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July 23, 2010

The Novel is centuries older than previously acknowledged

The novel is centuries older than we've been told | Books | guardian.co.uk
I was misled by my advisers, as Bertie Wooster would say. At university in the early 1970s, I was led to believe the novel originated in England in the 18th century, and no professor told me otherwise as I pursued my PhD in the 1980s. Sometimes Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was mentioned as a prototype, but according to literary dogma the novel experienced a kind of virgin birth with Pamela, Samuel Richardson's epistolary novel of 1740. But outside the walls of academe, in those alternative classrooms called used bookshops, I kept coming across books that certainly looked like novels but obviously predated Pamela. There was not only Lady Murasaki's Tale of Genji, a huge novel written around 1010, but the shorter Tale of the Lady Ochikubo, written a few decades earlier. I picked up the Everyman's edition of The Story of Burnt Njal, a 13th-century Icelandic fiction that was labeled a "saga" but looked very much like a realistic novel. I came across multivolume Chinese novels from the Ming Dynasty like The Golden Lotus, a sordidly realistic novel from Shakespeare's time. I read Robert Graves's White Goddess and was puzzled by his reference to "a novel called The Recognitions" that dated from the 4th century. There were novels in the 4th century? I also came across works of fiction that didn't resemble conventional novels but reminded me of the unconventional, experimental ones I was reading at the time. Apuleius's Golden Ass (written around 160 AD) read like something John Barth might have written, while Petronius's Satyricon (written a century earlier) looked like a Thomas Pynchon novel. Rabelais's 16th-century Gargantua and Pantagruel resembled any number of gargantuan, Rabelaisian 20th-century novels from James Joyce's Ulysses to Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew. It dawned on me that there was a problem with nomenclature. What most people mean by a novel is the "conventional" novel, or "modern," or "realistic" novel. But I'm more interested in the noun than its qualifying adjectives. While I regard a novel as any book-length work of fiction –a definition endorsed by Webster's dictionary and EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel – most literature professors want to limit the term to realistic fictions set in identifiable sociocultural contexts, especially ones that make psychological probes into human nature. While that definition might exclude a few of the titles above, it describes most of the others to a T. (The Tale of Genji is a realistic novel that displays more psychological insight than almost any European novel before the 20th century.) But unfortunately, the first editors of many of these early novels labeled them "romances" or "sagas" or satires, folk epics, tales, pastorals, legends, picaresques, and other terms, which allowed literature professors to ignore them. Or I should say, those professors who are aware of them: I suspect most professors have never even heard of The Tale of Lady Ochikubo or The Golden Lotus, so their status as novels is a non-issue for them.

July 21, 2010

Class Has a Huge Impact On Admissions at Top Tier Universities According to Two Princeton Sociologists

So, this is the underlying article that Ross Douthat was...

Continue reading "Class Has a Huge Impact On Admissions at Top Tier Universities According to Two Princeton Sociologists" »

July 19, 2010

The Roots Of White Anxiety

Op-Ed Columnist - The Roots Of White Anxiety - NYTimes.com...

July 15, 2010

The Weird Satisfaction of Getting Academic Research Published

The Benefits of Integrating an Information Literacy Skills Game into...

July 04, 2010

Is the novel dead?

Literary storm rages as critic Lee Siegel pronounces the American novel dead | Books | The Observer
Book pundits in the United States are being urged to line up on one side or other this summer: Is the American novel finally dead or not? The row began when the controversial critic Lee Siegel wrote a piece for the New York Observer declaring that the American public no longer talk about novels and that this creative form, once so full of fire, has lost its spark for ever. "For about a million reasons," Siegel claimed, "fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers." As the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, awarded on Thursday in London, recognised the importance of the new book by American journalist Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, the debate Siegel has re-started raged on in books pages and on literary websites. Will American fiction ever compete again with non-fiction for contemporary relevance, critics in both camps are asking. Siegel's assault on America's novelists was prompted by the publication of the New Yorker's annual "20 Under 40" list of new writers, but it has exposed a bitterness at the heart of the world of books. Railing against "the New Yorker's self-promoting, vulgar list" of favoured newcomers, Siegel smears the whole literary pack as being damagingly self-referential and led by the nose by publicists. Calling for new talent and new genres, he laments the fact that nobody bothered to question the "20 Under 40" selection.

June 30, 2010

I made Ben Stroud a Website

Fiction � Ben Stroud PMjA contributor and personal friend Ben...