Emma Garman, who’s guest-blogging at Maudnewton.com today, has kindly condensed Ben Marcus’s Harper’s essay on the state of literary fiction (which I gave up on after about 5 pages of repetitive argumentation.) She has it down to about 250 words:
Difficult prose – a.k.a. literary language – is good for the brain. People like Jonathan Franzen and Dale Peck dismiss this important fact. They think authors of “experimental writing” are elitists, and they don’t mean it nicely. I’m one of those so-called elitists, but that’s not why I’m writing this essay. Jonathan Franzen used to be an experimental writer, but got all bitter when his first two novels (which, just entre nous, I couldn’t get through due to their supreme tedium) didn’t make him rich and famous, so he changed tack. Now he writes in a style that’s OK, but not at all innovative, whereas I really, really value innovation. This has made Franzen a bestseller. Unlike me, but that’s not why I’m writing this essay.
Conformist authors – like Franzen – see their method of representing reality as the only method. How dull and narrow-minded is that? I prefer to write (and read) prose forging a new direction away from narrative realism, because I actually enjoy language and its rich multitudinous possibilities. If this means eschewing a mass audience, then that’s my noble and dignified cross to bear. At least this way I enjoy new synaptic pathways firing in my brain.
Franzen thinks that people only write difficult fiction to show off. That may have been his reason prior to selling out, but it’s not mine. I only want to defend the artistic progress Franzen & Co are trying to stultify. Without me standing up for writerly innovation, literature might literally die. Die right in front of your eyes!
There, you’ve just saved two hours. Go read a book.