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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Hamilton speaks on the decline of literature

<ne Hamilton, ’79, began her Convocation this past Friday by referencing her days at Carleton, with which she, more than the average Convocation speaker, has a personal connection. After being introduced by her daughter, Hannah Willard, ’09, she hearkened back to her previous guest professorship at Carleton, an account which itself referenced her actual time as a student at Carleton and her numerous written exploits since.

“O for the beauty of black ink,” she declared, referencing Shakespeare in what would foreshadow the literary bearing of her address. The intricately written speech, which she offered as part of the canon of assignments trying to impress her former professors, served as a beautiful tribute to the novel, whose demise Hamilton lamented.

“Authors are not famous,” Hamilton explained, “Teenagers on reality shows are famous.” She told a story about a recent flight where she found herself explaining her profession to a hairdresser and trying to justify the genre of the literary novel.

“Twenty years ago what is now called the literary novel…was just called a novel or a book,” she lamented. She continued to explain how her attempted justification of her literary genre failed despite her many fabrications when a baby who had been on Law and Order was pointed out across the aisle. She explained the tragic state of the novel in this context.

“The drool of a baby who has been on TV is better than a writer of smutty thrillers,” she quipped. Extolling the importance of television in the contemporary context, Hamilton pointed out that people are more and more frequently comparing television, with its developed character arcs and literary elements, to literature. She lamented the decline of the novel, and she drew a contrast between the elitism of literary culture and mass culture, citing a number of books on the subject of the decline of the novel.

Hamilton pointed at the operative differences between TV, which operates on a gimmicky show premise, and literature, which is a form carefully bounded by the time limits of the novel and the motives of its characters. She then explained her attempts to develop her own gimmick into a TV show, outlining the idea of a show about Lily, the nun who is addicted to online gaming, detailing the absorptiveness of her gimmick.

“Everything in the story must serve the idea of the gimmick,” she explained, as she explored the created world of her television show, with Lily the nun’s multiple mothers and colorful past.

When Hamilton’s TV show began to be discussed by her agent and network representatives, she explained, she began to envision the life of a TV writer, with its fast pace and its difficult demographic-pleasing constraints.

“There probably isn’t time for the idea of perfection,” she mused. As the possibility of a life in TV developed, Hamilton explained, the thought of such a life became increasingly possible, and she suggested that it was a relief when she heard that nuns were not good for the Los Angeles TV market. The pace of the novelist’s life, she explained, was preferable, and the art of literature ultimately has an appeal that cannot be ignored.

Ending with a Shakespearean sonnet, Hamilton lamented the demise of literature but pointed out the staying power of words that has already transcended the centuries, in what proved finally to be a startling poetic and thought-provoking Convocation.

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