Hysterical Realism and the End of the Novel
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Read any good novels lately?

This is a link to one of my favourite pieces of literary criticism, and probably one of the most cutting pieces of critique for our age. 23 years old now and still unfortunately true. Here James Wood (the british critic, not to be confused with James Woods, the American actor) outlines what he sees as a kind of corruption, sterility, and creative dead end which the literary world has found itself in.

Quote:This is not magical realism. It is hysterical realism. Storytelling has become a kind of grammar in these novels; it is how they structure and drive themselves on. The conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, and overworked. Appropriately, then, objections are not made at the level of verisimilitude, but at the level of morality: this style of writing is not to be faulted because it lacks reality—the usual charge against botched realism—but because it seems evasive of reality while borrowing from realism itself. It is not a cock-up, but a cover-up.

One is reminded of Kierkegaard’s remark that travel is the way to avoid despair. For all these books share a bonhomous, punning, lively serenity of spirit. Their mode of narration seems to be almost incompatible with tragedy or anguish. Indeed, Underworld, the darkest of these books, carries within itself, in its calm profusion of characters and plots, its flawless carpet of fine prose on page after page, a soothing sense that it might never have to end, that another thousand or two thousand pages might easily be added. There are many enemies, seen and unseen, in Underworld, but silence is not one of them.

The charges laid against the grand novel of our time may feel a bit familiar, if you aren't a novel reader you may have observed the trend elsewhere. Complexity reaching a seemingly complete and final height, paired with a complete lack of anything to stir genuine interest. The end-state of a medium as this kind of self-satisfied indulgence in its own traditions for the sake of showing off form. A lack of human substance that feels almost evasive. If you've read one of those novels (or tried to) you might understand me. I think the reputation of reading as a difficult and challenging activity only fit for a kind of mentally alien elite is owed in no small part to this kind of writing, and this tendency in general in the arts I believe is a great enemy of genuine interest, enjoyment, and continuity of culture. People used to write books which people wanted to read.

My own characterisation of this piece and the general phenomena may also feel familiar. In this I see an echo of the fate of painting with neoclassicalism, and my diagnosis is of course an echo of Ludovici. I believe that Wood is correct that these people use complexity as a refuge. And what are they hiding from? Despair. Despair which stems from what he calls their "serenity of spirit". But this serenity is not wholesome. It's more like an unwillingness or incapacity to feel. And of course the problem with the art follows naturally from here. We have people who feel very little, if anything. Come from a culture which is opposed to history and feeling and the serious movement of the human race. And these people want to create great works. They feel perhaps not so much driven as they feel like they ought to since they're lit students from the cool trendy promising lit circles. And so like neoclassical painters they just pile technique upon technique. Nobody 500 years ago was piling this much meaning into one paragraph. Everyone's name is some reference, there are clues to mysteries scattered innocuously all through. 

Buuut... 23 years on, who wants to read them? Does Loro even pretend to anymore? Does /lit/? Was it all a big nothing?

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Now some personal tangent from me.

I don't believe that the novel can really die. It's just too functional a form for the fine realisation of particular visions. Even if people get bored of the literary form it's just a convenient vehicle for stories and ideas. And if you want to see anything resembling life in novels I think that's where you look. People who are using the form of the novel as a vehicle rather than the point.

Novels are not dead. Even now. They're dead as a form of prestige media. Nobody can even be bothered pretending to care on that front. And I think that's ultimately a rather healthy thing. As people write for enjoyment and with purpose again, as they want finer things (if audience sophistication is still possible in the future) they will naturally grow back into these or similar complex forms again, but now capable of filling the shoes. As it is pop science fiction novels might not be the most complex works in the world, but they're fitted to form. They're generally as complex as they need to be and poised to grow again in the fashion I just described. I recently started flipping through Pierce Brown's Red Rising on a suggestion from our Zed, and am mildly and easily entertained so far. Why I'm really interested is that I'm told this series of novels actually grows in human and technical complexity as it goes on. This I want to see. Technical complexity scaling up naturally to meet the demands of more complex ideas. Exactly what pop-art needs. An honest regression followed by a natural regrowth.

The things I'm talking about here may feel like echoes of many other things I've brought up. The two key points in the fate of the novel I believe are on one hand the 'fantasy vs social realism' question, and the other is the relationship between complexity and vitality in art. But they can wait, to be addressed later in this thread or another. We'll see how I feel. We're far from done here, but I hope we can build an interesting discussion on this start.
This thread idea happens to converge with some thoughts of mine. I have wasted time reading Pynchon, DFW, and other authors who have fit the bill of Hysterical Realism, so perhaps some knowledge from this can be put to use.

