It is from Woolf that we get our sense that the novel is irrevocably divided into two kinds: new and retrograde. From her we inherit the feeling that all that matters in literature is “now,” that contemporary writing is a constant battle between the forces of innovation and life-giving freshness (“life,” “truth,” “the real”) and the turgid, sordid, compromised writers of yesteryear. Bakhtin would say such bifurcations are fatuous and a waste of time; I would go one step further and call them a convenient fiction, a chimera, and a sideshow. Or, to put it another way: there is no crisis of realism in contemporary fiction; there is only, among certain literary critics, a crisis of ownership, a last-ditch effort to keep debates over fiction stalled where they have been for nearly a century. What we have seen for the last ten years or so is a kind of proxy battle, very much in Woolf’s spirit, in which a contrived debate about novelistic method masks a silent—perhaps largely unintentional—effort to maintain cultural, racial, and geographic boundaries.
more from Jess Row at Boston Review here.