Sunday, October 28, 2012

The death of fiction?

A sequel of sorts to the previous post, prompted by a piece in the Globe and Mail. Ignore for a moment that the author begins his narrative while he’s doing a poo and focus on his argument for the resistance that his students display to reading long books:
English teachers have held on to the 19th- and 20th-century novel with grasping, wrenching fingers. I’ve been one of them, and truthfully I’m not sure why. The novel is a distinctly Western convention, and a new one at that – it arrived two centuries after the printing press. The Industrial Revolution increased leisure time, so longer pieces became more attractive – and writers benefited from being paid by the word. While a teen’s reading material 100 years ago might have been as narrow as a few books on a bedroom shelf, a student in my class today has an endless range of possibilities.
All true; and moreover, the notion that novels written in English could be the subject of serious academic study, on a par with Greek and Latin classics, is even newer. But if its period of cultural ascendancy is at an end, we have the problem of a period of transition. Older people will hold that knowledge of Austen, Dickens and Updike is a crucial part of our culture, even if they haven’t actually read them; the young can’t even be bothered to pretend. I don’t know if Hirsch has a prescribed list of novelists that must be “known”, but this does again suggest that by the time anyone has identified such a canon, the goalposts will have moved. 

7 comments:

GreatSheElephant said...

He's taking a very narrow view of what constitutes a novel there. Genji Monogatari?

M.A.Peel said...

Speaking of cultural literacy, I keep meaning to ask you if your page graphic is Dorothy Thompson. If yes, why? If not, who?

Gadjo Dilo said...

I believe that people need frameworks and things to work against. Therefore, we need another F. R. Leavis, a new canon, and lots of schoolkids (and others) complaining about it's lameness. Saying that everything has some worth is like hippies playing bongos while stoned. Old git.

Chris said...

Fiction is dead? It's a lie! Through which we find the truth. Or is that gadgets, these days?

Tim Footman said...

I think he's simply reflecting the view of novels/fiction that's presented by the curricula of Canadian high schools, GSE. From first-hand experience, I think he's probably on the right track.

Hello, Mrs Peel. No, it's actually Marcel Duchamp, in his alter ego of Rrose Sélavy. But now I've got an excuse to replace it with Dorothy...

Good point, Gadjo. If young people aren't forced to read George Eliot, how will they know how boring she is?

You read the fiction on a gadget, Chris. Which you only bought because of a marketing campaign. Multiple levels of fibbing.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Right. And maverick teachers will love that too. (Look at me though, I spelled "its" wrong).

richard said...

Good ideas. If you're on Facebook, come visit "Who says that serious literature is dead?": http://facebook.com/WSTSLID