Arts The Impermanent Novel
posted by March 20 at 11:41 AMon
Here you can read an essay that Susan Sontag wrote before her death in 2004. The essay essentially argues that the novel is still the leading medium for human expression.
Long ago - it was the 18th century - a great and eccentric defender of literature and the English language - it was Doctor Johnson - wrote, in the preface to his Dictionary: “The chief glory of every people arises from its authors.” An unconventional proposition, I suspect, even then. And far more unconventional now, though I think it’s still true. Even at the beginning of the 21st century. Of course, I am speaking of the glory that is permanent, not transitory.
Later, Susan Sontag adds that the novel is “an ideal vehicle both of space and of time. The novel shows us time: that is, everything doesn’t happen at once. (It is a sequence, it is a line.) It shows us space: that is, what happens doesn’t happen to one person only.”
How do we read this error, this clear mistake? At the moment death is at her door, Sontag, a novelist, is trying to find something that is “permanent, not transitory.” And because she is a novelist, that permanent thing happens to be the novel. But that is not the point. The point is this: The novel was once the leading medium for human expression. It does not lead the 21st century. Nor did it lead the 20th century. The novel had its moment in the 19th century, as “the ideal vehicle” for expressing middle class space and time. Cinema is really the leading narrative art form, and even it is dying. It will be surpassed by another narrative vehicle, in the way it surpassed the novel, and the novel surpassed theater.