Beware the novel – IT LIVES!

“The novel should be known as the undead genre: its history is filled with moments in which it could have, would have, perhaps even should have vanished but did not.

There are two reasons why this is so. First, the novel has proved a durable universal donor. Second, it thrives on its negative capability—its unwillingness, even its inability, to provide definitive answers to the questions it poses. The novel has soldiered on as a set of questions, of open-ended experiments, rather than definitive results. Novels, like viruses, have all the appearances of a set of plausible answers—all the appearances, that is, but the answers themselves. Novels are questions posed as if they were answers. They clarify exactly how hard such judgment can be, and how contingent and provisional our explanations of past events and predictions for future ones will always be, no matter how certain we are about the abstract rules that guide our lives. On the one hand, then, novels live on by giving a push to other artworks. On the other, they survive because they are in themselves incomplete, a set of suggestive vectors and plausible outcomes rather than a sealed solution. Although there often seems to be a good deal of ‘actionable intelligence’ in a novel, it is rarely clear what that action should be.”

That’s from John Plotz’s essay “No Future?“, the rare academic article that might be of interest to people who aren’t academics—like writers producing novels.

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