Why Write Novels At All

Winter                                    First Moon of the New Year

I’ll respond to this in another post, but for those of you interested in the novel, it’s worth a read.  You can reach the whole article through the central question link.

The central question driving literary aesthetics in the age of the iPad is no longer “How should novels be?” but “Why write novels at all?”*

*The roots of this question, in its contemporary incarnation, can be traced back to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who at the dawn of the ’80s promulgated the notion of “cultural capital”: the idea that aesthetic choices are an artifact of socioeconomic position. Bourdieu documented a correlation between taste and class position: The scarcer or more difficult to access an aesthetic experience is — the novel very much included — the greater its ability to set us apart from those further down the social ladder. This kind of value is, in his analysis, the only real value that “refined” tastes have…

The idea that “the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness” crops up all over the writing of the Conversazioni group: in Franzen’s nonfiction, and in Wallace’s, and in Smith’s beautiful encomium to Wallace in her book of essays, “Changing My Mind.” It also helps to explain these writers’ broad turn away from various postmodern formalisms and toward the problems of the human heart. Indeed, when we consider the web of influence that connects them to old roommates and friends and lovers and students — a list that includes David Means, Rick Moody, Mary Karr, Donald Antrim and Jonathan Safran Foer — and to newer work by writers like Karen Russell or the Irish novelist Paul Murray, “Here is a sign that you’re not alone” starts to look like the ascendant trope of and about literature today…

But will we be alone? Literature, to a degree unique among the arts, has the ability both to frame the question and to affect the answer. This isn’t to say that, measured in terms of cultural capital or sheer entertainment, the delights to which most contemporary “literary fiction” aims to treat us aren’t an awful lot. It’s just that, if the art is to endure, they won’t be quite enough.

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