A Novel Idea For A Book

by Dish Staff

Dan Piepenbring calls Cory Arcangel’s Working on My Novel “a brilliant litmus test—there are those who will read it as a paean to the fortitude of the creative spirit, and those who will read it as a confirmation of the novel’s increasing impotence”:

Arcangel suggests there’s something inherently ennobling in trying to write, but his book is an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion—every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art. Working captures the worrisome extent to which creative writing has been synonymized with therapy; nearly everyone quoted in it pursues novel writing as a kind of exercise regimen. (“I love my mind,” writes one aspirant novelist, as if he’s just done fifty reps with it and is admiring it all engorged with blood.)

It’s also a comment on the peculiar primacy the novel continues to enjoy—not as an artistic mode but as a kind of elevated diary, a form of what we insidiously refer to as “self-expression,” as if anyone’s self is static enough to survive transmission to the page. Not for nothing do we have Working on My Novel instead of Working on My Screenplay or Working on My Scrimshaw, because the novel, with its rich intellectual-emotional tradition and its (very occasional) commercial viability, is still perceived as the ideal vehicle for saying something ambitious. Even as fewer people read novels, we’re made to feel that writing one is a worthy, rigorous enterprise for serious thinking people, a means of proving that we have reservoirs of mindfulness and discipline deeper than our peers’. And so we try to write fiction, though certainly we don’t need to, and, as this book attests, we often don’t especially want to, even if we greet the task steeled by a perfect cup of coffee, a glass of red wine and a hot bath, or an Eminem song.