Will the abundance of information reshape fiction as it has academic scholarship?
In a recent post I commented that "as I write I am in constant need of information." I was thinking of the responsibilities of scholarship, of constantly needing to fact-check or come up with further evidence for a claim. I wrote that it might be different if I were a poet or a novelist. But now that I think about it more, I wonder if that's necessarily true; and I'm suspecting that what I was treating as a one-way street might have traffic moving in both directions. Surely the constant and ever-expanding availability of information will have an increasing influence on what novelists want to do and how they go about doing it.
I'm prompted to these thoughts by this Ewan Morrison essay on "factual fiction", which concludes with an exhortation and a warning:
Whether we like it or not, the net is rewiring our reading habits. As [Walter] Benjamin said, the novel, as it exists, cannot contain the threat from the form that is greater than it: information. If it is to be relevant at all, the novel must break into new hybrids and leave the 19th-century segregation of fact, fiction, memoir and essay behind. The novel must let the world in and speak through the many forms that the world already speaks through.
Morrison overstates the degree to which pre-digital-age fiction was "segregated" into genres. The novels of Thomas Wolfe were very thinly fictionalized autobiography; Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels are so pleasurable in large part because their historical textures are so deeply and intricately woven -- they are works of fiction stuffed with ever-surprising information. But Morrison has rightly identified an important general tendency.