From two recent novels, a story emerges about the future for the Anglophone novel. Both are the result of long journeys. Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, took seven years to write; Remainder,
by Tom McCarthy, took seven years to find a mainstream publisher. The
two novels are antipodal—indeed one is the strong refusal of the other.
The violence of the rejection Remainder represents to a novel like Netherland
is, in part, a function of our ailing literary culture. All novels
attempt to cut neural routes through the brain, to convince us that
down this road the true future of the novel lies. In healthy times, we
cut multiple roads, allowing for the possibility of a Jean Genet as
surely as a Graham Greene.
These aren’t particularly healthy times. A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked. For Netherland, our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition. It seems perfectly done—in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait.
In regard to sexual identity, fiction writers today not only display
some sort of civic obligation to “imagine” the other, but also reveal a
profound curiosity, a hunger, to try on the other’s tropes, to exchange
them, to press ourselves against them and be transformed. We want to
know how other people do it—make narrative, that is. We want to do it
the way they do and see what happens. Chain bookstores might prefer to
herd shoppers into categories under fluorescent lights, but writers and
readers have a way of wandering around in the dusk, curious,
appetitive, mutable. From that wandering, new forms and new ways of
seeing emerge. We look through the eyes of the other not via identity—this is what it’s like to be you—but via a way of making narrative—this is what it’s like to tell a story, to frame the world, the way you do—and suddenly we are able to apprehend the world anew.
What follows is a very rough map of this new terrain.
Martin Ramirez, in the Economist:"MARTIN RAMIREZ spent most of his adult life in mental hospitals. He
taught himself to paint, using whatever he could lay his hands on:
food, pencils, crayons, shoe polish, even his own saliva coloured by
chewing up newspaper illustrations. To make the huge pieces of paper he
liked to work on, he used newspaper, grocery bags and thin
medical-examination sheets, glued together with a paste of spit and
mashed potatoes. For decades he has been considered an oddball artist,
America’s answer to Richard Dadd."
Myth 1: Immigrant literature is a philological category of its own, and thus comprises a fruitful anomaly in relation to national literatures.
To speak of a single “immigrant literature” is simply wrong, because it is wrongly simple. The nature of migration and the level of foreign writers’ integration vary too much to be collected in one category, not to mention the authors’ unique biographical backgrounds and differing cultural, religious, or social habits. Even these outward literary characteristics point to the great diversity of experiences, possible subjects, and intellectual influences which in many cases become a part of the text or even make up the text as a whole. The goal of objective judgment should be to overcome the fixation on an author’s biography and move to a thematically-oriented view of the work.