The nostalgia for novelty: Revivals of the eighteenth century novel, genuine and spurious
Revivals of the eighteenth century novel and revivals of material culture are closely related. Whether one is mourning the lost bagel of the past or the lost novel, a complex form of nostalgia is at work. Historians of the novel Ian Watt, Michael McKeon, J. Paul Hunter, Lennard Davis, and many others are participants in the continuous re-invention of an invented tradition. Similarly, a number of novelists, reviving a great deal of eighteenth century discourse on genre, historiography, and aesthetics, partake of a nostalgia for novelty, a lost time when the European novel might truly have been novel. While these invented histories both need and oppose each other, neither are historical. The twin ideologies are revivals of a complex set of ambivalent metaphors and narratives that were parables of loss, regret, and repetition in their original form. The nostalgic fatalism of the past is recycled into the fatalism of the present, transforming that fatalism into a form of optimism. I trace the journey of this metaphor through Pierre Marivaux's Pharsamon , Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and Denis Diderot's Salon de 1765 and Jacques le fataliste. Simultaneously, I discuss its revival in Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon, Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover, Robert Glück's Jack the Modernist , Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Milan Kundera's Les testaments trahis. I employ both folklore studies—Neil Rosenberg's Transforming Tradition and Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin's “Tradition: Genuine or Spurious”—and the genre theory of Gerard Genette, Philippe Lacoue-Labarth, and Jacques Derrida to extend discussions of nostalgia in Susan Stewart's Crimes of Writing and Svetlana Boym's The Future of Nostalgia. Finally, I suggest that many traditional debates and distinctions—novel and romance, realism and self-consciousness—are spurious rather than genuine.
British and Irish literature;
0593: British and Irish literature