字幕表 動画を再生する 英語字幕をプリント >> I am going to start with two quotes. "The 'Great American Novel' continues to be announced every year; in good years there are generally several of them." "Might as well get to work on the Great American Novel." The first comment is by Edith Wharton, writing in some annoyance in 1927, the second by a fictional character in the cult television series The Wire, a veteran journalist facing the sack who bears more than a passing resemblance to the show's creator, David Simon. These remarks 80 years apart suggest two things, I think: first, that in the United States it seems as if a novel is never enough; and secondly, that the novel -- although announced for as long as there have been novels to announce -- has not yet been written. Parodied almost as soon as it was conceived, always a tribute to - as emphatic as it is ambiguous, the Great American Novel, or GAN, project has proved monumental. It remains the benchmark for literary ambition, prestige, and sales. And it sometimes also feels like fiction's equivalent of proper man's work. As one reviewer put it, "There comes a time in the midlife of every male American writer when he feels compelled to make his big statement about the state of the union." A recent example -- and I'm sure you'll guess [inaudible] -- is Jonathan Franzen, who, following the publication of Freedom in 2010 was showcased on the cover of Time magazine as "Great American Novelist." "I always hated the expression," he said, "mostly because I encountered it in stupid or sneering context." Franzen was not the first writer to approach the Great American Novel equivocally. On the one hand, he chose to write a very long book with a title suggesting national interrogation. On the other, he seemed a bit embarrassed to have done so. And indeed, for every writer who turns 40 and buys an extra-large stack of paper, there is another admitting ruefully to having outgrown his Ahab-like -- perhaps Ali-like -- obsession with a heavyweight book. Bill Henderson, for example, confessed that while once he'd thought that in Planning Again he would be exposing the crucial facts of the age -- things like Americans are greedy, the Bomb is bad -- what he'd really wanted, he said, was "literary stallionship." For that reason, the GAN is also a bit of a joke, as these deflating cartoons suggest. And perhaps maturity, then, is deciding simply to scale back, as it - another cartoon says, and just write the Mediocre American Novel. Or maybe all that's required is a display of some irony about a still-lingering ambition -- say, by wearing a T-shirt inviting others to, "Ask me about my Great American Novel." I have some of this stuff as research. But what was -- what still is -- the GAN? It begins with the partial displacement of epic poetry by the long novel in the second half of the 19th century and extends, I would argue, to the partial displacement of the novel in the 20th and 21st centuries by cinema and other media, from D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation in 1915 through -- as I have already suggested -- to David Simon's Zolaesque "visual novel" -- his term -- The Wire. And nowhere, I think, is the power of the idea of the GAN more apparent, perhaps, than in its migration from one medium to another. But I also want to ask, "Why the Great American Novel?" Exactly what needs -- social, political, aesthetic, commercial -- does the enterprise serve? Exactly what purposes might its realization be expected to fulfill that so many writers have put so much effort into realizing it? And the obvious answer, the answer that the writers themselves give, concerns national identity. One of the distinguishing features of the Great American Novel is how explicitly, how loudly, it announces that concern. Through titles -- say, USA or Vineland or even America America. Through characters' names -- Christopher Newman in Henry James's The American, Undine Spragg, whose initials, of course, are 'U. S.' in Wharton's The Custom of the Country, and all sorts of people whose names begin with an A, such as Willa Cather's My Antonia, the girl - the character notes, who seemed to mean to us the country. The edges of text, conclusions and openings, also do a lot of anxious work in signaling an author's desire to belong to the GAN club. Consider, then, the first episode of The Wire -- the first episode of the first series of The Wire. We see a body and then the detective, McNulty, on a stoop questioning a boy who has witnessed a murder. McNulty asks why the boy and his friends kept playing dice with the dead man even though they knew - even after they knew he was a thief. [ Video plays ] >> I've got to ask you. If every time, Snot Boogie [phonetic] would grab the money and run away, why did you even let him in the game? >> What? >> I mean Snot Boogie always stole the money. Why'd you let him play? >> Got to. This is America, man. [ To end of scene ] >> I'm sure everyone would like to spend their lunch hour just watching The Wire. But I mean - but I wouldn't say more about the scene except to point out the way in which this brief exchange serves as a kind of prelude to the series or to the several series -- an announcement that what we are about to watch is more than gritty neighborhood realism. The Wire also has its eye on national allegory. That episode was broadcast in 2002. In 2006, the New York Times Book Review conducted a survey in which they asked a group of luminaries to name the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years. From 125 replies, the top five were: Morrison's Beloved, 15 votes; DeLillo's Underworld, 11; McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Updike's tetralogy, Rabbit Angstrom, with 8 each; and Roth's American