Monday, March 12, 2012

"If space and time, as sages say . . ."

Literature Across the Spatiotemporal Continuum?
Illustration by O.O.P.S.

In a recent NYT review of Hari Kunzru's Gods Without Men, "Convergences" (March 8, 2012), Douglas Coupland tells us that the book belongs to a new literary genre that reflects our current reality, or in his words:
[W]e appear to have entered an aura-free universe in which all eras coexist at once -- a state of possibly permanent atemporality given to us courtesy of the Internet. No particular era now dominates. We live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times. The zeitgeist of 2012 is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist. I can't believe I just wrote that last sentence, but it's true; there is something psychically sparse about the present era, and artists of all stripes are responding with fresh strategies.

A sort of twilight zone of the gods, one might say. Or I might, anyway. But what's that new genre Coupland mentioned?
This new reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let's call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader's mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present. Imagine traveling back to Victorian England -- only with vaccinations, a wad of cash and a clean set of ruling-class garb. With Translit we get our very delicious cake, and we get to eat it, too, as we visit multiple pasts safe in the knowledge we'll get off the ride intact, in our bold new perpetual every-era/no-era. Translit's precursors are, say, "Winesburg, Ohio" and "Orlando," and the genre's 21st-­century tent poles are Michael Cunningham's novel "The Hours" and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas." To these books we can add Hari Kunzru's gorgeous and wise "Gods Without Men."

Having read Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, I see what Coupland means by this and why he calls the writing translit. Mitchell's novel spans several centuries and tells various interrelated stories of characters who seem to be related across space and time, at times as if they share the same soul transmigrating over time and place. One can also consider Mitchell's tendency to link his various novels in minor but notable ways, as when a character from one novel appears briefly in another, giving one a sense of familiarity across novels, as though some sort of community were being established to bring all characters into communion despite their conflicts with one another. Is that a feature of translit? Can the genre include characters from one novel appearing unexpectedly in another, especially if that other novel is by a different writer? Intertextuality gone wild? Perhaps I should ask Coupland his opinion?

And what's this O.O.P.S. illustration thing?

Labels: , , , ,


At 7:08 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

"Can the genre include characters from one novel appearing unexpectedly in another...?"

Stephen King has done that for years, although I'm not clear on whether he's used other writers' characters all that frequently. Each of his novels (except perhaps for his Dark Tower series) is a stand-alone work, but characters from other stories may appear in them. In King's case, this is less about weaving a trans-temporal tapestry than it is about fleshing out the New England locations in which most of his stories occur.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess I ought to read King. I tried once many years ago but didn't like the style.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

You might appreciate Charles's take on Mr. King here.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess I should give King another chance. I do like some of the movies made from his stories. I really liked Stand By Me, which was based on a King story.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home