The opening of Mary Burger’s critique, in Narrativity, of New Yorker fiction makes me wish, as I often do when confronted with provocative, but loosely constructed, quasi-academic critiques, that the rest of it were written in complete sentences advancing a cogent argument and not peppered with confusing sentence fragments.
All New Yorker fiction pieces stop at the point where the person makes a bad discovery about himself or herself or the world. That he is or she is a failure personally — in love, usually, romantic love or familial love — or that the world is a failure toward his personal or her personal sensitive nature — that the world is violent, that unequal distribution of power causes pain and unhappiness, usually to the less powerful, but sometimes to the powerful as well.
Regardless of its narrator, its characters, its particular conceits or conflicts, what anchors each story is the sick feeling at the end. The same feeling that comes after a radiation treatment for cancer. The queasy realization that all this, the technological sophistication, the aggressive preservation of human life, is merely its own reward, not a means to anything.
This is how the melancholic condition of privileged passivity confronts itself.
(Thanks to Christian Lorentzen for the link.)