Zombie Art Form

Tom McCarthy, “Tom McCarthy by Frederic Tuten,” BOMB 131 (Spring 2015)

FT Every few years or days, we hear the cry that the novel is dead. But then something comes along to prove that it is not only alive, but that it manifests itself in full vitality and beauty. May I ask you what you think of this statement? I believe we share a common feeling that it is not the novel that is dead, but the lack of imagination that invests it.

TM No, I think the novel is and always has been dead, and this is the very precondition of its perpetual regeneration. Don Quixote is a novel about how novels don’t work (the hero tries to enact all these episodes from books, as though to test their propositions, and he, they, flunk each time); about a fundamental, systematic dysfunction written right into the medium’s core. And that’s more or less the first major novel! It’s a peculiarly zombie art form, with all the goriness, the cannibalism, and so forth that that term implies (it’s not as though you need to cut open Ulysses‘s stomach to see what it’s been eating: it’s got everything from Defoe to Sacher-Masoch dribbling down its chin!). The novel stumbles onwards, ineluctably, gorging and disgorging its own death, its own deadness. So the novel’s not just dead — it’s undead. The type that matters at least: the committed, engaged, self-aware novel that wrestles with the contradictions of its own condition. The middlebrow novel, by contrast, the type that doesn’t acknowledge or address this situation, but just ambles along happily believing that a naive, uncritical realism could ever work in the first place, let alone now — that would be undead too, but in a way that somehow doesn’t seem to really matter.

Tom McCarthy, “Tom McCarthy: A Kafka for the Google Age” by Tim Martin, The Telegraph 19 March 2015

“I don’t think we need to abandon the form of the book just because the internet has been invented,” he says. “Most other media formats work: you get an iPhone and it does something, and if it doesn’t do that thing, you take it back for a repair. But the book is deliberately set up not to perform a certain function, to systematically frustrate. It’s always been a dysfunctional medium, and since it never works, it never stops working.” He grins. “So I’m perfectly happy writing books.”

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