I was reading Milan Kundera’s Art of the Novel in Barnes and Noble today. He said some interesting things – the idea that the purpose of the novel is to reveal new lines of thought that were previously not possible for the human mind. Quite a leap. But really, if you think of the core of the novel: it’s a extended train of thought of a single individual, recorded, persisted and maintained.
He even goes as far as to group the propaganda novels that were written during communist Russia (which I’m sure possessed ample amount of heroism and patriotism and self sacrifice) outside of the “novel”. In effect – nothing. I can only guess his opinion of genre fiction.
What new lines of thought could even be uncovered by the novel? I think one of the latest trends is the meta-novel – where the structure and the storyteller are themselves part of the tale. I think this can be a very useful pattern for painting the way we compartmentalize modern life, with tiered nests of hierarchy and categorization. Even the fact that in modern psychology, we bury the root causes of psychoses under onion skin layers of symptoms and attempts at pharmacological help.
And yet when I think of what modern life entails, even more than any other era – its multitasking. The fact that we have to split our attention into parallel threads, most often enforced by increasingly pervasive and ubiquitous digital gadgets.
I think the mind, at least of the newest generation, has begun to adapt. Even now, I can write this entry while listening to Fleet Foxes on iTunes, browse through the weather and (multiple) emails, switch over to N-Game for a few seconds to pull off an insane ninja stunt, and then jump up, out of the immediate screen and fetch a beer.
If multitasking is the next leap in human consciousness, how can we represent this in the form of the novel and turn it into something meaningful? Something that could be considered art?
Creative footnotes are one way. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and David Foster Wallace utilize footnotes in clever ways, often chaining them through multiple pages. Part of the decision while reading is whether to continue with a section, paragraph or even sentence to completion – or to jump down and fill in the detail elucidated in the footnote. It almost mimics the action of multitasking on the browser.
Another method: Lots of short, discrete sections. There’s certainly something to be said about the long passage with a fine narrative thread, maintained for long pages. But these days, the majority of the text we read fits in the size of a blog post, or worse, a Facebook status or twitter feed.
Flash fiction has begun to accommodate this quick-cut ADD stylistic quirk. And I think flash fiction could integrated into the novel in the form of tangential stories that aren’t completely essential to the immediate narrative, but contribute to the world, the character or even the tone and feel of the central story.
I think for my next project I’m going to experiment with non-sequential and multi-threaded storytelling. Should be quite interesting.