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Thread: The death of Philip Roth, the end of an era?

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  1. #1
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    Default The death of Philip Roth, the end of an era?

    I couldn't fit the whole quote into the title, but in one of the recent NYT pieces on Roth someone came out with the line:

    "The death of Philip Roth marks, in its way, the end of a cultural era as definitively as the death of Pablo Picasso did in 1973."

    Now I don't know much about Picasso or painting, but I imagine it's safe to say that the loss of Picasso was a pretty big deal. Are we in a similar moment? The response to Roth's passing has been pretty muted and it feels as though writing peaked more or less in the 20th century and had begun to wind down well before Roth's death, Pynchon, DeLillo, McCarthy, Morrison and a few others are still knocking about but how many younger writers are there? Are novels even valued these days? Are the people who would previously have become novelists now going into screenwriting instead?

    I seem to recall a McCarthy quote from somewhere about how it's pointless to continue writing big, important novels because there's just no audience for them anymore and I think he's probably right.

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    I picked up a donated copy of "Disgrace" by JM Coetzee the other day, had a quick perusal this morning. It reminded me from the off of an Ian McEwan novel. Extremely self conscious, very stylised, full of a sort of postmodern concern with literature (the main character, like a McEwan's character, happens to be an academic who can spout theory on romanticism). Too early to judge it but these things encapsulate for me what I don't like about the modern novels I've read. They read as if they're written by literature students, possibly by literature students who studied creative writing. They can't ignore postmodernism, but they wish they could. They can't ignore literature, either. Probably McEwan and Coetzee are just one small strand of the modern novel, but I wonder if my experience reading their novels points to a wider sense of exhaustion with the form - almost an embarrassment with it? Too encumbered by its history, too alien to its time.

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    Certainly there are lots of young novelists, but the endgame financially has to be to get those novels adapted into screenplays (which many do of course).

    Is it true that publishers are increasingly looking for the breakout hit rather than nurturing younger novelists, as with the music industry living off Adele's success alone for a while back there? Probably. Top selling books of all time (UK) are all Rowling, Brown, James etc

    On the other hand, some of the big prize winning novels are still pretty famous, and considered 'serious', 'important' afaik.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corpsey View Post
    Too early to judge it but these things encapsulate for me what I don't like about the modern novels I've read. They read as if they're written by literature students, possibly by literature students who studied creative writing. They can't ignore postmodernism, but they wish they could. They can't ignore literature, either. Probably McEwan and Coetzee are just one small strand of the modern novel, but I wonder if my experience reading their novels points to a wider sense of exhaustion with the form - almost an embarrassment with it? Too encumbered by its history, too alien to its time.
    Yeah, it feels as though we're trapped in a feedback loop. I've read that we're now into "post-postmodernism" and "metamodernism", but it all feels like postmodernism to me. I keep picturing it as the effect of pointing two mirrors at each other, that seemingly endless but gradually diminishing reflection.

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    Quote Originally Posted by version View Post
    I've read that we're now into "post-postmodernism" and "metamodernism", but it all feels like postmodernism to me
    oh yeah agree 100%

    that leap into postmodern self-aware self-awareness is a one-way trip, everything after has to be in some kind of reaction, be it incorporation, rejection, whatever

    i.e. the New Sincerity

    I don't know if the novel if declining so much as changing - see Tao Lin, the kind of paradigmatic example, where his "writing" isn't ever really separate from his "life"

    the financial nuts + bolts of publishing, making $ off literature, I have no idea, but it's hard to imagine there ever not being a cultural space for some form of the novel to fill

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    btw Corpse by Coatzee I'd recommend Waiting For the Barbarians, one of my favorite novels ever probably, or at least one of the few that has stuck with me

    I guess there's a bit of postmodernism in it but it's really postcolonial allegory, in the postcolonial lit canon with Achebe + Naipaul + J.G. Farrell + the rest I suppose

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    it's just retrograde and embaressing. roth is the girly calender on the wall of a tyre fitters in 1989. made sense at the time but best forgotten now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by padraig (u.s.) View Post
    btw Corpse by Coatzee I'd recommend Waiting For the Barbarians, one of my favorite novels ever probably, or at least one of the few that has stuck with me
    Is it better than Disgrace? I'm just finishing it. I don't care for it. Like McEwans novels, well structured, well written (in a way), a page-turner, full of the signals of seriousness but with this feeling of weightlessness to it. Also so much of it strikes me as flatly implausible - the way the characters speak, the way they think. Perhaps that's what postmodernity allows for. The appearance of realism but overarching it all this concern to be "literary".

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    Quote Originally Posted by padraig (u.s.) View Post
    oh yeah agree 100%

    that leap into postmodern self-aware self-awareness is a one-way trip, everything after has to be in some kind of reaction, be it incorporation, rejection, whatever

    i.e. the New Sincerity
    Totally. It also gets to the point where you basically have to be a lit. student to pick up on all the references and allusions. To get ... you have to have read ..., ... and ... . I think writers perhaps became too clever for their own good. I read Wallace's unfinished final novel The Pale King last year and there were a few good bits, but it felt more like an exercise in something. Supposedly he was trying to address boredom and attempted to write a book which would mimic the drudgery of working at the IRS which is pretty clever, but who wants to read a boring book?

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