Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Epic Novel, Novelly Epic

In his Theory of the Novel, Lukács argues that 'the novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, yet which still thinks in terms of totality.' The world of Homer, Vergil and Dante is presented as 'rounded from within', such that every element of the narrative emobodies and articulates the whole. The novel, which is to say the post-Cervantesean inheritor of epic and romance, is an exercise in 'transcendental homelessness', rendering a world in which humanity is 'unsheltered' from metaphysical roof and insulation of the divine, or a full social context.

It's a beguiling theory, even if its version of epic precious little relationship to actual epic (Lukács later distanced himself from what his later Marxism came to see as a naif 'romantic anti-capitalism' in the book). But saying so doesn't really contradict the force of Lukács' thesis: what matters is not epic as such, but the sense of epic held by the earlier novelists. We can go further and say that the existential 'homelessness' manifested by the novel as a form is precisely a sense of being expelled from the epic.

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