The Novel in the Internet Age

From The Point ( Whats starts out as a critique of the works of Houellebecq turns into an exploration of what and where literature can go in the 21st century.  Found this passage very truthful, especially since I’ve been reading DFW’s Infinite Jest, which reaches such scope and depth – and that was in the mid 90s.

“It is perfectly fair—and what’s more, manifestly accurate—to say that social and cultural conditions are presently antithetical in lots of ways to creating literature that resonates with the times. A familiar way of putting it is to evoke a nefarious alliance of massively multiplied information sources and stimuli with a clustered and distracting mass culture, and the corresponding shrinkage of the average person’s attention span and willingness to isolate himself with a book. The novelist is caught in a double bind: in order to properly capture the feel of a kinetic, overloaded modern world she must pack more, and more varied, material into her work, but does so for an audience that has less and less inclination to engage with it. Alternatively, the novelist simplifies and straightens her work in order to win readers, but at the expense of representing the world as she truly perceives it to be (i.e. “selling out”). There is a concern that the novel is simply unable, structurally, to harmonize with an era where the written word has been so heavily marginalized by sound and image. Or maybe the form is exhausted—there being only so many different ways to stick words together into a coherent whole, and only so many styles to adopt and tones to take, etc., might the last three hundred years of cultural activity not have burnt up our artistic resources? These worries are valid enough, but in fact there has never been a moment where the novel really was a pure and uncomplicatedly meaningful thing. It has always been a struggle against the elements.”

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