第60页 Chapter 5 The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel
- 章节名：Chapter 5 The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel
- 页码：第60页 2014-08-30 04:37:54
P60 A TEN-MINUTE HISTORY OF THE NOVEL Cleopatra and Caesar didn't amuse themselves with novels in their spare time, because the long story written in prose didn't exist in ancient times. The novel we know it today emerged in the eighteenth century, in the hands of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.... These three stories used old conventions but filled them with something new: a glance into the internal life of an individual person. Before the eighteenth century, long stories written in prose featured entire chessboards full of static characters, shuffled through series of events in order to tell the story of a nation, explain an idea, or illustrate a set of virtues.. But Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding produced a new kind of book: the Book of the Person. They weren't the first. Over in Spain, a century and a half before Defoe, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra had already written the first Book of the Person: the story of Don Quixote, the gentleman of La Mancha who decided to become a knight errant. But Cervantes was a lone genius. Defoe, Fielding, and Richardson together began a literary movement that flowered, fully blown, into a new kind of literature: the prose narrative that explores the interior life of a character. This new form, the "novel", had to compete with another, less respectable literary form, the "romance."....Romance reading was not a manly and respectable pastime. Novelists, on the other hand, wanted to be taken very seriously indeed. Novels dealt with real people in familiar situations; as Samuel Johnson wrote in 1750, novelists tried to "exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind." But eighteenth-century readers were a little confused by this distinction between the tawdry "romance" and the noble "novel" -- and novelists such as Swift, who insisted on trotting his hero through fantastic landscapes, didn't improve matters. For decades, novels came in for a large share of the general disdain that educated readers felt for romances.... Yet the novel prospered. Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding had produced their innovations during a time when the individual self, with all its traumas and dilemmas, was of great interest to the public at large. Thanks to the Protestant Reformation, the soul (at least in England and America, the sources of all the eighteenth-century and most of the nineteenth-century novels on our list) was imagined as a lone entity, making its solitary way through vast and confusing landscape. John Bunyan's Christian, called by Evangelist to forsake his doomed city and find the wicker gate, is called alone. He has to put his fingers in his ears and run away from his wife and children to find salvation, separating himself from every human tie in order to unite himself with god. Interest in the private self was on the upswing, impelled not only by Protestantism but by capitalism, which encouraged each person to think of himself (or herself) as an individual, able to rise up through society's levels toward wealth and leisure. The self was no longer part of a rigid, unshifting feudal system, with responsibilities beginning at the birth and never changing thereafter. The self was free. Reams have been written on this subject, but for our purposes it's enough to know that this sense of an individual self with a private internal life was central to all the major developments of modern Western life: Enlightenment thought, the Protestant religion, the development of capitalism, and (of course) the novel. Novelists celebrated the individual: Charlotte Bronte's tortured and passionate heroes; Jane Austen's heroines, manoeuvring through a society that both protects and hampers them; Nathaniel Hawthorne's tortured, adulterous clergyman. And the public bought, and read. Popularity is always a double-edged sword, though. The intellectual elite had already been suspicious of the novel, because of its identification with the "romance". Now they were doubly suspicious. After all, books that everyone reads can't really be worthy of attention by the most educated.... How did novelists fight back? By playing up their connection with real life. Fantastic tales were scorned. Stories about reality gained critical acclaim. ... IN the nineteenth century, the soap opera of choice was the "Gothic novel".... A few brave novelists -- notably Hawthorne, who could never resist a touch of supernatural horrors, and Emily Bronte, who had a weakness for ghosts at windows -- borrowed Gothic elements to jazz up their tales of adulterous Puritans and unhappy moor residents. But most serious writers rejected the fantastic in favour of the real. The novel even developed a social conscience. Charles Dickens and his American counterpart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, used their stories to kick against the injustices of a market economy that built wealth on the backs of the weak; Dickens protested English society's use of children for labour, while Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin put a human