In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, section editor Sam Tanenhaus writes favorably of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, beginning first with Franzen’s earlier novel, The Corrections, published a week before 9/11.
Of the book, Tanenhaus has this to say: “The Corrections towered out of the rubble, at once a monument to a world destroyed and a beacon lighting the way for a new kind of novel that might break the suffocating grip of postmodernism.” From there he cites James Woods on the suffocaters, those who produce “curiously arrested books that know a thousand different things…but do not know a single human being,” before once again praising Franzen’s achievement, how he “cracked open the opaque shell of postmodernism, tweezed out its tangled circuitry and inserted in its place the warm, beating heart of an authentic humanism,” all of which sent me to my (now tidy) bookshelves, where I (easily) found Ben Marcus’s October 2005 Harper’s article “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life As We Know It: A Correction”.
In the literary world, it’s not politic to suggest that the brain is even involved in reading, or that our reading faculties might actually be improved. Mentions of the brain imply effort, and effort is the last thing we are supposed to request of a reader. Language is meant to flow predigested, like liquid down a feeding tube. Instead of the brain, it’s the heart that writers are told they must reach in order to move readers…
Have I read The Corrections? I began the book, but did not get very far. Have I read Marcus? I picked up Notable American Women and, despite my best efforts, lost interest halfway through.
I don’t know, maybe it’s me. Maybe I'm one of those “single human being[s]."