December 12, 2009
The perennial debate on the technological threat to the institution of the novel rages on flatmancrooked.com (and elsewhere)-see Shya Scanlon’s excellent Faster Times piece here, and Mike Shatzkin’s note on ebooks-but there’s not much on this on TNB, as far as I can see…
This was sparked off, in part by an article on Philip Roth’s latest novel in The Guardian newspaper from the UK.
21 Oct 2009 11:06
Philip Roth in The Daily Beast:
“[The novel] couldn’t compete with the television screen, and it can’t compete with the computer screen.” …
‘The novel will become “a minority cult” within 25 years’ … “I [am] being optimistic about 25 years really. I think it’s going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range.”
“[It's] the print that’s the problem, it’s the book, the object itself.” … “To read a novel requires a certain amount of concentration, focus, devotion to the reading. If you read a novel in more than two weeks you don’t read the novel really. So I think that kind of concentration and focus and attentiveness is hard to come by – it’s hard to find huge numbers of people, large numbers of people, significant numbers of people, who have those qualities.”
4 Nov 2009 13:15
“‘Been saying it for years…”
Nov 4, 2009 at 1:37
“And you’re still wrong…”
Nov 4, 2009 at 4:09
“Bemoaning the death of the novel (as people have been doing periodically for at least the last 200 years) is like suggesting the death of storytelling, or the death of imagination. Ever since people first were people they’ve related narratives to each other in the most portable, accessible form available – through language.
One of the main reasons why language is so stimulating is because it is not passive. Whether written, or spoken, language requires a certain amount of cognitive investment in the receiver, unlike film, and other forms of ‘screened’ narrative, which don’t have the same psychological scope – principally due to the fact that they feed information to all the human faculties, apart from the imagination.
Suggesting the human race no longer has the capacity (and psychological need) for imagination is like suggesting that everyone is going to start switching to love dolls over breathing sexual partners. It smacks of an old man with a jaded mind.
Just because culture is dominated by feckless, retrograde boneheads does not mean that everything is doomed. The idea that everything that’s new and fast is great, and will prevail, is a commercialist flat-earth theory propagated by people whose fragile careers are based on an outmoded idea of the personality cult – as in the author as some kind of God.
[A quote from Lewis Hyde’s amazing, scholarly book on creativity, ‘The Gift’ puts this better than I could at the time:
“The Romans called a person’s tutelar spirit his genius. … The opposite is properly called narcissism. The narcissist believes his gifts come from himself. He works to display himself, not to suffer change. An age in which no one sacrifices to his genius is an age of narcissism. The ‘cult of genius’ which we have seen in this century has nothing to do with the ancient cult. The public adoration of genius turns men and women into celebrities …
We should not speak of another’s genius; this is a private affair. The celebrity trades on his gifts, he does not sacrifice to them. And without that sacrifice, without the return gift, the spirit cannot be set free. In an age of narcissism the centers of culture are populated with larvae and lemures, the spooks of unfulfilled genii“.]
“My question to you is this: if the novel won’t manage to survive its first 400 years, how has poetry managed to stick around so successfully since a couple of millenia before christ, without anything like the same scale of industry supporting it?”
06 November 2009 10:33
“I agree with almost everything you said, except the part about poetry. It’s not possible to make a living from writing poetry. So can we still say it is “successful”? How do we measure that? The sonnet’s around in the same way stained glass windows are still around: Niche purpose.
As you probably know, a new book is published-in the UK-every two minutes. 7% of of these sell more than 1,000 copies. So this tells me that publishing houses are not doing their jobs to a certain degree. 93% of novels don’t get read. There is either incredible shite on the shelves, too much waste in the industry, a glut of marketing or something. That’s awful. What other field has such terrible sales and still functions?
Roth at 76 is still a clever bastard, drumming up press for his billionth novel with dire predictions like the novel will be a minority cult. It will be my first cult…”
7 November 2009 14:29
“I do not take Roth’s opinion as my own, though I think he makes some good points worth considering.
I also think you should read this article from The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”
It encapsulates many of my thoughts quite well as to why and how the internet is killing off diligent readers, esp. those who are deep readers. I used to be one, but not so much now.”
[This tremendous article suggests that the internet is having a profound affect on the way people process and ‘work’ information and knowledge – in a way comparable to the effect of the clock, the typewriter, and automated factory machinery on the mind, but it ignores an important constant; a ubiquitous background presence: the humble novel as cultural artefact with undiminished significance.]
07 November 2009 14:10
Every Tuesday this boy walks by my window on his way to class, reading a book. For obvious reasons I love him but just from afar.
Wouldn’t it be nice if reading was this popular? If people didn’t just crack a book on long flights or train rides? If it was something they had to do. While walking. All the time.
I would be more than happy to be put right if these issues are already being debated somewhere else in the TNB universe, but we would appreciate any thoughts on any of these issues (if anyone has any after Googling themselves into oblivion…)