Internet spells end of long, complex literary novels, says author Tim Parks
Tim Parks says every moment of reading has to be fought for in the digital age
Sunday 15 June 2014
The “state of constant distraction” created by the internet, email and instant messaging is killing the traditional literary novel, a leading British author has claimed.
Tim Parks, whose novel Europa was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997, said the traditional long works would have to be broken down into bitesize chunks to allow for competing demands on the modern reader’s attention.
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Parks, 59, said that “the seductions of email and messaging and Skype and news websites constantly updating on the very instrument you use” meant “every moment of serious reading has to be fought for”.
As a result, he said, novels would have to adapt to “the state of constant distraction we live in and how that affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction – for immersing oneself in it and then coming back to it over what could be weeks, or months, each time picking up the threads of the story or stories, the patterning of internal reference, the positioning of the work within the context of other novels.”
He concluded: “I will go out on a limb with a prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out.”
Parks’s comments reflect growing anxiety in literary circles that the internet is eroding the status of the serious novel.
In a lecture in Oxford last month, the author Will Self said: “The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. If you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you novel also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer is no, then the death of the novel is sealed, out of your own mouth.”
Parks’s anxieties about the distractions of modern technology have also been echoed by Philip Roth. When his 2010 novel Nemesis was published, Roth told an interviewer: “The concentration, the focus, the solitude, the silence, all the things that are required for serious reading are not within people’s reach any more.”
Not all authors, however, are so pessimistic. Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, told The Independent: “There are always a few people who are going to want to read a serious literary novel. If there is demand for it, it will survive. What will change is the nature of publishing. That goes through periods of change and convulsions.
“The first big one was writing things down – previously we just sat around and told stories. The next was Gutenberg’s printing press, which allowed things to be duplicated much more quickly.
“The internet and digitisation represent the third great change – but story telling in one form or another has come through all sorts of convulsions, and it will continue to do so.”
Other commentators have also sought to downplay the current crisis of confidence in the literary world by claiming that the demise of the novel has now been predicted for more than half a century.
They cite articles like that published in 1965 – also in the New York Review of Books – in which the British critic Frank Kermode observed drily: “The special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying.”
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate