What is the fate of the novel?

ckosarek's picture

 In class today we discussed where prose is heading in our digitized world of short attention spans. In a world where we read in 140 characters or less and in which we spend an average of five minutes reading the New York Times online, is Powers' novel foreshadowing the kind of abbreviated prose and fragments structure that will be seen more often in the coming years? Where is our beloved novel headed?

It's interesting to think of Powers' novel as a continuation of the kind of modernist work set forth by Joyce and Faulkner. Now is not the first time that fragmentation and slim prose has been featured in the novel; we've been there, done that. So why is this significant now? When Joyce and Faulkner and all of the other modernists wrote, there was no social push to shorten the lengthy. In the way that we spend six hours online, the modernists lived in a time that didn't see finding six hours to read as a huge commitment. We're used to four-minute YouTube clips and three-minute bursts of music from our iPods. If we want to know a fact, we don't read a biography - we Google it. 

In many ways, it seems that our society "selects" the concise. I read a review of Powers' novel comparing it to his previous works. The critic stated that Generosity lacks complexity in its need to appeal to the generic reader. As the typical reader demands the "short version", I do question how recent highly acclaimed literary works - such as Saramago's Blindness - will stand in a society that seems to be selecting against its execution and length. 


cwalker's picture

Literature and Selection

So I was thinking of ckosarek's post. What is the future of the novel? What is the future of literature? It seems that our need to find something quick and easy to read, is swiftly limiting the amount of literary sources that are available. Rather than spending hours reading a novel, as we were taught to do in elementary school or by our parents, we spend hours on the computer speed reading over random texts, never going in-depth into the content. Is this a good thing? I mean let's be honest I like the efficiency of scanning through a text or an abstract online to see if the information I want is available, I can quickly search for data, rather than spend hours trying to find one piece of information. But at the same time I love picking up a book about a topic I am interested in and while looking for a specific piece of information, encountering a wide array of interesting data that I would not have found if I had just quickly searched it online.

So what is the fate of literature? Will it be shortened to please our want for shorter more compact forms of information? This sort of seems like natural selection, well except it is not quite natural, humans/societies are opting to select limited forms of literature that will thrive in coming generations. Our new "fittest" form of literature, is not the one with the all of the most precise and varied information, but rather the one that can give us the one that can give us the exact information in the least amount of characters as possible. Although I am not a fan of this selection process, I am well aware that I am a part of it, so where does this leave literature?

AnnaP's picture

Are we holding onto the beloved novel like Stone?

In Professor Dalke's discussion section of EvoLit, we also discussed the implication of such a seemingly postmodern novel like Generosity in the context of, as you nicely call it, "our beloved novel"; instead of focusing on attention span, however, we talked about the idea of writing a novel that no longer has a simple plot arc with characters that we are invested in (à la Jane Austen), but that remains constantly self-analyzing and seemingly distant from its characters.

As someone who likes writing about writing and reading about writing, Powers's novel opens up exciting new ways of talking about these things as a class; however, it has become clear to me that many people are either bored by, disenchanted with, or skeptical of Powers's writing style, preferring the "beloved novel" that they could pick up and lose themselves in. While I can definitely appreciate this sentiment, I also wonder if as a class we occasionally become like Stone, remaining rooted in a somewhat traditional idea of what writing is or should be while all the while resisting new forms and mediums. I think this is normal, and that at every point in history people are worried about what will come next, and whether that will bring with it new depth or whether it will just founder into superficial entertainment.

In the digital age, this question is becoming more and more pressing. It seems that people know what they lose in reading Generosity - identifying with the characters, losing ourselves in the plot - but what do we gain? Does Powers's novel give us something that others haven't yet?

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