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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Impulse to Become a Writer Suggests a Fundamental Fiscal Incompetence"

Posted by Alison Hallett on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM

The new Bookforum came out today; select articles are available for free online, including this great piece, by Christian Lorentzon, about class and economics in 21st-century fiction:

Fiction writers, often deriving their income from their status as writers (by teaching) rather than from their actual writing, tend to carve out lives somewhere within the middle class but find themselves at a remove from the higher and lower echelons of economic activity. The campus—a zone that encourages all participants to make a pretense of classlessness—has become the default home of most novelists, and this may partly explain why class is an easier subject to avoid now than in the days of Wharton, Fitzgerald, or Ellison.

Lorentzon offers a handful of examples illustrating how different authors—from Don DeLillo to Tao Lin—represent different approaches fiction can take to finance. In his analysis, he leans heavily on a distinction made by the narrator of Sam Lipsyte's 2010 novel The Ask (which everyone should read if they haven't):

“She was from the people who kept everything. I was from the people who rented some of everything for brief amounts of time. I knew I deserved no pity, would get none from the people who kept everything. They only pitied the people with nothing at all.”


I was thinking about this recently in relation to Magic Mike. So much of the reaction to that movie has been a sort of uproarious lecherousness, like the sight of shiny abs is inseparable from the impulse to yell "woo"— but it's also a movie that makes a point of telling us how much money its characters make, under the table, for work (construction) that once would've been unionized. The Bookforum article ultimately points to Kazuo Ishiguro's heartbreaking Never Let Me Go as "the book with the most to tell us about the present moment":
Never Let Me Go follows three young people from a dreamy adolescence in what seems to be a privileged boarding school into a truncated adulthood that expires as they donate their organs to the barely glimpsed society that has created them—these children are clones—to exploit them. Their only assets are their very bodies, over which they have no control. It doesn’t take much of a leap to see in Ishiguro’s scenario the lifetimes of debt paying and service employment that await dreamy children at a time when college tuition swells at twice the rate of inflation.


The whole piece is worth a read.

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