Technology seeps into our imaginations, changes the way we think and the way we write. The novel may seem like a relic, a low-bandwidth version of virtual reality better suited to the 19th and 20th Centuries than today. But beneath its grim monochrome interface (a.k.a. “pages”) it glows like the neon-piped suits in Tron. Contemporary fiction is nearly as much a product of Silicon Valley as the integrated circuit.
Before we had any idea how dangerous it was to bolt human beings to exploding tubes and launch them into space, when inventions like the lightbulb and airplane and telephone were warping the planet at a ferocious pace and escaping the earth’s gravity well suddenly seemed possible —we imagined that exploring the Universe would be a lot like the famous expeditions we had seen before.
“BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water.” It was a horrid thought, but Shashank Tripathi’s (i.e. Comfortablysmug’s) infamous Hurricane Sandy tweet had panache. Tripathi mimicked the style of a breaking news tweet perfectly. The image of water sluicing into the New York Stock Exchange was too good to be true. An irresistible nugget of news distilling the potent emotions stirred by the storm: Sorrow for afflicted New Yorkers, fear for the future, the thrill of seeing history unspool in real time, and a dose of snickering glee at the idea of cuff-linked financiers wading through filthy water.
Most retired governors use their connections to assume quiet but well-paid positions in the private sector, or loud but well-paid positions as commentators on cable news networks. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura lately, though, has been prowling obscure government facilities, confronting squirming civil servants, and demanding “the truth” while hosting a reality television show on truTV called Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.
Graduate school is hard for couples to endure. Temptation abounds. You live in penury among ambitious young (for the most part) adults, speaking a peculiar argot, attending what feel like mandatory social events and excursions steeped in alcohol, with superstars dropping in and strutting among you. Plus, there are all those fraught moments that only a fellow student—another insider—can help you soothe. Meanwhile your significant other is likely supporting you, often at a less-than-ideal job in a less-than-ideal place. Resentment builds. Sloughing a partner is easy and commonplace.
The shelves of America’s bookstores do not accurately represent the inner life of their customers. Where are the Tea Partiers dreaming of libertarian utopias? Whence the poets who howl for the rights of the unborn? The Mormon missionary comedies of manners? American literature seems to want for authors of a Republican slant.
America should be more open than ever. Women and minorities are no longer excluded from high-earning professions and, if you are willing to take on the debt, a university education is more accessible than ever before. But if anything America is less egalitarian than it once was. The income gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s. More worrying than that, a permanent class system seems to be calcifying into place: people born rich are getting richer, while the poor stay poor. America’s elite has found a way to protect and perpetuate itself within what should be an inclusive system.
SHORT literary fiction and critical essays are the publishing world’s equivalent of weapons-grade plutonium. Dense, highly refined, and for all but a professional few, something best avoided. The world’s demand for the stuff is met by a handful of respectable quarterlies, such as the Paris Review and Granta, and countless “little magazines” that publish experimental fiction and serve more as a proving ground for authors than something people actually read.