One thing I'd like to start off with is that some of the awkwardness I see within these writers is a byproduct of the American creative writing industry: Mark McGurl has a book titled The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. I have only given the chapters a cursory look, but the essential thesis is that the creative writing industry had transformed the manner in which Literary Fiction™ was crafted, from standard rules of creation to how different people are inducted into the world of writing (e.g., the lower middle-class and minorities). The first result of this is a tendency towards the autobiographical: Joyce's Portrait of the Artist or Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, if produced in this Program Era, will have divested itself from semi-autobiographic fetters and become truly about the author. This is done in David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, where some chapters open with the disclaimer that "The author is speaking", imparting personal events or didactic messages that resurface later in the narrative. The other result, which occurs whenever the autobiographical impulse is submerged or displaced, is what you see in Hysterical Realism.

One of the claims introduced in McGurl's book is related to the realm of the university: of those literary fiction writers who have achieved eminence, it is universal that they have entered into the writing programs or eventually taught them. Here is a short list of contemporary writers that have become professors or were teaching creative writing programs: David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, George Saunders, Tim O'Brien, Saul Bellow, and the list will continue to go on. It can be safely presumed, with the exception of Pynchon and some fellow recluses, that anyone associated with postmodern literature or hysterical realism can have a history of teaching experience within creative writing programs or professorial experience [Note: Nabokov did not enjoy this, and had written to Edmund Wilson, "I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching, I am sick of teaching"]. Already in the article you can observe the results of the intelligentsia stuck in the teaching environment: the story resembles a "formal" exercise rather than an actual connection between human beings. Information is prioritized over consciousness. What takes priority is explaining the world to the reader, in subtle or obvious ways (most often the latter).

There are two articles from H.L. Mencken in the first series of Prejudices that I have read yesterday. Conveniently enough, both prefigure the curious state of literary fiction today. The first one in specific was written about HG Wells and his gradual decline as a writer. The disease he diagnoses in this is a tendency that was reflected in others during the time, and are ever more present today: H.G. Wells, as he believes, thinks of himself as someone messianic. This messianic character often produces a variety of novels all about social conditions, about the introduction of a new cause to ameliorate and mend society, and a strong moralistic undertone can be found in the novel. It is an arrogance that afflicts the work to such a point that the creative impulse becomes rotten: the structure of scenes is altered, the characters displayed are shown at nauseating length or only once, the length of the narrative is inappropriate to its intent. It's all a matter of indifference whether a man was drunk on whiskey or drunk on messianic feeling, because the result is something far inferior to what could have been.

The second article, focused on a more obscure Arnold Bennett, diagnoses him in a way more applicable for a discussion on Hysterical Realism. Bennett, as Mencken thinks, also have a defect within his social novels: instead of thinking himself as an attached messiah, one who can reform society under whim or will, he observes his world in a detached, surgical glance. It is compared to viewing tiny specimen under a laboratory microscope, watching them writhe around in helpless motions. This is interpreted as a disdainful attitude, something that should not be adopted by someone attempting to maintain closeness to his subject. The Wells figure is intoxicated by his closeness and ambitious aspirations, and the Bennett figure has at once a disinterest and an attachment to society; both seek to portray society in the novel, and each are imperfect in the act of portrayal.
What I see as a current is a combination of these two forces, who had unintentionally prefigured the later habits of literary fiction writers: as Zadie Smith states, her mission is to show "how the world works", a schoolmarm attitude that could only have originated from primary school / university settings. The shining example of this conscientious author mentioned by Zadie Smith is David Foster Wallace. I have not read DFW's Broom of the System, Girl with Curious Hair, or Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, but I have read as much as I can tolerate — him being the shining example of the conscientious, "knowledgeable" author is apt, even if it is lolworthy. He was one of the people most implicated in the Hysterical Realism / postmodern fiction problems, somewhat cognizant of it in short bursts of lucidity, but ultimately never able to resist it. He had noticed some of the failings in contemporary fiction in E Unibus Pluram and his essay on Joseph Frank's biography of Dostoevsky, but his mistaken culprit of "irony"/"lack of sincerity" was not applicable to the situation. It would be better to look at his fiction to understand the failings involved.

