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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Narratives in a post-9/11 world....

Reading the respective books sections from this week's Guradian (UK) and New York Times, I was struck by the prominence of the "fiction/nonfiction" debate that has obviously been percolating close to the surface for awhile among writers and critics.

In its most extreme form, the issue is whether fiction (particularly the novel) is being "overtaken" -- i.e., made increasingly irrelevant -- by nonfiction and the narratives of reality we see in print and (heaven help us) on TV. Leading the charge on this point is V.S. Naipaul, a writer who engages quite successfully on both sides of that fiction/nonfiction line. As it happens, Naipaul was profiled in the NY Times this week, and the author of the profile, Rachel Donadio, penned an essay focusing on the issue. In her essay, Donadio highlights the evidence that Naipaul's sense of the decline of the fictional form is widely shared among editors and publishers who are devoting more publication space (in magazines) and resources (in choice of books to publish) to nonfiction. She adds fuel to the argument by contending that with one notable exception, fiction writers have just not been able to meet the needs of readers in a post-9/11 world by capturing the sense of these traumatic times.

Turning to the Guardian (actually the Sunday Observer), one finds a featured essay by Jason Cowley that makes just the opposite argument, noting that this year's crop of Booker Prize "longlist" titles is proof positive that fiction writing is alive and well and meeting the post-9/11 challenge. (I especially like the Philip Roth quote...)

I point this out not because I've read any of the referred to titles (although I have read about several of the titles, and I am tempted by a couple), but because I am in the midst of considering the pros and cons of using different types of narratives and genres in my fall ethics course, and this debate among the critics has me thinking about how people relate to different types of narratives.

And that will be the topic for a followup post....


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