The Novel Is Always Dying

I hereby propose a variant of Godwin’s law, wherein if you start out an argument about how a certain art form you cherish is dying by comparing its (obvious, inevitable) decline to how technology killed the music industry, you immediately lose. (Also: musicians are doing just fine and are coping well with technology.)

Seriously, all future “novel is dying” hacks take note. Here is your Rosetta Stone. This piece by Will Self has everything: the opening anecdote about the music biz; the old-manish elegy for the bygone time (in this case the ’80s) when the novel was “the prince of art forms”; the inevitable hedging about how people still read, just not like they used to; the random pronouncements (sans statistics, obviously) about how less print books are sold and digital is inexorably rising; a few random quotes from Marshall McLuhan; some vague complaints about institutionalized creative writing education; there’s even a “metaphoric ouroboros,” which Self most graciously asks that you forgive (how kind).

Wow, it’s hard to believe someone had the attention span to write this whole thing, much less read it.

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I agree: that opening comparison is especially ridiculous. But it’s the headline which propels his argument (of declining mass cultural influence) beyond hack territory into obnoxious hack territory, and I doubt he wrote the headline.

I’m with you on this. It is hard to imagine the novel dying when there is hardly enough time to consume a satisfactory portion of the existing and still growing body of great Literature out there. I’m too busy constantly discovering incredibly great works of art and trying to read as many of them as possible to stop and consider whether the novel is dying.

The Self article was raises a point I would be interested to here your thoughts on:

“This is not to say that everyone walked the streets with their head buried in Ulysses or To the Lighthouse, or that popular culture in all its forms didn’t hold sway over the psyches and imaginations of the great majority. Nor do I mean to suggest that in our culture perennial John Bull-headed philistinism wasn’t alive and snorting: “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” However, what didn’t obtain is the current dispensation, wherein those who reject the high arts feel not merely entitled to their opinion, but wholly justified in it. It goes further: the hallmark of our contemporary culture is an active resistance to difficulty in all its aesthetic manifestations, accompanied by a sense of grievance that conflates it with political elitism.”

Would you disagree with Self as to the existence of this “dispensation” in “active resistance to difficulty in all its aesthetic manifestations”?

Agreed. That was a rather frustrating essay to read. As if he believes his vocabulary compensates for a lack of anything to say.

I love Self’s fiction, he should stick to it.

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