Ben Marcus vs. Jonathan Franzen

Jess Row in Slate:

Living, as we do, in the aftermath of this age of grand theories, it’s hard to read Ben Marcus’ essay in the current issue of Harper’s—with the wonderful tongue-in-cheek title “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It”—without asking: Does he really mean it? Title notwithstanding, it seems he really does. He means it when he says, “In the literary world, it’s not politic to suggest that the brain is even involved in reading”; when he proclaims that “literature is dying”; when he describes himself as “responding to an attack from the highest point of status culture.” These sentences have the unmistakable flavor of the avant-garde, in the original military sense of the word. They carry what Barth (referring to his own work) called “the whiff of tear gas at their margins.” “This is not a manifesto,” Marcus concludes. But if not, it’s as close to one as we’re likely to see from a writer of fiction today. Profoundly nostalgic—as so many manifestoes turn out to be under close examination—it returns us to the pure spirit of modernism and the rhetoric of cultural crisis, of vanguards and reactionaries, of the Chosen and the Left Behind. As such, it’s an unnecessary, and disingenuous, attempt to repolarize American literary culture.

More here.  [Thanks to Asad and Husain Naqvi.]

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