The Contemporary Novel: Imagining the Twenty-First Century

An issue of: Novel

The Contemporary Novel: Imagining the Twenty-First Century
Journal Issue Pages: 180 Volume 45, Number 2 Published: Summer 2012 An issue of Novel
Special Issue Editor(s): Timothy Bewes, Timothy Bewes
This special issue argues that our cultural moment marks a point of crisis and transition in the history of the novel. Discussing mostly twenty-first-century writers, including Michael Chabon, Vikram Chandra, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Franzen, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, and Orhan Pamuk, the contributors interrogate and revise our ideas of contemporaneity and how it can be studied. Their essays consider how novelists adapt to a global economy in which traditionally local forms of community no longer define human experience. They also examine the emergence of neurology and neuropsychology as popular discourses that have displaced the novel from its centrality as the supreme analyst of the mind. Contributors attempt to address the exasperation of literary critics disenchanted with many dominant reading practices, such as approaching fiction via reader experiences of “affect” and “trauma” or relying on staid period categories like postmodernism. Offering a way forward, this special issue emphasizes a new critical awareness of the singular qualities of the novel, a form whose truths may not be (and may never have been) translatable to other cognitive, scientific, or political vocabularies.

In 2012 individual and student subscriptions to Novel will be available exclusively through membership in the newly formed Society for Novel Studies. Committed to furthering the study of the novel and to examining the role of fiction in engaging, formulating, and shaping the world, the society will hold a biennial conference.

Contributors: Timothy Bewes, Thom Dancer, Andrew Gaedtke, Erdag Goknar, Nathan Hensley, Naomi Mandel, Theodore Martin, Clemens Spahr, Aarthi Vadde

Timothy Bewes is Professor of English at Brown University.


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Introduction: Temporalizing the Present

Bewes, T.

The Long Wait: Timely Secrets of the Contemporary Detective Novel

Martin, T.

What does it mean to read like a detective? While critics have long seen the detective novel as a model for hermeneutic suspicion (the familiar spatial binaries of surface/depth, concealed/revealed), this essay proposes that there is something more timely at work in detective work. Recent detective novels like Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union and Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games require us to reassess the temporalities of expectation, deferral, and disappointment that have traditionally shaped the genre. Detective fiction, these texts suggest, is all about making us wait. Detection, then, is not a stance of suspicion or a law of revelation but a process that illuminates what it means to be subject to time. Ultimately, I argue, the figure of the wait describes not only the narrative time of unmet expectations but also the experience of our most timely historical category: the contemporary itself. Neither proleptic nor periodizable, the contemporary may be most aptly described as a wait. The long wait of the contemporary detective novel shows us how the act of reading is both embedded in and reflective of the times that make up our present time.

Cognitive Investigations: The Problems of Qualia and Style in the Contemporary Neuronovel

Gaedtke, A.

Recent developments in cognitive science have overturned the restrictions of behaviorism and have once again made consciousness a legitimate object of scientific investigation. New brain scanning technologies have introduced the possibility of mapping the neural correlates of consciousness, thereby offering a full, materialist account of the mind. This article argues that an emergent subgenre of contemporary fiction has both formally integrated and critically assessed these discourses of the mind. The "neuronovels" of Ian McEwan, David Lodge, and others have specifically addressed "the explanatory gap" between the third-person accounts of neuroscience and the first-person perspective of conscious experience—a gap that some philosophers of mind regard as an irreducible obstacle to any complete, scientific explanation of consciousness. Novels such as McEwan's Enduring Love (1998) and Lodge's Thinks ... (2002) transform this problem of qualia into a formal problem of narrative style. Finally, this article shows that such conceptual transactions between cognitive science and contemporary literature move in both directions. While recent fiction has integrated the discourses and problems posed by brain science, neuroscientists have drawn upon the narrative techniques of experimental literature in order to present their evolving theories of consciousness.

Toward a Modest Criticism: Ian McEwan's Saturday

Dancer, T.

This essay argues that a critique of epistemological immodesty is at the center of Ian McEwan's literary project. His fiction dramatizes the dangerous and tragic consequences of granting one's own interpretative frameworks a certainty and authority that they do not warrant. Enduring Love's Joe Rose, Atonements Briony Tallis, and Solars Michael Beard, for example, fail not because they rely on their fundamental beliefs about the world but because they do not see that those beliefs are just as contestable and uncertain as the views they reject. Their "immodesty" lies in the power and coercive force they see their views carrying. McEwan's work finds the forms of this immodesty not just in religious or political ideals but in science, criticis

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ISBN Paperback: 978-0-8223-6767-3