It almost goes without saying that the rise in popularity of
television has killed the audience for "serious" literature. This
is such a given that reading Fitzpatrick's challenge to this notion
can be very disconcerting, as she traces the ways in which a small
cadre of writers of "serious" literature--DeLillo, Pynchon, and
Franzen, for instance--have propagated this myth in order to set
themselves up as the last bastions of good writing. Fitzpatrick
first explores whether serious literature was ever as all-pervasive
as critics of the television culture claim and then asks the
obvious question: what, or who, exactly, are these guys defending
good writing against?
Fitzpatrick examines the ways in which the anxiety about the
supposed death of the novel is built on a myth of the novel's past
ubiquity and its present displacement by television. She explores
the ways in which this myth plays out in and around contemporary
fiction and how it serves as a kind of unacknowledged discourse
about race, class, and gender. The declaration constructs a
minority status for the "white male author" who needs protecting
from television's largely female and increasingly non-white
audience. The novel, then, is transformed from a primary means of
communication into an ancient, almost forgotten, and thus,
treasured form reserved for the well-educated and well-to-do, and
the men who practice it are exalted as the practitioners of an
almost lost art.
Such positioning serves to further marginalize women writers and
writers of color because it makes the novel, by definition, the
preserve of the poor endangered white man. If the novel is only a
product of a small group of white men, how can the contributions of
women and writers of color be recognized? Instead, this positioning
abandons women and people of color to television as a creative
outlet, and in return, cedes television to them. Fitzpatrick argues
that there's a level of unrecognized patronization in assuming that
television serves no purpose but to provide dumb entertainment to
bored women and others too stupid to understand novels. And,
instead, she demonstrates the real positive effects of a televisual
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