When you venture to your bookstore or library, you will be confronted by a ubiquitous but useless fixture of our contemporary landscape, the modern novel. Unlike regular novels, these are of a vintage in the last thirty years and focus not on inner development of characters, but on finding ways to use introspection to rationalize decay as victor.
One of the things that bothers me about the modern novel is the loss — the perversion, really — of the hero narrative. Classic literature centers around protagonists who are trying to transcend the baser aspects of themselves and fears that cripple their inner abilities; called “the fatal flaw,” these stumbling blocks thwart the heroes as they are trying to overcome obstacles and triumph. In classic literature, people undertake difficult tasks and in doing so, learn about themselves and opt to change themselves so that their flaws no longer hold them back from doing what is right and necessary.
In contrast, modern literature consists of stories of “heroes” whose biggest obstacle is themselves but instead of trying to conquer their weaknesses, they embrace them and that is considered heroic and a victory. The modern novel is all about embracing and celebrating one’s dysfunction or fatal flaw. Nothing to overcome here except self-criticism, the biggest boogeyman of all for a modern protagonist. At the end of these stories, the protagonists are unchanged, but have found a way to “accept” or “celebrate” their dysfunctional lives after spending most of the book navel-gazing.
The thematic arc of classic literature and the hero’s quest implies that there are standards and that success comes from overcoming our fears and becoming better people so that we can rise to those standards and not just be good, but get the most out of life. This is at odds with the Leftist/Liberal narrative that demands that there are no standards other than what we personally define and that there is nothing to overcome except our lack of acceptance of who we are. Because of the classic novel’s implication that there are standards that are defined outside of one’s self, it is necessarily viewed as oppressive and must be eliminated. The modern novel hates the classic novel.
We might see these modern stories as parables of “dysfunction as virtue” in which characters, instead of undergoing internal change, re-configure their external selves — sort of like interior decorating, but for the public personality, much as hipsters excel at — and then rationalize their inner confusion, immorality and decay as a sign of “depth” or tolerance. Almost all of these stories resemble rambling narratives of the fears and neuroses of the protagonist, then suddenly reach a point where it becomes clear that despite all of the exterior change in the life of that protagonist, nothing inner will change. The books then bash out a few homilies and repeat some trendy notions from self-help books, pop science and politics, and end.
As our publishing industry cranks out these modern rationalizations ad infinitum, producing endless next-big-things but no classics, it becomes clear that this approach to storytelling reflects a deeper philosophical divide. In modern society where everyone is equal, inner change is not just unnecessary, but risky. However, finding a way to rationalize your dysfunction as virtue and explain it as a quirky, interesting and nobly self-sacrifical lifestyle choice always goes over well with the people at your local organic brew pub.
The comparison of the modern novel to the crazed, nonsensical babblings of the left provides further insight. In both cases, the inner life of human beings is denied, and replaced with the notion that exterior re-configuration provides a greater meaning than learning to overcome our failings and become qualitatively better people. New quantities, or a changing of the surface behaviors and objects surrounding the individual, are preferred to improving the parts of the self that we are afraid to inspect, because in them lurk existential terrors and difficult moral, intellectual and historical questions.
Modern novels have never made anyone get closer to self-actualization, understanding of their world, or appreciation of the inner beauty of life itself. Like the products on store shelves or Hollywood movies, they are dramas of narcissism and attention-getting, designed to avoid and distract from the need to use some kind of self-discipline to make ourselves better people. Not surprisingly, the Left adopts a similar outlook, because when your goal is equality, the last thing you want to is to look at where we are fundamentally unequal.