face on the slave labour that made the southern economy run... The earliest writers had seen nothing wrong with pointing out the fictional nature of their stories.. But later novelists avoided this sort of intrusion into the narrative. They wanted readers to discover a 'real' world, not an imaginary one. The late-nineteenth-century novel wasn't supposed to be the child of the writer's brain; it was intended to be an accurate record of ordinary life. This new philosophy of realism turned the novelists into a sort of scientist. Like the scientist, the novelists recorded every detail rather than selectively describing scenes -- which tended to make most realistic novels very, very long. The father of realism, the French novelist Gustave Flaubert, was so determined to portray real characters in a real country town that he drew maps and diagrams of his imaginary world. (He got a little lost in the details occasionally; if you're careful, you can catch his heroine turning the wrong direction to go home.) Flaubert's Emma Bovary is the woman eighteenth-century clergymen fretted about, the female reader whose love for romances has blotted out "real life." She is consumed by the desire for romance, that "great passion which... hovered like a great pink-plumagedbird soaring in the splendour of poetic skies," and this absorption in fantasy makes her "unable to believe that the tranquility in which she was living was the happiness of which she had dreamed." Emma Bovary comes to a bad end -- she eats arsenic after realising that she'll never be able to live in a romance -- but the realistic novel flourished. Henry James's characters don't run around with indians in the woods, like the hero of the romantic Leatherstocking tales. Nor do they develop mysterious stigmata and die from guilt, like Hawthorne's anguished clergyman. Instead they go to their jobs, live in their dusty, high-ceilinged rooms, battle consumption, and marry men who are presentable but no great shakes -- like most of the "regular" folk in the world 5. (5. Realism is one of the major movements in English and American fiction. ... that the movement involves: 1. detail derived from observation and documentation; 2. an effort to portray normal experience, not the exceptional; 3. an "objective, so far as an artist can achieve objectivity, rather than a subjective or idealistic view of human nature and experience."...) Which brings us, more or less, up to the present. Realism never really goes away. Even today, stories that describe "extraordinary" events (thrillers, science fiction, fantasies, and to some extent religious fiction) tend to be intellectually exiled, dismissed as "popular" genres unworthy of serious critical acclaim. But in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, realism developed offshoots. Dostoyevsky and Kafka perfected a "psychological realism" that pays less attention to physical details and more to psychological details. Rather than giving loving attention to the exact appearance of landscapes or furnishing, psychological realism tries to paint an accurate picture of the mind, so that the reader seems to be in direct contact with a character's mental processes. William James (Henry's brother) invented the term "stream of consciousness" in 1900 to describe the unordered but natural flow of human thought, and novelists from Conrad to Virginia Woolf seized on this idea. "Stream of consciousness" writing is the psychological equivalent of the detailed physical landscape description: We are to think that we are seeing, uncensored by the writer's judgment, the "facts" of the mind.... Too much of this sort of thing is just as wearying as the protracted details of ponds and heaths found in early realism. But early-twentieth-century writers were enthralled by the stream-of-consciousness technique. Faulkner's characters rarely come to us by any other means, and James Joyce produced (in Ulysses) a famously dense chunk of stream-of-consciousness writing that lasts forty-five pages.... Another form of realism -- even more ferociously modern than "psychological realism" -- was naturalism. Naturalist writers were convinced that they could write "purely scientific" novels. The individual, the subject of all novelisation since Don Quixote, was no longer free. The "self" was only the product of inherited traits plus environmental influence. Naturalist writers -- most notably Thomas Hardy -- gave their characters certain genetic characteristics, plopped them down into a sheer hell of environmental factors, and then described the resulting behaviour.... And so we arrive at the twentieth century. The style of realism, with its careful cataloguing of detail, is still with us. Don DeLillo begins his 1985 novel White Noise with his narrator leaning out a window, watching the college.... But the ideas behind the novel have changes since realism's heyday. The novel is generally considered to have moved through "modernity" to "postmodernity." Defining these two terms is tricky, since no one realised that modernity existed until it had been replaced by postmodernity, which simply means "following modernity." .... More simply, then: Modernism is a type of realism. It too strives to portray "real life." But modernists, writing during and after two