For one thing, the autobiographical impulse mentioned above is brought to the reader's attention. DFW had an issue with sweating in public, and the reader is obligated to hear long descriptions of this in Infinite Jest and The Pale King; DFW had a fixation on tennis from a young age but did not become a professional player, so the reader must hear descriptions of tennis; DFW once fancied himself interested in math, he once worked at the IRS...you get the point. Gone are the days where someone like Stephen Crane could write The Red Badge of Courage without ever having gone to war, the basic chronology of one's life must be followed and be the sole inspiration for fiction. The neuroticism that he had in his personal life obscures this trait, but the messianic impulse of Wells is definitely found in DFW, who cannot avoid introducing didactic characters like Schact in the chapters of Infinite Jest: he is a European and not like a dumb American, so he will lecture the students of the Enfield Tennis Academy and teach them about duty. The same follows for certain characters in the AA rehab center in the novel, and with other characters in The Pale King. At the same time, the defect of Bennett can be likewise detected, where each of the characters are given a variety of different past experiences, described in elaborate detail, yet they still appear like imaginative stick figures. As an aside, I had this same issue with Bolano's 2666, which is that I can understand who the characters are, but I will never have a dream about them. They do not stick to the imagination at all, they are ephemeral products of the author, meant only to serve a larger purpose. 

I realize that I am basically going through the same thought-process as Woods was doing in the article and coming to the same conclusion, which is that Hysterical Realism has a problem with creating characters. I think that the approaches that Mencken took are helpful for understanding why this could be, along with the details about the university schooling of different literary figures. It renders the imagination infertile.
Mason Hall-McCullough
Serial web fiction ought to have replaced novels by now but the medium is dominated by erotic fanfiction.

I don't read this type of novel so I have trouble understanding the thread. You make this genre sound like absurdist fiction with extra steps, where the plot/characters/setting are unnecessarily elaborate window dressing for the story's message.
(08-01-2023, 10:04 PM)Mason Hall-McCullough Wrote: Serial web fiction ought to have replaced novels by now but the medium is dominated by erotic fanfiction.

I don't read this type of novel so I have trouble understanding the thread. You make this genre sound like absurdist fiction with extra steps, where the plot/characters/setting are unnecessarily elaborate window dressing for the story's message.

At least one successful novel has started out that way. I remember a science fiction novel being talked about on /lit/ which was first released for free online way back. This model is kind of taking over everything right now, piece by piece. I believe in Asia web-fiction is quite popular. And in Japan you can get started in manga through doujin work, which is very (but not entirely) online and also dominated by erotic fanfiction. It's kind of more to the point of the thread that people do what they actually care about again if they feel free to indulge in utilitarian use of these base forms. And unfortunately, the interests of many people culminate in erotic fanfiction.

As for this type of novel, you're sort of getting it. Imagine what you described only there's no message either. Highly elaborate and formal works which are entirely window dressing for its own sake, kind of trying to bluff you on the message/meaning front.
Woods' piece is very sharp. Something like Infinite Jest isn't actually "deeper" than something on the order of Cervantes, much less Kant or even your standard 300+ level mathematics textbook. It's just overly lengthy for its own sake, and excessively leans upon formatting/narrative gimmickry. The fact that David Prozac Wallace correctly understood that financially successful fiction in his age depended on crafting these kind of things is telling in its own.

I read the book a while ago and don't entirely remember it, but there was a good deal of quality prose in there, and genuinely funny scenes. I just FORGOT the 400+ pages of superfluous BS he threw in there for the sake of meeting the quad-digit papercount he sought so as to produce a Novelty, Monumental Work. The "PostModern Lit" genre is really characterized by the fashioning of an IMAGE of hollow "complexity", the pursuing of it as an end.

The screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is self-consciously and maybe the worst offender of this tendency. His work-product just amounts to the depiction of psychologically dysfunctional middle-aged (64+ year old) Jewish men endlessly designing sandcastles with more and more rooms until they gasp upon their deathbeds - "This didn't really mean anything".
Mason Hall-McCullough
(08-03-2023, 01:11 AM)GraphWalkWithMe Wrote: The screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is self-consciously and maybe the worst offender of this tendency. His work-product just amounts to the depiction of psychologically dysfunctional middle-aged (64+ year old) Jewish men endlessly designing sandcastles with more and more rooms until they gasp upon their deathbeds - "This didn't really mean anything".

