Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Literary Prostitute



Contrary to common belief, the literary novel genre has always been a minority, the majority preferring the visible world of a tangible reality. I remember those times when the novel had a type of authority and commanded respect, because society saw in it something more important than just a hobby: a genre instructed to represent an unknown reality. With the passage of time the novel has lost ambition and self-confidence, taking refuge in the increasingly exhausting and entertaining task of eradicating their claim for philosophical or moral doctrine.

The contemporary literary novel has lost authority because it is committed to bold projections of verbal illusionism and constructive pyrotechnics, those sanctimonious novelists can be granted the role to entertain or surprise, and not to echo the voice the dumb. This has given birth to the era of literary prostitution that entertains and satisfies without causing trouble, much like a football game or a zombie-drama TV show. The literary prostitute is the novel that in my mind, no longer delivers. Why this exhaustion? I guess due to competition from other literary genres – audiovisuals – with which the literary novel will be unable to compete on a financial level. Most of these authors write novels to be made into TV series, video games or movies, rather than to win readers.

The literary novel, as such, I don’t think will survive or even be as admirable in the future. My observation is not volatile; it hangs from the following reasoning: A genre of minorities, such as the literary novel, always suffered because those wishing to be entertained came to theaters to watch dramas, tragedies, or operas. The ever-popular entertainment was never provided by books, but by theaters, circuses, stadiums, and – in modern times – by the internet, movies, cable television, and video games.

As short and futile as a literary novel can be, it always requires intellectual effort, continuous attention and imaginary conceptual reworking of the exposed text that most human beings, even in the most educated cultures, are little amused by. Much more popular are those activities or events which have the option to waive any obligation, or critical discernment, or creative partnership.

The literary prostitute comes to resemble amusement, minimizing these complications to the reader, simplifying the way and summarizing the contents of fiction for it to be palatable and enjoyable as a comedy film or television game show. This approach will undoubtedly have the opposite effect that authors seek: instead of attracting more readers to literature, it will convince them that written fiction is far less entertaining than that produced by the audiovisual media. If there is a place for literature in the future, it will be defined not by their proximity and similarity, but by their difference and distance with the narrative space of the image.

Although Europe is not currently a mecca of intellectual and moral debate of the literary novel, this does not make it so in other parts of the world. In China, the U.S., South Africa, and Latin America, the immigrant suburbs of London, Paris and New York, the novel is still the main story factory. Take, as a case in point, the most recent list of Nobel prizewinners: Mo Yan, Orhan Pamuk, Mario Vargas Llosa, JM Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul. Disguised passions, debatable talents, but they generally come to represent the current literature that, for better or worse, diversifies approaches, as the literary novel has never been a static genre.

As prostitution was invented as the world’s oldest profession, and has not changed much since its inception, it continues to meet and define basic a primary need; I would also like the literary novel to belong to that genre of perpetual and indispensable invention.

2 comments:

  1. I found you via your comment on my post at Writer Unboxed... and I actually was just thinking about this very topic this morning. I won't claim to be a literary writer, but I do very much enjoy reading literary fiction. Still, as you say, much of what's written now "...entertains and satisfies without causing trouble, much like a football game or a zombie-drama TV show..." Yes, I'd agree with that and I know I wobble over to the commercial side with my own writing. My own personal philosophy is that literary fiction will continue to meet that basic and primary need... as long as there are those of us who long to read it.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Julia.

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