The Contemporary Disposition of the Novel
Insofar as they show readers what capitalism does to their daily lives, novels have always been contemporary.1 In the last several decades, however, so many novels are pushing the so far beyond this commonsense meaning that they call for a more specialised definition of the term “contemporary.” Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001), Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005), and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) are among an increasing number of Anglophone novels that address their readers as constitutionally incapable of understanding what distinguishes ours from all previous moments. Their protagonists invariably invoke the kind of individual in whom we could have recognised ourselves, only to demonstrate that this is no longer a self we can imagine ourselves to be. In thus updating the novel, these novels introduce a break in the history of the novel to imply that we live in exceptional times. Why now?
- Journal Articles