Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Narrow Viewpoint

EVERYTHING WRONG with the contemporary literary story is embodied in “The Young Painters” by Nicole Krauss in the current issue of The New Yorker and at

The story’s subject isn’t young painters. Instead, the subject is the narrator; the always precious SELF. Note the point-of-view, which never leaves the narrator’s head. Context—society; the world—are mere vague ephemera, a distant chorus to the playing out of the eternal “I,” which is not just the center of the universe, it IS the universe. The story is nothing more than a monologue at an overpriced therapy session with “Dr. Lichtman.” Solipsism ever triumphant. Jonathan Franzen by contrast, for all his narrowness, appears broad and relevant.

WHAT’S HAPPENING is that, as even Bret Ellis admits (see below), the focus of The New Yorker is a narrow class of narrow interests. The magazine is one part of a society more and more geared to cater to the tastes of the affluent monoclass, seen in other cultural areas from burgers to beer—designer tastes—seen most of all in the nation’s literature.

THE TRAGEDY is that The New Yorker, for all its narrowness, sets the standard for the American short story, maybe because it’s the only venue which pays well for short stories. Workshop writers across the country model their art on the New Yorker’s example. The result is the severe narrowing of the short story art.

COINCIDENTALLY, my next story for the “Pop Lit” blog is about two young painters. “Kevin and Koreena” will be its title. I should have the finished story up a week from now. When I do, I invite you to compare the story with the story by Nicole Krauss, their viewpoints so different they could come not just from different parts of America, but from different planets.


King said...

p.s. the opening to "Kevin and Koreena" is up at the American Pop Lit blog-- but the story has a long way to go.

Tim said...

The subject is writing, not the narrator.

King said...

Oh-- then the story is written by a New Yorker writer writing about a New York narrator talking about writing?
Too convoluted and insular for me, sorry. As I'm sure it is even for most New Yorker readers.
Hey, what about this? Let's try giving readers an exciting flesh-and-blood STORY for a change.
That would be a novelty.

Shelley said...

Was it Virginia Woolf who made some comment to the effect that nothing could grow in the shadow of the giant "I" in...was it Joyce's writing?

I think she was wrong about Joyce, but she might have been right about some contemporary fiction.