Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Cynthia Ozick's Din in the Head, published last year, seems to imply that the novel is an endangered mode of communication. In his review for The New York Times, Walter Kirn percieves faults in tone, such as when he says that "Ozick sounds the latest of a million warnings about the oft postponed catastrophe that only novelists still fear".

From where I type, the novel is still healthy. I see no sign of its demise. In fact, the sheer volume of new publications comprehensively swamps even the most devoted reader. How many can you read in a year? 80? 100? Even so, you'll miss most of them, especially if you search beyond your native shores, as many do.

Ozick's frustration spills over into condemnation, as Steve King (of Today in Literature) tells me. She takes a swipe at the modes of communication that are available online. "The title essay scoffs at the universe of communications technology," Steve relates. And then the quote:

Life—the inner life—is not the production of story lines alone, or movies would suffice. The micro-universe of the modem? Never mind. The secret voices in the marrow elude these multiplying high-tech implements that facilitate the spread of information. (High tech! Facilitate the spread of information! The jargon of the wooden leg, the wooden tongue.) The din in our heads, that relentless inward hum of fragility and hope and transcendence and dread—where, in an age of machines addressing crowds, and crowds mad for machines, can it be found? In the art of the novel; in the novel’s infinity of plasticity and elasticity…. And nowhere else.

I fail to see how online communications threaten the novel. The small but devoted clique of lit bloggers should serve to dismiss her fears. The online marketplace for ideas is, for me, quite compelling although quite different in nature from reading novels.

Why must I choose one or the other?

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