They say everything is a response to what came before it. The Gothic and all the emotionality that came along with it around the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, for instance, was a response to all the emphasis on reason that had previously taken place. (I think, by the way, that the current trend with the supernatural is very similar.)
But what I find interesting is that, today, we have such a hugely literate population and such a huge library of things to read. There are certainly common things that most of us have read or at least heard of, but I think different people gravitate toward different areas in a way quite unique to modern times. I usually prefer nineteenth century literature. Some people are major medievalists. Some focus heavily on Shakespeare, some on Faulkner. I ask, then, are we all responding to the same thing?
Sure, English Lit. majors will have read supposedly "major works" from all of these categories. But what about everyone else? And what about the preferences and focuses that lit. people end up having, too? If I have my head stuck in nineteenth century books, then I look up at the current world, and then I write my own work, my response (in that work) will be of a particular nature. It will be, I think, different from if my focus were on, say, medieval literature.
What I wonder is if this will be traceable, years from now, in the writing produced today. Just think also about how many genres and sub-genres we have today; these are all options for the wide array of readers that exist with such a literate population. You might take, say, two mysteries off the shelf in a bookstore (I chose mysteries because that's one genre I hardly ever read . . . in terms of contemporary lit., that is). One might draw heavily on a Victorian-type atmosphere, though still taking place in modern times; its author may be a big reader of Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The other, though, might be completely different; its plots might unravel into postmodernist conundrums, complete with isolation and absurdity. The two would both be mysteries produced during this time period, but with each responding to different things (in addition to some basic common responses).
I don't know if that post made any sense at all. Hopefully I got at least a little of my idea across.