23 mai 2007

the novel does not yet exist

"The novel cannot submit to authority. It is written against official language, against officialdom, and against whatever fixed form the novel has begun to take—it is always dying, and always being born.

"If the literary novel has calcified into genre, the new novelists need to break its underlying, often unspoken rules. To not just question, but to overthrow authority. The novel, at its best, cannot even submit to the authority of the novelist: Gogol burnt his follow-up to Dead Souls because, on reading the book he had just written, he was shocked to find that he profoundly disagreed with it.

"But the universities are authority or they are nothing. As the west has grown secular, the university has, quite organically, taken over from the church as a cross-border entity claiming universality, claiming to influence the powerful but not to wield power. "Education" is the excuse for a self-perpetuating power structure now, just as "religion" was the excuse then. The modern universities could claim to have no single ideology, but the same could be said of the Vatican under the Medicis, or the Borgias.


"Luckily this situation is self-satirising. Campus authority generates campus comedy. The senior academic novelist is trapped in the small world of the university, cut off from the big world, embodying authority yet still driven to write. In this situation the novel, if it is to live, must turn against the novelist. Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge, writing novels at night, attacked their day-selves, their academic selves, as absurd buffoons whose work was meaningless. And the novelist in them was right.

"The university model, any teaching model, of necessity implies that there is a Platonic ideal novel in some other dimension, which has all the characteristics that make for novelness and that the more of these attributes a novel has, the more like a perfect novel it is. This concept works for the tragic, it works for the epic, it works (less well, but it works) for the lyric, it does not work for the novel because, as Mikhail Bakhtin has pointed out, the novel is the only post-Aristotelian literary form. It is not bound by classical rules. It is not bound by any rules. The novel is not a genre. The novel is always novel. The novel is always coming into being. The novel cannot be taught, because the novel does not yet exist."

- Julian Gough

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