The suffering artist

Jonathan Franzen’s mythologies
by
October 2021, no. 436
Buy this book

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Fourth Estate, $32.99 pb, 580 pp

The suffering artist

Jonathan Franzen’s mythologies
by
October 2021, no. 436
Undated photograph of Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace
Undated photograph of Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace

‘The cult of love in the West is an aspect of the cult of suffering – suffering as the supreme token of seriousness (the paradigm of the Cross).’
Susan Sontag, ‘The Artist as Exemplary Sufferer’

 

‘Don’t be afraid to catch feels.’
Calvin Harris, ‘Feels’

Back when it was all beginning, when everything was new and makeshift and oddly tentative; when the sounds of Faye Wong echoed through Tower Records; when the media could channel a message via magazines bearing Fiona Apple’s face, and television sets, those ancient conduits, mainlined Friends and Seinfeld and NYPD Blue; when everything was tuned to the suffering channel, The X-Files was concluding its third season, and Jackie Chan was launching his fourth Police Story; when all of this seemed obscurely relevant, three men – Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Leyner – sat down to talk with Charlie Rose. Their topic? The future of fiction.

Franzen feared the worst. The question that troubled him was how – or indeed if – fiction could compete with the screen. Franzen’s despair about the American novel had been canvassed the previous month in Harper’s. NYPD Blue had outflanked his ability to write scenes at precinct houses; to infiltrate the seamless mass of consumer entertainment with fiction. David Foster Wallace was agnostic, calling television an ‘artistic snorkel to the universe’, while allying some scepticism to his affections. Mark Leyner avowed that he did not consider the question much at all.

Declan Fry reviews 'Crossroads' by Jonathan Franzen

Crossroads

by Jonathan Franzen

Fourth Estate, $32.99 pb, 580 pp

Buy this book

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Comment (1)

  • Personally, I couldn't care less about the angst of the US bourgoisie...NO IMAGINATION...or very little. The Guardian had a headline—and I paraphrase—'why don’t novelists write about imaginary things?' They went on to talk about “autofiction”, books in which the narrator or the protagonist (one of them) is a thinly disguised version of the author - or as one wag put it, “literary selfies.” Franzen is better than some, but it’s getting to be an increasingly low bar. US “culture” is increasingly fractured, inarticulate and irrelevant to what transpires in the world; and, in Franzen's defence, cinema is even worse.
    Posted by B. Mills
    07 October 2021

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