world wars, saw that their Victorian ancestors were deluded. The Victorians thought that they could understand what life was all about, but the modernists knew that "real life" was actually beyond understanding. "Real life" was chaotic, planless and unguided, and so the "scientific style" of the modernist is chaotic, refusing to bring novels neatly into any kind of resolution... Absence of plot made the modernist novel very difficult to read, especially for the common reader who hankered for a story. But the modernists tended to scorn story. One of modernism's most unattractive aspects was its snobbery. Modernist writers distrusted the masses and put all their faith in a small, well-educated elite. Several prominent modernists (most notably Ezra Pound) supported fascism and sneered at democracy. And the most well known were particularly savage about "popular fiction." The novel was an intellectual exercise, not a form of entertainment, and readers who wanted entertainment were welcome to go buy a dime-store western. Virginia Woolf moaned that the novelist was a "slave" to the necessity of selling books; she longed for a fiction that could be free, with "no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest, or catastrophe in the accepted style." E.M.Foster wrote that "oh dear, yes -- the novel tells a story," but wished with all his heart that the market wouldn't demand "story", that "low atavistic form." (As both Foster and Woolf ended up telling quite interesting stories, the market apparently won out in the end.) NO one like sot be condescended to, so it's hardly surprising that most high school students develop a loathing for the modernist novels they're forced to rad in senior English and go to the movies instead.. They're being good postmodernists. ... Postmodernism rejects modernism's claim to know the truth about real life. Postmodernism says: There are many ways to portray real life and no single authority can pick which one is right. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has just as much intellectual value as Heart of Darkness. The postmodern novelist considered that all previous attempts to write about the individual self were flawed, because those earlier attempts insisted on seeing the self as essentially free. No, no, says the postmodernist; the private self that we first met in Don Quixote and Pilgrim's Progress isn't some sort of independent, free being that can find its own path through obstacles, triumphing over society's hypocrisies. Nor was that self formed by nature and genetics. Instead, that private self was produced by society. Everything that we think about ourselves -- every "truth" we know about our own existence -- has been instilled in us, since birth, by our culture. We can't ever get "outside" of society's structures in order to see what is really true. And when we examine our own deepest selves, all we'll find is a collection of social conventions. Postmodern novelists didn't try to write original stories, since "original" implies some sort of creative ability which is free from the influence of society. Instead, they wrote about society, about the flood of information that shapes us from birth. Their careful, lengthy cataloguing of the details of daily life reminds the reader: This is who you are. You're formed and shaped by these details. You can't ever escape them. ... For folks who reject the idea of "one truth," postmodernists are amazingly loud as they shout their conclusions: Get it? Get it? You don't have any power. You're pushed here and there by your society. It rules you. It is you. Literary postmodernism began to lose some of its steam in the late 1970s, and no single "movement" has replaced it (these things are easier to see in retrospect). But it seems that as the novel reaches its four hundredth birthday, we've come full circle, back around to Don Quixote..... the twentieth-century novelist Italo Calvino announces.. This technique is called metafiction. Rather than creating a fictional world that pretends to be real, metafiction admits, right up front, that it's only a story;...Calvino doesn't have to worry about being taken seriously. He can admit that he's writing a novel, because the postmodernists have already shown that the contest between "real" and "false" is only a product of realist's quest for a truth that doesn't even exist. So that tension created in the first years of the novel's existence -- the tension between real and fictional, fantasy and reality, novel and romance -- has finally begun to ease. Fantastic events are once again possible, and novels that make use of them have their own (intellectually respectable) label: magic realism. Plot has even made a minor comeback.... After four hundred years, the occupation of novel writing has grown up: The best writers of metafiction are happy to be called storytellers, even commencers. Postmodernism, for all its flaws, loosened the stranglehold of nineteenth-century realism and its related forms, and gave the imagination back some of the power that was usurped in the days of the realists and naturalists.
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第60页 Chapter 5 The Story of People: Reading through History with the Novel
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