Post-Post-Modern Lit

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 8 2015 @ 7:55pm

Jonathon Sturgeon hails the rise of “autofiction,” where autobiography and fiction blur and “the self is considered a living thing composed of fictions”:

knausgaardboyhoodislandWhat’s happening is that new novels — like … 10:04, The Wallcreeper, and My Struggle — are redistributing the relation between the self and fiction. Fiction is no longer seen as “false” or “lies” or “make-believe.” Instead it is more like Kenneth Burke’s definition of literature as “equipment for living.” Fiction includes the narratives we tell ourselves, and the stories we’re told, on the path between birth and death.

Nor is the infamous postmodern “pastiche” anywhere to be found in [last] year’s crop of autofictional novels. These authors have rejected the old patchwork of genres and styles and myths primarily because the life of the author is now the novel’s organizing principle. And life, drained of religiosity, often leads to questions of the body and its environment. It’s not surprising, then, that Zink’s The Wallcreeper concerns, in part, environmental terrorism, or that Lerner’s 10:04 frequently considers the impact of ecological disaster. And Lerner himself suggests that Knausgaard’s My Struggle “isn’t a story so much as an immersive environment.”

No, autofiction isn’t new. It could even be argued that it’s as old as literature itself, especially if you consider something like Hesiod’s Works and Days an autofiction. But it’s clear that what previously defined (most) autofictional novels was the tension between the real and the unreal, the “made up” and the “truthful.” (And this perhaps why critics can’t seem to let this debate go.) The new class of autofictions, on the other hand, having passed through modernism’s Joycean and Proustian portraits of artists, as well as the defiant relativism of postmodernism and post-structuralist theory, eschews the entire truth vs. fiction debate in favor of the question of how to live or how to create.