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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » It’s the end of an era

It’s the end of an era

Good Novels Don’t Have To Be Hard Work

But let’s look back for a second at where the Modernists came from, and what exactly they did with the novel. They drew a tough hand, historically speaking. All the bad news of the modern era had just arrived more or less at the same time: mass media, advertising, psychoanalysis, mechanized warfare. The rise of electric light and internal combustion had turned their world into a noisy, reeking travesty of the gas-lit, horse-drawn world they grew up in. The orderly, complacent, optimistic Victorian novel had nothing to say to them. Worse than nothing: it felt like a lie. The novel was a mirror the Modernists needed to break, the better to reflect their broken world. So they did.

One of the things they broke was plot. To the Modernists, stories were a distortion of real life. In real life stories don’t tie up neatly. Events don’t line up in a tidy sequence and mean the same things to everybody they happen to. Ask a veteran of the Somme whether his tour of duty resembled the “Boy’s Own” war stories he grew up on. The Modernists broke the clear straight lines of causality and perception and chronological sequence, to make them look more like life as it’s actually lived. They took in “The Mill on the Floss” and spat out “The Sound and the Fury.”

Much of the entirety of the literary world rests on the complexity of the work being discussed (more difficult is always better). But one of the most important things in literature is that the plot is not really very important at all – it is simply a vehicle for the novel.

One of the biggest guidelines they tell you in writing is to show, not tell. By presenting an image of a ruddy-eyed woman instead of stating that she is sad you give the reader the benefit of evincing the emotion for themselves. This would be equivalent to micro economics. Thus the macro level would be the overall motivation and theme vs. the plot. Literature has evolved into a form of philosophy, using plot to carry its arguments rather than logical steps. To redirect the focus of literature back towards the plot rather than the philosophy is to do it a disservice I think.

Also, literature is more than entertainment; it involves critical thinking. This is lost in most Young Adult books that lay everything bare and require very little analysis. Part of the satisfaction of literature comes from the work put into it, not the result. There is no room for instant gratification – that’s what (most) movies are for.

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