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Writing Adrift in the World | Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

Via Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction
(Really? Is tech killing the novel? ~ Chazz)     In his polemic against the traditional novel, or rather against those who continue to write it when he believes it has lost its validity, David Shields frequently draws our attention to the fragmented character and accelerated speed of modern life, and the prominence of new media—particularly blogs, Facebook, and so on. He links this to a general eagerness to read what is both immediately contemporary and “true” or at least “documentary,” in preference to traditional fiction. “The key thing for an intellectually rigorous writer to come to grips with,” he tells us, “is the marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and thus more visceral forms.”   I find it hard to understand why the technologically sophisticated is necessarily more visceral. The viscera are visceral, the old primitive gut: this pain, this pleasure, now. At the same time, I share Shields’s weariness with novels that, however elegant and intelligent, appear merely to be going through the motions, to be aimed above all at creating the package that will lead to prominence on the world stage, or at least commercial success (the two are almost the same thing).   If there is a problem with the novel, and I’m agreed with Shields that there is, it is not because it doesn’t participate in modern technology, can’t talk about it or isn’t involved with it; I can download in seconds on my Kindle a novel made up entirely of emails or text messages. Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture. That package may work for some, as I believe my student’s account of dramatic upheavals in the Mongol empire will work for many readers; it has its intellectual ideas and universal issues: but it doesn’t engage us deeply, as I believe my other student’s work might if only he could get it right. And this is not simply an issue of setting the book at home or abroad, but of having it spring from matters that genuinely concern the writer and the culture he’s working in.
Via www.nybooks.com

Filed under: publishing

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