steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Experimental Literature - or Not

Over the years I've read a lot of articles like this one by about Gabriel Josipovici, lamenting the state of contemporary British fiction. Most of the usual charges are present on this occasion, but for ease of reference I will list the classic ones, which include: a) an "uptight" concentration on precision and craft, which is seen here as a kind of unhealthy control-freakery; b) being "petty-bourgeois" (pun presumably intended); c) lack of ambition - often by comparison with American writing, to which the label "epic" attaches more easily, especially when you consider that a coast-to-coast road story set in England might only cover a distance of about 100 miles - but in this case more particularly by comparison with the formal experimentation of Sterne and the modernists of the early twentieth century.

As a matter of fact I'm not a huge reader of the usual Booker suspects either. I've no particular brief for Rushdie, Amis and the rest. But these general complaints say more about the complainer than about the literature, I suspect. First, Josipovici the article doesn't seem to question whether these Booker shortlist habitués are in fact the best writers the UK currently has to offer. Not only does he seem to be unaware of any genre other than adult lit-fic, he manages to get through the entire article without mentioning any female writer at all. Then again, what could be more bourgeois than to complain about how middle-class everything has become - as if to be bourgeois were ipso facto to be especially limited in outlook? Few writers were more bourgeois than Shakespeare, but even without that trump card it's a pretty dodgy proposition, both in theory and in practice. Finally, there's the valorization of formal experimentation, especially of the ostentatious variety, and the corresponding disdain for craft - a false opposition if ever there were one.

I too love Tristram Shandy, but not more than I love Pride and Prejudice. And which was more experimental anyway?
Tags: books
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