anybody ever thought about the fact that long novels are connected to a masculine performance of "literary genius" which demands readers' attention over other books for an extended period of time
you ever think about the fact that long novels are an undemocratic way of monopolising attention. not only do they demand that readers dedicate a large amount of their time to reading them, in order for that investment to be worth it, those readers are encouraged to discuss the novel, forcing other people to dedicate their own time to reading it to be included in the conversation.
Now don't get me wrong, there are some ultra-long novels that I absolute adore and that I am glad to have read. HOWEVER, the performance of "literary genius" which is often associated with them perpetuates an extremely harmful patriarchal ideology. In addition, one has to be mindful of the extent to which discussing these longer works excludes most people in a way that discussing poems or short stories does not.
The worst aspect of this cult of the "literary genius" is the way it ties into the construction of a patriarchal, white supremacist "canon". If you ever hear people say "you don't know anything about literature unless you've read X", that's the construct they're perpetuating. And it's no coincidence that David Foster Wallace, the hypermasculine writer par excellence is the one universally acknowledged pillar of the "contemporary canon".
So there are three ideas which need to be spread in order to counteract this very harmful way of thinking about literature.
- learn to recognise the canon where you see it. Watch out for phrases like "essential" and superlatives like "greatest". Fuck the canon
- there is nothing you have to read. It's OK not to read if that's not what you're into. If it is what you're into, read whatever the fuck you like
- valid to read extracts. valid not to finish books. valid to skip pages
(i also have to be honest and admit that though i usually prefer shorter fiction, i have been VERY guilty of promoting this sort of rhetoric at various points. See, in particular, any conversation I've ever had about Brothers K)
@garfiald I used to be a bit sunk cost about books. Like I had to finish reading them, whereas now I'm like, nope I'll read something else.
I dislike quite a lot of reading discourse, which doesn't count anything outside "the classics"
@garfiald I've been re-reading the Earthsea books, and I've really appreciated the length. I enjoy getting absorbed in a lengthy tome as much as the next fantasy nerd, but it's been nice reading shorter novels.
I wasn't sure what to think about her writing and then I saw someone say it is best imagined like sitting around a campfire in a village listening to a storyteller recount the earthsea saga and staring into the coals of the fire late into the evening imagining everything and all of a sudden it clicked and I realized her writing is perfect.
@garfiald this makes me think of 'nature writing' and nan shepherd again. her writing on the cairngorms and highlands goes 'into the mountain' whilst all the literature that precedes her speaks a very different language. it goes 'up the mountain' and racks up this ludicrous stack of quasi natural history, full of classification and conquest. these are heroic stories with scientific filler
@garfiald anne boyer or bhanu kapil maybe did. could be in homi bhabha but i havent read nation & narration
@garfiald oh i just remembered ursula le guin in an interview called james joyce 'a dead end' & said virginia woolf was the future.
the patriarchal long novel is meant to be 'the final word' on the subject. so what comes after ulysses? what comes after infinite jest? etc
@wintgenstein @garfiald maybe idk. i feel like people are just now catching up to what she did in books like 'the waves' tho. she might've been more canonical but i dont think many followed her practice until after the 60s. whereas thomas mann was out here trying to write his own version of ulysses in the 40s... i cant really think of anyone doing that for woolf then. maybe im just overlooking people
what im getting at is for a long time, writers (statistically mostly male) were more interested in writing their own 'ulysses' than their own 'to the lighthouse.'
i dont think woolf's practices were widely adopted till after the 60s while joyce's were prior to that.
woolf's always been canonized, but maybe not always to the current extent
@goodleftyfundies @garfiald okay but like "this canonical author is a dead end, THIS canonical author is betteR" is not a good argument to make lol. just because le guin made it doesn't make it a cogent or even good argument, woolf and joyce are two of the most written about authors in the 20th century as cited by the essay garf mentioned
@goodleftyfundies @garfiald also like it just plays into a lot of capitalist discourses of art in that you can only read one contemporary of a person who writes similarly or in the same genre and all others must be confined to the dustbin of history. a patently ridiculous thesis, of course you can read more than one author
@wintgenstein @garfiald yeah i don't think that's the argument le guin or i was trying to make. i think le guin was more making a point about literary history and what kind of novels get valued. youre right tho that there is a danger of perpetuating the canon & im definitely against that.
