Death of the novel  

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"I think fewer people are reading. This has something to do with television and much to do, I think, with the fact that publishers are flooding the market with junk novels by what's-his-name and you-know-who and likewise -- never mind. These odd productions make a lot of money, take up space both in the bookstores and in the minds of the readers, and effectively obscure the literary work. Gresham's Law. The situation does not, by the way, obtain in Europe, although the Europeans are learning. The question is, who is exhausted? Or what is exhausted? I invite you to notice that the new opium of the people is opium, or at least morphine. In a situation in which morphine contends with morpheme, the latter loses every time. There is also the problem of the allocation of the reader's time. To borrow a feather from Jules Renard -- no matter how much care the writer has taken to write as few books as possible, there will still be people who don't know some of them." --Donald Barthelme asked by Jerome Klinkowitz in a '71-'72 interview about "the death of the novel" and fear that TV was killing off the novel's readers

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The death of the novel is a commonplace of discussion of literary fiction. According to Kathleen Fitzpatrick The novel has been dead for nearly as long as it has been alive. Jay McInerney in 2005 wrote that Twenty years ago, it was common knowledge in American publishing circles that the novel was over. In other words the idea that the form of literary novels has been exhausted is itself not very new. José Ortega y Gasset was writing on the Decline of the Novel, in 1925. Walter Benjamin in 1930 wrote a review of a novel of Alfred Döblin under the title Krisis des Romans (Crisis of the Novel)

Those contributing to the discussion have included Gore Vidal (from the 1950s onwards, initially inveighing against the nouveau roman), Roland Barthes (The Death of the Author) and the general anti-humanist tenor of poststructuralism, and John Barth. Ronald Sukenick wrote the story The Death of the Novel in 1969.

Tom Wolfe in the 1970s predicted that the New Journalism would displace the novel. V. S. Naipaul has pronounced the death of the novel. A polemic essay by David Foster Wallace connected the 'death of the novel' discussion with the mortality of the post-war generation of American novelists.

As for causes, Robert B. Pippin connects the 'death of the novel' with many other themes around nihilism in European culture. Saul Bellow, discussing Ravelstein which was loosely a portrait of Allan Bloom, commented on a connection to the idea that they are really saying that there are no significant people to write about. John Cheever said The diagnoses of the death of the novel one leaves to boors.


  • Louis Rubin, The Curious Death of the Novel: Essays in American Literature
  • Robbe-Grillet, Alain. "Pourquoi la mort du roman?", Express 8 Nov. 1955: 8.

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