Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Is The Novel Dying?

I’ve included two short videos in this post. One of Philip Roth, one of Paul Auster–both award-winning novelists.

It will take you about six minutes to watch both. I would *Love* to read your comments about them.

Does one of them “win” the debate?

Are both partially right?

Or, are both dead wrong?

Philip Roth: The Novel is a Dying Animal

Paul Auster: Why Roth Is Wrong About the Novel

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2 responses to “Is The Novel Dying?

  1. Once May 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Roth’s premise for what he calls the coming “death” of the novel form is reasonable considering the fact that all literary forms that are taken for granted at present began or had their catalyst in what might be called a necessity of the times, on the one hand, and, on the other, the occasional purely accidental occurrences of certain forms like the novel, the short story, and even the sundry forms of modern lyric poetry.

    With the advent of readership itself being more or less the product of a kind of universal emancipation of the masses from ignorance by default due to lack of access to education, the ability to read or write in time, then, has become a product of the increase of means and leisure time in more modern decades and centuries as literacy evolved and in turn produced the phenomenon of increased readership and a multiplication of valid modes of prose beginning with the narrative coupled with descriptive writing and gradually extending to expository, argumentative, persuasive, and ultimately of the purely hortatory modes to fit the needs and demands of successive populations as they addressed their newfound freedoms of increased wealth and beyond this, leisure time, itself.

    Samuel Richardson [19 August 1689 – 4 July 1761] set out to write a book of model letters for the benefit of the increasing prominent of the middle class in the English society of his time; rather than random, meaningless content in his model, he made to be written by interesting imaginary characters who wrote what they wrote to one another and all letters were addressed to a kind of plot line that involved all of them;Pamela was the result and in an amazing sudden turn in public attitudes, the book was a success not because of its purported use in learning how to write bread-and-butter letters, but rather for the narrative that Richardson had somehow produced as the subject matter for his epistles. Henry Fielding 22 [April 1707 – 8 October 1754 ] found the content of Pamela insipid, vapid, and entirely contrived and so with his usual sarcasm and cynicism he wrote a spoof on Richardson’s Pamala he entitled Shamela designed to ridicule both the author and is narrative and to everyone’s surprise Fielding’s spoof became more of a success than the object of his mocking and so he set out to write Joseph Andrewsin 1742, et violà! What some feel was the first novel as such was born.

    With the advent of public transportation, increasingly readers demanded narratives that might be finished in a single sitting on a bus route, and again, violà! The short story as we know it was born.

    Roth’s point is not that novels would disappear altogether, but rather that with the coming of an age of technology, coupled with the decline in the educational system such that “stories” and/or novels written as pure entertainment will continue because of Auster’s principle that human beings derive great benefit and enjoyment from stories, but having said that, the novel as a leading proponent of what defines a thinking society is almost totally subverted by the ease with which such definitions can or seem to be achieved through movies, television, and now the internet. Roth’s point is well-taken.

    With the grand majority of souls I know, the number of them who consistently admit that they read more than they watch through media is relatively low in comparison to what was the case forty years ago. Even within the school system for which I taught English composition and literature, the official word at present is that English is no longer considered a literary subject in the curriculum, rather that it is a subject the content of which is literacy. The reading of novels and plays, short stories and even non-fiction as such are no longer necessary for preparation for the matriculation examinations.

    Neither reading nor writing is featured in our classrooms but rather the use and usage of media and technology to convey meaning and the sense of aesthetics as applied to functions in life rather than as an artistic end in and of itself. If in fact the writing of letters has all but disappeared in general social interaction, the writing of emails certainly does employ many hours in any average man or woman’s life and certainly is this true when it comes to present-day youth. In the same sort of scenario, the practical use of novels is now confined to the few just as the physical attendance of audiences at ballet or classical concert, or even the movies has seen a downward spiral in the last forty years in favour of whatever can be achieved within the privacy and informal setting of one’s own home.

    Of course there are notable exceptions, but Roth’s point is a sobering possibility. Literary novels as such just as does poetry does not “touch” the grand majority of readers, and at times, I am not sure they ever did to the grand majority of the population of any country. Vis-à-vis the ubiquitous presence of televisions, DVDs, and computers, not to mention cell phones, novels seem to have all together disappeared from the average household.


    • Alexander M Zoltai May 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm


      I appreciate your analysis and insight

      Most of your points resonate with my thinking and feeling; yet, I felt I *had* to write a novel to get the Message inside me out to the public

      I do follow my intuition and often have it backed-up by further happenings

      Somewhere in the revision process of my novel, I realized it needed to be followed by a collection of short stories in the same Universe

      Perhaps they can draw in a relatively distracted audience and they may then read the novel, eh?


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