It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens’ famous first sentence still resounds so clearly because of its universality – every age can apply it to their own. But that doesn’t mean we’re all vain; it means that we all need to focus on what makes our moment special.
Jonathan Franzen has won rave reviews for his new book Freedom, inspiring a new word – Franzenfreude – to describe the feelings of anger from mass entertainment writers as they deplore his Time cover and title of “Great American Novelist.” The book came out yesterday, but it seems to be special not for what it attempts to do, but for what it does. That is, there are no attempts toward a post postmodernism, or a stylistic avant garde art as he admitted there were in The Corrections, but instead, he depicts a culture through a novelistic lens.
That doesn’t mean that avant garde art doesn’t have a place in today’s society. The reason Franzen has been so widely lauded is that he has reverted to expressing human psychology simply – the way many of the best novels do. That doesn’t mean there’s not room for innovation. And while the specialization of last decade’s novels – the delving into ethnic family histories, the intricate layers of narrative and information – was arguably the end of postmodernism, the fact that Facebook Places has just been released as a way to update your exact physical presence means that we are still in the end of that movement, according to Frederic Jameson.
Everyone is in a tizzy, but we have still yet to fully embrace a new era, at least artistically. It seems that political revolution breeds artistic revolution. Modernism took at least the first 20 years of the 20th century to begin, and was a response to a catastrophic war. Postmodernism was a response to JFK’s assassination and the race riots of the 60’s. Let’s hope that post postmodernism, or whatever they will call it, won’t need the same kind of catalyst.