Or “Fuck Realism” as he says on his blogpost linking to the essay, which, yes, is an impassioned cry against the reductive, prosaic monotony of the what Northrop Frye called “low mimetic” realism, the realism of the middle of the road, market driven, read-and-toss, consumer fiction of our day (and days before). Gallix is a leading new Modernist (I keep trying to come up with a tag that will fit the bill—this one is provisional), founder of 3AM Magazine in the UK, and contributor to Numéro Cinq. Put this new essay from the Guardian together with his essay “On Literary Bondage” from our August issue and then throw in my essay “The Novel as a Poem” and figure out where you stand.
Literary fiction is dead – or if not dead then finished, according to the Goldsmiths prize-shortlisted writer Lars Iyer, who argues it has become a “repertoire, like The Nutcracker at Christmas” and suggests that novelists should spread the word that “the time for literary novels is over”. But literary fiction has always been dead, has always needed the mould-breaking writing which the Goldsmiths prize celebrates.
Ever since its birth, writers have been suspicious of the novel, reaching for the authenticity of the real – often presenting their work as memoir, à la Robinson Crusoe. For Scheherazade, storytelling is, literally, a stay of execution. For the rest of us, it is merely a pastime; a distraction from our ultimate destruction. Ashamed of its frivolity, fiction drapes itself in the gravitas of non-fiction.
If literature needs to be something more than just storytelling, then perhaps one could argue with Maurice Blanchot that it only truly becomes grown-up when it “becomes a question” hanging over the space separating it from the world. By showing its sleight of hand, the novel can live up to Adorno’s definition of art as “magic delivered from the lie of being truth”, but it loses its innocence in the process. No longer is it possible for a serious novelist to go back to the “good old days” when – as Gombrowicz put it – one could write “as a child might pee against a tree”.
The notion of a ‘good old days’ is, I think, the myopia and starting point of all modernisms, new or original, which is why I think their innovations beyond ‘low mimesis’ are always an attempt at actual mimesis by contrast to postmodernism, which I don’t believe cares about mimesis, or believes in any kind of time, (for which idea I might reference “Gertrude” as a starting point). I do think there’s a something after, postmodernism, and certainly a something beyond consumption-oriented narrative. I squirm when the innovations towards that something are subjected to a predetermined set of aesthetic moves (or denied a set of moves), even though I viscerally agree with, and practice, the sentiment of ‘fuck realism.’ I think the ‘Novel as Poem’ essay gets at it, that slippery attempt through pattern to speak to some ineffable…
Many thanks, Jacob. 🙂
By “Gertrude” Jacob is referring to my essay “Gertrude, or the Postmodern Novel” in Notes Home from a Prodigal Son.
Just so you know.