Zadie Smith in the Caves 2.0

Posted on November 5, 2011


“I couldn’t read that book if my life depended on it,” says essayist, David Shields about Franzen’s The Corrections. Coincidentally, Zadie Smith’s Essay on Novel Nausea, which I cannot find and is probably lost forever, was a review of David Shields book Reality Hunger. Certainly this indicates some kind of trend? Reality Hunger is an ars poetica for a new kind of art, one that bends genres, having no clear demarcations between memoir, fiction, prose poem, non fiction, Lit theory, travelogue, diary, solipsism. The argument goes that straight fiction is no longer wanted, and is even abhorred, by the new devourers of culture, who are very much in need of a good meal of reality (whatever that is).

Not having read the book I can only imagine what kind of palaver is going on inside of it. Very significant palaver I assure you. Still he may have some intelligent points to make. Such as: fiction makes him yawn. The novel, for all the exertions of modernism, is by now as formalized and ritualized as the weekly astrology and it can no longer REFLECT ACTUAL REALITY.

Like Shields, My life also could never conceivably depend on Franzen’s novel either, but doesn’t The Corrections (and Freedom as well) fail because it is too reflective? That holding up his mirror he reveals a world we recognize only too well. In this mirror there is no reversal and light takes longer to return, as if going back in time. Certainly the world’s pointing the same direction and we recognize everything as being the same only more boring and all taking place in crummy prose and there behind us is Franzen’s sclerotic moon face continually glowering over our shoulder like a pompous moon.

(Freedom, apparently alludes many times to Tolsoy’s War and Peace, hinting perhaps that it has something in common with the greatest novel of all time. This is the final insult and the last straw. One does not allude to War and Peace. Alluding to War and Peace is like calling down the wrath of The Almighty God to answer Trivial Pursuit questions.)

But couldn’t the opposite of Franzen’s mirror then, be one of Real Literature’s Criteria? That in fact, in an impossible paradox, the world is the novel’s mirror? That the Great Novel is Fiat Luxing the world out of the deep like God in Genesis? Because doesn’t life imitate art? Then, while reading the novel that makes the world, we forget there ever was a mirror at all. So that sitting entranced in the cave we see the world in those shadows cast by the old atavistic and fiery light of the bewitching novel.

Very grand and lofty statements! But how exactly does one write such a novel? By magic? Yes, that is exactly how.



I apologize for the random and incoherent nature of this ongoing essay. I will come to a point soon