Episode vs. Narrative and the false choice of Huck or Ames

The Wall St. Journal has attempted to cause a minor literary ruckus with an opinion piece by Lee Siegel titled “The End of the Episode.”Siegel, borrowing his intellectual argument from British philosopher Galen Strawson, argues that the narrative — “straightforward storytelling style connects events together in one continuous thruline whose fundamental purpose is to reveal the Big Fated Meaning of life” — personality of our current fiction says bad or deficient things about our personalities. That narrative “is an insult to the endless possibilities of existence” and that there’s too much of a focus in narrative on the narrative way of seeing things as the only way for there to be good in life.

By contrast:

Episodics do seem to have a firmer grasp of reality’s fluid nature. Rather than experiencing life as a continuous thread of related experiences, Episodics consider their “self” to be in a state of continuous flux. What happened to them a year ago happened to a different person than the person they are now–the past has no bearing on present experience. (“I actually said that? I couldn’t have!”) In this view, Episodics are sober, disenchanted beings, alive to the principle of ceaseless change that drives human existence.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that the episodic has not left American life, but simply relocated from the novel to films, television series, manga/comics, fan fiction and roleplaying games. Let’s also set aside for a moment the snarky response that it is precisely the episodic approach to life, the misadventures of picaresque-esque bankers, traders, politicians, etc. that got us in to the current financial mess. There are several problems with setting up this dichotomy and even more so with the literary criticism that is sloppily used to bolster it. The few that I see right away: Continue reading “Episode vs. Narrative and the false choice of Huck or Ames”