Does the Novel Have a Future? The Answer Is In This Essay!

WHAT DIFFERENT KINDS OF NOVEL ACTUALLY EXIST?
Humans simultaneously exist in and experience (1) the world of phenomenon, or concrete reality, which is shared with other humans and discerned with the five senses (touch, sight, etc.) and has physical laws such as cause/effect and gravity and (2) the world of noumenon or abstraction, which cannot be discerned with the five senses, does not have physical laws, and is where memories and thoughts and feelings–and novels–originate and exist.

Although each human’s world of noumenon is unique and private–direct access by others is impossible–the world of noumenon is theorized, or hoped, it seems, by most religions and philosophies, to be actually a oneness within which we become isolated when we take on physical form and enter concrete reality, which, like a virtual world, is a shared space in which we can communicate our worlds of noumenon with others, if we want to and at our leisure, until we return to the oneness upon death. It’s unknown why we don’t exist only in the world of noumenon but are forced to endure, or perhaps gifted–though vaguely, almost mischievously–an amount of time, between birth and death, in concrete reality.

To articulate and discuss this mystery, and to do (1) and (2) below, humans have–through a kind of baton-passing, over hundreds of generations–developed different noises (and symbols for these noises) with functionally agreed-upon meanings. We begin learning these noises immediately upon birth and use them (1) to convey rhetoric for purposes of satisfying desires created by evolution and (2) to describe our secret worlds of noumenon to others for purposes of reducing loneliness, relieving boredom, increasing excitement. Single sentences (“I feel confused”) or words (“Jesus”) or dialogues can do this, to a certain degree, as can–to those who feel unsatisfied with verbal communication because of social anxieties or persisting feelings of loneliness/misunderstanding or simply a desire to communicate more accurately or elaborately–poems, short stories, essays, novels.

Novels–and memoirs–are perhaps the most comprehensive reports humans can deliver, of their private experiences, to other humans. In these terms there is only one kind of novel: a human attempt to transfer or convey some part or version of their world of noumenon to another’s world of noumenon.

WHAT, THEN, IS THE FUTURE OF THE NOVEL?
Because humans, as a species sharing DNA, are able to think and feel similar things–to a degree that if we don’t understand another human we discern our confusion as cultural, I.Q.-based or that the other person is “insane”–and because novels describe and exist in the world of noumenon, where thoughts and feelings exist, all novels, I think, will, on a certain level, seem invariably familiar. In concrete reality we might feel shocked if a physical law is broken–if someone time-travels, communicates telepathically, displays other “magical” behavior–but in the world of noumenon there are no physical laws, or equivalent structures, to transgress.

Knowing this, I don’t feel attracted to defining the “future” of the novel as the actualization of imaginable ideas–a novel by a robot presented to the public as by a human; a novel impossible for a human to complete in a lifetime; a novel by a poverty-stricken person from a third-world country from the perspective of an upper-middle-class character from a first-world country of similar racial heritage–but as something categorically not imaginable, something that if imagined wouldn’t be the future of the novel but simply another predictably unique novel.

For a novel not to seem familiar, in this definition, it would have to be the articulation of a thought or feeling that’s currently impossible to conceive of thinking or feeling, which could perhaps be made possible only by a change in DNA–if humankind moved genetically reptileward, over millions of years, slowly losing aspects of consciousness and capacities for language–or maybe something like if consciousness, as a physically immeasurable and therefore unpredictable somethingness, disappeared suddenly, as if by a binary change in the “settings” of the universe. Maybe that would cause an unfamiliarly incomprehensible change–or “future,” in my definition–for the novel. But from that perspective my current perspective couldn’t be comprehended, as there would be no “past” to actuate a future; it’s impossible, in this view, for the novel to have a future.

Thinking of novels in this manner, I feel more receptive to the world of noumenon. I feel closer both to nothingness–to the oneness–and to other humans. I feel less pressured to consider, engage with or respond to the development or advancement of the novel than to undistractedly view each possible novel as uniquely occupying an area on something spherical (like how humans on a round Earth don’t feel able to “advance” by walking in the correct direction, unlike they would in a side-scrolling video game or flat world, unless they’ve self-defined a goal like to live in Manhattan, but are required to be “productive” in other ways), where, though, as conscious beings with urges created by evolution, the default mode of perception is to distort it into a line, to discern an illusion of progress or direction. But if art is anything, then it is, to me, that which is created in the attempted absence of illusions, that which doesn’t instruct because its creator while creating it doesn’t know what’s good or bad, only that he/she wants to convey something.

Therefore I currently feel most interested in reading/writing novels that aren’t improvements on or innovations of other novels. I want to view each potential novel as already definitively and unavoidably unique, improvable only in comparison to itself and then only from its creator’s singular perspective. I want to learn about another human’s unique experience from reports they’ve made themselves while excitedly aware that they alone, regardless of what others are thinking or doing, have access to what they’re reporting upon. I do, sometimes–rarely, I think–want to know, “What do you think other people are going to be thinking about in 20 years?” or “How do you feel humankind, generally, is going to feel like in 50 or 100 years?” But mostly I want to know, “What are you thinking about?” and “How do you feel?”

editorial@observer.com

Does the Novel Have a Future? The Answer Is In This Essay!