Anthony's elaboration was enough but this explains it perfectly, Synecdoche New York was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Everything was so "thematic" that the plot became surreal, yet it conveyed no actual meaning. The loser protagonist's aggrandizement that felt like Kaufman self-inserting was a separate issue that turned it from bad to laughably bad.
Part of what has caused Hysterical Realism or any of the literary movements derived from "the postmodern" (more accurately, the forced termination of modernity) is what I described above, which is teaching. I will add more detail to this claim and attach a couple of passages together from Hugh Kenner's A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers:
Quote:[page 158] 
"Ezra Pound, poet, and T.S. Eliot, poet, emerged from what would not be called Comparative Literature classrooms, the one at Penn and Hamilton, the other at Harvard."
[page 160]
"Speculations on language, though not the effort of mastering languages, have a special appeal for Americans, inhabiting at they do the world's first classroom civilization (From Grimm to Furnivall, the great linguistic empiricists were European; from Whorf to Chomsky, the great theorists have been American). Being the first country since the rise of the nation-states to have undertaken to operate without a capital, America has evolved the university network, formally powerless but transcending regions and boundaries, and shaping the American sensibility more decisively than any other fact of public life"

Two different figures of modernity, who were educated within the university program, yet were able to overcome its limitations: in the prose writings of T.S. Eliot, this takes the form of New Criticism, and in Pound, a focus on economics, support of Fascism, and an attempt to teach ordinary men outside the university system. Speaking further on Pound, the lattermost point can be seen in ABC of Reading, some of his Literary Essays, and in Machine Art, where he fulfills the role of an unorthodox teacher. He is not what would be understood as a Mortimer Adler type, someone who espouses the classics for the sake of it; his recommendations are very much inclined towards the attainment of a Modern outlook. This is the reason he recommends Théophile Gautier, Stendhal, Corbière, etc., because the novelist / the poet will be unable to craft verse or novels without the acknowledgement of his recent predecessors. His writings are an attempt to guide ordinary readers to the most important parts of literary history and take everything else as a lesser priority. One can try to distinguish the prose efforts of both, but each nonetheless are still reforms of literary understanding.

At the sudden growths of universities and the rise of public education, the old demand for a American culture of literature steps away from the background. There is a quite perceptible downside that can follow this, however: it is the problem of the artist who should be within another profession, perhaps someone who should really be in charge of construction efforts or another worthwhile endeavor. This problem stems beyond this time-frame, but it shouldn't pose too much a threat so long as an ultimate aim is established. Since the true modernist faction of politics lost in 1945, there is no sign of what would proceed afterward. The dominance of modernity could have produced a new type of schooling and curriculum, as seen in Giovanni Gentile's reforms, or something that discarded the inadequacies of schooling. It is a territory of conjecture.
Regardless, the creeping incidence of creative writing is evidence of a slow transformation occurring within American literature. It is sometimes connected with the modern/progressive effort of revising the school, seen in works like Rugg and Schumaker's The Child-Centered School [reference borrowed from Program Era book] and to an extent John Dewey, where the creative efforts of the student are to take priority. The question is what the young writer may turn to: the emigre-poets Eliot and Pound ? The nascent modernism of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc.? The inchoate mass of Modernism within Europe? The question in unanswered by the schooling institution, for the reform cannot make a sweeping analysis of its own time, it can only be adjusted by the working hands of an overseer. The early attempts at reforming the school, and prioritizing the student over the imposing figure of a teacher, already is an internal issue. If the teacher is considered a figure that obstructs learning, and the purpose is to condition a sense of independence in the student's thoughts and actions, then why should schooling continue to exist? The history of compulsory education in the United States can be understood as an attempt to thwart the tide of immigration and non-white influence, with the mandate of public school attendance being a way of reaffirming common American culture. Why the Klan supported this and didn't create a precursor to TND is beyond me.

What I'm seeking to describe here is an inherent struggle in education, and how it should reflect upon the creative results of a student. It is preferred that an independent creative spirit is founded within the student, but a right inference to be made here is that this, just like the contemporary problems of schooling, is another way of instilling messages inappropriate to certain students, and still obstructing the independent will of the truly genius student. It is a flawed response to the precocious changes of the century, a time that requires new vision. It is underway in the achievements of the Modernist, yet an inertia starts to take control. Around the time of the forties and fifties, there are some movements that are of note, but they all occur within the confines of the university: two examples that come to mind is the Black Mountain School, and the poets inspired by Louis Zukofsky. These two examples are distinct from earlier iterations, because they are nominally "domestic" (if you consider Ellis Islanders to be American), and are student movements. The two examples are not immediately comparable to the post-war Program Era of literature, where the Cal Arts equivalent of writing is embodied in MFA university courses, yet it is similarly facilitated through the university program. As McGurl's book outlines, figures like Flannery O'Connor had a history of attending schools considered progressive and experimental, so there is a considerable lineage to be made between the attempts of schooling reform in the early 20th C. with creative outputs somewhere around the post-war time. When the Iowa Writer's Workshop is introduced to the scene, a piece of the puzzle that will have sizable consequences for university fiction writing standards, it rests upon an insecure foundation:

Quote:"Whereas educational progressivism had assumed the inborn presence of an artist in every individual, who needed only to be set free from external constraints to flourish—and thus had had to do some fancy foot-work to rationalize the role of externalities like the school in this process—the postwar creative writing program was founded on the assumption that artists are forged in the imposition of these institutional constraints upon unfettered creativity..."

