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True Confessions

Okay, time to come clean. I’m in (what I most sincerely hope to be) the end stages of writing a book that focuses on this question of obsolescence, particularly the anxieties that literary culture seems to exude any time it considers its relationship to newer media. In this book — and believe me, the ironies of considering the obsolescence of the book in a book are not lost on me — I focus primarily on the novel’s relationship to television, though (as this site may suggest) my interests are slipping toward the relationship between traditional fiction and the new forms of writing developing on the net.

The thing I’m writing about right now, though, in the book’s conclusion, is the Franzen/Oprah dust-up. It seems to me everyone’s got an opinion on this — Franzen’s burdened by an overdeveloped sense of his own talent; Oprah’s similarly guilty of overvaluing her culture-making power; Franzen’s a boor; Oprah’s a vacuum — but few seem to have paid much attention to the fundamental conflict at the heart of the matter. Are the novel and television genuinely incompatible forms? Is it impossible to consider oneself simultaneously a literary intellectual and a fan of the weekly set-em-up and knock-em-down sitcom?

I’ll confess: I love television. And I don’t just mean the highbrow Sopranos / Six Feet Under / {insert other self-consciously experimental program here} stuff, though those programs seem to wind up my favorites.

I mourned the passing of Homicide much as I would if I knew that David Foster Wallace had stopped writing and instead taken up bond sales. Are those two loves so very incompatible?

One last note, while I’m on the subject: While I’m infinitely grateful to HBO for rescuing Sunday evening from the pit of end-of-weekend depression, I beg that someone, similarly, somewhere, find a way to make Friday nights worthwhile again, for losers like me who are too often home with the machine for company.


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