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Death to the psychological novel

Death to the psychological novel
March 26, 2009, 03:30:05 AM
Tom Wolfe used this phrase for the type of novel currently in vogue, as it has been for the past fifty years: the psychological novel.

He is also known for his attacks on literary realism, or the idea that literature can linearly evoke reality through gritty detail, scenes of underage sodomy, and other details.

However, I think the psychological novel -- exploring the inside of the human head by using tokens of the outside world -- is what he really targets. Toni Morrison, Paul Mitchell, we're looking at you.

The traditional novel shows a character making moral decisions based on reality, not based on the centerless inside of the mind, where they're trying to pick the best option for themselves and therefore, are in arbitrary-land. Pynchon illustrated this best in the The Crying of Lot 49.

One reason many of us abandoned Joyce with Ulysses is that he went too far into the psychological novel. Where POTAYM showed us adaptation, Ulysses showed us compensation and cognitive dissonance. Lie back and think of England or, in Joyce's case, a nice fresh potato.

We could apply the same to any art form. Metal now is the psychological album; tossing around random symbols from the past and trying to generate inspiration from those. It's like all language cut off from reality -- it makes sense internally, but does not correspond to the world, so it's solipsistic/narcissistic in the best tradition of Crowdism (to join a Crowd, you must be thinking only of yourself, and using others to guarantee for you a selfish but impersonal outcome).

If a correspondence theory of truth is correct, and if thus for a sentence to be truth it has to correspond to the world in a way that mirrors the structure and matches parts of the sentence properly with parts of the world, then the structure of a true sentence would have to be mirrored in the world. But if, on the other extreme, a coherence theory of truth is correct then the truth of a sentence does not require a structural correspondence to the world, but merely a coherence with other sentences.

One way to understand logic is as the study of the most general forms of thought or judgment, what we called [a type of logic]. One way to understand ontology is as the study of the most general features of what there is, our [a type of ontology]. Now, there is a striking similarity between the most general forms of thought and the most general features of what there is. Take one example. Many thoughts have a subject of which they predicate something. What there is contains individuals that have properties. It seems that there is the same structure in thought as well as in reality. And similarly for other structural features.

If there is an explanation of this similarity to be given it seems it could go in one of two ways: either the structure of thought explains the structure of reality, or the other way round. An explanation of the latter kind, where the structure of reality explains that of thought, could go as follows: the world has a certain basic structure, being constituted by objects which have properties, which other objects can have as well. To properly represent a world like this the creatures from which we evolved had to develop minds that mirror this structure. Those who developed a different kind of mind died out. Therefore we have a mind whose thoughts have a structure which mirrors the structure of the world.


I was telling a friend about Gorgoroth earlier. How their first two albums were brilliant, and then as frontman Infernus grew deaf, he did not trust his ability to make music, so he called in the cavalry from bands who did not make something as brilliant as Pentagram or Antichrist. They resumed doing what they had done in their former bands, which was to observe how others had succeeded and then to make a version of that; however, their art was not a commentary on life, but a step removed: a commentary on the success of the art of others, not its meaning.

Another word for the psychological novel, or realistic novel, is the artist-centric one. It's like Twitter: this is what I see, so these tokens must mean something to you too. That's in contrast to the traditional novel, which labored hard to find tokens shared between author and audience, even if the tokens were not the ones the artist had experienced that gave meaning to an event or events. Demanding the use of your own tokens is like demanding attention, or control; using shared tokens is like cooperation.

And as you know, there are only two models for human interaction: cooperation or control. Interestingly, they involve the same mechanisms. You cannot cooperate with everyone; you must control something. The question is what your primary means of achieving your goal is.

The psychological novel, like the psychological black metal album, to me resembles CONTROL more than COOPERATION. It is not motivated by sharing of information, or transcendence of our individual boundaries; it is motivated by demanding you pay attention to static information and tokens that inspired another person. Its goal is not to cooperate; it's to control your eyes and focus them on another individual, as if you noticing them might make them important enough in the human world to remove the sting of inevitable death from the world beyond.


Re: Death to the psychological novel
March 26, 2009, 11:48:26 AM
He is also known for his attacks on literary realism, or the idea that literature can linearly evoke reality through gritty detail, scenes of underage sodomy, and other details.

I'm confused. Where do you get the idea that Tom Wolfe is opposed to realistic novels from? You've probably studied him more extensively than me but in one essay I read from him, he compared the invention of literary realism to the invention of electricity in engineering and his novel The Bonfire of Vanities included a lot of detailed, realistic descriptions.

Psychological and realistic novels really do not seem to be the same, they're more like opposites.

Re: Death to the psychological novel
March 26, 2009, 04:35:40 PM
Where do you get the idea that Tom Wolfe is opposed to realistic novels from?

Realism as technique, not subject matter.



Re: Death to the psychological novel
March 28, 2009, 12:02:06 PM
Literary realism is really stupid. It means you pick the grittiest circumstances, most dramatic and lost characters, and have them act out desperate lives. It's not realism per se but realism as a literary technique. Any story that's about two lost gay heroin addicts impossibly in love yet both committed to opposite politican factions thus doomed, all while they try to kick drugs and live in poverty and extract each others' impacted feces, is "literary realism."

I don't agree on the term "psychological novel." It's not so much about psychology as people existing within individual emotions, thoughts, feelings, fears, etc. There is no honest psychology to it. Psychology would study how the mind works, or how it adapts to reality. The solipsistic novel just looks into what people think they're thinking or feeling, generally as a way of avoiding reality and compensating for its fundamental boredom, negativity and energylessness because they lack the will to engage with it, invest energy in it and make it happen for them.

Good stuff to read if you've failed at life and would like to whine about it. Under the Tuscan Sun is a good movie version. Literature also has the opposite side of things which is a political screed barely disguised as a novel, like anything by Toni Morrison or Tom Robbins.True solipsistic literature is so bad I can't even remember any titles.