But They Aren’t Writing Anything At All!

An extract from “Literature’s New Clothes,” A Life Unfurnished 4 July 2011:

Contemporary literary fiction is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. It is time somebody shouted out from the crowd: “But they aren’t writing anything at all!”

[…] Contemporary literary fiction continues the attempt to live up to Plato’s definition of art — which, for Plato, made art true — by writing in a manner to give the appearance alone of literature. The effect is a genre in which, for the writer, the sense of Writing Literature is dominant, and, for the reader, the sense of Reading Literature is dominant. And this effect is produced, not simply by the abandonment of most of the elements of character and plot, not simply even by an avoidance of high-literary language and style, but by a self-conscious juxtaposition of the signs of excruciating effort — short, elliptical sentences; absence of fulsome description; muted tone of painful sublimation — with the signs of iconoclastic casualness — colloquialisms; lack of trajectory; air of the incidental. This is how the appearance alone of literature is pursued: by the combination of painful retention, of a Literature that will never appear, and easy production, of a Literature that need only appear. […]

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