Thursday, December 04, 2008

The age of the individual

This is John Barth, in conversation with Joe David Bellamy in around 1972:

One of Robbe-Grillet's points, which I believe he borrows from Roland Barthes, is that the novel of character, such as Madame Bovary, for example, or Tolstoy's work, belongs to the age of character, to the age of the individual. And in mass society, for example, when individualism as a philosophy is historically discredited, the novel of character is a kind of anachronism.

So, in 2008, is individualism still discredited as a philosophy? I don't know what philosophers would say on that subject, but for my part I think we are living in a curious world, decidedly split, where there is a terrible homogenisation going on, but also where people are thinking on such an individual basis it is almost solipsistic. I suspect Barth may have been premature in killing off the age of the individual. It's an important point, in terms of literature, because one of my complaints about current literary trends is that there is a peculiar emphasis on the personal over the global. The war on terror, or 9/11, for example, can only be seen through the prism of an individual's experience.

But if we are back in a Tolstoyian era of character then that may not be entirely unexpected.

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