Our novels are thinking

There’s some interesting discussion over at The Valve of Nancy Armstrong’s new book, How Novels Think, a book on the novel and the “modern subject.” I read parts of her book Desire and Domestic Fiction, which I liked quite a bit, and this new one is on my list of things to read. The posts, however, aren’t increasing my interest – I feel like I’m getting the gist of her argument from the discussion, and, while the book’s details might be interesting, I would read it for the larger argument in the hopes that it would surprise me. The surprise is ruined.

And the argument seems a bit like what I read in Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking At the Novel: see this. I’m sure Armstrong is more nuanced and better researched, but they both seem to be arguing that novels have a particular way of describing the world, and, even more so, of shaping the world, through the kinds of people and behavior they include and exclude. Smiley was always talking about how novels work to create the idea of the individual and then set individuals in conflict with their community and in so doing shape our ideas of acceptable relationships between the individual and group. Now, probably Armstrong is much more complex. But I’m thinking that, at heart, the idea is quite similar to Smiley’s. But … maybe I should read the book before I say anything more about it.

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