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The Novel: An Alternative History:…
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The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600 (udgave 2010)

af Steven Moore (Forfatter)

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1573132,584 (3.41)14
Encyclopedic in scope and heroically audacious, The Novel: An Alternative History is the first attempt in over a century to tell the complete story of our most popular literary form. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the novel did not originate in 18th-century England, nor even with Don Quixote, but is coeval with civilization itself. After a pugnacious introduction, in which Moore defends innovative, demanding novelists against their conservative critics, the book relaxes into a world tour of the premodern novel, beginning in ancient Egypt and ending in 16th-century China, with many exotic ports-of-call: Greek romances; Roman satires; medieval Sanskrit novels narrated by parrots; Byzantine erotic thrillers; 5000-page Arabian adventure novels; Icelandic sagas; delicate Persian novels in verse; Japanese war stories; even Mayan graphic novels. Throughout, Moore celebrates the innovators in fiction, tracing a continuum between these premodern experimentalists and their postmodern progeny. Irreverent, iconoclastic, informative, entertaining The Novel: An Alternative History is a landmark in literary criticism that will encourage readers to rethink the novel.… (mere)
Medlem:Laura_Liebe
Titel:The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600
Forfattere:Steven Moore (Forfatter)
Info:Continuum Pub Group (2010), Edition: 1st Edition, 704 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
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Nøgleord:to-read

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The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600 af Steven Moore

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My research interests have been turning increasingly toward a deeper understanding of the theory of the novel, and it is for this reason that I added Steven Moore's recent book to my library. Unfortunately, though, it is an unmitigated disaster, a work that should not be taken seriously by anyone.

Let's begin with Moore's central thesis. He argues that the scholarly consensus, which places the rise of the novel genre at around the beginning of the eighteenth century, is completely wrong, that novels have in fact existed for centuries before that time. Such a hypothesis is provocative, but there's one immediate problem that Moore largely circumvents: it's an argument that's already been made, more than a decade earlier and much more convincingly, by Margaret Anne Doody in The True Story of the Novel. While Moore does make a passing reference to Doody in his book, another curious thing that is missing from his analysis is any recognition of the actual scholars who have written about the history of the novel. Astoundingly, Moore makes no allusion at all to groundbreaking works like Ian Watt's The Rise Of The Novel or Michael McKeon's The Origins of the English Novel, books that have set the standard in this field and, even though they tell a narrative that differs from Moore's, surely require him at least to address why these famous scholarly precursors are wrong. After all, it is they who created this "myth" about the novel's invention in the eighteenth century.

Instead, Moore decides to take B.R. Myers, Dale Peck, and Jonathan Franzen as his extremely dubious representative sample of contemporary views on the novel. All three of these figures (Myers and Peck are literary critics, Franzen is a novelist) made famous statements rejecting "difficult" and "experimental" prose, and by amalgamating these views Moore creates his straw man, whom he dubs "MPF" after the initials of Myers, Peck, and Franzen. Never mind that these three figures are debating matters of style rather than what Nancy Armstrong calls "the ideological core" of the novel, never mind that their comments are not meant to relate to the entire history of the genre - for Moore, they suffice to create an illusion of opposition that he can exploit and rail against for the next 700 pages.

Moore's slipshod approach to the scholarship that precedes him is matched by his turgid writing style. It's certainly impressive that he has read such an enormous array of texts, but his in-your-face approach to the reader, while occasionally entertaining, mostly comes across as immature, didactic, and out-of-touch. He compares Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book, for instance, to "a modern teenage girl's MyFace profile." Mostly, though, Moore is just plain condescending, insisting that either you agree with him or you're a blind fool. It's an arrogance that pervades everything from his unnecessarily didactic statements about the "stupidity" of religion to the bizarre multiple-choice personality test he gives in the introduction that again, essentially says that you must either agree with him or you're an idiot.

While I certainly would encourage people to go and read the various texts that Moore talks about in this book for their own sake, he never really addresses why almost *any* of the long prose pieces he writes about should be called a novel. The definition of the genre, from this perspective, becomes so wide and nebulous that it is rendered utterly useless. If I may make a parallel: those who study economics call our current system "capitalism" because it exhibits certain distinguishing features. If someone came along and claimed that ancient Rome, or medieval Japan, were "capitalist" on the sole basis that both these earlier societies used money, their analysis would be seen as weak, if not laughable. In the same way, theorists of the novel have separated it from earlier long prose forms precisely because they see a qualitative shift that requires the identification of a whole new genre. For Mikhail Bakhtin, for instance, it is the increasing complexity of voice compared to the earlier, monological form of the epic, whereas for Ian Watt, the rise of the novel is made possible by the rise of empirical philosophy, which created a whole new way of thinking about both reality and the self. But such particularities do not concern Moore, whose categories are so broad they include any text without regard for its particular historical circumstances.