The result is that, whenever an eventual movement arises from these origins, a crisis is detectable. Notwithstanding interests some authors might have in these subjects, it is not because of a "Postmodern Condition", it is not an elimination of "grand narratives", but it has everything to do with the American literary establishment. The crisis coincides with the arrival of a truly mass culture, but the mass culture is not the singular cause. Such an explanation is stated in DFW's essay E Unibus Pluram. The evidence for his claim is more easily found in later novels like Robert Coover's A Public Burning or Max Apples' Propheteers, but it is not universally true for postmodernist fiction. If anything, the contemporary novel being overtaken with absurd asides about Walt Disney or Elvis or anyone of popular status is only significant when you consider a preceding decline.

The Modernist novel is not exclusively characterized by length, but those of highest status are possessed with an expansive character: Ulysses and In Search of Lost Time are both popular examples, but others such as Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities qualify. As said in Henry Miller's essay The Universe of Death, the publication of such novels amounts to two different phenomena: Proust and Joyce become the artists "most representative of our time", but are stained with death in doing so. "Proust had to die in order even to commence his great work; Joyce, though still alive, seems even more dead than Proust ever was". The writer must react to Ulysses in praise or rejection, and same with Proust's multi-volume work, but the reception takes a funereal form. Here is a longer passage from the essay that is relevant:

Quote:Proust, in his classic retreat from life, is the very symbol of the modern artist—the sick giant who locks himself up in a cork-lined cell to take his brains apart. He is the incarnation of that last and fatal disease: the disease of the mind. In Ulysses Joyce gives us the complete identification of the artist with the tomb in which he buries himself. Ulysses has been spoken of as seeming like “a solid city”. Not so much a solid city, it seems to me, as a dead world-city. Just as there is, beneath the hollow dynamism of the city, an appalling weariness, a monotony, a fatigue insuperable, so in the works of Proust and Joyce the same qualities manifest themselves. A perpetual stretching of time and space, an obedience to the law of inertia, as if to atone, or compensate, for the lack of a higher urge. Joyce takes Dublin with its worn-out types; Proust takes the microscopic world of the Faubourg St. Germain, symbol of a dead past.

I am not sure if I fully agree with Miller's description, but perilousness and the lurking threat of death is involved in what follows. The works of Beckett are a byproduct, a state of anguishing that becomes a weird kind of involution. Characters that have strange relationships with reality itself, their minds detached from the world, replacing regular experiences with a sickly, hypnotic introspection. The characters in these novels, to be sure, are only an ingredient of experimentation, but one cannot shake the feeling that it has something to do with a plodding, vacillating culture. Nothing else can be done, so the best replacement is aporia and the subtraction of essential things. The Modernist had dealt with unreality, the dreamlike, and the literary experiment, yet there was a substantial focus involved within reality; in its termination, one must deal with an alteration of reality when writing literary fiction, adding and subtracting from the narrative as if the novel is an abacus. The spiritual struggle of fin de siècle Europe has returned.

For the bored reader, I am now finally getting to Hysterical Realism.

The Hysterical Realism movement, and a few authors who are pioneers of it, can be linked to this abacus metaphor. Since most of them are within the apparatus of an American university education, or inhabiting an Americanized country, they have been caught within a schizophrenic schooling institution, that does not know whether to support the autonomy of an artist or to further trap them within the discipline of the classroom. Meanwhile, the fiction curriculum focuses on Modernist literature, mass-distributed through the textbook industry, and does not move too far beyond that. For the writers that will eventually be associated with the phrase "postmodern", there is only one acceptable path, which is the path that is laid out by the late modernist Beckett. But because he is uncontested and unchallenged in his work, just like the predecessor Joyce, all that one can do is pay tribute (as Donald Barthelme did, who recommended his students read every single work of Samuel Beckett) and attempt to use the abacus strategy elsewhere. Mass culture is one such way to achieve this.

As we see in Hysterical Realism, authors from Pynchon to Wallace borrow from the images of pop culture: Pynchon uses this in Gravity's Rainbow with Shirley Temple and comic book characters, DeLillo does this too much to be described in a succinct way, and DFW uses corporate names for his Infinite Jest novel.

