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The Great American Novel

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Not quite the right fit for this thread, but it's the best place I can think of to share it:


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18 hours ago, Justin Hanvey said:

East of Eden? (not sure if anyone else mentioned that one yet)

need to read some Steinbeck. AFAIK, he's not as well-regarded as he once was, but in his time he was a pretty major figure.

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It's a passing comment in a longer interview, but LARB has an interview with a novelist named Xu Xi, who has some interesting thoughts on the idea of the "American [or otherwise-national] Novel":

I actually don’t think an “American novel” has any real future in terms of what the novel will become. I don’t think any “national” novel is the future, meaning that “Chinese,” “English,” or “Russian” novels are probably dead in the water too. I have long contended that the 21st century needs to reimagine the novel, but what still gets published and hyped internationally (especially in the English language) often fits the “national” characteristics for a novel, even though the human condition has long leapfrogged past that. The historical novel is hugely popular right now because it’s so safe in terms of “national” boundaries — if you write about 12th-century England, well, it just has to be English, doesn’t it (ditto for China or any other nation-state)?

What I think is far more interesting is the novel that doesn’t just experiment with form but also with perspective  the world, we keep saying, is global, transnational. Meanwhile, literature, especially the contemporary novel, is very, very, very timid when it comes to taking on a truly transnational vantage point. Let’s face it, the nation-state should simply die as a concept, and nationalism is what we might call a “foolish consistency” (do we reallywant those nationalist extremists in any nation to rule? I don’t. They’ll send us back to the dark ages). We have to get out of those national borders and acknowledge that identity is much more mutable and not confined by “patriotic” sensibilities — especially given our virtual reality. Even the English language is no longer “owned” by the English-speaking nations in so many areas of human endeavor — the sciences, technology, commerce, trade, the visual arts, architecture — but contemporary literature is one of the stubborn, elitist exceptions.

The American dream, as it used to be defined, died long ago, alongside the Stepford wives. But there is room for a reimagined “American dream” — one that is not defined by what America was but what America could be. And it isnot about building walls around its borders …

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