Moore presents this work as an "alternative" history of the novel, but as a reader, I found myself constantly comparing it to the rants of the various conspiracy theorists that I have encountered in the course of my life. Such people exhibit a common trait: they are often obsessively well-read on certain particulars that support their case, as Moore does with regard to the literary texts he talks about, but always at the expense of addressing seriously those authors and facts that could prove them wrong. Moore's refusal to engage with the most famous theorists in the field, his meaningless definition of what a novel is, and his sheer arrogance in addressing the reader all add up to a dire failure as a book. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |


My thoughts on aesthetics resemble a wayward gambit. I'm keening the Mole People.

It is easier to suggest acquiring rather than methodically parsing The Novel: An Alternative History. Like the better taxonomies of old (think Burton) this is a capricious tome, rich with erudite controversy. Steven Moore's thesis is somewhat straight forward. The comprehensible/commercial novel is only one branch of an always sprawling enterprise, an often shameful hybrid, gathering and growing like some viral invader. This business of the novel did not begin, as often noted, in either England or Spain in the 17th Century. One needs to look back to BCE to find novelistic labor in a protean form. Paraphrasing Moore further, if one read all the reviewed matter up to the year 1600 one could safely wager that China would dominate the history of the novel. It didn't: why, please discuss.

There were sections I admit to skimming but others sent me scurrying to locate every work cited. Moore's work is a muddy field of entanglement, one which also boasts the higher registers of nerdy achievement.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers know that for the last three years now, I've been exploring the history of the novel format in my CCLaP 100 essay series; so I was excited about coming across volume 1 of Steven Moore's own grandly ambitious new history of the novel, in which over 2000 pages he will eventually be exploring the entire grand tapestry of narrative fictional long-form stories over the course of the last twelve thousand years, with this first volume covering from the dawn of writing in Mesopotamia around 10,000 BC to essentially the Western Renaissance of 1400 to 1600 AD. But there's a big problem with Moore's book, a problem that you notice right off the bat, which is that he apparently created no limits whatsoever for what he was going to include here as examples of "novels" -- he counts the Bible and other religious texts as novels, for example, and epic poetry, and any historical biography containing even a trace of mythology (sheesh, no wonder this first volume is 700 pages just on its own), making this survey of them more aptly named A History of Every Single Thing A Human Being Has Ever Written Down, which might be interesting but is for sure not what I wanted to read when I picked up a book called The Novel: An Alternative History.

But still, such a thing might not be so terribly bad in the right analyst's hands; but here, Moore barely scratches the surface of the historical, sociological and anthropological circumstances that were influencing these projects at the times they were written, and instead spends the majority of the text doing simple plot recaps of the cited stories, and then comparing them with an insulting "see? see?" attitude to a bunch of snotty, smartypants academic novels from the 20th century, making the entire thing more a book to be begrudgingly tolerated in a class assignment than a legitimately enjoyable NPR-style pleasure read. And speaking of which, then there's that inexplicable introduction, in which Moore spends 35 pages not talking about anything from the book at all, but rather delivering a preachy lecture attempting to justify the ultra-challenging smartypants authors of the Postmodernist period (which I guess should come as no surprise -- Moore is considered the world's leading expert on ultra-challenging Postmodernist author William Gaddis, which he conveniently reminds us of over and over and over), which once you get past the dozens of footnotes can essentially be summed up as, "Ah, you f-cking mouth-breathers just don't get it," a sad and defensive screed that should've been entirely cut by his editors before this book ever saw the light of day. I'm tempted to say that it's a book only a professor can love, but it's not even that; it's only the most d-ckishly obscure, detestably arcane professors who could possibly love this waste of dead trees, and I think we should all say a little prayer for those poor unsuspecting University of Michigan undergraduates who are going to have to bewilderedly deal with Moore in their American Lit 101 courses next fall.

Out of 10: 2.2 ( )
6 stem jasonpettus | Aug 13, 2010 |
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Encyclopedic in scope and heroically audacious, The Novel: An Alternative History is the first attempt in over a century to tell the complete story of our most popular literary form. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the novel did not originate in 18th-century England, nor even with Don Quixote, but is coeval with civilization itself. After a pugnacious introduction, in which Moore defends innovative, demanding novelists against their conservative critics, the book relaxes into a world tour of the premodern novel, beginning in ancient Egypt and ending in 16th-century China, with many exotic ports-of-call: Greek romances; Roman satires; medieval Sanskrit novels narrated by parrots; Byzantine erotic thrillers; 5000-page Arabian adventure novels; Icelandic sagas; delicate Persian novels in verse; Japanese war stories; even Mayan graphic novels. Throughout, Moore celebrates the innovators in fiction, tracing a continuum between these premodern experimentalists and their postmodern progeny. Irreverent, iconoclastic, informative, entertaining The Novel: An Alternative History is a landmark in literary criticism that will encourage readers to rethink the novel.

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