Thursday, January 21, 2010

Novel, the follow-up. . . .

Now for those of you who feel it necessary to defend the Novel, as one comment already received has done let me say a few things. 

First of all the interesting thing about the comment that I received is that it unintentionally strengthens my case by pointing out that the changes made to the novels in recent years follow a kind of media pressure. In other words, they have begun to emulate television and film. Well, thank you this further strengthens my point. Novels will now always been in the position of 'chasing' the innovations that are coming from other media. In light of the argument I have made re. Jean-Paul Sartre I think the commenter undermined his/her own argument and makes my very point. 

Second, greater familiarity with the novel suggest that the innovations the commenter is talking about grew out of pre-war French literature with Surrealism and writers like Celine.(Celine's novel Journey to the End of the Night could have been written today and would still seem original) These innovations in 60s were expressed by very interesting writers like Richard Brautigan.  I think that the greatest innovation of the novel in the past 50 years or so has been magic realism.  But the real strength of these innovations were missed as the novel began to settle into the 20th century reading public which has demanded a certain group of  fairly standard formula novels of different genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, dramatic, romance, etc. The demands of the market has, in other words, limited innovations in many ways and held them in check the same way it has done to film and television. 

In the end the real issue is what status and role does the novel has play in the culture of our society.  But not just the novel - all of the arts. I believe that there is a much bigger issue at play here. I think that the arts have been falling into crisis for a very long time and this crisis is a symptom of a wider crisis concerning human meaning and identity. Nietzsche talked over a hundred years ago about the death of God and what he really was talking about was the question of how we are to live in a world where we have to create our own meaning. We have all been struggling with this in various ways in the arts, philosophy, and even science. The problem is that no one has really been able to answer the question adequately and instead the market has filled in the gap as though the only meaning we can find is commodity consumption. Thus it is not unexpected that the most vital and growing art forms will continue to be ones that can best be driven by big capital. The biggest dangers to art forms such as painting or the novel are the mechanisms of capitalism and the technologies that drive it forward. 

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