Continuing to beat the inwardness drum

The n+1 editors have posted a couple of articles from the magazine’s second issue.

Up today is my favorite piece, and one the one that dovetails most closely (but not entirely) with some of my own recent thoughts about the state of contemporary U.S. fiction. “The Way Out is In” advocates a move away from the externalized novel toward the “creation of interiority, or inwardness.” Some high points:

  • “The novel’s anxiety to have a ready-made public makes it less and less deserving of one. The novel needs to get over the 19th century. For about a hundred years it was the dominant art form of bourgeois civilization. Since then, as if unwilling to resign its old position, it’s tried to contend with the movies and TV, not to mention long nonfiction articles in the New Yorker. Now it tries to rival the stand-up routine and, in novel-memoir, the daytime talk show. How absurd was the effort of Robbe-Grillet* to make writing into a kind of film! How silly of Tom Wolfe to think the novel should compete with journalism on the one ground — information-gathering — where it can’t! Someone should tell the novel that it is not and never was dying; those death throes were just the feeling of a monopoly ending, the shortness of breath that comes with loss of market share. Let the comedians, the lip-gloss models, the movie directors, the journalists and historians be. Their work may be inferior to the novelist’s, but they do it better than he does…. The novel is unexcelled at one thing only: the creation of interiority, or inwardness.”
  • “It would be tragic to think of inwardness as an artifact of modernism, a trip that started in Flaubert’s Yonville, passed through Musil’s Kakania and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, and came to an end in Beckett’s glass jar. Inwardness does not confine itself to Axel’s castle or reside exclusively in the long-winded periods of Proust. The sharp sigh you hear in one of Fitzgerald’s disappointed aperçus is as interior a thing as Proust’s most byzantine reminiscence. Fitzgerald, come to think of it, was as corrupt as any of us: vain, covetous, in need of fame. But he possessed the vital discipline of seeing what happens when you’re alone. A novelist who isn’t truly alone when he writes will never provide a reader worthwhile company.”

* Again, I can’t accept the wholesale dismissal of the nouveau roman or the externalized works of fiction that have followed. From Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy to Barthelme’s short stories to DeLillo’s White Noise and beyond, there’s a great deal to admire in many post-WWII writings that do not directly probe characters’ psychology. My concern is that viable psychological literature is in danger of being supplanted by more surface writing, the bulk of which is uninventive or unenlightening, if not, in fact, terrible.


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