I think I am safe in saying that this is a doubtful approach, which is why the structure of the Hysterical Novel ends up imploding: Pynchon frequently does this through the main character, where they end up "breaking", best represented through Slothrop's fragmentation at the end of GR. DeLillo's White Noise begins and ends with the mediocre circumstances, with chemical disaster never really posing a threat to the ordeals of the family's daily life. Infinite Jest is written in a non-linear way, without a really conventional end. It is not an authentic creative liberty, more of a necessity to follow from the insecure starting-point of these writers. There are only so many ways to reproduce the model of a Hysterical Novel, and attempts to include a parody of academic writing (done in Infinite Jest and House of Leaves) can only go so far. As James Woods says, this is related to a latent despair among the writers, a despair of artistic poverty and a despair made from education. The Modernist could repel this despair even when originating from the institution, but this appears impossible for those of the Hysterical Realists. And just as the crisis is present within writers of literary fiction today, the study of literature and literary criticism undergoes the same erosion: preoccupations of the academic are replaced with other preoccupations, usually related to a social cause like negolatry, and no definitive aim is reached. The novel can survive, but it must be wrested away from scholarly hands.

Note: I am using McGurl's Program Era book for pinpointing certain events, but I would not recommend it. Too much academic-ese, and prefers to engage in long analysis of individual novels rather than a strong historical study.

I decided to end off on this post for now and see how it's responded to. I might provide more detailed observations about some Hysterical Realist novels, and discuss the state of the novel at further length. It was a personal decision to not involve this post with questions about the novel's "form", or about the novel's chance of death, because it is a subject better explored in a future post in the thread.
The shame of the thing is that European literature does have a tradition of "novels of ideas." If the hysterical realists wanted to revive it, they had models available in Voltaire, Thomas Love Peacock, etc. Of course, to do so, they'd have to abandon the trappings of the realist style, which, as Wood says, are overworked to the point of exhaustion. 

Actually, the more I think about it, the more these books suffer by comparison to, say, Candide. It's a genuinely funny book, but the narrative is controlled, simplified, a necessity if you want to get away from detailed observation of the mechanics of human nature to explore ideas. Candide is also "dark" -- acerbic, cynical, hard -- in a way that DFW or DeLillo would never dare attempt. I wonder if we could formulate a law of inverse affect: the more ultimately affirmative an author or work, the more they're able to assimilate negative experience -- they can allow themselves the luxury of skepticism, sorrow, etc. By contrast, the more nihilist the author, the more they feel compelled to distract themselves from despair with fake bonhomie. (This is probably too broad to be applied strictly, but it works for these cases at least.) 

Another thing that occurs to me: I think it's possible to create sprawling, complex, even self-indulgent works, but it requires self-control. Castiglione says that grace ultimately derives from sprezzatura, "using in all things a certain nonchalance that may conceal art and demonstrate that what one does and says is done without effort and almost without thinking. It can be said that true art is that which does not seem to be art." Sprezzatura is the difference between this:

[Image: File:Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_Rinaldo...roject.jpg]

And this:

[Image: File:Untitled_acrylic_and_mixed_media_on...,_1984.jpg]

Tiepolo is graceful because he appears perfectly natural. Basquiat is strained; he's obviously trying to pack in a lot of "meaning," but he does it so artlessly that the result is ugly. In literature, the analogue to Tiepolo would probably be Italian epic. Ariosto can have a profusion of characters, events, images, ideas, far more than an hysterical realist, but everything comes so naturally, each new thing is introduced so simply, that his narrative, however fantastical, has verisimilitude. It's real without being realistic, whereas DFW wears realistic detail like a skinsuit to cover an artificial soul.

Hysterical realism has spawned a reaction in literary circles. Has anyone here read Sally Rooney? 

[Image: File:Normal_People_(Rooney_novel).png]

I'd call her work depressive realism. It isn't great, but it can be refreshing; a palette cleanser of sorts. She doesn't perform over-the-top emotions; she admits frankly that she doesn't feel much at all. Otessa Moshfegh works in a similar vein. At worst, their books are boring and dissatisfying, but unlike DFW et. al, they're never nauseating. The prose is clean and simple, even austere. Sometimes it can have an understated beauty. It tends toward nihilism, but at least it's honest and, for the most part, unpretentious (Rooney sometimes offends in this respect). I quite liked Lapvona:

[Image: File:Lapvona.jpg]
(08-06-2023, 12:10 PM)Drusus Wrote: Hysterical realism has spawned a reaction in literary circles. Has anyone here read Sally Rooney?

