid-century prominence, were there dozens of other, similar underground trends that either died away or congealed into what we know today as The Beats?

I’m worried that yes, we are too splintered and that yes, the coming generation lacks focus. Though I believe in a survival of the fittest mentality when it comes to contextualizing trends, I still fear that a choking ‘anti’ mentality is keeping us from searching for answers, and instead is allowing us to too easily dismiss everything.

Also: What happens to the splinters once they get legitimized by academia? Do they abandon their original anti values in favor of widespread acceptance, or do they simply try to redefine what it means to be “underground?”

If someone like Stephen King wrote a piece fitting to an underground ism’s mission, would he (and his massive audience) be accepted or would he be shunned?