June 17, 2007
'Steal from The Simpsons, Not Henry James'
Novelists can take from these new art forms [e.g., sitcoms and HBO-quality TV dramas] new structures and techniques for telling stories, as Joyce did from cinema. But who has? Weirdly, the modernists have a more accurate take on now than the most recent Booker winners. Finnegans Wake reads like a mash-up of a Google translation of everything ever. But John Banville and Anita Desai read like nostalgia (for Nabokov, for Dickens, for traditional virtues, for the canon). They feel far less contemporary than The Waste Land — which is what Bakhtin would call a novelised poem: a poem that escapes Aristotle’s Poetics and hitches a ride on the energy of the novel … Since Joyce and Woolf (and Eliot), the novel’s wheels have spun in the sand.
So steal from The Simpsons, not Henry James.
The line “Finnegans Wake reads like a mash-up of a Google translation of everything ever” is gold.
Seriously, though: I want a sharp, funny, forward-looking novel that reads like a cross between Samurai Champloo, Joss Whedon’s run on “Amazing X-Men,” and a Facebook wall. Not another tome about, like, “the nature of memory and loss”* set in 1965 Buenos Aires.
*Not actually a quote from anything but it might as well be.