Sunday, January 04, 2009

The public and the personal

The complex, strained relation between public and personal life was also being explored in other ways; it was during the Kennedy Presidency that Roth noted the stupefying unreality of contemporary American history, and Bellow a massing of public life so great that ‘private life cannot maintain a pretence of its importance’ – with complex consequences for the novel. It was not far from this thought to the suspicion that history itself was an absurd fiction, a massive plot commanding the individual yet dissolving all stable reality. American fiction at the beginning of the Sixties was enlarging its themes and looking historically outward; it was also reappraising the forces loose in the world, and the question of the individual’s power to face them. The history novelists now explored was something beyond individual existence and the measure of reason; it was a history of distorting power plays, large consipiratorial structures, huge technological systems, apocalyptic threats to survival.

Malcom Bradbury. The modern American novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 157

What strikes me about mainstream American fiction today is that it is now beginning to look historically inward. The history being explored by contemporary novelists is - directly contrary to their 1960s counterparts - purely directed through individual experience, such that personal emotion becomes somehow of greater significance than historical event - history as solipsism.

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