The Quantum Family

   There has long been a question over whether the methodological
   "interiority" of the traditional 20^th century "literary novel" was
   equipped to say anything fresh about life in the technological society.
   Proponents of speculative or science fiction from Ballard to Gibson
   suggested that other forms were of fiction were called for. Indeed
   Ballard claimed it was less and less necessary for the novelist, to
   invent fictional content... The fiction, he declared was already there
   all around us.
    Recent examples by respected novelists from Pynchon, to Tim Eggers
   have done little to overturn this skepticism now. Indeed anyone looking
   for a truly probing depiction of tech culture would be for the most
   part better off in the hands of HBO's satire Silicon Valley. And now
   the new hope of the contemporary American novel Jonthan Franzen steps
   up to the table with his latest weighty offering; Purity.

   It could however just be that we are looking in the wrong place. That
   the literary novel's best chance is not to speak to the subject
   directly but rather to return to ambush the subject by appearing to
   return to the novel's traditional home subject of the intergenerational
   family. I am basing this fragile thesis on the back of some ideas
   explored in a highly illuminating review by James Meek, of Purity. The
   fact that Meek's review of the novel is quite negative is not the
   point, the point is that the subject of the techno/social was far
   better addressed -unwittingly -in his far more successful break-through
   novel The Corrections. In the his interpretation of The Corrections,
   Meek finds (traced in intimate and painful detail) of our transition
   from the nuclear family to what Meek has called the "quantum family".

   For Meek, what is so pertinent in terms of 21st-century particularity
   about The Corrections lies in the way "it embodies the strange
   historical stage of evolution the family has reached - where family
   members can be at once thousands of miles apart and pressing in on one
   another on the phone and the internet every minute of every day, never
   more than a few hours away by plane. The nuclear family has become the
   quantum family, its particles entangled over vast stretches of space.
   And vast stretches of time. A generation born in the 1930s can easily
   have living grandchildren who might survive to see the 22nd century.
   That's 170 years; and the grown-up children in The Corrections find
   themselves, as so many do, smack in the center of this temporal
   expanse, approaching middle age themselves, looking in one direction at
   old parents whose infirmity might last decades, and looking in the
   other (if they ever get round to having them) at children of their own
   whose minorities will last just as long, while they themselves feel
   bitterly that they haven't yet lived that obscure best bit of
   adulthood, the part where love and money and achievement are supposed
   to bring them a carefree happiness.

   d a v i d  g a r c i a
   Prof. Digital Arts & Media Activism
   Bournemouth University

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