I'd call her work depressive realism. It isn't great, but it can be refreshing; a palette cleanser of sorts. She doesn't perform over-the-top emotions; she admits frankly that she doesn't feel much at all. Otessa Moshfegh works in a similar vein. At worst, their books are boring and dissatisfying, but unlike DFW et. al, they're never nauseating. The prose is clean and simple, even austere. Sometimes it can have an understated beauty. It tends toward nihilism, but at least it's honest and, for the most part, unpretentious (Rooney sometimes offends in this respect). I quite liked Lapvona:
I have read both Sally Rooney and Otessa Moshfegh, and when it comes to Rooney, I will try not to reiterate anything that Lord Mikka said originally. The connection you made between the two is quite apt, since both tend to portray reality as something that cannot give catharsis to its characters: no resolution or mental reorientation is made, really, and the advancement of time cannot help. The relationship being deferred in Rooney's Normal People is explained by the all-encompassing catchphrase of journalists and academics, "socioeconomic factors", yet it doesn't appear to be the exclusive cause here. When one observes the relationship between the two characters, it is almost as if we are watching two endangered pandas try (and fail) to reproduce. The outer world is not prima facie fractured, but these two characters are, and the actions that Connell make are not reducible to a class-based explanation. You could consider it a bitter sequel of sorts to Philip Larkin's poem High Windows:
Quote:When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s   
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,   
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—   
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if   
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,   
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide   
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide   
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:   
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.
After the Age of Contraception, relationships in literature do not resemble the melodrama of a middle-class unhappy marriage, packed with Freudianisms and such. There is no fear of being fastened down, marriage is a petrified remnant of the past, and now "the great structure has become a minor house". Dénatalité is more of a ruling force in Normal People than love.

Onto Otessa Moshfegh, her being foreign only accentuates the effect of depressive realism. I am not even saying this because I am a racist, though that is factored into the equation, but because her stories resemble an alien's approach to United States life. Bret Easton Ellis's Less than Zero and American Psycho also have this element, but it is framed within the kaleidoscope perspective of a drug-addled affluent brain. Moshfegh mentioned Less than Zero being on her bedstand in a 2018 interview with The New York Times. This is an odd choice to have, instead of other novels of more substantial quality, but her interest makes sense. Surrealism is not an adequate category to use for her stories due to its historical characteristics, and, same with Ellis, the Moshfegh stories can still be tied to the realist movement. It is categorically different from a work of Dreiser, Henry James, etc., but this information should surprise no one.

There is a difficulty in presenting a 21st Century realism, a subject reserved for a future genius who may or may not come, so Moshfegh chooses things that can provoke adequate connections to the present day. The Xanax addict of the 2010s is a character too close for comfort, with a lack of intelligence that ruins the candor of a novel depiction, so My Year of Rest and Relaxation chooses the benzo addict in the 90s. She is reserved, supposed to be more intelligent than her friend Reva, and appears as an isolated figure amid the mediocre personalities of NYC. In the short story "Mr. Wu" in Homesick for Another World, the eponymous character wants to have sex with a computer cafe employee, and contrives a plan to eventually do so. All the while, Mr. Wu purchases the company of prostitutes to sate his desires. At the end, he decides not to attract the computer cafe employee's attention, and returns to the regular habits of his life. One inquiry that can be readily made is this: why does he require the attraction of prostitutes rather than pornography? The short story "No Place for Good People" uses the phrase "box of pornography", not "website for pornography". All of these stories, unless otherwise stated, can be assumed to be somewhere from the 1980s to 2000. There are gestures to our current time, but nothing that compromises the time period that she chooses. Such a time-period acts as a fragile showpiece that must not be tampered with. I am assuming Lapvona also takes place in the past, given the synopsis.

Both the authors listed above share a trait to DeLillo's White Noise (mentioned in the post above), where everyone returns to their social station around two-thirds into the novel, and the rest of the time is dedicated to the benign fears of certain death that will arrive. Moshfegh and Rooney, as many contemporary novelists may be during this time, have returned to "reality", but the problems contained in depressive realism remain. The reason why I have used postmodern and Hysterical Realism interchangeably is that both have overlap with each other, and it is the short tradition of postmodern literature that bestows this tepid lack of resolution onto Hysterical Realism. Why it has been transferred over a second time onto depressive realism is a worthy question to ask.

