Fiction’s narrative hangover

This article about a conference on narrative in the arts was in the newspaper of my alma mater, the University of Chicago. In it, the conference organizer, a Chicago prof named Mark Slouka, noted that

“Nonfiction has been outselling fiction at almost every turn…But what does it mean when the available space for fiction in the nation’s leading magazines begins to disappear, when a publication as venerable as The Atlantic cancils its fiction slot? Is it a temporary swing of the pendulum, or an indication of a permanent change in the cultural climate?”

He further is cited as saying that fiction and nonfiction are almost impossible to tell apart anymore, and athat “what is broadly thought of as story is crossing in to new territory, mating with forms previously seen as distinct, or, conceivably, it’s undergoing a renaissance.”

Nice imagery, and a nice hope. Perhaps the truth is more practical. The trouble with fiction is that it’s not real. The people (characters) seem contrived, their circumstances conjured. You don’t get the sense that their story tells us something about ourselves and our culture. I’m not much good at writing fiction, so I’m not trying to throw stones. I just know that I’ve read progressively less modern fiction, both short-form and novels, since I graduated from college in 1986, because I so often felt like a voyeur.

I exempt dramatic storytelling (plays, movies, even television). I’m not disagreeing that nonfiction hasn’t gotten much more vital (though some of the best nonfiction is also partially made up). And maybe fiction, like classical music, has veered off into a place that matters mostly to its practitioners, not its audience. I will look for a blog from this conference to see if anything interesting was said.

2 thoughts on “Fiction’s narrative hangover

  1. I think that you might be speaking from a realist point of view. To escapists such as myself, fiction is attractive b/c it’s not real. Perhaps the Atlantic’s cancellation of its fiction slot is b/c it isn’t really a place where fiction readers go to find their fix?

  2. I might be too much of a realist, although I like a good escape novel, too. I might be guilty of being a lazy and self-centered reader, as well, who doesn’t want to work hard enough to find the connection between the story and my life. I haven’t read enough to make any blanket statements, but I do feel like a lot of modern fiction isn’t really about anything.

    As for the Atlantic, I didn’t think that was a good example. The magazine was struggling at the time (I don’t know how it’s doing now), and it also has been remaking itself into a much more political publication.

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