Riku Sayuj's Reviews > Aspects of the Novel

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-about-books, direct-lit-crit, lit-crit, literary-theory, writing-related, favorite-writers
Read 2 times. Last read February 8, 2015 to February 10, 2015.


Towards a Poetics of The Novel

Here is a nice pseudo-scholarly jaunt through what 'aspects' go towards the creation of the Novel-form. Forster isolates a few of these aspects and discusses them, but the the 'rhythm' of the lectures, to use his own terminology, is one of insufficiency. It is as if Forster knows that the framework would collapse ever so easily with the slightest departure from his selected story-line or plot-structure or lecture-structure.

As I said, there is much jauntiness here, and this fragility of the structure being built, I felt, was the essential moral Forster was trying to convey. All the allusions to pseudo-scholarship and all the self-reference using that ironic title seems to be meant to guide the student to an appreciation that the novel is an amorphous mass -- the image that begins the lectures -- and any shape we might try to impose on it is contingent on our own imagination. We might come up with very nice shapes to which we can make most of literature conform, but we can do that only by 'pruning' down each of our examples to fit our model. And by doing that we are in effect compromising our original intention.

But, as Forster says, the pseudo-scholars have to make money and write dissertations. And for that some pruning should be allowed for them. Forster gives us an eloquent demonstration of some very fine pruning. He even manages to be serious about the whole exercise at times.

Aristotle in the Spotlight

In the end, my major learning from these lectures is Forster's understanding of an elementary difference between Drama and the Novel. And here we see a fundamental concept behind these lectures -- an indirect attack on Aristotle, the Father of Criticism -- it might even be justifiable to say that much of modern criticism is just a series of footnotes on A's work. And thus on all of subsequent literary criticism as well!

Now, by delineating the difference between Drama and the Novel, Forster is telling us that all these strict frameworks and critical apparatus is best suited only for the Dramatic form of story-telling, as A originally intended them to be used, where Beauty can come on stage and cover up for the deficiencies and sacrifices caused from this limited perspective of life-in-fullness.

The Novel on the other hand is a more organic form and is much more suited to real life. And real life can have no rules. Neither can the novel. We can expect things of it, but if it satisfies those expectations, suddenly the reality is lost and it becomes merely a charming stage, an artificial enactment.

That is why great novelists defy conventions, and that is why great critics can be so lax with them when they do. Forster gives us a glimpse on how to be both.
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Reading Progress

February 8, 2015 – Started Reading
February 8, 2015 – Shelved
February 9, 2015 –
page 22
10.78% "An unpleasant and unpatriotic truth has here to be faced. No Eng­lish novelist is as great as Tolstoy—that is to say has given so complete a picture of man's life, both on its domestic and heroic side. No English novelist has explored man's soul as deeply as Dostoevsky. And no novelist anywhere has analysed the modern consciousness as successfully as Marcel Proust. Before these triumphs we must pause."
February 9, 2015 –
page 40
19.61% "The final test of a novel will be our affection\n for it, as it is the test of our friends, and of anything else which we cannot define."
February 9, 2015 –
page 100
49.02% "As for a plot—to pot with the plot, break it up, boil it down. Let there be those "formidable erosions of contour" of which Nietzsche speaks. All that is prearranged is false."
February 9, 2015 –
page 135
66.18% ":)\n \n Ulysses is not at present obtain­able in England. America, more enlightened, has produced a mutilated version without the author's permission and without paying him a cent."
February 9, 2015 –
page 160
78.43% "Melville’s great strength is that he has not got that tiresome little receptacle, a conscience, which is often such a nuisance in serious writers and so con­tracts their effects."
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: books-about-books
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: direct-lit-crit
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: literary-theory
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: lit-crit
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: writing-related
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: favorite-writers
February 10, 2015 – Finished Reading
October 18, 2016 – Started Reading (Other Paperback Edition)
November 12, 2016 – Finished Reading (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: direct-lit-crit (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: books-about-books (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: favorite-writers (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: lit-crit (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-theory (Other Paperback Edition)
December 11, 2016 – Shelved as: writing-related (Other Paperback Edition)

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was the supreme form (I still have to understand this better). Or at least, Joyce schooled his own way of approaching the novel thanks to his thorough thinking of the drama form...


message 2: by Riku (last edited Feb 10, 2015 01:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was the supreme form (I still have to understand this better). ..."

