Dec 14, 2009

Jonathan Franzen

Problems arise from the conflation of what something is and what something should be. For one thing, Franzen’s definition of the literary novel doesn’t really leave space for a failed work, something that takes the human condition as its subject, but isn’t successful. He also, at this point, took a little hop-skip and said literature is about “people as they really are” – as if realism were as natural as breathing. In fact, novels are not and never could be just simple reflections of reality, but are always and have to be constructions, artificial and formal mediations, interpretations.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear that this description of literature as being about “people as they really are” will divide writing in the way Franzen wants to divide it. It doesn’t seem obvious that a story about a man turned into a bug, just to use Franzen’s own example, is about humans “as they really are,” in some way that, say, Leonard’s story about former ’60s radicals on a for-profit bomb spree is not.

Read the entire essay, Jonathan Franzen, honesty and the lines of literature, @ The Millions.