Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Dustbin Of Former Cultural Importance

Joseph Epstein seems pretty bummed out about the state of the novel:
If you admire fiction and consider it at its best richer than philosophy and novelists as the true historians of the present, but, like me, find yourself easily resisting contemporary novels, the reason, I believe, is that recent novels no longer do many of the things that once made them so glorious. They want a certain weight, gravity, seriousness that has marked the best fiction over the centuries. They have turned away from telling grand stories issuing onto great themes. Some may admire the cleverness or the sensitivity of certain living novelists, but none seems as God-like in his or her omniscience and evocative power as the great Russian or Victorian or French or American novelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Art, we know, is not on the same onward and upward progress curve as science and technology, but might it, in the novel, be demonstrably regressing?
The answer, for Epstein, is yes:
Can anyone say he is awaiting the next novel of any living writer with the same eagerness that those of us old enough to remember awaiting the next Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, or Kingsley Amis novel? Is there anything like the same sense of excited anticipation for the future novels of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer, or from England those of Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie? I don’t believe so. I keep a list of the books I read, and the past hundred of these books include novels by Denis Diderot, Heinrich Heine, Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, and Vasily Grossman, but no novel written after 1990.

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