Generation Divide

Jonathan Lethem: “Novelists may glance at the stuff of the world too, but we sometimes get called to task for it. For those whose ganglia were formed pre-TV, the mimetic deployment of pop-culture icons seems at best an annoying tic and at worst a dangerous vapidity that compromises fiction’s seriousness by dating it out of the Platonic Always, where it ought to reside. In a graduate workshop I briefly passed through, a certain gray eminence tried to convince us that a literary story should always eschew ‘any feature which serves to date it’ because ‘serious fiction must be Timeless.’ When we protested that, in his own well-known work, characters moved about electrically lit rooms, drove cars, and spoke not Anglo-Saxon but postwar English—and further, that fiction he’d himself ratified as great, such as Dickens, was liberally strewn with innately topical, commercial, and timebound references—he impatiently amended his proscription to those explicit references that would date a story in the ‘frivolous Now.’ When pressed, he said of course he meant the ‘trendy mass-popular-media’ reference. Here, transgenerational discourse broke down.”


  1. Worth noting is that most of that bit is from David Foster Wallace’s essay E Unibus Pluram.

    I really love the Lethem piece, both on its own and in how it was constructed.

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