Sunday, January 23, 2011

The internet as the novelist's dilemma. (Or, the frivolous now vs. the timeless.)

How novels came to terms with the internet:

Film and TV are coming to terms with the web. Novelists can too.

If these two missions seem incompatible, that's because they are. To encompass both, as Wallace aimed to do, you must be able to derive the Timeless from a series of frivolous Nows, and then you have to persuade your readers that you have given them what they want by presenting them with what they were trying to get away from when they came to you in the first place. No wonder American literary novelists have found it easier just to bow out of the whole "Way We Live Now" rat race, especially when the designated enemy was television. Sure, people spend (or spent) six hours per day watching TV, but they aren't actually doing anything while they're at it. You can address the time your characters presumably squander in front of the tube the same way you treat the time they spend asleep: by passing over it in silence.
If novelists are struggling with how to incorporate the internet into their work, it sounds more like a failure of imagination than an insoluble dilemma. Consider Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine. An entire (albeit short) novel that takes place on an escalator trip. Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher found a way to make a movie about Facebook. From Veronica Mars to Sherlock Holmes, TV has been finding a way to incorporate the web and mobiles into their narratives.

Miller finds some glimmers of promise in recent works that deal with the effects of social networking and internet's democritization of criticism on human relations; however, she is rather dismissive of speculative authors, clearly expecting Serious Authors to stop ceding these themes to likes of Cory Doctorow.

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