Notes on: The Modern Novel and Story

Some half-formed, less-than-half thought out gropings toward meaning.  To be continued--perhaps.

When looking at much modern fiction it often seems that the art of story telling has been lost. One reads through reams of metafictional games and post modern pandering to self.  Ulysses does not really tell a story, but collectively, we seem to have forgotten that meaningful books without story are the exception, not the rule.

Literature as game-playing has a long and interesting history--but like modern art and much of classical music in the last 50 years, one begins to feel tired of the avant-garde blather of the modern literary world.  Is Paul Auster really all that?  What about something like The Interrogative Mood--is that really meaningful or powerful or memorable fiction.  Even Jennifer Egan's powerpoint display of text as part of A Visit to the Goon Squad--what is that all about, really--how does it really enhance the story.  I am surprised and a little disappointed that people whose literary judgment I have come to trust invest so much energy and enthusiasm in this book. 

Do experiments have a place in fiction? Undoubtedly.  And they can be extremely interesting, powerful, fascinating, compelling works.  Not every experiment is a failure, though one must say that a vast majority are dead ends.  From Les Chant de Maldoror to Naked Lunch or Wittgenstein's Mistress there are books which, while in themselves interesting, no one should consider as a model for future fiction, or even much of a success as fiction themselves.  This is not to denigrate the works which are extremely posed metafictions most of the time--only to acknowledge that there are any number of one-offs that can be produced that upon closer inspection really don't fulfill our expectations of fiction.

Should all fiction adhere to a single mold?  Are we to assume that fiction has some sort of structure or set of structures that define it as what it is and deviation from which make the work we are looking at not-fiction?  If one considers the short short stories of Lydia Davis or Sam Shepherd, are we looking at fiction and is it effective and lasting.


  1. I am in the same boat, groping as well.

    For me, even experiments must meet one criteria for me: does it satisfy? I can be challenged, shocked, put through an emotional or mental wringer, but if the work doesn't find some way to satisfy me, sate one of my hungers, then it fails.


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