Author-centric novels

I just realized it had been long time since I’d questioned what used to be a point of frustration with me that 20th century fiction/ modernism tended to be so self-centered (that is, author-centered). To what did I attribute that author-centeredness, I now wonder:

–Capitalsm/ individualism. That we, and by extension our authors, all think of ourselves as heroes in need of being mythologized. (Or that we, who know we’re not heroes, look in awe at those who can consider themselves such?)

–Democracy/ divine average. Sort of the flip side of that. As members of a Democracy we celebrate ordinary people and ordinary things and authors find in their own lives authentic experiences of the ordinary. Hence a tendency toward the autobiographical.

–What I think of as Dan Green’s idea that the novel has ceded such concerns as plot and character to cinema and tv so as to concern itself more with stylistic concerns. But these stylistic concerns must come from, or be made to hang upon something real, in most cases, if only for structural reasons; so again, personal experience arises as a kind of default.

(To say that another way, probably Nicholson Baker would have written The Mezzanine from a totally different point of view, if that really mattered, but instead its from the point of view of someone very likely much like Nicholson Baker –I’m guessing– because his personal experience was readiest to hand.)

Counterpoint: quite a few film makers are “author-centric” — Woody Allen, Fellini…

–Could copyright law play a role? If you have to pay someone in order to rewrite their story (which I don’t think Shakespeare needed to?) that creates a clear incentive to write out of personal experience. The great stories are for big box office budgets.

–Maybe related to the Dan Green idea, commercial writing concerns have been superseded by personal or spiritual ones. People, even great writers, don’t imagine they can make a living writing, but want to use writing to tell their personal story and “be creative.”

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