Death Becomes You, Dear Novel

The novel is dead, so eulogizes Will Self, the serious, difficult novel, which I suspect is the so-called literary novel that’s been hanging around on book corners ever since modernism and has caused a few scuffles with readers and critics alike.

I’ve read some of Self’s work. I like that he perambulates long distances. I even enjoy that he pulls words like “benison,” “Gesamtkunstwerk, “Panglossian,” and “melioristic” out of his rattlebag. But, then, when it comes to fiction, I favour Maximalism over minimalism — it’s the cherry picker in me.

But, sod you Self and your aging anxieties that you will cease to be as a writer for being the reason you’ve chosen to write about the death of the novel.

Although I must admit it’s sobering news for a writer like myself who is still brewing in the vats of the emerging writing life. It also brings on a tidal wave of creative anxiety to be told the book is dead even before I’ve even had a chance to get a book published. It’s akin to telling a child don’t bother living because you’re only going to die.

Ok, let’s say the novel is really dead, nails are in the coffin, mourners are dressed in black, and the Gutenberg press weeps tears of ink.

That’s fine by me. Bring on the wake! Let’s open the bubbly and get rip-roaring drunk on the death of the novel because all it means is that the Graustarkian literary standard by which all books are written is now demolished. There is no “great” book left to be written, no “great” writer about to swoop down in a blaze of tweed and pipe smoke to carry off the novices in his golden claws. Anyone now has a chance to write a book — and that includes me. A great new brave world of opportunity knocks. Open Sesame!

Unless, of course, it’s all premised on sell, sell, sell and there will be only a handful of novels that can shift the tectonic plates of the mind to new visions, eclipse and super nova the life of the emotions, and locate the soul in the overwhelming somatic rush of flesh. If the death of the novel is simply leading to a land of mediocrity, then I want to go down the mine with Self and his canaries and face the subterranean gases. I’m not interested enough to live with the endless flow of entertainment toxins that will pass through my body pretending to be art. Thanks, but no thanks. My kidneys are working well enough to know piss when it streams before me.

But if the novel is dead and a panoramic vista of new horizons opens up with the Millennium Falcon on the nearest hill, I’m up for the ride. Let’s park that old literary junker out back and get into something more relevant, more post-postmodern, something that isn’t flashy but is made from the recycled goods of the past. Everything under the sun has been done before, and done better, so let’s space hop to new frontiers on the magic of the past and the literary genius of the moment will become less obvious and more fulfilling.

Why should the death of the novel be such a bad thing? Ovid, a writer, proclaimed the beauty of metamorphosis, the power of mutability over the fragility of things, the freedom of the finite self to the many selves. And what is fiction but a series of little deaths of the selves. A writer dies with each book he or she writes and is reborn again with a new one.

So if the novel is dead, I for one am not going to let it go gentle into that good night. I’m going to rage and fight and get as many words down as possible. I’m going to write as if the devil himself is at my heels and wants my soul for eternity.

The time is ripe to rise like the phoenix from the ashes of dead novels.

Le livre est morte, vive le livre!

Advertisements