Is the news replacing literature?

Lee Siegel in The New Yorker

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThese days, the conventions of art seem quaint and tidy. Zadie Smith, borrowing the phrase from the novelist David Shields, has written about her “novel-nausea,” an impatience with literary artifice. Her frustration is shared by novelists from Tim Parks to Naipaul, Roth, and Munro, the last three of whom have given up writing fiction altogether. (It could also be why the autobiographical novels of Karl Ove Knausgaard, which read like direct transcriptions of reality, are so popular. “Just the thought of fiction,” he writes, “just the thought of a fabricated character in a fabricated plot made me feel nauseous.”)

It took a while for culture to bring art to this point of exhaustion. Not long after Trilling’s generation, popular art began to acquire the rich impasto of perspective that was once the province of high art, even as high art began to tire of its own “complexity.” As the Vietnam War put public pieties and official authority in doubt on a grand scale, filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah and Martin Scorsese infused the simple moral framework of Hollywood movies with a literary intricacy. Novelists like John Barth, Robert Coover, and Thomas Pynchon upended Trilling’s gravity (“Gravity’s Rainbow”) with burlesques of complexity. Variousness, difficulty, et al. were embarking on their long march out of art’s rarefied arena and onto the public stage.

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