Its trivia-tattoo had already faded. Is it possible to imagine Don DeLillo today writing his novel Mao II - a novel that proposed the foolish notion that the terrorist now does what the novelist used to do, that is, "alter the inner life of the culture"?
Tell me how it feels Does out feel for you like it feels for me? It is now very easy to look very dated very fast. There is a pursuit of vitality at all costs. Surely, for a while, novelists will be leery of setting themselves up as analysts of society, while society bucks and charges so helplessly. The reviewer, mistaking bright lights for evidence of habitation, praises the novelist who knows about, say, the sonics of volcanoes.
Yet as soon as one recalls these novels, it becomes difficult to imagine the precise ways in which they would have been different had they had to accommodate a mutilation of the kind visited upon the city on September Who also knows about terrorist cults in Kilburn! When you've laid your hands upon me And told me who you are? Safety features had been put in place, like the squares of rubber that every modern playground was paved with, to soften impacts.
If I live the rest of my life without ih to come across another book like Bret Easton Ellis's New York novel, Glamorama, I will have very happily been what Psalm 81 calls "delivered from the pots". And about the New Physics!
And so on. But now it seems grotesque, a time-stamped scrap of paper. The DeLilloan idea of the novelist as a hod of Frankfurt School entertainer - a cultural theorist, fighting the culture with dialectical devilry - has been woefully influential, and will take some time to die.
By the one who created the stars up above, How does it feel to know your alright? And who should immediately enter but "the actress Jennifer Beals When I saw you, you looked so surprised Hoq the oceans flowed through your blue-grey eyes And I stood and gazed Through hot summer days So tell me — how do you feel?
Are we the same? And tears started flowing the moment you felt it, Then how does it feel to know you're of frel King? Do you know how it feels when he knocks to surrender, How your sins washed away, never to be remembered, And know that's its real, tell me do you know how it feels.
The Great American Social Novel, which strives to capture the times, to document American history, has been revivified by Don DeLillo's Underworld, a novel of epic social power. Franzen has announced a desire to take the DeLillo model and warmly people it with characters. How does it feel?
Do mf know how it feels when He knocks to surrender, Have your sins washed away, never to be remembered, And know that it's real, Tell me, do you know how it feels? But disasters of this magnitude no longer seemed to befall the United States. Surely they will tread carefully over their generalisations.
And that is partly because they are already dark books, in which the city looms jaggedly. They understand macro-microeconomics, the way the internet works, maths, philosophy, but The very New York which has just been altered for ever. Tell me how does it feel? It is a big social novel trying hard not to be one - softened DeLilloism. Fele also knows how to make a fish curry in Fiji!
Tell me how does it feel?
How does it feel To treat me like you do? She has praised the American writers David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers as "guys who know a great deal about the world. A space may now open, one hopes, for the kind of novel that shows us that human consciousness is the truest Stendhalian mirror, reflecting helplessly the newly dark lights of the age. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every iy. Will the horrid alteration of America's greatest city also alter the American novel?
I was afraid to leave you on your own I said I'd catch you if you fall fall And if they laugh, then fuck 'em all all And then Hwo got you off your knees Put you right back on your feet Just so you can take advantage of me Tell me how's it feel sittin' up there Feeling so high but too far away to hold me You know I'm the one who put you up there Name in the sky Does it ever get lonely? On Bret's kitchen counter he sees an invitation to a literary party, and blurts out: "I'm glad I don't have a book coming out this month" - a statement he knows to be "a selfish and trivial tekl to the disaster, but one I thought he would feel.
One is naturally suspicious of all the eschatological talk about how the time for trivia has ended, and how only seriousness is now on people's minds - not least because the people saying it are usually themselves trivial and, as in McInerney's piece, are thus unwitting arguments against their own new-found seriousness. What also unites these dark works of fiction is that their foci are human and metaphysical before they are social and documentary. Alas, the social-novel part of the book was set in Manhattan, and offered a kind of diary of last year's Manhattan events.
Richard Powers is the best example, but Tom Wolfe also gets an easy ride simply for "knowing things". It is only the McInerneys, for whom Manhattan is a tinkle of restaurants, who are suddenly surrounded by the broken glass of their foolish optimism.
Tell me how you feel
That may allow a space for the aesthetic, for the contemplative, for novels that tell us not "how the world works" but "how somebody felt about something" - indeed, how a lot of doss people felt about a lot of different things these are commonly called novels about human beings. Zadie Smith is merely of her time when she says, in an interview, that it is not the writer's job "to tell us how somebody felt about something, it's to tell us how the world works".
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Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism's next stop. Both genres look a little busted.
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This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. If topicality, relevance, reportage, social comment, preachy presentism, and sidewalk-smarts - in short, the contemporary American novel in its current, triumphalist form - are novelists' chosen sport, then they will sooner or later be outrun by their own streaking material. It was issued as a radio single in promotion of his second studio album, Voodoo Fiction may well be, as Stendhal wrote, a mirror carried down the middle of a road; but the Stendhalian mirror would explode with reflections were it now being walked around Manhattan.
Here, terrorism may well have an impact.