Thursday, March 03, 2011

Short Fiction!

That's an exhortation, not a description: I agree with Tyler that fiction is on the skids.  As I said the other day, I've pretty much given up on the NYT Book Review fiction stuff.  Best I can remember, I read only one "contemporary" (last 20 years) novel in the last year--that would be Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists.  I'm also disposed to believe that fiction more or less played out its hand in the 20s (though I'd make an exception for Faulkner).  I suppose you could make a case for dry modernism but the post-20s novels that I like best (Radetzky MarchBrothers Ashkenazi) are stylistic throwbacks that owe more (structurally) to their great ancestors than to any modernist tendency.

I can think of a couple of reasons why this might be true.  One is that no art form lasts forever.  From the whole 7-10,000 years of human history, we've had perhaps three generations of tragic drama--two for the Greeks, and then Shakespeare.   Symphonic music?  Maybe 100 years. Opera?   Wasn't even invented until 1600.   Novel?  Maybe 1745.   I suppose you could say that "painting" and "sculpture: are more durable.  But they've transmogrified themselves in so many ways at so many times it is almost a travesty to compare one generation with another.

And aside from form--no culture produces good art forever.  The Greeks were done by, what, the death of Plato?   The Romans (if you call that art) not much later.The Chinese had heir moments, but with long dry spells in between.

On the other side of the coin--the ascendence of "fact"--well, nobody likes to bath in a warm soup of fact more than I.    I take great solace from reflecting that I have 100-odd books on the Kindle in my backpack right now, mostly recent and mostly wonky.  But I don't delude myself: none of this is durab le.  Some of these are prodigies of effort and initiative; a few are actually pretty good writing.  But none is "memorable" in the sense that I would want to read it five years from now.   If the synapses are still connecting then, I'm sure I will have moved on to something else.  Maybe even the contemporary novel, but I doubt it.  


New York Crank said...

The fault, dear commentator, lies in the universities. The academic "fine writing" storytelling form is neither fine nor tells stories that compel the reader, to any great degree, to read on.

"Oh, Mr. Sholem Aleichem, a terrible thing has happened..." grabs you by the lapels and throttles you until you sit down and read about what happened.

"After thirty years John had begun to believe, with more that a suspicion of annoyance, that the thin hairs over Clarissa's upper lip was more than a smudge from a felt pen that she used in her dreary lecture classes to.....zzzzzzzzzz"

I rest my case on somebody else's MA in "creative writing."

Yours most crankily,
The New York Crank

Buce said...

Couldn't agree more, Crank, but what is one to do with:

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist--I really believe he is Antichrist--I will have nothing more to do with you ..."

I.e., the opening of Tolstoy's War and Peace