As said in the last post I made, still formulating what I should say about the novel form & some other things. Been playing Halo so my mind has been elsewhere.
(08-03-2023, 04:08 AM)Mason Hall-McCullough Wrote:
(08-03-2023, 01:11 AM)GraphWalkWithMe Wrote: The screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is self-consciously and maybe the worst offender of this tendency. His work-product just amounts to the depiction of psychologically dysfunctional middle-aged (64+ year old) Jewish men endlessly designing sandcastles with more and more rooms until they gasp upon their deathbeds - "This didn't really mean anything".

Anthony's elaboration was enough but this explains it perfectly, Synecdoche New York was one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Everything was so "thematic" that the plot became surreal, yet it conveyed no actual meaning. The loser protagonist's aggrandizement that felt like Kaufman self-inserting was a separate issue that turned it from bad to laughably bad.
SNY is a very simple comedy satirizing OCD, I'm not sure why everyone reads so much into it.
The form of the "novel" is really something more specific than the form of long prose fiction books in general. Novels are about more-or-less mundane stuff happening, with (more-or-less) mundane details described at length. There are a few very good novels, but it's hard to make this kind of thing exciting and vital. The form was invented in the 1700s; before then, people wrote different kinds of books, like romances (the kinds of books Don Quixote was reading). My point is that there's no need to write girl books (or a style of book that tends towards girliness, at least) just because everyone else is writing girl books and acting like no other kind of book exists.
Numantine Wrote:
Striped_Pyjama_Boy_Nietzschean Wrote:
Numantine Wrote:what comes next (Rebirth from Fantasy/SF? A more minimalistic version of Hysterical Realism? Still no novels about the internet, almost nothing from our side). But I’ll stop here for now.

Have you read Taipei by Tao Lin?

The dialog in that novel is very interesting in how authentic it is. I also like the dialog in Soumission—but not how safe Houellebecq is with the novel's idea.

We have authentic dialog without structure or people of great interest.

Do you think contemporary middle class people actually have the interest necessary for a novel?

I've not read anything by Tao Lin, but I'm interested since he's one of the few people out of /lit/ who made it (actually, I think I even own Taipei). Do you recommend him?

Wrt Soumission I think it's one of Houellebecq's weakest. Normies still think it's about le grand remplacement when the thesis is something more like the West is Void (the MC reaches Rocamadour, where the West's and Christianity's fate were once decided, and just sees some rocks). My main issue with it, beyond the thesis being somewhat simple, is that there's such a thesis & that the novel seems to have been from the beginning shaped or rather deformed by it (same is true for Atomised, IMO). But Houellebecq's language is always fitting, he's someone who's writing very closely to what the characters feels, and to whom it'd seem a cruel joke to try to conjure Modernist tricks to make the novel appear more literary, it'd then be untruth & he'd have no reason to write it.

Wrt interest, I've gone back and forth between thinking (literary) novels will come back or that they'll go the way of poetry (that at some point became a medium that only aspiring poets and poets read), autofiction seems to point to that direction. At any rate the middle class seems the only one still interested & still engaging with literary fiction where I'm from, but mass-interest from them is certainly ominous, since so many seem to regard literature as a form of salvation (something between voting blue & brushing one's teeth) & read it in spite of not enjoying it, creating a demand for upmarket fiction that's sweetened enough for them bear & post about.

In my opinion, Soumission is an exception to Houellebecq's novels in that instead of being centred on the condition of alienated men, it's more just taking potshots at the current (incredibly) spineless French academic establishment. The whole Islam/ great replacement thing is just a convenient backdrop for that.
I disagree that it was weak, in fact, I'd consider it one of his better ones. Personally, I thought Plateforme was pretty bad, although that might just be due to personal reasons.
JohnTrent Wrote: As an aside, I had this same issue with Bolano's 2666, which is that I can understand who the characters are, but I will never have a dream about them. They do not stick to the imagination at all, they are ephemeral products of the author, meant only to serve a larger purpose. 

I wouldn't group Bolano in with the others; his work was speculative, which excuses this. The execution is still very flawed, but he should be seen as failing to realize something new where hysterical realists are milking diminishing returns from a dead form.
What does "realistic fiction" (as in: Not sci-fi, fantasy, or horror) offer that nonfiction doesn't?
Guest Wrote:What does "realistic fiction" (as in: Not sci-fi, fantasy, or horror) offer that nonfiction doesn't?

Have you considered that any nonfiction that isn't actual transcripts of events and/or a collection of eyewitness reports is also just realistic fiction to a large extent? You can enjoy a realistic fiction novel the same way you may enjoy nonfiction, without the added burden of having to parse what actually happened, and just accepting it as a story.

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