The Death of the Novel (EAS3198)

30 credits

The twentieth-century novel operated under a curse. Walter Benjamin’s essay of 1929, ‘The Crisis of the Novel’, led the way in scripting the novel’s path towards doom, but Benjamin was far from being the only critic who painted the genre in apocalyptic shades. And his successors tended to be even more explicit in their gloom. Ronald Sukenick’s polemical story of 1969, ‘The Death of the Novel’, is unique in the extravagance of its titular pessimism, but John Barth’s essay of 1967, ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’, also ventures that the twentieth-century novel is ‘used up’ – that novelists are running out of ideas about how to experiment with the form. How do you follow an act like Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) – or indeed, like Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759)? This course of seminars will reflect on how a number of modern and contemporary novels think through and attempt to think beyond the (supposedly) imminent death of the narrative tradition to which they belong. In other words, we’ll consider what it means for the novel genre to live under a curse. The course will move chronologically through the twentieth century (and the first decade or so of the twenty-first), pairing apocalyptic theories with novels that appear (consciously and/or unconsciously) to fulfil their prophecies. You will also be encouraged to volunteer novels that do not appear on the reading list for a collective post-mortem.