Probably why Forster finds it so easy to criticize Joyce. To Forster Ulysses doesn't really work as a novel. It is too constrained by its own rigid structure:

"And he [should] not hammer away [like Joyce]. That is why we exclude Joyce.

[...] he undermines the universe in too workmanlike a manner, looking round for this tool or that: in spite of all his internal looseness he is too tight, he is never vague except after due deliberation; it is talk, talk, never song."


:)


message 3: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was the supreme form (I still have to understa..."

I am still thinking about Joyce, and I could agree with Foster... But I think I need to read Ulysses a second time..

So, yes, I should read this book (and more of Woolf's literary ideas too)... I suspect I will always remain a Proustian, though.


Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was the supreme form (I still hav..."

Forster is on the Proust camp too (as should be evident from his own novels!). He more or less comes down on Melville and Proust as the best among the novelists he discusses. I am tempted to re-read Moby Dick. Have. To. Resist. ..........


message 5: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was the supreme ..."

I plan to read MD this year... I read Forster many years ago... I should revisit then.

Anyway, I have just downloaded this. Thank you.


Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), for whom drama was..."

My pleasure! :) Do invite me in case you start a group for discussing MD as you read.


message 7: by Kalliope (new) - added it

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of this yet), f..."

OK... will see if anyone wants to join us... there was a good group in the past but the Moderator left GR and deleted the discussion together with his account.


Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I would like to read this... and F's ideas on drama vs novel seem to contradict those of Joyce (not sure of..."

Pity. Didn't know discussion groups get deleted as well when the mod leaves GR...


message 9: by Michael (last edited Feb 11, 2015 05:28AM) (new)

Michael You do such a good job stimulating thinking. People on Goodreads have a nice dialog on rivers of literary tradition (e.g. the Shandian "stream"), but that is from the consumer point of view. It's fruitful to consider what writers and philosophers think, as they are so aware of how they stand on the shoulders of their predecessors.

I am still trying to digest your Moretti review on evolution of writing forms. A lot of biology (and my own past of concern with origins of brain patterns) is concerned with sorting out development of form in terms of "preformation vs. epigenesis" (itself a frame from Piaget by way of Hegel I believe). But like in ragas and jazz you can have a lot of creative improvisation within a recognizable tradition, adding new form not just content. It reminds me of the inseparability of nature and nurture. Someone who tries to go forward with a novel like Conrad or Joyce is bound to invent (or discover) new forms or fractal repetitions that are new at a another level.

I get a kick out of Vonnegut's play on the structure of stories in this short lecture (apologies if I posted it for you before):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP3c1...


message 10: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Michael wrote: "You do such a good job stimulating thinking. People on Goodreads have a nice dialog on rivers of literary tradition (e.g. the Shandian "stream"), but that is from the consumer point of view. It's..."

Thanks! & Sorry, I missed this comment. In any case, I think I will have to process it better! :)


message 11: by Garima (new)

Garima Excellent review, Riku. Would love to read this book some day. Zadie Smith penned a wonderful essay on Forster:

In English fiction, realists defend realism and experimentalists defend experimentalism; those who write simple sentences praise the virtues of concision, and those who are fond of their adjectives claim the lyrical as the highest value in literature. Forster was different. Several times he reminds his listeners of the Bhagavad Gita and in particular the advice Krishna gives Arjuna: “But thou hast only the right to work; but none to the fruit thereof; let not then the fruit of thy action be thy motive; nor yet be thou enamoured in inaction.” Forster took that advice: he could sit in his own literary corner without claiming its superiority to any other. Stubbornly he defends Joyce, though he doesn’t much like him, and Woolf, though she bemuses him, and Eliot, though he fears him.


message 12: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Garima wrote: "Excellent review, Riku. Would love to read this book some day. Zadie Smith penned a wonderful essay on Forster:

In English fiction, realists defend realism and experimentalists defend experimenta..."


Thanks for sharing that! Exactly the impression I got.


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