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Theses about commercial fiction

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I ran these before on the old blog, but with little time for writing today, I thought I’d trot out a slightly revised version of them again.


1. Commercial fiction exists to justify the status quo and make such justifications be experienced as pleasure, either through flattering the reader for his ability to predict what will happen, dignifying his customary circumstances or positing fantasies that dovetail with the commodities markets have to offer.


2. Commercial fiction thrives on the reader’s isolation, which allows his fantiasies to develop unchecked in the channels provided by the fiction and allows for a more absorbing suspension of disbelief. This corresponds well with how the consumer society depends on isolated consumers to permit a wider array of unnecessary purchases and to allow unsubstantiated claims about products and the lifestyles they purport to provide go unchecked. Resistance, even to the flimsy premises of genre fiction and advertisements, requires social organization—you need a network of communication outside of mass media to set up a discourse counter to it. Isolation, on the other hand, streamlines acquiescence.


3. Vicarious participation is a prerequisite of both commercial fiction and commercial societies. In both instances we must be prepared to enjoy our emotions more thoroughly through proxies than through direct experience of nature or society. We must be prepared to choosed mediated forms of experience, because of the illusion of control it affords us, over direct, spontaneous, unpredictable “natural” experiences.


4. Plausibility may be redefined within the realm of commercial fiction to suit the consumer society’s requirements. Reading commerc ial fiction reconfigures the plausibility threshold so that only matters inconsequential to commerce and consumerist fantasy are rejected as “unrealistic.”


5. The question of the commericial novel’s form may best be seen as a problem of industrial design.


6. The commercial novel was one of the first commodities, and as such, it contributed to the notions that acquiring goods constitutes a story itself. The dream world we enter in fiction is akin to the dream lifestyle a product, typically branded, hopes to posit for us via its ads. A story unfolds, closure is obtained (the good is purchased) and a new story must begin. Commercial novels, in being utterly worthless after they are read once, are emblematic of consumer goods generally, which become beside the point once the pleasure of acquiring them has been acted out. (Example: the home espresso machine. Note how many of these you find in thrift stores.)


7. Our facility at enjoying commercial fiction, adopting to its conventions and enjoying its foreshortenings and its illusions, the clockwork execution of its familiar formulas, makes us able to enjoy shopping more—the necessary pre-purchase fantasizing, how ads are metonyms for powerful narratives illustrating our values, how there can be a dramatic arc to our shopping experience, how the invisible hand is really a kind of deus ex machina.


8. Connoiseurship in the market—the quest for distinctive goods—has roots in the connoiseurship of feeling experienced vicariously through the earliest commercial novels and the taste in reading it allows to be expressed. The cult of sensibility taught culture to value the calculated display of feeling and find nothing inauthentic in it. Authenticity was brought to the surface as a set of signs.


9. Pleasure does not preexist systems of distribution and consumption. It manifests itself through those systems; the shape pleasure can take is defined by those systems. The 18th century commercial novel is an artifact of first forms of pleasure enabled by capitalism. (Needs are “set free” by economic growth.)


10. For commercial novels as well as consumer societies, anticipation is far more important than satisfaction.

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