Here’s something I mentioned in one of my classes today… Just a theory I’m working on.
I’d argue that throughout any given literary movement (or, more generally, artistic movement), there’s an ongoing debate of many, many voices, each representing a slightly different approach to defining and realizing the ideals of that movement. The debate isn’t always formal. Indeed, rather than writing or speaking about what literature should do, writers engage in this debate through the works they create. It might be helpful to think of each piece of writing we read not just as a text in and of itself, but as a declaration of what “good” writing should look like. In other words, a writer is never just telling a story. Rather, a writer is both telling a story and making a statement about how a story should be told.
With this distinction in mind, we can think of all of literature (from The Epic of Gilgamesh right through Fifty Shades of Grey* and beyond) as an ongoing conversation about how to tell a story. Writers influence other writers who, in turn, influence other writers still. As the population of writers increases, disagreements over “best practices” are bound to occur, but these disagreements yield new kinds of writing, thus ensuring literature’s continued evolution. Within this context, there’s always a dominant, overarching theory of writing that more or less defines a given age, but there are always other theories and forms lurking beneath the surface, waiting for the right conditions to emerge and assert their own dominance… Only to gradually drift out of favor as time and circumstances dictate.
*I haven’t read it, but I understand that EL James wrote the series, initially, as Twilight fan fiction — so, essentially there’s some degree of conversation going on there, even if it’s limited.