Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I don't agree, Mr. Swift.

Today, this was in my blog reader feed. It's a quote from Graham Swift (Wish You Were Here) about the writing process and what novels can and cannot mean for their readers:

"There's no such thing as the contemporary novel. Before I seem the complete reactionary, let me add that I've happily joined in many discussions about 'the contemporary novel' where what that usually, unproblematically means is novels that have appeared recently or may appear soon. But the novel that's contemporary in the sense of being wholly 'of now' is an impossibility, if only because novels may take years to write, so the 'now' with which they begin will be defunct by the time they're finished. Nonetheless, the idea of the novel that's wholly of now persists. There's an undeniable thrill in seeing what's most current in our lives offered back to us in fictional guise, but it soon dates and it's never enough."

I don't know about this. Yes, many novels take years--even decades--to write. But some don't some are written in a matter of weeks, days. Some, as illustrated by the (painfully bad) cell-phone novels that came out of Japan a while back, are written in hours, with dozens of authors.

It seems to me like Mr. Swift is talking about a very narrowly defined definition of a novel. I think he's missing the fact that stories are literally being told in real time today, if no other place than on Twitter or through our Facebook status updates. As he's defining it, sure, I don't think you can call a novel contemporary (again, as he's defining the word). But contemporary writing is happening all the time!

Writers out there, have you felt the kind of frustration Mr. Swift talks about?

1 comment:

  1. A good story is timeless; I don't see any need to apply the label contemporary to anything that will stand the test of time...of which my definition is re-readability.

    Just my two cents, anyhow.