historical-present tense for literature

Alison Murie sagehen7470 at ATT.NET
Fri Feb 5 02:21:53 UTC 2010

On Feb 4, 2010, at 2:23 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      historical-present tense for literature
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> It must have been in the mid '60s when I was taught to write about
> literature in the present tense.  E.g., "at the end of Herman
> Melville's
> famous novel, _Moby Dick_, Moby gets away. That is why I will never
> go on a
> Carnival cruise."
> While reading any number of book and film reviews in the _N.Y. Times_,
> however, I noticed that the paper's practice, well into the 1950s at
> least, was to write summaries in the past tense, as any normal human
> would
> be inclined to do. The _Times_ was not alone in this. Magill's
> _Masterplots_
> (not that I would know anything about that) used to do (or still
> does) the
> same thing.
> What caused the switch? And when did it become a must?
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
> truth."
I was told that the use of historical-present, if that is what it is,
was a kind of acknowledgment of the continuing life of the book, of
literature.  Movie reviews, OTOH, under that notion,  might be
regarded as ephemeral.....? (WAG)

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