Pastoral with 7. "To ask for the best work of American fiction," observes the paper's journalist A.O. Scott, "is not simply to ask for the most beautifully written or the most enjoyable to read. The best works of fiction, according to our tally, appear to be those that successfully assume a burden of cultural importance. They attempt not just the exploration of particular imaginary people and places, but also the illumination of epochs, communities, of the nation itself. America is not only their setting, but also their subject." And that last sentence sounds like a plausible definition of the Great American Novel. But for some people it bets a lot of questions. What about America itself? During the last 20 years or so, critics have become increasingly uneasy with the idea of an essential or exceptional American-ness expressed in a unique fictional style or structure. Surely, they argue, big novels of national interrogation are a feature of many literary traditions -- something that was pointed out by Shashi Tharoor in his satirical The Great Indian Novel. Moreover, they ask, aren't the most interesting novels those that reflect our increasingly globalized lives? Shouldn't we rather be reading hemispheric novels -- works like these, which I am going to talk about -- most notably though, perhaps, Robert Bolano's total novel 2666, praised for its vision of our terrifyingly post-national world? I wonder, though, whether the opposition of national and post-national fiction really makes a lot of sense. National literatures, like nations, have always existed in relation to one another. And great American novelists have always used foreign models. The first plea for the GAN -- which I'll discuss in a moment -- was for a realist with the scope of Balzac or Manzoni. Later, Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair openly emulated Shincovich's Polish national trilogy. John Dos Passos borrowed elements from Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Eisenstein's film montage, and Baroja's Madrid trilogy. Roth's Human Stain is partly modeled on the Iliad. And most recently, both Franzen's Freedom and Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children pay homage to Tolstoy's War and Peace. And it's also, I think, misleading to claim somehow that contemporary fiction such as Franzen's, which features trips -- its characters take trips to Lithuania in one book and Paraguay in another -- initiates - this fiction initiates some kind of novel of globalization. Perhaps the most persistent subject of the Great American Novel -- at least since the international crew of the Pequod took to the oceans in Moby Dick -- has been the mechanisms and consequences of global capitalism. To consider just one other example -- something I like to promote since not many people read it -- Theodore Dreiser's Trilogy of Desire, an expiration of the intricate networks of money, politics, culture, and sex, at the heart of which can be found Frank Cooperwood, who Dreiser describes as "a rude, raw titan and wandering yokel with an epic in his mouth." In the first book, The Financier, is set in Philadelphia -- which we are told had once been the heart of the nation; the second, The Titan, in Chicago, which had become all America. And the final volume, The Stoic, takes its protagonist abroad to Paris, to London, and to India. But having said that, the cosmopolitan-ness of these novels shouldn't be exaggerated. As Bruce Robbins has recently argued in an essay that specifically queries claims for a New Worlding of the American Novel, "Other countries are more often than not simply the means to a more parochial end, more provincial end. It's American lives that must be made sense of." So I want to now kind of go a little - into a little background to the idea of the Great American Novel. The idea was first expounded -- the phrase was first used -- in 1868 in an article by John W. De Forest, a novelist and former Union Army officer. In a - in terms that made the writing of fiction sound like a patriotic duty, De Forest called for " -- a single tale which paints American life so broadly, truly, and sympathetically that every American of feeling and culture is forced acknowledge the picture as a likeness of something which he knows." The unification of the country -- the United States -- becoming, after the Civil War, for the first time a singular noun, required the unification of the novel into a singular tale. The GAN had to " -- bind up the nation's wounds -- " in Lincoln's famous phrase. Its job, in other words, was not merely to reflect, but rather strenuously to consolidate national identity. What De Forest wanted was a novel of national breadth, then -- one that would offer a portrait of American society comparable to the European tableau of Balzac or of Thackeray. More particularly, though, he felt that the GAN should represent -- and I quote -- "-- an eager and laborious people which takes so many newspapers, builds so many railroads, does the most business in a given capital, wages the biggest war in proportion of its population, believes in the physically impossible, and does some of it." The "believes in the physically impossible and does some of it" could also be a definition of the GAN, I think. Although he discusses many, many novelists in his essay, De Forest's piece is in some ways an advertisement for himself. The previous year he'd published Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty, a novel that's now largely forgotten except, perhaps, by Civil War historians. And on the one hand it is simply a love story set against the background of the war. The first page presents a woman, Lillie Ravenel, and a man, Edward Colbourne. And nearly 500 pages later, they marry.