I don’t know how people can still buy into this ridiculous, antiquated notion that the only really “literary” activity is writing fiction. I think the novel is over. It’s so clear to me that the novel is a genre that has reached its final stages, there’s nothing else to do, it’s all been done, the experiments, the this, the that. Naturally people will keep writing novels because it’s fun, and it’s a form you’re sentimental about. But you could certainly make an argument that the novel has now been eclipsed by the memoir as the pre-eminent form of literary self-expression just now—or certainly as eminent as the novel. I just think our attachment to the novel is, in some sense, a sentimental notion; and as a critic, but also as a writer, you have to be aware of the reality of the terrain that you’re in. The fact is that most writing is non-fiction writing.
Do people really buy into this, that “the only really ‘literary’ activity is writing fiction”? I suppose some do, although no one whom I take seriously—and I imagine no one whom Daniel Mendelsohn takes seriously—says anything resembling that “the only really ‘literary’ activity is writing fiction.”
But I’m interested in the much less laughable argument that “the novel is a genre that has reached its final stages.” I disagree with this as well, but I’ll at least grant that intelligent people can make this argument. A large part of what I have to say in The End of Oulipo is an argument that the novel is not over by any means, as well as an encouragement to see literature in terms that broaden out beyond just fiction. Obviously reading the book is the best way to get the whole argument, but you can read the meat of it in this excerpt I published in The White Review.