Saturday, October 22, 2011

More About Literary Fiction

I found this in my Internet wandering today, referenced in a comment in The Guardian. It's A Reader's Manifesto published in The Atlantic, an all-out attack on literary fiction. I enjoyed it, because it confirmed my prejudices. I should ask my friend Ruth about current literary fiction. She reads more widely than I do.

The author does not believe the point of change was the McCarthy Era. He likes a number of authors who were writing through the 1950s. Well, there was terrific art in the '50s, much of it done by the Abstract Expressionists. They had all been through the Great Depression, and many had been in the WPA. I got the impression many had leftwing politics, though they mostly talked about art. Mark Rothko told my mother he still carried his IWW card.

Things began to change in the 1960s. I remember my father saying, after we moved to New York, "I know there is interesting art out there, but I can't find it."

Maybe the 60s were when the commodification of culture and hostility to politics took hold. I know that's when serious money came into the contemporary art market, and the avant garde, so to speak, began creating art for the rich. Did something comparable happen in fiction? The market there is the educated middle class. I would have to do more research than I want to do to find out.

The essay does a trip on Don DeLillo, who is writing -- apparently -- about how sterile and empty consumer society it. Contempt of supermarkets comes in. I will agree that a farmer's market or small specialty stores are probably more fun. But I like food and try to like cooking, and I enjoy going to Byerly's. The description of DeLillo made me want to write about the pleasures of shopping. A science fictional shopping story?

Patrick noted that the movie Logan's Run did a terrific job of taking down the shopping culture. It's the future as people surviving inside a mall and thinking that the world outside is uninhabitable.

Anyway, cheap cynicism about grocery shopping doesn't sound very attractive. If you don't like it, then you don't like it. There isn't much more to say. Go to a farmer's market.

The essayist says modern literary prose is unreadable: clogged, repetitive, bland and imprecise. The examples he gave -- from DeLillo, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy -- seem to prove his point.

An interesting take.


Blogger Crotchety Old Fan said...

I'll take a look at the piece you referenced, but I'll agree with you (and it sight unseen) that I share the indictment of "literary" fiction.

My own criticism is that, in general, this form of fiction seems to be more about the author hearing themselves speak than it is about anything else.

I suppose you could say - in being generous - that it is an attempt to take fiction further into the direction of poetry, which is neither good or bad in and of itself, but when a work spends more time worrying over picking just the right word for a sentence....

I also seem to have a problem with works that are more devoted to examining sensory effects than they are about plot or characterization: "how did it make you feel?" is not a replacement for "what was the story about?"

The Road is a perfect example of what I mean. Pointless. Maybe the author's point was about pointlessness. I did not need an entire novel to teach me that post apocalyptic survival puts (sane) people into a depressive state that renders them idiotic so far as survival skills are concerned. The whole novel can be reduced to: some survivors didn't survive - big surprise.

4:55 AM  
Blogger amboycharlie said...

Don DeLillo will be long forgotten, probably somewhat before his death. The Road was an absolute pot boiler with an eye out for movie contract and a deus ex machina ending. Find me a bucket to wretch in. One recalls the immortal the words of H.L Mencken regarding the public taste and not going broke.

12:38 AM  

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