March 19, 2006

Speaking of DFW...

Wallace in his collection of essays Consider the Lobster, demolishes John Updike, saying that he (DFW) enjoys reading him and admires his descriptive prose but sees his work as surreally solipsistic. Of the Campion Award winner, Wallace writes:
I'm guessing that for the young educated adults of the sixties and seventies, for whom the ultimate horror was the hypocritical conformity and repression of their own parents' generation, Updike's evection of the libidinous self appeared refreshing and even heroic. But young adults of the nineties - many of whom are, of course, the children of all the impassioned infidelities and divorces Updike wrote about so beautifully, and who got to watch all this brave new individualism and sexual freedom deteriorate into the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation - today's subforties have very different horrors...
In another essay, he quotes a passage from Dostoevsky's The Idiot, a passage concerning individual charity versus public charity, and laments the dismal state of modern fiction:
Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this?...The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse - one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile. Maybe, if the novelist was really major, a dry bit of mockery in The New Yorker. The novelist would be (and this is our own age's truest vision of hell) laughed out of town...Given this (and it is a given), who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn't (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that? How - for a writer today, even a talent writer today - to get up the guts to try?

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