Self-literature books aren’t fiction – so why do they still captivate us?
Has self-analysis replaced imagination? Since the success of Karl Ove Knausgard and Annie Ernaux, spontaneous fiction has been a major trend in contemporary literature. Two important new releases this fall by Edward Lewis and Heinz Healey are also memoirs in the form of novels.
What is happening with contemporary literature? Is sociological analysis of society using the example of one’s life, does it have intimate diaries, has the self-analysis done at the desk replaced by the psychological couch or even the burial of pleasure in storytelling? If you read through this fall of books, you can get annoyed quickly. Writers pressure us with their life stories. And you want to call them: tell your friends about it or write me advice columns! But please, literature lovers, show us your talent for creating stories rather than forcing us into the world’s selfishness and interpretations.
And they stopped announcing every diary with the old, venerable term “novel.” This type of literature was previously reserved for the imagination, that is, for the primitive human ability to invent something beyond one’s own experiences. Just like artists, that is, composers and painters. Without imagination there would be no Don Quixote, nor Hamlet, nor Madame Bovary, nor Malena.
So why is fiction like Karl of Knausgaard or Annie Erno so popular nowadays? Is it because of the narcissistic social media generation? Are there simply not enough captivating novels that one would prefer to go straight to real life? Or are the articles and life confessions gathered here and hitting the nerve of the age, that is, the social and political discussion saturated with experience? In short: does this satisfy the yearning for authenticity in social discourses?
In any case, it is remarkable that the autobiographical novel was so close to journalistic storytelling and essay. You are probably completely wrong in your anger at the lack of imagination of many contemporary authors. After all, they write about pressing topics: social progress, abortion, depression, parenting, the misery of the working class, racism, boarding school, and cancer. And to be honest, you have to admit that the best books in this genre are the ones that take on a real night, that is, they turn pages with a lot of energy and urgency. Many of today’s most compelling texts are autobiographical in nature.
Edward Lewis: The gay working class kid striving to reach the top
One such author is Edouard Louis, the angry rising star of French literature. His new book “Instructions to Becoming Someone Else” is a book you can’t stop reading on a long night. Perhaps the way one reads Dostoevsky, because in it a vibrant life is unabashedly promoted — as an open wound of oppression with violent suspicion, self-loathing, disgust, vanity, and incredibly subtle language. In his rudeness, autobiographical treatment and angry appeal personality, he is almost typical of the self-empowerment and self-illustrative writing that characterizes autobiographical novels in recent times.
The fact that he describes the Triple Suppression biography as a gay man, a working-class child and a boycott makes him the ideal defining figure for the liberation movement and political critique. And his drive for progress, imposed by relentless means, gives his report the necessary spectacle—both in terms of his physical transformation with plastic surgery, the anger of his origins and the desperate self-discipline as well as the image of the society he has created thanks to his many encounters with intellectuals, cynical patrons, and savage suitors.
Heinz Healey: The Writer as a Depressed House Husband
Heinz Healey’s current book Willen tells of the Little Domestic Depression in the greatest possible contrast to Edward Lewis’ report of those who left and rose. Because it is stuck. While his wife was writing outside the house, cooking and cleaning the child, feeding and changing, and accompanying the kindergarten child to the playground. Above all, he struggles for 300 pages with his house husband. For example, he wonders if he can masturbate in the bathroom while the baby is sleeping in the living room. So a man in daily problems.
Generations of writers have ignored these domestic and familial activities in their novels. Haynes Hill starred in it. The first-person narrator sees himself in a contemporary masculine predicament. He wants to be kind, peaceful and warm-hearted, but he is always angry, frustrated, and a latent willingness to use violence. He reflects on the fact that Kalmani is burdened with a historical burden, just as he chews through contemporary debates: patriarchy and violence, climate and corona. The head, stomach, heart and sexual desire are in constant conflict with him.
Helle found a fitting model for this stinging diary, a series of short one-sentence stanzas that always begin as follows: “And I try to…”, “And then I clean…”, “And then I listen screaming…” ‘Then I mean…’ Life as a housewife moves from one daily duty to another, controlled by others. Just as he sees his life as a tame servant of the daily routine, he also suspends the play of his report on the rope ladder of endless monotonous little steps, which never Only lead to some kind of reconciliation in the end.
Doesn’t all this invention miss how life could be? Utopia? Dystopia? Happy alter ego? Shouldn’t these heroes become occasional killers or happy family members thus overcoming realism?
Edward Lewis: “Instructions for Becoming Someone Else.” Translated from the French by Sonia Fink. Structural Publishing House, 272 pages.
Heinz Hill: “Waves.” Suhrkamp, 284 pages.