The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television


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And the extrinsic view on the world is itself, like television, a screen, a moving image that the deep noumenal structure of reality projects its shadows on. Mere pixels. Flip the extrinsic side over and you see the intrinsic world: the character and content of consciousness.

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It is invisible and unquantifiable and will continue for as long as there is consciousness. Fiction writers in their craft do something unique: they take the intrinsic perspective on the world. Reading fiction allows you to witness the world of consciousness that normally hides beneath the scientifically describable, physically modelable surface-world of appearances. From the intrinsic perspective of a novel, the reader can finally observe other selves as they really are , as complicated collections of both third-person and first-person facts.

Fiction in its design circumvents this, tunneling holes through the normally insurmountable walls partitioning up our reality. Writers get around the fact that internal states are not externally accessible by literally creating characters that exist only within their own minds. A fiction writer working on a novel is a walking Escher drawing. Authors are minds that create artificial minds within their own minds so they can directly transcribe the artificial minds for other, third-party observer minds.

Which makes the novel the only medium where there is no wall between the intrinsic and the extrinsic. A novel is the construction of a possible world where thoughts and feelings are just as obvious to an observer as chairs and tables. Everything is laid out into language, represented the same way. What novels do is to solve the predicament of conscious beings who are normally suspended in an extraordinary epistemological position, allowing us access to what is constantly hidden from us. Total immersion in the intrinsic world is ultimately just as empty as total immersion in the extrinsic.

The promise of a novel is that, through the universal representative powers of language and the tricks novelists employ in creating viewable minds, the whole of reality can be seen at once. No other medium gets close. Neuroscience and physics have failed to find a place for the phenomenon of consciousness — a failure that strongly implies that our universe is not simply atoms bouncing around like billiard balls, not just empty syntax or rule-following computation.

And yet, for all its mystery, consciousness is a substance through which fiction writers swim along like old fish. W ill people still read novels on spaceships? It makes for a beautiful image: the silhouette of a human curled up with a good book, occasionally glancing out a porthole at the stars. But the perpetual state of panic that surrounds literature makes the scene more difficult to imagine than it should be.

Every new communication or entertainment medium, from radio to television to video games to social media to augmented reality, has been heralded as the destruction of the novel. Yet literature remains. The recent history of video games, the medium undergirded by the most rapidly developing technology, is instructive as to why. Yet, for those games that aim higher than mere entertainment, the struggles of the medium to incorporate the intrinsic world are apparent. Its sequel, Torment: Tides of Numenera , is scheduled for release early in Despite all the doublings in processing power in that eighteen-year interval, the new game is structured exactly as its predecessor was, except now the skin of images looks a bit nicer.

No one has come up with anything better. Certainly, computers are only going to increase in their processing power. Television, or rather the twenty-first-century entertainment stream that is subsuming television, is increasing in sophistication in its effects, production, and distribution. Our ability to model, map, and represent the extrinsic world — and to create entertainment from the technologies that do so — is continually improving. More screens only move us closer to the ultimate screen of extrinsic reality.

Syntax only gets you closer to more syntax. It competes in a different sphere. Writers, then, should get over any fear they have about being artistically outdone by other media, especially by something as trapped in the screen of the extrinsic world as television. That they can be fearful of. But replacement in artistic effect? Novels will always have a place because we are creatures of both the extrinsic and the intrinsic. Due to the nature of, well, the laws of reality, due to the entire structure and organization of how universes might simply have to be, we are forced to deal with and interact entirely through the extrinsic world.

We are stuck having to infer the hidden intrinsic world of other consciousnesses from an extrinsic perspective. This state leaves us open to solipsism, as Wallace suggested in saying that novels are a cure for loneliness. But the loneliness that novels cure, unlike television, is not social. It is metaphysical. At the same time, our uncomfortable position — both flesh and not — also puts us in danger, beyond just that of solipsism, of forgetting the intrinsic perspective, of ignoring that it holds an equal claim on describing the universe.

In contemporary culture there has been a privileging of the extrinsic both ontologically and as explanation.

We take the extrinsic perspective on psychology, sociology, biology, technology, even the humanities themselves, forgetting that this perspective gives us, at most, only ever half of the picture. There has been a squeezing out of consciousness from our explanations and considerations of the world. This extrinsic drift obscures individual consciousnesses as important entities worthy of attention. Recently I overheard a conversation between two psychiatrists in the hallway next to my lab.

One doctor was describing a patient, a young woman whose primary problem seemed to be that she was spending too much money on clothes. For the next five minutes the two debated what medications to put her on. Extrinsic drift is why people are so willing to believe that a shopping addiction should be cured by drugs, that serotonin is happiness or oxytocin is love.

It is forgotten that an extrinsic take on human society is always a great reduction of dimensions, that so much more is going on, all under the surface. Given its very nature, the novel cannot help but stand in cultural opposition to extrinsic drift. For the novel is the only medium in which the fundamental unit of analysis is the interiority of a human life.


  1. Materials and Components of Interior Architecture.
  2. Fiction in the Age of Screens - The New Atlantis;
  3. The Anxiety of Obsolescence – Kathleen Fitzpatrick?

It opposes the unwarranted privileging of the extrinsic half of the world over the intrinsic. It is a reminder, a sign in the desert that seems to be pointing nowhere until its flickering neon lettering is read: There is something it is like to be a human being.

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And what it is like matters. The sign points to what cannot be seen. How to keep this defining quality of fiction going into the future? There seem to be two paths for the novel here.

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One is to turn inward and concentrate solely on the mind of the narrator, a banner of the self taken up in the rise of autofiction by writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner. Although this comes with the inherent risk of solipsism, it also allows for the deepest of mind-melds with the narrator. On both paths are works that engage consciousness with the same radical strength and freedom of a novelist, but that also eschew or deemphasize the long dramatic arcs and genre-esque literary structures that other media are growing richly marbled on.

Either way, by turning solely inward or outward to other inwards, the future of fiction may be works that, if they were adapted into a series on HBO, would lose precisely what makes them so special — novels that are untranslatable across media because they are fiction, memoir, digression, exploration of mind space, and essay put into a blender. Not that such untranslatable novels are new. All avant-garde work is really return; the introduction to my version of Moby-Dick describes it as:. Skip to main content. You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer.

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Planned obsolescence: Publishing, technology and the future of the academy

Academic Obsolescence—between Metaphor and Reality Meta. Camelia Gradinaru. Academic Obsolescence—between Metaphor and Reality. IV, NO. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy is a substantial analysis of some of the most important topics within the academic community. Last, but not least, Kathleen Fitzpatrick discusses a few contemporary issues of the university for instance, its mission nowadays , also its relationship with scientific books publishing and the new forms of cooperation implied by the latter.

Also, I have to mention Fitzpatrick's use of CommentPress open source during writing, so that paragraphs, full pages or the whole book could be commented or criticized by the readers. Thus, meaningful insights were integrated in the final text; even though the book was published in print format in , Kathleen Fitzpatrick has blogged at Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy since In this context, the move towards the digital realm might just be considered a redeemer, but this is a solution that needs further nuances, having in mind the fact that the cultural production is not limited to printing, stocking and distributing texts.

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The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television
The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television

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