New Fiction is Psychic Occupation
Fiction—or more generally, longform narrative text—has long been the handyman of culture, serving whatever functions are most urgently needed at a historical moment. The Greek oral tradition, famously, functioned in part to preserve cultural histories and customs—hence the sprawling lists of names and figures, or lengthy descriptions of hospitality, in Homer. Arabic maqamas synthesized and preserved the collected wisdom of the medieval Iberian peninsula through proverbs and fables. Victorian novels provided an escapist entertainment for members of the aristocracy, while the Bible, Quran, and Mahābhārata operated as normative unifiers.
We no longer need literature to provide heavily plotted absorption: drug-like escapism, the loss of ego, more easily come from other mediums. Likewise, our encyclopedias, our etiquette guides, our microfiche handle our cultural history just fine. Television, film, non-fiction, and the Internet spent the 20th century eating away at literature’s territory, and once again the discipline transforms from generalist to specialist. The best literature of the modern day does what only literature can do—allow readers to inhabit other minds, other worldviews, other consciousnesses. Continue reading