Georg Lukács's Theory of the Novel locates the novel at a particular juncture within the history of Western spirit but not in relation to any specific social, political, or economic history. Mikhail Bakhtin, influenced by Lukács and also by Friedrich Schlegel's theorization of the novel (itself a resource for Lukács), relates the novel to the specific ideological and social controversies of its time but finds that time almost everywhere in the history of the West, starting way back in classical antiquity. Both of them ignore Schlegel's tautologous but crucial historical specification “Ein Roman ist ein romantisches Buch” (“a novel is a romantic book”). The relationship of the history of the novel to the history of the book becomes crucial for Walter Benjamin (influenced by Lukács and author of a dissertation largely on Schlegel) in “The Storyteller,” part of a larger exploration in media related to “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility.” Mid-twentieth-century arguments concerning “the death of the novel” in the West arise in relation to the diminished place of the book in the age of cinema and then later TV. Likewise, if they are to gain full traction, arguments such as Fredric Jameson's about the third-world novel must consider the novel more concretely in relation to literacy and publication structures. Franco Moretti's collaborative Il romanzo begins to organize an apparatus of knowledge that might ground new theories in dialogue with media studies.
Jonathan Arac; What Kind of History Does a Theory of the Novel Require?. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 190–195. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-004
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