historical-present tense for literature

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Fri Feb 5 13:46:58 UTC 2010

Can it simply be the matter of these publications not following MLA
or CMS strictly, or of the influence of those academic styles waning
in the popular press because it is such an artifice? I'm going to be
going over this with my composition students next week and will be
pointing out that APA style does not follow this rule.

---Amy West

>Date:    Thu, 4 Feb 2010 22:20:55 -0500
>From:    Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>Subject: Re: historical-present tense for literature
>That was certainly the explanation offered to us, if not in high school then
>in freshman comp in college.  In literature (which should include drama and
>cinema except for fanatics who may require a new inclusive term), the action
>is "always" happening in the spooky mystical timeless way that it does.
>I've always called it the historical present, but perhaps the "literary
>present" is more precise.
>But I wonder how and just when the style caught on. (It was so well
>entrenched by the  '70s that we cynical grad students in English would roll
>our eyes in disbelief when naive freshmen - most all of them, actually -
>used the past tense.)   I'll read a few more reviews.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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