Armstrong’s Argument and Unnecessary Hierarchies

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In “I [Love] Novels,” literature professor Satoko Kan states, “as a method, [cell-phone novel writing] leads to the empowerment of girls. But, in terms of content, I find it quite questionable, because it just reinforces norms that are popular in male-dominated culture.” This explanation seems vey reminiscent of Nancy Armstrong’s argument that novels like Jane Eyre uphold ideals of bourgeois individualism that privilege man over woman. Through toeing the line, writing as a woman yet recirculating an oppressive cultural ideology, female writers “became prominent novelists during the nineteenth century…and achieved the status of artists during the modern period” (Armstrong 7). I imagine Armstrong might find the cell-phone “method” itself problematic, too, given the emphasis on anonymity and writing under very fictionalized aliases; that said, it’s difficult to judge given the vast differences between American internet culture and that of Japan–such restricted agency as narrator may not reflect gender alone.

On a somewhat related note, the article quotes a critic of the new genre, who states, “this kind of empathy,” that which is generated by the angsty young woman’s cell-phone novel, “is largely different from the emotive response—the life-changing event—that reading a great novel can bring about. One tells you what you already know. Literature has the power to change the way you think.” Aside from the misconception that one cannot learn from writing that describes a world they “already know,” this claim raises a number of difficult questions: how does one recognize a “great novel” in a culture where attention spans are shorter and we can barely pry our fingers away from laptops and cell-phones? Is the lack of true labor and time spent writing these cell-phone novels the issue, or is the medium (mimicking texts) simply wholly inappropriate? The critic, after attending a panel on the topic, asserts that these “novels” are not literature at all, but “the offspring of an oral tradition”–which certainly applies to all writing of the Western tradition (which finds its roots in sung poetry). Ultimately, I believe creating overt hierarchies and distinctions may only further push the larger, “great” novels away from the average adult public. The overly reductive elevation of one literature over another literature (or writing, if we refuse to call it literature) might make novel-reading, in any form, the opera-going of the 22nd century.

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