An Open Letter to Will Self

Dear Will Self,

In response to your article “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real)”, I believe that you had some relevant and interesting points regarding the novel, however, this could have been conveyed in a different way.

The very first thing that is mentioned in this article is the reference to your children being canaries in your own personal culture-mine, which is continued throughout the . You also refer to them as “little harbingers”. The wording of these phrases right at the beginning does not seem to be a good start in terms of trying to get people to see things from your own point of view. To a reader such as myself, this image of your children being used as test subjects for modern literature and culture seems impersonal and harsh to them. You also state that your son has ambitions to be a rock musician, yet instead of encouraging him to develop his talents and helping him to write something more original you only criticise him for doing things that has been done many times before. If as you say, the novel truly is dead, as well as music and other forms of self-expression, then surely the best way to try to revive this is to help and encourage the youth, like your son, instead of discouraging them.

Although I disagree with your actions from the first paragraph, i do agree with what you have said next in this article. I also believe that the web and the internet have allowed us to be able to access anything at anytime, or a “permanent Now” as you put it, which doesn’t really allow room for a new musical era especially with the older generations sticking to their own nostalgic tastes. This too, links to the first point I made regarding the way that the youth is not as encouraged to create new music and literature. According to Pitlane magazine (  the reason that the older generation don’t enjoy modern music, which could also be said for other things such as novels, is because they have more of an emotional connection to things that remind them of their childhood and adolescence. In order to find new material and to revive the novel, we should be actually listening to what the newer generation wants to read, write and hear, instead of instilling a sense of failure in them before they have even begun.

One thought on “An Open Letter to Will Self”

  1. The analogy of the canary and the miner was interesting, at first I held the same opinion that Holly shared, that you were looking down at your son and discouraging him in his path to being a musician. However, the final paragraph you ended on made me re-think some other points.

    “What I can do is observe my canary: he doesn’t read much in the way of what I’d call serious novels, but there’s no doubting that he’s alive, breathing deep of a rich and varied culture, and shows every sign of being a very intelligent and thoughtful songbird. On that basis, I think it’s safe for us both to go on mining.”

    This struck me as instead quite an endearing bond that you have with your son and your inclusion of culture and his aspirations mark an opposite of what I first thought. The canary is the first line of defense for a miner, in real terms, as they were used in the heyday of coal mining to measure the levels of poisonous gas and breathable conditions; if the canary died, then the miner would know the boundaries of the mine or in this sense, the culture. The fact that you ended this on “I think it’s safe for us both to go on mining.” makes me privy to agree with you about what this analogy conveys, that although you may believe the novel is dead in forms of art, it’s not the end of culture, whatever that may mean for the new generation. The death of the ‘canary’ would be the complete decadence of your son’s view of culture.

    You talk of the ‘dying of art’ a lot in your article, and while reading I have noted that you do not refer to the death of the novel as a dying profession or an unwanted pass time but more of the art that you perceive through these pieces of work, or at least were used to in your younger years, are dying or dead. You refer to novels in the past tense when you say ‘All this led to a general acknowledgment:the novel was the true Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk.’. This creates a sense that the art that WAS created is no longer there today and I thought this was an interesting take on the development of writing through the centuries, namely the twentieth which you refer to the most.

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