Reality Bites: The Death of Fiction

Article titles are meant to grab a reader's attention, whether with humor or cleverness, with subversive inferences or with rallying cries, or any other number of ways. In the case of Mother Jones' recent article, The Death of Fiction?, Ted Genoways prompts a double take with a provocative -- and perhaps presumptive -- question: has fiction kicked the bucket?

As editor of the prestigious Virginia Quarterly Review, Genoways sits atop a unique vantage point. His doomsday vision stems from what he sees happening in university presses:
"After more than a century of founding and subsidizing literary magazines as a vital part of their educational missions, colleges and universities have begun off-loading their publications, citing overburdened budgets and dwindling readership. Despite the potentially disastrous consequences to the landscape of literature and ideas, it's increasingly hard to argue against. Once strongholds of literature and learned discussion in our country, university-based quarterlies have seen steadily declining subscriber bases since their heyday a half-century ago—and an even greater dent in their cultural relevance."
To compound the problem, Genoways says, writers in this post-postmodern age are too self-centered, refusing to take their audiences' wants into consideration:
"But the less commercially viable fiction became, the less it seemed to concern itself with its audience, which in turn made it less commercial, until, like a dying star, it seems on the verge of implosion. Indeed, most American writers seem to have forgotten how to write about big issues—as if giving two shits about the world has gotten crushed under the boot sole of postmodernism."
Lumping together reality TV, talk shows, and blogs, Genoways indicts the masses for the current, lamentable state of fiction. His solution to revive it lies in a combination of reclaiming the ivory tower for fiction while at the same time asking writers to rise above academia:
"With so many newspapers and magazines closing, with so many commercial publishers looking to nonprofit models, a few bold university presidents could save American literature, reshape journalism, and maybe even rescue public discourse from the cable shout shows and the blogosphere. At the same time, young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers. I'm not calling for more pundits—God knows we've got plenty. I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read."
While the models of publishing may be changing, while the playing fields may get flatter and flatter, and while literary critics will most certainly continue debating this latest obituary and what it means to the literary marketplace, it seems hard to believe that storytelling will ever be a thing of the past.

Yet Genoways article raises many questions. What does it really mean that this cultural critic is announcing the death of fiction? And how does this observation fit into our reality-TV/memoir/true story culture? With all the focus on reality, why do people seem more disconnected to it than ever? Could it be that what has really died is the final distinction between reality and fiction?
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  1. Anonymous7:39 PM

    It almost seems as though passion has died. We all have 15 minutes of fame each day now, but few try to start a revolution with them.

  2. Anonymous10:45 PM


    nice comment on the end there! our culture's ability to distinguish between reality and fiction is perhaps at its lowest in the history of our existence. perhaps if we were to revisit the early existence of man, before anything was understood, we could observe a similar state in which our ability to discern what was real and what was of the other was limited mainly because of our lack of experience as creatures in this world. we seem to be at a similar state today - a time when our youth especially not only can't but see no reason to distinguish between the real and the un-. That would only serve to limit their potential... at least in their own eyes...

  3. I've felt that recently there is no distinction between truth and fiction and being inundated with everybody's idea of fiction on a daily basis has left me jaded and looking for something new and creative. Unfortunately writers are okay with just mimicking and saying nothing unique.


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