Is the novel a literary invention that was made decades or even hundreds of years ago?
In light of his analysis of the Death of the Author idea in his book The Author, Andrew Bennett suggests Michel Foucault’s proposal: “the author is not a source of the text, but one of the ways in which he expresses himself, instead of spontaneously attributing discourse to an individual, the author arises through his relationship to the status of the text within a particular culture . . . we do not create a philosophical author as we do with the poet, just as it’s been done in the eighteenth century. At that time it was impossible to create a novelist like we do today.”
No matter what Michel Foucault proposes with that last quoted sentence, I am pleased to catch that quote in the context of considering the growing importance that people attribute to the novel today. Frankly, I want to draw the attention of devotees of narrative fiction to the fact that their lover (the novel) has not enjoyed literary prominence in the world of literature forever. It is not (by simple induction) a candidate for eternal presence as a queen crowned over the rest of literary genres, which are imagined by the fans of the novel to be scattered in the castle of literature in roles, ranging from princess to consultant to maiden.
Bennett says in the middle of his quote about Foucault: “The process of creating authorship responds to specific historical cultural determinants.” I would like to comment on this statement only by emphasizing that these determinants are not only specific but highly peculiar, and therefore I repeat that if we wanted to make reference these days to the novel, it would be more accurate to say “novel fashion” and not “the Novel’s Era.”
The term “novel fashion” should not be taken as an indictment of that literary genre, unless the novel wants to be dominated by literary markets based on the fact that this is its long-awaited time to realize the truth that destiny of narrative fiction should take over in the world of literature.
The “novel fashion”—in the words of Bennett above, derived from Michel Foucault’s earlier and deeper insight—means that historical cultural determinants (and, more specifically, social determinants) have pushed the novel to the top of the literary scene now, without being able to overthrow poetry specifically from Arab (literary and cultural) conscience.
Regarding “co-authorship,” that can be read here as a context closely related to the idea of “the invention of a literary/artistic genre,” which will be celebrated subsequently as a “fashion,” says Bennett: “While cinema (movies) appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century as a new medium of creativity, it needed to develop its own myth to refer to its uniqueness and originality among the already existing flourishing writing and visual arts.” Here we stand in front of a model case par excellence to form an image of art in the minds of people as desired by cultural decision makers, and again there is no problem in this. The problem appears only when people think that the appealing picture of huge overwhelming success is merely the logical outcome of a uniquely prominent and powerful art not only at the time when the model is created but also on the ongoing process of the same artistic/literary tradition. The issue will be worse to the extent of becoming a cultural disaster if the said “critical lie” is believed by those who have deliberately introduced it. No excuses on the part of such critics can be accepted to repent for the sin of giving an illegal/unethical right for a literary genre to prevail over the rest of the creative writing forms.
There would be no harm in considering the novel as merely a literary invention that was made decades or even hundreds of years ago. From a critical point of view, there is no preference for the predecessor (creators), necessarily, but it would be ironic if some people were to dedicate a counter-argument to the subsequent instances of literature. It is like correcting an error by making another (worse) mistake equal in gravity and opposite in direction.
The scenes of literature should be the space of co-existence between all existing literary genres, the old ones and those yet to be invented by human imagination. Fairness requires that critics—and beyond them the cultural media—raise their hands from imposing guardianship on the minds and the hearts of the masses by turning their eyes to revering and honoring only one literary genre.