Here’s a Question

So, I’m nearing the conclusion of the conclusion of the book I’ve been working on for the last umpteen years. Which of course doesn’t mean I’m done — there’s still the introduction to be written, and the first chapter to be polished up a bit.

But it does mean that this is the moment at which I’m supposed to be thinking the really Big Thoughts, the what-does-it-all-mean thoughts, the concluding-type thoughts. And I’m totally mired in the shallows, unable to come up with an adequate reason why the argument I’ve spent the last 260 pages making is so bloody important that the future of civilization depends on it.

My argument, in case you’re interested: despite the perpetual hue and cry to the contrary (in which an article every six months or so proclaims the novel a dead form, and the novel itself repeatedly contemplates that death between its own covers), the novel is in fact not obsolete, but rather uses the notion of its obsolescence as a means of creating a kind of cultural wildlife preserve, a protected space within which it can continue to flourish. But the question, to be wrestled with here in the last pages, is the relationship of these claims of the novel’s obsolescence to more general cultural cycles of the birth and death of genres, of styles, and of media.

So let me ask what you think: why would it matter if the novel were obsolete? Personally, I’d be crushed if no more of them were made, don’t get me wrong. But is there some particular reason that the novel’s potential obsolescence should trouble us more than, say, the death of the vinyl LP? Or the death of radio drama? Or the death of epic poetry? Is there something special about the novel — not necessarily something that makes it more valuable, but something that makes its (supposed) passing different from that of other cultural forms of expression?

(Any helpful thoughts would be much appreciated, and duly acknowledged.)

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