for me, i look to woolf not as a novelist, but as someone who was on a trajectory out of the genre. i don't think think she considered her final 'novel' the waves as a novel... more of a play or poetry.
a lot of this too isn't really about my beliefs, but the continued insistence of feminists that woolf's work is important. idk, part of reading woolf for me is understanding contemporary feminists like sara ahmed.
@wintgenstein @goodleftyfundies It seems to me that Roy's remark was relevant because I discussed the gendered performance involved in writing long, demanding novels, a practice which is closely linked to Joyce. I can see how Le Guin's argument could be seen as perpetuating the canon, which I agree isn't a good idea. I am however puzzled by the implication that being Irish is more of a hindrance than being a woman. Woolf's popularity coincides with a conscious feminist movement in literary study
@wintgenstein @goodleftyfundies It seems disingenuous to say "it's not true that Woolf needs defending, she currently gets more coverage than Joyce", because that implies that Woolf's current popularity is purely organic, as opposed to linked to a conscious re-evaluation of the modernist canon, one which I'd argue was not wholly successful either.
@wintgenstein @goodleftyfundies Joyce's own effort to market his books was very much a prefiguration of what we saw happen with Infinite Jest. That's not to say that he and the Woolfs didn't work closely together, or that we have to choose between the two. We don't. But Joyce's two main works monopolise attention in a way that Woolf's novels do not, and those differences are clearly linked to performances of gender.
@goodleftyfundies @garfiald okay yeah, idk i've seen some poetry critics on tumblr declare the novel to be a dead art form and that nothing new could be done with it but that's pretty absurd considering the amazing experimental stuff that plays with form that happens every year, i mean we're living in the era of the familiar saga even if its doubtful it'll be continued in the current climate
I totally agree.
However I think the long novel is an endangered species these days.
Or maybe I am in a culture that is conditioned to be afraid that the long novel is an endangered species.
Maybe when I dig deeper its that I am afraid that masculine toughness to slog through 1000 pages of an often times difficult novel to prove you Know Literature is endangered.
Which in that case that is fantastic.
However spending a long time in a universe whether it be a long tv series or a series of books or video games or whatever I think is beautiful.
The long novel is the most beautiful of all for me though. After the 300-400 page mark of a long novel I begin to see my entire life through the lens of the book. The rhythms and turns of thought of the author become the way I think myself.
Long novels are also simple, you pick one up and you can forget the world for months.
I guess I hope the Literay Cannon Of Obtuse White Men Books gets demolished but a love for long novels is nourished (while also recognizing they aren't superior to shorter novels/stories/poems).
Also, long novels help me fight the addiction of my phone and my technology exasperated ADHD by giving me a consistent, singular place to go to over and over again. It is therapuetic for me, but I realize that is def not everyone.
@garfiald As an English major who doesn't actually read much literature, this thread has been very vindicating for me.
When I was in college especially, I would often have peers call me out and poke fun for how little I'd read.
I spent a *lot* of time forcing myself through books in the canon that I hated (I hate most of them), because I felt like I had to live up to some arbitrary standard.
@garfiald I think it actually made me read *less* in the long run, because my brain came to associate reading with long, pretentious trudges.
I'm still trying to undo that association, but it's gonna take a long time.
@garfiald I used to read the "Classics" because I was told I "should" but.
1. I realized they were p much all white dudes.
2. I realized that I was always going to find someone elitist asshole I couldn't please because of something I hadn't read.
I still read classics occasionally, (and I do like more literary works) but I try to read for myself first and foremost.
Literature is for gaining new perspectives imo, and if you're reading the same jerkoffs, you're not.
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